Monday, May 4, 2015

How I trick myself into saving

Saving small amounts can help build emergency cash, but sometimes what's required is a little pressure to fill a gap.

How I trick myself into saving

From the time I was a kid, I’ve been a saver.

Passbook savings accounts, certificates of deposit, money market mutual funds - I’ve used them all over the years for different purposes. Now, cash accounts are where I keep the three months worth of expenses that the experts always say is the minimum we need on hand.

But until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t bought a CD since the mid-’90s. I’d let the last one mature shortly before buying my first house. Money market funds and my savings account with an Internet bank just seemed more flexible and convenient. No penalties for early withdrawal.

So why did I do it?

Well, I’m saving for a hefty planned expense coming next spring.

Remember the good old days of saving up for that new bike you wanted instead of reaching for a credit card? Nostalgia is nice, but I find I save better when I trick myself into doing it. For years, I had $25 a month automatically deposited from my checking into a savings account. (I didn’t miss such a small amount of money, so I upped it to $50 a couple of years ago.)

Sock away $50 a month over 10 years and you’ll have more than $6,000. Some would say that’s almost real money.

How am I tricking myself into saving for this expense? I “depleted” my emergency cash pile by a few thousand by putting it into a 6-month CD.

The money’s not gone. It’s not untouchable. But because I can only tap it by paying a penalty of 3 months’ interest, it feels like I have less of an emergency cash cushion.

So I adjusted the automatic deposit amount in my savings account with the goal of replacing the principal amount in the next six months. I’m hoping it won’t squeeze the household budget too much. So far, so good.

Reality check time: My CD carries an annual percentage yield of 1.55 percent. That’s better than the average 1.354 percent APY for 6-month CDs, according to And it’s better than the 1.3 percent yield on my savings account.

But I won’t yell “jackpot” anytime soon.

Still look at it this way: Every little bit helps.

Plus, six months from now, if I wind up not having to pay that expense, I will have just strengthened my household safety net.

Or I might buy a new bike.

Inquirer Columnist
About this blog
Mike Armstrong blogs about Philadelphia corporations and business-related topics. Contact him at 215-854-2980. Reach Mike at

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