MONEY Savings

4 Surefire Strategies for Powering Up Your Savings

piggy banks of assorted colors on wood surface
Andy Roberts—Getty Images

You can't count on high investment returns forever. Take control of your future with these savings tips.

Welcome to Day 7 of MONEY’s 10-day Financial Fitness program. You’ve already seen what shape you’re in, figured out what’ll help you stick to your goals, and trimmed the fat from your budget. Today, put that cash to work.

It’s been a great ride. But the bull market that pumped up your 401(k) over the past six years won’t last forever. Even though the stock market is up so far this year, Wall Street prognosticators expect rising interest rates to keep a lid on big gains in 2015. Deutsche Bank, for example, is forecasting a roughly 4% rise in the S&P 500, far below last year’s 11% increase.

Over the next decade, stocks should gain an annualized 7%, while bonds will average 2.5%, according to the latest outlook from Vanguard, the firm’s most subdued projections since 2006.

While you can’t outmuscle the market, you do have one power move at your disposal: ramp up savings.

1. Find Your Saving Target

So how much should you sock away? This year Wade Pfau of the American College launched Retirement-Researcher.com, a site that tests how different savings strategies fare in current economic conditions. He found that households earning $80,000 or more must save 15% of earnings to live a similar lifestyle in their post-work years. While that assumes you’re saving consistently by 35 and retiring at 65, it does include your employer match, so in reality, you may be pitching in only 10% or so.

If you weren’t so on top of it by 35, you have a couple of options: Raise your annual number (Pfau puts it at 23% if you start at age 40) or catch up by saving in bursts. Research firm Hearts & Wallets found that people who boosted savings for an eight-to 10-year period (when mortgages or other big expenses fell away) were able to get back on track for retirement.

2. Think Income

New data show that people save more when they see how their retirement savings translates into monthly income, says Bob Reynolds, head of Putnam Investments. The company found that 75% of people who used its lifetime income analysis tool boosted their savings rate by an average of 25%. To see what your post-work payments will look like, check out Putnam’s calculator (you must be a client to use it) or try the one offered by T. Rowe Price.

3. Take Advantage of Windfalls

Don’t let all your “found money” get sucked into your checking account. Instead, make a point to squirrel away at least a portion of bonuses, savings from cheap gas, FSA reimbursements, and tax refunds. Eight in 10 people get an average refund of $2,800; use it to fund your IRA by the April 15 deadline, says Christine Benz of Morningstar.

4. Free Up Cash

Interest rates remain low. If you’re a refi candidate, you may be able to unlock some money that could be better used. Tom Mingone of Capital Management Group of New York suggests using your refi to pay off higher-rate debt. Say you took a PLUS loan (now fixed at 7.21%, though many borrowers are paying more) for your kid’s tuition: Pay that down.

Previous:

Next:

  • Day 8: Boost Your Earning Power
  • Day 9: Learn How Better Health Can Help Your Finances
  • Day 10: Shore Up Your Safety Net
MONEY Gas

Here’s What Americans Are Doing With the Gas Money They’re Saving

Gas nozzle and money
Tim McCaig—Getty Images

The government's Energy Information Administration estimates the average household will spend $750 less on gas this year. So where's that money going?

Americans are enjoying a nice raise at the moment, in the form of dramatically lower gas prices. The government’s Energy Information Administration estimates that the average household will spend $750 less on gas this year, which is like getting a roughly $1,000 raise, since the savings aren’t taxed. For a little perspective, the 2008 economic stimulus package passed by Congress designed to save America from the worst of the recession sent a maximum of $600 to American households.

The gas price drop means even more to struggling lower-income earners: the bottom fifth of earners spend 13% of their income on gas.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Retailers aren’t seeing much, if any, of that money.

Americans spent $6.7 billion less on gas in January than November, but retail spending actually fell slightly during that span. That means lower gas prices are not acting as a surprise stimulus plan for the economy.

So where is the money going? To the bank.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently reported that Americans’ notoriously low personal savings rate spiked in December, to 4.9%, from 4.3% the previous month. The cash that’s not going into the gas tank is going into savings and checking accounts instead.

Few Americans save enough money, and many have insufficient rainy-day funds. With the recession fresh in their minds, many Americans appear to be more concerned with restoring their severely damaged net worth than buying stuff.

But Logan Mohtashami, a market observer and mortgage analyst, suspects something else might be at play.

“People don’t think the gas price (drop) is a long-term reality,” Mohtashami said. Despite government predictions to the contrary, he says, consumers aren’t adjusting their spending to a new normal, and instead they’re holding onto their cash for the next rise in prices.

Again, that kind of pessimism is sensible, and it’s good for personal bank accounts, but it’s not so good for growing the economy.

How much are you saving thanks to lower gas prices? What are you doing with the “raise?” saving or paying down debt? Planning a better vacation? Driving a gas-guzzler more often? Let me know in the comments, or email me at bob@credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Budgeting

How to Start Tracking Your Spending in 7 Minutes Flat

stopwatch with money/dollar on it
George Diebold—Getty Images

If you want to save more or get out of debt, knowing where your money goes now is an essential first step.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute Spending Tracker

Seven minutes is a little tight to create a budget, but it’s enough to tackle the first step: pulling together all your spending info using a budgeting tool such as Mint. You’ll need your credit and debit cards to get started.

0:00 Surf to Mint.com and register for a free account.

0:42 Mint asks for your credit card providers and bank. As you type in each one, a list of possible matches will pop up. Select the right one and enter the online login and password you use for that account. (Mint is a secure site and cannot get to your money.)

3:02 Mint will need a minute to pull in all of your transactions, which it automatically slots into categories like “Cellphone” and “Groceries.” Problem is, the app doesn’t always get it right. To fix that, click the “Transactions” tab.

3:34 See those “uncategorized” charges? You can select them to choose a correct label. This is pretty tedious, so tick the box that says “always re-categorize X as Y.” That way, Mint will put all future transactions from that retailer in the right place.

5:02 When you did that, you probably also noticed some charges Mint tried to identify but placed into the wrong bucket. Scroll through those and correct them the same way.

6:30 Grab your phone and download the Mint app. Having the program handy will help you keep on top of charges.

7:00 Now you’re ready to click the “Budgets” tab and create a spending plan. For more help with that, check out our Money 101 stories on creating a budget you can stick to and setting financial priorities.

Previous:

Next:

  • Day 6: Cut the Fat From Your Budget
  • Day 7: Find Ways to Save More
  • Day 8: Boost Your Earning Power
  • Day 9: Learn How Better Health Can Help Your Finances
  • Day 10: Shore Up Your Safety Net
MONEY Saving & Budgeting

4 Ways to Hit Your Money Goals

150218_FIT_MOTIVATION
Gregory Reid

It's one thing to know that you need to save more money, find a better job, or pay down debt. It's another thing to actually do it. Employ these strategies to stay on track.

Welcome to Day 2 of MONEY’s 10-day Financial Fitness program. Yesterday, you did a self-assessment to see what kind of financial shape you’re in. Today, we help you find the motivation to take your finances to the next level.

Okay, you’ve checked your vitals, and you’re probably feeling pretty good about your starting point. According to Gallup’s annual Personal Financial Situation survey, 56% of people in households earning $75,000 or more say they are better off financially now than they were a year ago, up from 44% who felt that way in January 2014.

But just as even the most devoted gym-goer can get complacent, your financial confidence could stop you from reaching the next level. “In good economic times people save less and spend more,” says Dan Geller, a behavioral finance expert and the author of Money Anxiety. Keep the eye of the tiger even when you’re doing great. Here’s how.

1. Make a Specific Goal

When you show up at the gym without a plan, there’s a good chance you’ll shuffle on the treadmill for a half-hour and call it a day. Your financial life is no different. To boost your performance, start by zeroing in on a goal. A study by Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your aims just by writing them down. Indeed, people with a written financial plan save more than twice as much as those without a plan, says a Wells Fargo survey. The more specific the goal, the easier it is to tackle. Rather than plan to “cut costs,” focus on, say, paying off your mortgage five years early.

2. Buddy Up

Much as a workout partner provides motivation to get to the gym, recruiting a family member or friend to hold you accountable is a good way to stay on track. In another study by Matthews, some participants shared their goals with a friend via weekly updates—achieving their aims 33% more often than those who did not.

3. Get a Nudge

Sometimes you just need a reminder. A study by the Center for Retirement Research found that bank account holders who got reminders about their savings goals put away more cash than people who didn’t. It’s easy to set recurring calendar reminders on your PC or phone, or try a service like FollowUpThen.com, which lets you schedule emails to your future self.

4. Stickk It

Need something with more teeth? The website Stickk.com allows you to pledge a sum of money toward a goal, sign a commitment contract, and pick a friend to monitor your progress. Achieve your aim, and you get the money back. Miss it, and you lose the money, which is donated to charity or a friend.

Previous:

Next:

MONEY Love and Money

Why Cupid Is a Tightwad

In the new normal, fiscal prudence is sexier than ripped abs or buns of steel

When it comes to romance, who needs good looks? These days, Cupid is all about smart budgets and a sterling balance sheet, according to the latest findings on love and money.

A whopping 78% of Americans in a relationship say they prefer a partner who is good with money over one who’s physically attractive, according to a recent poll from rewards credit card Citi Double Cash. More than half believe their partner is looking out for their financial future.

Which is not to say Cupid is blind—but the arrow-slinging god of desire may simply be smarting from the Great Recession. Only recently have jobs and wages begun to show much strength. In this new normal, financial survival is sexier than ripped abs or knowing your way around a wine list. So it is that 52% of Americans expect their valentine this year to order takeout, not take them out, according to a love and money study from Ally Financial.

The Ally study also found that 55% are attracted to potential mates with strong budgeting and saving strategies. Specifically, 21% are attracted to those who pay as they go and avoid debt of any kind, while 18% are attracted to those who know how to chase down and seize a bargain. Just 3% are attracted to a suitor who appreciates the finer things and has a high credit card limit.

These findings help explain the rise of a dating site like creditscoredating.com, which seeks to address the concerns of the fiscally prudent lovelorn.

Yet love and money will always have an oil and water quality. People in a relationship are more than twice as likely to say they are the saver and that their mate is the spender in the union, according to a poll from SunTrust. About half agree that they and their partner have different spending habits. And among those who cop to relationship stress, the top cause is financial behavior.

The good news is that two-thirds say they do not have serious recurring arguments with their partner about money, Ally found. So this Valentine’s Day why not go cheap? The data suggest your date will adore you for it.

Read next: This is the sexiest financial habit

MONEY Autos

In a World of Self-Driving Vehicles, Car Ownership Would Plunge

A row of Google self-driving cars in Mountain View, California
Eric Risberg—AP A row of Google self-driving cars in Mountain View, California

That's the likely scenario according to a new study that shows the vast majority of American households wouldn't need more than one car.

If Google has its way, self-driving cars could be on the road and part of the mainstream perhaps as soon as 2020. It’s hard to say exactly how such a scenario would impact businesses and consumer behaviors, but theoretically the advent of self-driving vehicles could be truly transformative, including but not limited to the arrival of driverless Uber car services that would make it easier and cheaper than ever to order a ride, and even the potential elimination of drunk driving.

What about car ownership? Some of the research on the topic holds that driverless cars would put more vehicles on the road, but a new study suggests that self-driving vehicles could dramatically reduce car ownership, by cutting down on the number of cars needed in any one household.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) looked at patterns of car usage in American households and concluded that self-driving automobiles with a “return-to-home” mode “could reduce the number of vehicles needed within a single household by allowing sharing of vehicles in situations where it is not currently possible.” The idea is that the drivers in many households have little “trip overlap,” the term used to describe times during the day when more than one driver needs a vehicle. In households where there isn’t much overlap, a self-driving vehicle could, for example, bring one spouse to work early in the morning, then return home on its own to pick up the other in order to make a separate run to a different workplace, drop off kids at school, help run errands, etc., before retrieving that original dropoff at the end of the work day.

Just how big of a dent could that scenario make in car ownership? The average number of vehicles per American household is currently 2.1. According to the study, that could dip as low as 1.2, a reduction of 43%, if self-driving cars become a reality and people take advantage of it as expected.

Another eye-opening set of data show that, based on analysis of behavior and overlapping trips of family members, 42% of American households need two cars today. If and when self-driving models are here, however, only 15% would need two vehicles available. The need for three or more cars would plunge as well, from 26.5% today to less than 2% in an era of self-driving cars that could “return-to-home” when the need arose.

How likely is it that self-driving vehicles would cause car ownership rates to drop by nearly half, as projected? No one really knows. The authors of the UMTRI study acknowledge another potential scenario in which “individuals who are currently unable, unwilling, or prohibited from operating a vehicle become users of self-driving vehicles, [possibly bringing about] increased demand for vehicles and increased traffic volumes.”

Then again, it’s arguable that the theoretical projected decline in car ownership highlighted in the study could be on the low side. After all, the study doesn’t take into account the likelihood of households deciding in the future to book on-demand driverless cars when the need arises instead of owning one or more of their vehicles. There are too many unknowns and moving parts to truly see how this will all play out.

So where does that leave us? In some yet-to-be-determined way, “We’re on the cusp of a major mobility transformation,” the car experts at Edmunds.com noted, referring to the new UMTRI research. “This study offers a fascinating glimpse into the not-so-distant future.”

It’s a future that may come to view three-car (or even two-car) garages as sorta useless.

MONEY Saving

Why Candy Companies Hate the Way You’re Shopping

Candy at newsstand
Patti McConville—Alamy

When shoppers are picking up groceries curbside or staring at their smartphones in the checkout line, they're not going to impulsively buy chocolate bars.

No one heads to the supermarket or drugstore with a shopping list that reads:

• Overpriced bottle of Coke
• Trashy celebrity magazine
• Bag of candy I’m not supposed to eat

At least, we hope no one has ever created such a shopping list.

Regardless, those items are snatched up and purchased by many shoppers, typically because they’re tempted while waiting in the checkout area. As customers stand in line, surrounded by the goodies stocked in the vicinity of the cash registers, sometimes their rumbling stomachs and base curiosities get the better of them. The result: They drop a few bucks to satisfy a chocolate craving or read about the latest contrived Kardashian scandal, and the store wins some quick and easy profits.

But what if there were no opportunity for the store to tempt you into making such ill-advised impulse buys? Well, in fact, it’s getting harder for stores to nudge customers into making checkout impulse grabs, and tech is a big reason why.

While the advent of smartphones doesn’t eliminate the possibility of checkout impulse purchases, research indicates that our iPhones and Androids serve as “mobile blinders” that shield us from mindlessly eyeing the candy shelves and other checkout area temptations. In other words, because we’re checking email or Twitter or Instagram or playing some silly game on our phones, the odds are lower that we’ll buy, or even see, gum, chocolate, and the latest issue of Cosmo.

What’s more, online shopping, as well as the increasingly popular option of ordering groceries or other goods online and then picking up purchases curbside, all but negates any chance for the shopper to make an impulse buy. Another potential impulse purchase killer is self-checkout: Because shoppers are occupied with scanning their orders, they’re not thinking about how wonderful that chocolate bar in front of them would taste.

For obvious reasons, companies whose business relies on such impulse purchases aren’t happy about any of this, and at least one large candy company is doing something about it. Recently, the blog Retail Wire took note of some comments on the topic—and what’s known by insiders as “dwell time”—made by Chris Witham, a senior manager of front-end experience for Hershey, at an industry event.

“Anytime there is a pause in the shopping trip and shoppers take a look at some of the merchandising that is available, that is dwell time,” explained Witham. Obviously, retailers and companies like Hershey want shoppers to encounter some “dwell time” in order to maximize the odds that they will add an impulse purchase to their carts. Still, they don’t want shoppers to get annoyed by being forced to wait around forever. “As they get to pay points, how much is a good amount of dwell time [going] to encourage impulse purchase, but not have a detrimental effect on the shopping trip as a whole?”

Among the strategies Hershey is actively working on to counter the effects of technology and boost opportunities for impulse buys are adding on-demand chocolate dispensers to self-checkout areas, as well as candy and snack kiosks and vending to curbside pickup areas and perhaps near the pumps at gas stations. What’s clear is that candy companies aren’t simply going to give up on pushing impulse sales, no matter how technology changes the game.

“Impulse, in an indulgent business, is really important … But shopping is changing, and impulse is under threat,” said Frank Jimenez, Hershey’s senior director of retail evolution, according to The (UK) Guardian. “What happens if and when the checkout goes away?”

And what happens if the majority of shoppers turn into those described by the Wall Street Journal last fall:

They are time-pressed and deal savvy, visiting stores only when they run out of items like cereal or toilet paper and after doing extensive research on purchases online and with friends. They buy what they came for—and then leave.

There’s little to no chance a store can ensnare this kind of shopper in an impulse buy. It’s a good thing for stores, and for companies such as Hershey, that other research indicates that 9 out of 10 consumers buy things that aren’t on their shopping lists, and that millennials are most likely to make impulse buys not because they spotted a good deal or promotion but simply to pamper themselves.

Among the takeaways for shoppers who don’t want to be suckered into impulse purchases: 1) Shop with a list. 2) Stick to the list. 3) Keep your head down at the checkout area to avoid temptation. 4) Take advantage of online shopping and/or curbside pick-up services when they make sense.

MONEY Aging

Why Confidence May Be Your Biggest Financial Risk in Retirement

portrait of aging woman
F. Antolín Hernández—Getty Images

Seniors lose ability to sort out financial decisions but hold on to the confidence they can get it right.

You think it’s tough managing your 401(k) now, just wait until you are 80 and not quite as sharp as you once were—or still believe yourself to be.

Cognitive decline in humans is a fact. It starts before you are 30 but picks up speed around age 60. A slow decline in the ability to think clearly wasn’t an issue years ago, before the longevity revolution extended life expectancy beyond 90 years. But now we’re making key financial decisions way past our brain’s peak.

Managing a nest egg in old age is the most pressing area of financial concern, owing to the broad shift away from guaranteed-income traditional pensions and toward do-it-yourself 401(k) plans. Older people must consider complicated issues surrounding asset allocation and draw-down rates. They also must navigate an array of mundane decisions on things like budgets, tax management, and just choosing the right cable package. Some will have to vet fraudulent sales pitches.

About 15% of adults 65 and older have what’s called mild cognitive impairment—a condition characterized by memory problems well beyond those associated with normal aging. They are at clear risk of making poor money decisions, and this is usually clear to family who can intervene. Less clear is when normal decline becomes an issue. But it happens to almost everyone.

Normal age-related cognitive decline has a noticeable effect on financial decision making, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, finds in a new paper. Researchers have followed the same set of retirees since 1997 and documented their declining ability to think through issues. Despite measurable cognitive decline, however, these retirees (age 82 on average) demonstrated little loss of confidence in their knowledge of finance and almost no loss of confidence in their ability to manage their financial affairs.

Critically, the survey found, more than half who experience significant cognitive decline remain confident in their money know-how and continue to manage their finances rather than seek help from family or a professional adviser. “Older individuals… fail to recognize the detrimental effect of declining cognition and financial literacy on their decision-making ability,” the study concludes. “Given the increasing dependence of retirees on 401(k)/IRA savings, cognitive decline will likely have an increasingly significant adverse effect on the well-being of the elderly.”

Not everyone believes this is a disaster in the making. Practice and experience that come with age may offset much of the adverse impact from slipping brainpower, say researchers at the Columbia Business School. They acknowledge inevitable cognitive decline. But they conclude that much of its effect can be countered in later life if problems and decisions remain familiar. It’s mainly new territory—say mobile banking or peer-to-peer lending—that prove dangerously confusing.

In this view, elders may be just fine making their own financial decisions so long as terms and features don’t change much. They will be well served by experience and muscle memory—and helped further by smart, simplified options like target-date mutual funds and index funds as their main retirement account choices. The problem is that nothing ever really stays the same. Seniors who recognize the unfamiliar and seek trusted advice have a better shot at keeping their finances safe throughout retirement.

Read next: Why Your Employer May Be Your Best Financial Adviser

MONEY consumer psychology

7 Ways to Trick Yourself into Saving More Money in 2015

piggy bank in various clamps and a vice
Steve Greer—Getty Images

These simple strategies can help you squeeze more out of your budget—and end the year with a lot more cash socked away than you started with.

If your New Year’s resolutions included growing—or starting—your savings, you’re already ahead of the pack.

Only about a third of Americans recently surveyed by Fidelity made any kind of financial resolution this year; and of those who did, just over half were aiming to stash more cash.

Kudos to you for taking this important step toward financial security.

Want to make sure your good intentions aren’t derailed before the month is out? The key is taking initial actions that will make repeating good habits easier, says University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler.

“We tend to revert to our long-run tendencies,” says Thaler. “To effect real changes, you have to make some structural change in the environment.”

With that wisdom in mind, the seven life changes that follow will help you save more money this year.

1. Use Inertia to Your Advantage

Research by Thaler and others has shown that people are victims of inertia: If you aren’t used to saving money with regularity, it’s likely going to feel like such a chore to start that you’ll never bother—or, you’ll quit after one account transfer.

But when your money is already being saved automatically, inertia works in your favor, since it’ll take more effort to stop saving than to do nothing. That is why a growing number of 401(k) plans offer automatic enrollment with a default monthly contribution rate.

Still, you may need to stick a hand in the machine if you want to have financial freedom in retirement, since the default rate (often around 3% of salary) won’t get you far in your golden years. Most planners recommend saving at least 10% of income.

Even if you set up your own plan, you probably haven’t touched your contribution rate since; more than a third of participants haven’t, according to a TIAA-CREF survey.

You can benefit from another relatively new feature called “auto-escalation.” Offered by nearly half of companies, auto-escalation lets you set your savings rate to bump up annually at a date of your choosing and to an amount of your choosing.

For other savings accounts, harness your own “good” inertia by setting up automatic transfers on payday from checking to savings (if you don’t see the money, you won’t get attached to it). Better yet, ask your HR department if you can split your direct deposit to multiple accounts.

2. Keep Your Eye on One Prize

Setting up automatic savings works well if your income and expenses are predictable; but what if either or both aren’t set in stone? You can save money as you go, but you’ll be more successful if you narrow your objectives.

Research from the University of Toronto found that savers often feel overwhelmed by the number of goals they need to put away money for—a stress that can lead to failure. Thinking about multiple objectives forces people to consider tradeoffs, leaving them waffling over choices instead of taking action.

One solution? Prioritize your goals, then knock out one at a time. If you know you need to contribute $5,000 to your retirement funds this year, focus on completing that first. Once it’s done, move on to saving for that dream home.

Another strategy is to think about your goals as interconnected; participants in the Toronto study were also able to overcome their uncertainty about saving when they integrated their objectives into an umbrella goal. So, for example, if you are saving for both a car and a vacation, consider setting up a “road trip” fund.

3. Focus on the Future

A part of what keeps people from saving is that we don’t connect our future aspirations with our present selves, research shows.

One way to get around that is by running some numbers on your retirement using a calculator like T. Rowe Price’s. When participants in a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research were sent exact figures showing how retirement savings contributions translated into income in retirement, they increased their annual contributions by more than $1,000 on average.

Another easy trick? Download an app like AgingBooth, which will show you how you’ll look as a geezer. One study showed that interacting with a virtual reality image of yourself in old age can make you better at saving.

This trick can work for more than just retirement. Another study found that when savers were sent visual reminders of their savings goals, they ended up with more cash stored up. Consider leaving photos of your goal (e.g., images of your children or dream home) next to the computer where you do your online banking to cue you to put more away.

4. Ignore Raises and Bonuses

As Harvard professor Sendhil Mullainathan has said, the biggest problem with getting a bonus is it’ll likely make you want to celebrate and spend it all—plus some.

The windfall creates an “abundance shock,” which gives you a misleading sense of freedom.

The simplest solution to this problem is to pretend you never got the raise or bonus in the first place, and to instead direct that new money into savings right away. (Remember the 401(k) auto-escalation tip? Set your contribution to bump up the week you get your raise.)

The same goes for when you return an item to a store for a refund or get a transportation reimbursement check in the mail. The faster you put extra cash into savings, the faster you’ll forget about spending it.

5. Make it Contractual

Carrots and sticks work.

One study asked smokers who were trying to quit to save money in an account for six months; at the end of the period, if a urine test showed them free of nicotine, the money was theirs. If not, the cash was donated to charity.

Surprise, surprise: People who participated in the savings account were more likely to have been cigarette-free at the six-month mark than a control group.

If you’re the type who responds to disincentives, enlist a buddy who can help you enforce upon yourself some kind of punishment if you don’t live up to your savings goal (e.g., you might promise a roommate that you’ll clean the bathroom for six weeks).

Maybe you respond better to positive feedback? Simply having a supportive friend or relative to report to on a set schedule may help you achieve results, as many of those who have participated in a group weight loss program like Weight Watchers can attest. Or you might look for some (non-monetary) way to reward yourself if successful.

You can use the website Stickk.com—inspired by the aforementioned study on smokers—to set up a commitment contract that involves incentives or disincentives.

6. Keep Impulses from Undoing Your Budget

Setting aside cash is only half of the equation when it comes to saving more: It’s just as important to keep spending under control.

Most people know to shop carefully—and early—for big-ticket items like cars or airline tickets (which are cheapest 49 days before you’re due to fly). But the premium for procrastinating on smaller items can also add up: Studies show that people spend more on last-minute purchases partly because shopping becomes a defensive act, focused on avoiding disappointment vs. getting the best value.

So give yourself plenty of time to research any item you’re planning to buy. And always go shopping with a list.

When you see an item that tempts you to diverge from your list, give yourself a 24-hour cooling-off period. Ask a sales clerk to keep the item on hold. Or, put it in your online shopping cart, until the same time tomorrow (chances are, that e-tailer will send you a coupon).

Or you could try this trick that MONEY writer Brad Tuttle uses to determine whether an item is worthy of his dough: Pick a type of purchase you love—in his case, burritos—and use that as a unit of measurement. For example, if you see a $120 shirt you like, you can ask yourself, “Is this really worth 10 burritos?” Likewise, you could measure the cost of an item in terms of how many hours of work you had to put in to earn the money to pay for it.

Also, since gift-shopping procrastination undoes a lot of people’s budgets, you might think about starting a spreadsheet where you can jot down ideas for presents year-round. That way, someone’s birthday rolls around, you can shop for a specific item on price rather than spending out of desperation.

Finally, remember that “anchor” prices can bias us to be thrifty or extravagant. So when you are shopping for products that range widely in price (like clothes or cars), start by inspecting cheaper items before viewing pricier ones. That way your brain will stay “anchored” to lower prices, and view the costlier options with more scrutiny.

7. Force Yourself to Feel Guilty

Surveys show that about a third of people don’t check their credit card statements every month.

That’s a problem, and not only because vigilance is your best defense against extraneous charges or credit card fraud. Seeing your purchases enumerated can also help reign in spending by making you feel guilty—one of many reasons people avoid looking.

Another perk of staying up-to-date with your bills: It makes you more aware of paying for redundant services, like Geico and AAA car insurance or Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

Keep in mind that shaving off a recurring monthly payment gives you 12x the bump in savings. So a few of these expenses could boost your annual savings by a few hundred bucks. That’s a lot of burritos.

More on resolutions:

Read next: These Types of People End Up More Successful and Make More Money

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY 401(k)s

Why Your Employer May Be Your Best Financial Adviser

150121_RET_ADVISOREMPLOYER
Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

Employers are offering more than 401(k) advice. They are adding financial wellness programs that help workers budget, save for a home, and more.

Large employers are taking on the roles of retirement adviser and financial educator in increasing numbers, new research shows. This is welcome news, because the federal government and our schools have not done a great job on this front, and individuals generally have not been able to manage well on their own.

Employers have been tiptoeing into retirement planning for workers for years as part of their 401(k) plan benefits. Typically, the advice has been offered in the form of printed materials and online informational websites. More recently, personalized advice has become available through call-in services and, in some cases, face-to-face meetings with planners arranged through work.

But what started as help with, say, settling on a contribution rate and choosing appropriate investment options has evolved into a more rounded service that may offer lessons in how to budget and save for college or a home. A breathtaking 93% of employers intend to beef up their efforts at helping workers achieve overall financial wellness in a way that goes beyond retirement issues, according to an Aon Hewitt survey.

This effort promises to fill a deep void. Just five states require a stand-alone personal finance course in high school, and just 13 require money management instruction as part of some other class. Meanwhile, the Social Security and pension safety net continues to grow threadbare. Someone has to take charge of our crisis in financial know-how.

Employers don’t relish this role. It comes with lots of questions about fiduciary duty and liabilities related to the advice that is proffered. Yet legal obstacles are slowly being cleared away to encourage more employer involvement, which is coming in part out of self interest. Financially fit workers are more productive and more engaged, research shows.

A company that offers a financial wellness benefit could save $3 for every $1 they spend on their programs, according to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report. These programs also reduce absenteeism and worker disability costs. That’s because money problems may cause stress that leads to ill health. So helping employees improve not just their retirement plan but their entire financial picture makes sense.

Among the upgrades most popular with employers, Aon found:

  • 69% offer online investment guidance, up from 56% last year, and 18% of the rest are very likely to add this feature in 2015.
  • 53% offer phone access to financial advisers, up from 35% last year.
  • 49% offer third-party investment advice, up from 44% last year.

Aon also found that 34% of employers have cut their 401(k) plan’s administrative and other costs, compared with just 27% a year ago. This echoes a BrightScope study, which found that employers generally are beefing up investment options while reducing fees in their 401(k) plans. In all, it seems employers are embracing their role as financial big brother—for their own good as well as the good of their workers.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser