Money

After living on $60 a week for 7 weeks, this is my new favorite money-saving strategy

Stretching $60 a week in New York City, which I've been doing the past seven weeks for my cash diet challenge, isn't easy. But one strategy has made it more doable: Setting a highly specific savings goal.

My last week on the cash diet happens to align with a pre-planned trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. While the trip's big costs are out of the way — I bought my flight in October and I'll be staying with a friend — I know four days of eating and drinking in New Orleans could add up quickly.

That's why I set up a "Mardi Gras fund" and made the goal of saving about $6 a week, or 10% of my $60 budget, in order to enjoy my first trip to New Orleans as much as possible.

I didn't just set the goal in my head — I brought it to life by turning my "Mardi Gras fund" into something tangible: A mason jar labeled "New Orleans!" in Sharpie, so I could see and track my progress. At the end of each week, whatever money I save of my $60 budget goes straight to the mason jar.

Not only has it been encouraging to see the cash pile up, the jar created a physical barrier between me and my saved money, so I'm less tempted to spend it.

Plus, operating with a specific savings goal gives me more incentive to save during the week. Every time I'm about to purchase something that I don't necessarily need — a latte, trip to the nail salon, or my biggest vice, Vitamin Water — I envision what that money could buy me in New Orleans and then question whether or not the purchase is worth it.

I've seen results: Over the past seven weeks, I've managed to save $63.39, an average of $9 a week.

It's a strategy I plan to continue using after my eight-week cash diet challenge. I won't keep my savings in a mason jar — I prefer a high-yield savings account — but I'll make my goals much more specific and create sub-savings accounts for each. Plus, I'll write them down so I'm constantly reminded of, and motivated to achieve, them.

As I've learned, that 10% (or more) you're setting aside feels a lot more pressing if you're saving for something specific — "two years of business school" or "a trip to Mardi Gras" — instead of "the future."

See more from Cash Diet: