As far as savings strategies go, "divide and conquer" has its merits.
Consumers repeatedly hear that we're not saving enough: Not for retirement, for a rainy day, or for discretionary purchases. And the numbers bear that out.
By the Bureau of Economic Analysis' latest data, Americans are setting aside 4.4 percent of disposable personal income, or about 4 cents on every dollar. Only 38 percent have enough money in a savings account to pay for an unexpected expense of $500 or more, according to Bankrate.com. And CardHub.com puts the average household's credit card debt at a little more than $6,800.
Dividing your savings into different buckets or accounts, one for each goal, is one solution that can help jump-start savings.
"What people really need to stick to savings goals is a sense of control, and the feeling that they're making progress," said Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University.
Separating out funds for different goals helps you more easily track progress and prioritize. It can also keep you motivated, she said—you'll be less apt to raid the "Trip to Paris" or "Replace the on-its-last-legs fridge" funds for an impulse buy than you might be with a generic savings account covering half a dozen different goals.
Ideally, pick a bank that offers a decent interest rate on a free savings account. Some of the most generous online-only accounts, including GE Capital Bank, Barclays and Ally, are currently offering a yield of about 1 percent, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. (It's not much, sure, but that rate is still more than 10 times what big-name banks offer savers with small account balances.)
In lieu of opening separate accounts, there's SmartyPig.com, which deposits fund with BBVA Compass and allows users to open multiple goal funds under one account.