Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
Think you can’t save any money? Think again. The 52-week money challenge, a plan that pushes you to save in growing increments each week, can not only help you save money, but it can help you have fun in the process.
The premise is simple. The first week you save $1, the second week you save $2, the third week you save $3 and so on. In week 52, you’ll save $52 and your total for the year will be $1,378. To get the most out of your efforts, compare savings account rates and deposit the money in a high-interest account where you can’t easily withdraw it.
By the time you get to week 52, you’ll likely have developed a saving habit. Read on for ways to make the 52-week money challenge work for you.
How to make the most of the 52-week money challenge
Every goal requires a series of steps. These strategies can make the 52-week savings plan go smoother.
- Automate your savings. The best way to save money is to have the money deducted from your checking account automatically, said Mark Charnet, founder of American Prosperity Group, a financial planning and wealth management company based in Pompton Plains, N.J. That way you won’t forget to save and you won’t be tempted to use the money on something else. Your bank may offer the ability to make automated transfers, or you can use an app such as the budgeting app Qapital. You can also automatically transfer the money into a high-yield savings account so that the money you're saving earns interest.
- Don’t be afraid to work around the rules. If you follow the 52-week savings plan precisely, you’ll save $10 the first four weeks and $202 the last four weeks. But what if you don’t have $202 to save the last month of the challenge? That could prevent you from completing the plan. We all have certain months in which we spend more money than others. If you start the 52-week challenge at the beginning of the year, you’ll be forced to save the most money during the holiday season when you may be spending more than usual. One way to get around that is to save the most money at times of the year when you have the most funds to save. You might tackle the challenge by saving $50 that week or $10 that week. If you write down all of the weekly savings goals and cross them off when you save that amount, you can tackle the savings goals when they make the most financial sense to you, regardless of the challenge schedule.
- Keep the plan going into year two. Once you’ve built up momentum, why stop? Saving is most effective when you’re consistent. Once you’re accustomed to saving every week, make that habit work for you, Charnet said. You might even do a variation of the 52-week challenge for year two. You can do the challenge the second year by saving an extra $2 each week. Or if you really want to be aggressive about your savings goals, you can start with $53 and save in increments up to $104.
- Engage in friendly competition. One way to make the plan more exciting is to grab a group of friends and see who can make it through the entire challenge. Dana S. Branham, a Lexington, Ky.-based financial wellness coach and author of Money Mayday: 7 Steps to Cleaning Up Your Money Mess, has encouraged clients to try the 52-week savings plan and post about it on social media. In doing so, they inspire others while publicly marking their progress. “When you’re trying to achieve financial goals, accountability is always good,” Branham said.
- Use smaller goals to stay on track. If you’re not accustomed to saving, it can be difficult to imagine stockpiling thousands of dollars in the bank or in an investment account. The 52-week challenge helps you to set a small goal, accomplish it and then make a larger goal. Each time you save more money, you show yourself that you can do it and you have more confidence in your ability to save an even higher amount, said Charnet. “The first year your goal is to accumulate $1000,” said Charnet. “When you’ve got your $1000, you’re 10% of the way to $10,000.”
Pros of the 52-week money challenge
Still not convinced that the 52-week money challenge is for you? Consider the following benefits.
- You make saving a habit. Researchers from University College London found that a habit could be formed by repeating an action for anywhere between 18 to 254 days. Whether you fall on the short end or long end of that spectrum, you’ll likely be comfortable with putting money aside for a rainy day by the end of a year.
- You’ll have amassed a chunk of savings by year end. With this plan, you don’t have to wonder how much you’ll be able to save. By simply following the steps, you’ll have more than $1,000 when you get to the end.
- You can pay debt or improve your finances. Once you’ve amassed that money, how can it best work for you? If you’re in debt, you can use your savings to pay it down or even possibly pay it off. You might also use the money to beef up your emergency fund, giving you more peace of mind.
As with anything there are benefits and drawbacks. Here are a couple of cons you might want to consider.
Cons of the 52-week money challenge
- You must maintain the plan throughout an entire year. Some people don’t like to commit themselves to a course of action for the long-term. If that describes you, the idea of following the plan for 52 weeks could be challenging. Also, some people might prefer a savings plan that allows them to contribute to it monthly or periodically rather than weekly.
- You must remember to save. Since your focus is on weekly goals, that creates one more thing you must add to your to-do list each week. However, you can get around this by automating your savings so you don’t have to think about it.
- You can’t tap into the savings early. If you’re serious about saving money and improving your finances, this really isn’t a drawback. If you’re worried about not being able to spend as much money as you’d like, you might need to re-think your priorities and what you want to accomplish financially over the next year.
Saving money is one of the most empowering actions you can take because as your balance grows, you’ll have more options for what you can do with your funds. If you want to have more than $1,000 this time next year, try a 52-week money challenge and prove to yourself that you can master the game of saving once and for all.