Personal Finance

How to Save Up Money Fast

How to Save Up Money Fast

For surprise expenses, you might need to save up money fast. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do it. We'll share some strategies here.
couple working out finances
couple working out finances Source: Getty Images

So, you need cash. Maybe you just found the home of your dreams, and it requires a down payment. Or you’ve decided to propose to your beloved, and you'd like to buy her a diamond ring. Or perhaps you’re facing an unexpected bill for an insurance deductible, a plane ticket or a new car purchase. Whatever the reason you need to save money fast, there are lots of ways to do it.

Quantify how much you need

Determine exactly how much money you need to come up with and how much time you have to save it. Divide your target amount by the number of months or weeks you have until the payment is due.

For example, if you need $1,000 for a trip you want to take six weeks from now, you’ll need to save about $167 per week until then. If you need $10,000 for a down payment on a house you plan to buy in three months, you’ll need to put aside about $769 each week.

Consider these numbers in the context of your regular income to see if you can realistically put that much aside. Can you squeeze it out of your budget by cutting back on wasteful spending and postponing not-totally-necessary purchases? If so, go forth and do so with some of the tips we share below. If not, more drastic measures might be called for — check out the other sections of this guide for ways you can amass more cash.

Try a saving spree

You know what a spending spree is. But have you ever tried a saving spree? It’s when you make a deliberate effort to spend very little money over a defined period of time and save it instead. Saving sprees are easier than long-term budget-cutting because they are limited in duration. You know you can live without new clothes for a month, though maybe not for a year, so it's easy enough to stick to the plan.

To move toward your goal during your saving spree, you need to find cheaper alternatives to your current spending patterns or simply refuse to buy things you don’t need right now. We'll cover strategies to save up funds quickly for smaller-ticket items, as well as larger upcoming costs, like a new car or a house.

Tell your loved ones and friends about your saving spree so they’ll understand why you can’t fly home for Thanksgiving or join them for a Taylor Swift concert. The idea is to question every single expenditure before you make it, and only go through with the ones that are absolutely necessary.

For example, before you go to the grocery store, take stock of what you already have in your cupboards and your fridge. See how many meals you can make from what you have, and figure out what ingredients you need to create a few more.

Got beans and salsa? Supplement them with tortillas, eggs and cheese, and you’ve got breakfast burritos (they’re just as good for dinner). Got pasta and sauce? Buy some ground meat for meatballs, or throw in some veggies. Got tuna? Make a salad, sandwiches or casserole. Use up those old boxes of instant potatoes and easy mac and cheese. Clear out all the frozen mysteries hiding behind your ice cube trays, and heat them up for dinner.

If this doesn’t sound so appetizing, remind yourself of the goal of all this saving and that you can restock all your favorites when you've reached it. This can be a quick source of funds for smaller-ticket items given how much we spend on eating.

Take the same approach if you run out of a beauty product or household item during your saving spree. Use the hotel soaps and shampoo samples tucked away in your closet. Live without eyeliner for a few weeks. If you empty your last bottle of window cleaner or scouring powder, see if you can hand-mix a substitute using common ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda.

Some other ideas: Pack your lunch. Replace happy hour with a six-pack at home with a buddy. Have your best friend, or significant other, cut your hair.

Besides tackling all the little ways your cash tends to slip through your fingers, also take a look at your biggest expenditures. For most people, these are housing, transportation, utilities and food. Finding ways to lower these big monthly costs can get you to your savings goal even faster. If the amount you need to save is enormous, like for a down payment and closing costs for a home purchase, consider drastic measures, like moving in with relatives so you can put your rent payment into your savings.

Only slightly less disruptively, you could take in a roommate for a few months to halve your housing costs. Or rent your home on Airbnb for a couple of weekends while you crash on a friend’s couch. Can you carpool to work or telecommute a few days a week to save on gas and tolls? Cut cable? Cook at home instead of going through the drive-thru?

Take the money you’re saving and funnel it into an out-of-reach savings account. Keep it at a different bank from your regular checking, so you'll have to go out of your way to withdraw the money. Currently, some online options are paying a small amount of interest, which will help you get to your goal that much quicker. You can earn about 1% per year as of late 2015, at a place like Ally Bank, CIT Bank or Synchrony Bank. Just make sure they are not charging any banking fees that will eat away at your principal.

Another savings option is a site like SmartyPig, which allows you to set up an account for a specific savings goal and make automatic and other deposits into it. Whether it's a vacation or a car, you'll see your savings grow for that goal. You can even earn a smidge of interest, and if you can spend the money at a particular retailer — for example, you have your eye on a couch at Macy's — you can trade your savings for a gift card that offers a bonus amount. Your $1,500 in savings would translate to a $1,665 Macy's gift card (other retailers currently offer smaller bonus percentages).

Collect what’s owed to you

To save up even more money fast, look for funds that are owed to you or that are hiding somewhere. Have you accumulated credit card rewards? Request that cash-back check, or get a statement credit and save the payment you would have made. If you can only turn in your points for other items, like travel or gift cards, use them instead of your income for purchases you need to make now.

Do you have a coin jar or piggy bank? Get coin wrappers from the bank and spend an evening corralling your silver. Don’t drop the money into a Coinstar machine. It will take up to 10.9% of your haul! TD Bank customers are able to use their in-branch Penny Arcade machines for free (perhaps you have a friend who might help). And while you’re trying to save money fast, every penny counts.

How about any old, near-forgotten bank accounts? Take the time to close them out and collect the money left in them, however little. And while you’re at it, check your PayPal balance. No need to have money sitting there waiting for your next online purchase if you currently need it for something else.

Does anybody else out there owe you money? Get your brother to pay up on the football pool you won. And submit that long-procrastinated expense report. Don’t let your former landlord "forget" to refund your security deposit. And send in the rebate for your contact lenses. It’s your money, so get it into your account.

Line up a side job

If you’ve cut your spending to the bone and you’re still not coming anywhere near your saving target, it may be time to address the other important factor in the equation: your income.

Consider ways you could boost your pay, like picking up more hours at your current job. Or get a side gig that could enable you to save faster since that income is almost pure excess. While you might need to spend more on things like transportation to get to and from your second job, or on services that allow you to work more (like child care, food preparation or dry cleaning), for the most part, you can put all of your new earnings toward your goal.

Side gigs that many people can do include: babysitting, cleaning houses, picking up a bartending or waitressing shift, walking dogs or doing other odd jobs. New job platforms like TaskRabbit, eLance and Uber might have opportunities for you. If you have specialized skills — you can design websites, tutor an academic subject or teach a foreign language — you may be able to find clients who’ll pay you well to do them.

Sell your stuff

If you don’t have time for extra work hours, perhaps you have a few things lying around the house that someone would pay to take off your hands. Still-functional electronics, designer clothes, jewelry, collector’s items, old toys and bikes may have significant resale value.

Do some research to determine the best outlet for your no-longer-needed belongings. Technology and exercise equipment might fetch a nice price through a site like Craigslist, although the potential for scammy or unreliable buyers is high. Consignment shops and eBay can turn your clothing and collector’s items into cash.

Also consider an old-fashioned garage sale. A good-sized one can easily net you a few hundred bucks, even if you’re just selling old baby clothes by the bin.

The best part of trying to save up money fast? You’ll learn which strategies work well for you, and you can employ them again when a new need arises. Or maybe you’ll keep saving even after you’ve bought the house or the ring or the plane ticket. That way you’ll always have some cash handy to cover whatever expenses come your way.