Money

Only 20% of Americans save money regularly—here are 6 easy ways to get started

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Americans are woefully behind when it comes to savings. New research from PurePoint Financial, a division of MUFG Union Bank, found that 56 percent of millennials don't have any money saved in a retirement account.

The numbers were only a little less bleak for older generations: 39 percent of both Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers have nothing put away for their golden years.

When asked to describe their saving habits, only 20 percent of respondents say that they put a large percentage of their income into savings regularly, according to the survey. Non-committed savers made up 40 percent of respondents, who say they either don't worry about saving at all or save on occasion, without a strict budget.

This could be because few Americans prioritize saving money over other goals.

If you want the security and benefit that comes from making saving a priority, here are six tips to help you get started.

Pause before check out

Cherie and Brian Lowe paid off more than $127,000 in debt in four years by working to both increase their income and pare down their expenses. While many larger factors contributed to their success, including building an emergency fund and rejiggering their tax withholdings, Cherie's No. 1 money-saving trick is simple.

"Every time you check out at the grocery store, you need to look in your cart and find three to five items that you don't need," she tells CNBC Make It. "You will save $5 to $10 every time you shop without cutting a single coupon."

The tactic, which could apply to online purchases as easily as in-person ones, works for two reasons: It puts a barrier between placing an item in your cart and actually paying for them. That shaves down your bills.

Automate everything

It's hard to miss money you never see. Setting up your savings accounts, retirement funds and debt-repayment plans to draw money from your paycheck or checking account each month means you never have to make the choice to spend or save those dollars.

The strategy worked for Marcus Garrett, who paid off more than $34,000 after racking up thousands in credit card debt and misusing a debt consolidation loan. Garrett takes advantage of a pension fund as well as his company's 401(k) plan, which means his retirement savings are taken care of without his having to think about it.

As self-made millionaire David Bach writes in "The Automatic Millionaire," automating your finances is "the one step that virtually guarantees that you won't fail financially. … You'll never be tempted to skimp on savings because you won't even see the money going directly from your paycheck to your savings accounts."

Choose between food and drinks

It's easy to let an after work happy hour turn into dinner, or to order a margarita or two with your tacos. But regularly splurging on both food and alcohol seriously adds up. Try sticking to a simple rule: When you choose to go out to dinner, skip the wine. If you head to the bar, commit to cooking dinner at home.

Say you make plans around three times a week. Choosing to forgo one $10 drink each time saves you around $120 a month. Skipping two drinks three times a week saves $240.

Deciding to do happy hour instead of dinner saves even more. If a typical dinner out costs between $15 to $40, then skipping three $25 dinners a week generates $300 in savings per month.

Try a "zero spend" day

David of Zero Day Finance, who goes by only his first name online, uses a simple strategy to minimize his spending. The 26-year-old New Yorker commits to at least one "zero spend" day a week during which he actively avoids buying anything, including a morning coffee or an item from the drug store.

David tracks his progress with the challenge on his blog, where he "collects" zero spend days and pushes himself to fit as many of them as possible into a week. By gamifying his spending, he stays motivated to save.

Since starting the challenge six months ago, David has saved $18,432, cutting his monthly spending from around $4,700 a month to $3,170 a month. That's a 33 percent decrease and saves him enough to max out his 401(k).

Change one habit

Early retiree Chris Reining, who built a $1 million portfolio by age 35, will tell you that the key to saving half your income is to start with the small stuff.

"I know there are some people out there that say you shouldn't worry about the $5 latte, but, the more I think about it, cutting out the $5 latte was a good place to start," he tells CNBC Make It. "Because if you try to downsize your house, get rid of all yours cars and make all of these drastic changes, it's so overwhelming and you're not going to do any of it."

After foregoing his morning coffee, Reining eliminated the $15 lunches he bought every day. Next, he cut out the bigger things, such as the $1,000 a month he spent flying airplanes. "The small changes will lead you to be able to make the big changes," Reining says.

Bank your bonus

No matter if it's a tax return, holiday bonus or check from a side gig, don't let the sparkle of extra cash trick you into splurging on a last-minute vacation or new pair of shoes. Immediately put a portion of that money to work, either in a savings or retirement account or to pay off debt.

Make it a habit to deposit the money as soon as you get it so you're never tempted to spend it. You can't blow cash you don't see.

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