By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]
Aside from making a New Year’s resolution, there is perhaps no better time for military families to save money than April. If they are early tax filers, a tax refund may be coming or may have already arrived. In addition, big winter home heating bills are in the rear view mirror and, ideally, lingering holiday credit card bills too.
What’s the best way for military families to save money? There is no one right answer. Automatic payroll deductions work well for many people, For example, they have deposits into a credit union account or Thrift Savings Plan retirement savings automatically taken out of their paycheck, before they spend it. Other people do well saving loose change in a jar and depositing it periodically in a savings account as the jar fills up.
A third way to save money is to complete a savings challenge that gradually ramps up deposits. While many people start these challenges during the first full week of January, as a New Year’s resolution, they can be started in April or at any other time. Another option is to make a “catch up deposit” in April, perhaps using tax refund money, and then complete a calendar year challenge from that point forward until the end of December.
Below is a description of four different savings challenges and how they operate:
The 52-Week Money Challenge– Perhaps the oldest of the money challenges (original source unknown) that are all over social media, especially in January, this challenge begins with a $1 deposit during Week #1. The weekly deposit rises by $1 per week and reaches $52 during the final week of the Challenge (Week #52), with total savings of $1,378. Some people have suggested doing the 52-Week Money Challenge in reverse. Some people have more money in January (e.g., from holiday gifts or a year-end bonus at work) than they do in December, which tends to be a very expensive month for many people with holiday gifts and travel. The “reverse challenge” strategy is also very motivating. After five weeks, you already have $250 saved. A third way to do the 52-Week Money Challenge is to pick an amount each week that you can afford (e.g., $25 one week and $16 the next) and complete the challenge in any order. Tracking forms are available at
The 52-Week Youth Money Challenge– I created this challenge for parents to use with their children. See http://www.slideshare.net/BarbaraONeill/52-week-money-challenge-for-youth0315. Weekly savings deposits are 10 weeks each of $1, $2, $3, $4, and $5, resulting in $150 of savings. Week #51 is an optional $25 from birthday gifts and Week #52 is an optional $25 from holiday gifts ($200 total). There is also an option for parents to provide a 50% ($100) match of their child’s savings, resulting in total annual savings of $300.
The 15-Week Money Challenge– I created this challenge for high school and college students and adults with short-term financial goals. See http://www.slideshare.net/BarbaraONeill/15-week-college-student-money-challenge0715. The Basic Challenge includes five weeks of $10 savings, five weeks of $20 savings, and five weeks of $30 savings, resulting in a total accumulation of $300. The “Hard Core” Challenge starts with a $10 weekly deposit and ramps up the savings deposit by $5 per week for a final deposit of $80, resulting in a total accumulation of $675. The 18 students in my Fall 2015 Rutgers University Personal Finance class took the challenge as an initial pilot test and collectively saved almost $6,000 over the course of the semester.
The $2,500 Savings Challenge– I created this challenge to ramp up the amount saved from the 52-Week Money Challenge. I also like round numbers. Hence, the $2,500 savings goal. See http://www.slideshare.net/BarbaraONeill/50-week-2500-savings-challenge. The challenge begins with a $2 deposit during Week #1. The weekly deposit rises by $2 per week and reaches a high of $98. There are two weeks “off” at a saver’s discretion and a $50 deposit is made during the final week of the Challenge (Week #50), with total savings of $2,500. Like the 52-Week Money Challenge, the $2,500 Savings Challenge can be done forward, backward, or in any order that works for individual savers.
Want to save money for future financial goals? Challenge yourself and/or your children to save by completing one of the four savings challenges described above. For more information about the benefits of saving money, visit http://articles.extension.org/pages/8634/financial-security:-saving-and-investing and http://www.americasaves.org/.