Let's say you want to keep the kids out of the cookie jar. Do you lecture them on the importance of a well-rounded diet and describe for them how they need to work on their self-control? Well, you could do that, and once that failed you'd probably learn to just put the cookie jar on the top shelf, out of reach of those tiny grasping fingers.
Surprisingly, this simple solution may be the remedy to what is plaguing many American households. People are simply spending too much and not saving enough, and easy access to cash could be the root of it all. If you find that your savings are dwindling, make it a hassle, make it a hardship, make it a downright pain in the butt to spend your money, and you'll find that you actually spend a lot less of it. This article will show you how to place your savings on the proverbial top shelf.
Evaluate Your Current Situation
This is the place to start when determining where your savings account should be. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Am I juggling money between two accounts on a monthly basis to cover automatic payments or stay above a certain account threshold?
- Would I still splurge on luxury items if I didn't have online access to withdraw money from my savings account?
- Would I still make as many withdrawals if I didn't have convenient ATM access to my savings account?
- Would I be less likely to take out money if I had to go to a bank and wait in line?
The answers to these questions should give you an idea if easy access to cash is the cause of your savings problems. If you answered "no" to all of these questions, there could be bigger problems than access at play, and it may be time to rethink your budget. Assuming that you answered "yes" to at least one of the questions, however, it's now time to boost your savings by putting your savings account out of reach. (For budget advice, read The Beauty Of Budgeting and our Budgeting 101 Special Feature.)
Creating a Top Shelf for Your Account
Reaching your savings goals can be difficult when you have easy access to your cash. The first problem pops up when your savings account happens to be in the same bank as your checking account. How do you hide your money from yourself? Give your savings account its own life in its own locale, preferably in a different bank without a debit card.
When all it takes is a few button presses, many people are easily tempted to dip into their savings. Splurging on a night out or the latest must-have item, is easy when there is no effort involved on your part. However, if you had to drive to one bank to withdraw "fun money" from your savings then drive to another bank to deposit it, your fun money might suddenly seem a lot less fun.
Ask yourself how far you are willing to drive for a take-out burger, then make sure your "savings" bank is further than that. You don't want a bank that is conveniently located near where you, work, live or exercise, or near any place that tempts you to splurge.
ATM access to your savings account can create a strong temptation to withdraw money from your account just as it did for having both accounts in the same bank. The simple solution here is to tell your current or new bank that you don't want an ATM card (be prepared for some quizzical looks from the teller) or just cut up the one you have. (For tips on setting up a bank account, read Your First Checking Account and Money Market Vs. Savings Accounts.)
Interest Rate Shopping
Since you will be establishing a new account anyway, now is the time to compare interest rates among those banks that meet your distance criteria. Don't forget to include online-only banks. You might find that having a new account helps you to not spend money you have deposited - and you can actually earn more money through the interest rate.
However, no matter which bank you choose, make sure it doesn't charge fees for going below a minimum balance. If your savings balance at any time is below the set minimum balance, part of your savings will be eaten up by fees. (To learn more, read The Ins And Outs Of Bank Fees.)
Set Up an Online "Bill" to Pay Yourself
If you choose a location that's out of your way, you will still need a way to deposit money into your account. The key is to make withdrawal a hassle but deposits a breeze. You can do this in several ways. The easiest method for depositing money is to set up an automatic bill payment (bill pay) to your new account. If you have online bill pay available from your checking account, create a new payee: for the payee name, use your name; for the payee account, use your new savings account number; for the payee address, use the address that your new bank provided to you on the deposit slips. You can also use the same address to send in payments through regular mail.
When to Withdraw Money from Savings
Hiding your savings account will only make sense if you develop a clear set of guidelines for when you allow yourself to withdraw money. This could be when you reach a goal, such as a down payment on a home or vehicle, or when you have an unexpected medical expense. (For tips on dealing with unexpected expenses read Are You Living Too Close To The Edge?)
What you don't want to do is make withdrawals from your savings account to cover regular monthly expenses or overspending from a night out. It's important for your savings account to grow and that your normal monthly budget allows you to live within your income.
Hiding your savings account from yourself through distance to the bank or forgoing ATM privileges can help your money to grow. And, you won't be tempted to withdraw your money before stockpiling enough to meet your savings goals. This top-shelf approach to savings will help you keep your belt tight and your spending waistline under control.