My philosophy once was: If it isn't in the bank I can't spend it. So I would let two or three paychecks accumulate on my dresser (probably to the dismay of my employer) to keep those funds from burning a hole in my checking account.
Then I figured it was time to come up with better tricks for building up savings (and one demonstrating a little more self control), to avoid turning into my grandmother -- stashing wads of cash in a mattress for the next Dust Bowl.
If you're like me and have to trick yourself into saving, here are ways to help your inner penny-pincher wrestle your spendthrift-self to the ground.1. Direct deposit
If you do get a regular paycheck, ask your employer to deposit a portion of it into a savings account. Then make sure that account is not too accessible. It defeats the purpose if you start dipping into it "just this once."
2. Set a goal
There was nothing like experiencing Chicago's worst blizzard in a decade to motivate me to save up for an excursion to warmer lands. Whether your goal is paying down debt (which you should do before making any big purchases anyway) or buying a new bicycle for the spring, try opening an online piggy bank like SmartyPig. This will help you map out short- and long-term savings goals and sync them to an FDIC-insured, interest-earning, free savings account. Then you can "experience the personal satisfaction and financial rewards that come from systematically saving for specific purchases."
3. You owe it to yourself
When writing out checks for rent and utilities, convince yourself that you owe [your name here], Inc. $30 each month. Put it in your savings account. If I had started this from Week 1 of college I would have saved almost $1,500 by graduation.
4. Designate a denomination
There was a story in the Boston Globe about a woman who saves every $5 bill she ever touches. After three years she had $12,000. This takes a lot of will power, but it could be a fun game. Some adherents to this method admit to requesting specific configurations when receiving change to avoid having to handle their bill of choice. Be it quarters or ones or fives; pick a denomination and -- NO EXCEPTIONS -- put it all aside. Once this fund starts to grow, you can move it to a savings account where it will earn some interest.
5. Would your mom buy it?
When out shopping with my mom, she used to ask me "would you spend your own money on this?" to gauge how important the purchase (I wanted) was. If my answer was "probably not," then she saw no reason to buy it for me with her money. It's always easier to spend someone else's money. Now that you are in charge of your own finances, make sure every purchase is really worth it.
The most pleasant surprise about this forced-savings plan was that my lifestyle hasn't changed much. Without the extra money lying dormant in my account, I just don't buy as much useless stuff. Once you are in the habit of pretending that your money isn't there for the spending, you should be quite pleased at how easy the savings battle becomes.
Sarah Smith is a junior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in international studies and visual communication. She writes for Money College about her personal finance experiences as a student.