A money-saving challenge is the only surefire way to have fun while saving money. I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way to have fun putting money in a bank account instead of spending it on something you want right now. However, saving money is the key to living a financially balanced life.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck, according to a survey by Charles Schwab, and the Federal Reserve reports that a quarter of all Americans have nothing stashed away for retirement.
If you haven’t started saving, you place yourself in a precarious situation in the event of an expensive emergency or an unexpected job loss. Thankfully, once you make saving a habit, it no longer seems so difficult — even if you start with just $5 a week.
How Fun Money-Saving Challenges Can Build Habits
That said, turning saving money into a routine can be difficult. If you’re having a hard time making it a part of your monthly financial activities, you may want to try out a savings challenge.
We ran some popular ones by a handful of financial experts. Here are a few fun money-saving challenges that you can try out, along with advice to make sure that you actually complete each one that you take on.
1. The Penny-a-Day Challenge
The penny-a-day challenge is simple. Save one penny on day one, two pennies on day two, and so on until the last day of the year, when you’ll save $3.65 on day 365. At the end of this challenge, you’ll have $667.95 in your bank account.
It’s amazing how much power pennies can have when you save them.
While this challenge will seem easy in the beginning, it gets tougher as the year goes on. In the first month, you’ll only have to save $4.96, but in the last month, you’ll have to save $108.50.
“The penny-a-day challenge is useful because many people struggle with developing a habit of saving,” says financial analyst Dennis Shirshikov, an economics professor at New York’s Queens College. “Particularly younger, aspiring savers because the results that it garners can lead to affordable yet tangible amenities, such as a trip to the movies or the occasional nice meal.”
If you start this saving challenge at the beginning of the year, that last month will be one of the most difficult months to save money, since it includes Christmas. I don’t know about you, but November and December are always big spending months in my household.
But as long as you think ahead and are prepared to save — even during the holidays — this money-saving challenge should be a reasonably fun and easy one to complete. Plus, it will help you work your way up to saving $100 per month.
2. The $30 Saving Challenge
The $30 saving challenge is super straightforward, but may be exactly what you need to get used to saving. Simply save $30 each week, and you’ll be rewarded with $1,560 in your savings account at the end of the year. This challenge has the most realistic chance of being accomplished if you can get over the initial hump of saving a decent amount of money right away.
For some, saving $120 in the first four weeks can be too much of a challenge. If that sounds like you, then try the penny challenge first before graduating to the $30-a-week challenge in year two. Then, if you’re really adventurous, you can try the next challenge in year three.
3. The $2,700 Savings Challenge
The $2,700 savings challenge isn’t for the faint of heart. Like the penny challenge, the $2,700 savings challenge starts easy. In this one, you multiply the current week of the year by two to get the number of dollars you need to save that week. During week one, you’ll only need to save two dollars. During week two, you’ll save four dollars.
Eventually, when you reach the last week of the year — week 52 — you’ll save $104 that week. You’ll end up with $2,700 for the year.
This one has a similar problem as the penny challenge: If you start in January, the biggest month of saving is during the expensive holiday season. Since this challenge has you saving $404 in the last month of the year, you definitely need to plan ahead with this challenge, as well.
One way to make sure that you can complete the challenge without worrying about the holidays is to delay starting it. Rather than starting on the first week of the year, try starting on Week 12 or Week 24. Grab a calendar and label your start week as “Week One” and continue numbering each week until you get to week 52. This could help you make saving during the holiday months a bit less painful, but you’ll still have to plan to save.
4. The 52-Week Challenge
If the $2,700 Savings Challenge sounds a bit steep for your budget, you can try the alternative 52-Week Challenge, wherein instead of doubling the amount you save, you simply add a dollar in the amount saved each week; the first week you save one dollar, the next week two dollars, and so on. This can help build good savings habits while remaining within reach of your budgetary restraints.
“The concept of the 52-Week Challenge is brilliant in its simplicity and, for many people, doable because the amounts are unattainable for the average household,” says Certified Financial Planner Jeff Rose. “And if you do it every week, you’ll have $1,378 by the end of the year.”
While that’s a bit less than the $2,700 from the previous challenge, the idea of increasing your savings contributions each week can be immensely helpful to getting into a solid financial pattern while developing the beginning of an emergency fund.
And once you’ve established good habits, you obviously retain the right to contribute more as you see fit. Not to mention the power of compound interest on your savings account.
“The other fantastic aspect of this challenge is that you can accelerate it, if you wish, by simply doubling the amounts,” Rose adds.
Pick the Right Money-Saving Challenge for You
Sometimes you just need a way to gamify your financial goals to make them happen. If that sounds like you, then pick one of these fun money-saving challenges and start today. And later on, when you need to make a big purchase (or, perish the thought, find yourself in need of an emergency fund), you’ll be glad you chose to participate.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.