how to trick yourself into saving money

First Published: July 1, 2016  | Last Updated:

The gist: In this post you learn how to start automating your finances to save money, even if you have crap money management skills! 💰

For the past year, my monthly expenses have been inconsistent, precarious, and terrifying.

The cost of diagnosing a chronic illness (one that did not want to be diagnosed), managing the flare-ups with expensive medications and holistic treatments not covered by insurance, and maintaining ongoing treatment with regular doctors appointments?

Not a cheap process, as it turns out. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve come close to broke several times by now, but my “secret backup funds” always save me.

And when I say secret, I mean secret from myself.

I use automation to trick myself into saving money. 🤖

That’s right, I trick myself into saving money.

How, you ask?

When I use automation to save money, I forget I’m saving it. Then I log into my bank account and my savings balance is just like, “OH HAY LOOK HOW MUCH I’VE GROWN!”

So in this post, I’m sharing a few of the systems and tools I use to automate my finances. 💰

And since what works best for me might be wrong for you, I’ll also share a few other options for automating your finances.

*Note: This post contains affiliate links, because saving money isn’t as good as making money  So when you sign up – completely free – I get a little bonus. 😉

6 ways to automate your finances (ranked from “simple” to “fancy af”)

1. Set up recurring transfers from your checking account to your savings account

First, let’s start simple:

Automatic transfers with your existing banking accounts are the easiest thing you can do. This option’s probably free, reliable, and available inside tools you ALREADY use.

Here’s what it looks like inside my own online banking account:

As you can see, you don’t have a TON of options, but do you need a ton of options?

Especially if you’re just starting to better manage and automate your finances, a simple weekly or bi-weekly transfer is perfect to get the savings ball rolling.

This was my own first step. When I was first trying to break the habit of spending my whole paycheck even when I didn’t need to, I started automatically putting away $20 per week. And a year later, that was over $1,000, without doing anything else.

Pro tip: schedule automatic transfers to occur close to when you normally get paid (if it’s on a regular schedule). That way, the $20 comes off the top before you have a chance to see it and spend it.

2. Set up automatic credit card payments

This is another basic step to take care of ASAP. While it’s not literally saving money right away, getting consistent credit card payments set up for yourself will save SO much money in interest. I speak from experience.

The interface will look similar to the screenshot above, and you’ll want to time them according to your billing cycle and payment due date.

3. Make automatic transfers to retirement accounts

This is another simple one, especially if you’re employed full-time.

It probably will only take a conversation with HR and filling out a short form to get started, if I remember correctly! Then, money will automatically be taken out of your paycheck.

It isn’t rated “most simple” because if your employment/career situation doesn’t include retirement benefits, it’s more complicated. This is my own situation right now as a freelancer, so I’m not currently contributing to my retirement accounts.

I’m not gonna throw out specific plan recommendations – I’m nowhere near qualified to! I may not be rich but I am self-aware. 🙃

But I do know that the options exist and can make things simple and automated.

4. Set a recurring to-do to redeem rewards

Before we finish talking about tools you’re already using, let’s talk the rewards programs for your existing debit and credit cards.

Most of them offer *some* type of rewards or cash back, but they make it hard to enroll in them, redeem your rewards, or both. What’s the point of earning rewards you don’t use?

So I use a recurring task in my to-do list manager to log in and redeem them so I don’t forget. Since my credit card’s rewards info changes quarterly, that’s how often I log in. But you choose the time interval that works for you!

5. Create your own savings rules with Qapital

Moving onto new fun tools to try, Qapital is my favorite way to save money as an automation geek. It even connects to IFTTT!

(Disclaimer: I’ve seen reviews say it’s not free, but I can’t find evidence of being charged for it, so it might only be for certain plans or locations. I do not know.)

Qapital is basically a robot that moves money for you based on rules you set up. Rules more advanced than just recurring dates. 🤓


I mean, they DO have recurring transfers, called “set & forget rules,” but they have SO MANY other rules too. Those include:

  • Payday rules, where it transfers and saves money each time you get paid.
  • Roundup rules, where every time you use your debit card, Qapital rounds up to the nearest dollar and saves the rest.
  • Guilty pleasure rules, which puts away money when you use your card on things you don’t want to.
  • Spend less rule, where you set a budget for yourself and it saves any money leftover.
  • The freelancer rule, which sets aside 30% every time you get paid (for taxes).
  • The 52-week rule, which saves money every week in increasing increments to create a savings snowball effect.
  • Apple Health rules, which saves money based on your activity in Apple Health and meeting your nutrition & fitness goals.
  • Customizable rules through IFTTT recipes

You can also create multiple savings goals.

I created a MacBook goal to save for the laptop I’m writing this from right now. It’s also how I save money for taxes, and how I “punish” myself for going to too many movies.

6. Or let Digit set the rules for you

If you don’t want to set up all those custom savings rules yourself, you can try a more hands-off app with Digit.

Digit is what I used before moving Qapital for more customization, and it’s a wonderful mix of set-it-and-forget-it and motivating-on-a-daily-basis.

It’s set-it-and-forget it in that you don’t need to set up all the rules and stuff that’s included in Qapital in order to start saving. You just create the goals or “buckets” to start putting money towards, and it automatically transfers money based on your account balance and spending patterns.

But it’s still really motivating because it texts you (or sends you notifications if you have the app) about how much you’re saving towards your goals. As soon as they sent me one of my favorite Happy Endings gifs, I. was. in.

happy endings money gif

7. Dip your toe in investing with Acorns

Finally, the last awesome automation app I want to mention today is Acorns. It operates pretty much like Digit and Qapital, except it moves your money into investments instead of a savings account.

I know that there are cheaper ways to automate investing, but they require more investment skills and knowledge. And as we established at the beginning of this post, I’m. not. good. at. this. money. stuff.

I also don’t totally understand investing, no matter how many times I try to.

So I love that Acorns lets me be hands-off in all of it…both in moving money to my investments and in selecting the investments for me.

You can set rules for how often and how much to automatically move money into your Acorns account, and adjust the investing patterns. I transfer $5 per week and invest moderately. I don’t even know what that means, but I know how much money it’s making me.

Bonus: automate as many bills as possible

This doesn’t technically save you money, but saves time and makes your life easier! That’s worth a lot of money, to most of us.

Try to automate as many regular bill payments as possible. A lot of our bills are already automatic: stuff like Netflix, any software you pay for, and other subscriptions.

But things like our cable bills, internet bills, and cell phone bills aren’t automatic by default.

Luckily, a lot of services do make it easy to set it up automatically. I highly suggest digging around in your online bill pay settings or calling customer service to ask about automating your payments.

Let the robots help you get rich 💰

Okay, these simple automations won’t actually make you rich.

But they will help you change some of your bad money habits, trick yourself into saving more, and make growing your assets easier! And once that’s taken care of, you have a foundation built to go on and do more with it. 🙌

If you liked this post, you’ll love:

But before you go, pin this!

(This post was originally published on in July 2016 and has been republished with new information)

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