Save and Invest

A millennial finance coach who paid off $30,000 in 10 months says these 5 money challenges can help you retire wisely

ELLEN'S GAME OF GAMES -- "You Can't Handle The Toothpaste" Episode 104 -- Pictured: Ellen DeGeneres -- (Photo by: Mike Rozman/NBC)

Hopping on the "new year, new you" bandwagon this year? You're in good company, especially if it involves money goals.

You might have many things on your checklist, like paying off loans or buying your dream home, but your top priority should ultimately be saving for retirement. One way to stay motivated and on track is to think of it as a game instead of an adult chore.

Here are five fun challenges that can help you boost your financial security in 2019:

1. The 52-week challenge

Put aside $1 in your savings account at the end of week one, $2 for week two, $3 for week three, and so on until you reach week 52.

Set up weekly reminders or automated transfers so you don't forget. And if you don't already have one, consider opening a high-yield savings account. The top high-yield accounts have an annual percentage yield (APY) of up to 2.4 percent.

This doesn't seem like much, but by the end of that 52-week period, you'll have saved $1,358. You can use this to build a starter emergency fund or pay off extra debt. Or, if you're saving to travel, you can access the money to book a flight when a great deal comes your way.

Sarah Michelle Gellar uses this method to save money
Sarah Michelle Gellar uses this method to save money

2. The no-spend month

A no-spend month doesn't necessarily mean you aren't spending any money at all, it just means you're only spending on the essentials.

Some common no-spend month practices include eating through your pantry before buying more groceries, bringing your own lunch to work, cutting back on shopping (if you absolutely need to buy something, opt for thrift stores or clothing websites like eBay or Poshmark) and skipping entertainment outings.

It'd also be wise to choose a month that isn't booked with birthdays, holidays, anniversaries or traveling. Who knows, you might even be able to turn a no-spend month into no-spend years.

3. The 30-day side hustle

Side hustlers can make up to an average of $686 per month, according to Bankrate. So if you're already on a bare-bones budget, this is the perfect challenge for you.

Over the next 30 days, commit to one or more ways of generating extra income. In the U.S., the average hourly pay for babysitters is $28.12. Dog walkers can earn anywhere from $20 to $40 per hour. If you're the indoors type, search your home for unwanted items and sell them on websites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or eBay.

Feeling super ambitious? A CreditLoan survey found that one of the most lucrative side hustles is renting property, which can earn you as much as $500 per month. Another one is driving for ride-sharing services, where the average pay is $15 per hour.

Lana Del Rey reveals her early Craigslist side hustles and how she spent her first big paycheck
Lana Del Rey reveals her early Craigslist side hustles and how she spent her first big paycheck

4. The shopping cart challenge

According to Ally Bank, simply being aware of your spending habits can save you up to $200 per month.

If you're on a biweekly payroll, set aside $100 from each paycheck. If it's monthly, set aside the full $200. By mid-year, you'll have saved $1,000. Be observant what you spend your money on and find creative alternatives that are less expensive. As the proverb goes, "a small leak will sink a great ship."

During your next grocery trip, review each and every item in your cart before checking out. Do you really need it? Are there really no other options? Instead of purchasing a 28-pack of water bottles for $10.99 every month, for example, installing a water filtration system can save you up to $346 per year.

Another tip: go through your bank statements for and look for non-essentials or automatic payments that you can afford to cancel. You might even find a few you didn't even know existed.

5. The 20 percent retirement challenge

Retirement can feel like a million years away, but making it a priority is always the smart thing to do.

The goal here is to put 20 percent of your income toward retirement. According to the "30-20-30 rule," 50 percent should go to needs, 30 percent for wants and 20 percent for retirement. For some, it might be easier to start small and slowly increase contributions. 

Utilizing both [a 401(k) and a Roth IRA] will help you save as much as the law allows in tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

If you have an employer-sponsored program, such as a 401(k), can reach your goal faster by contributing the company match (typically around 5 percent), and then creating a plan to max out your Roth individual retirement account (Roth IRA). Utilizing both [a 401(k) and a Roth IRA] can help you save as much as the law allows in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. The good news is that this year, you'll be able to save up to $19,000 in your 401(k), up from $18,500 in 2018. The limit for IRAs is $6,000.

Whitney Hansen is a money coach and the host of Money Nerds, a Plutus award-winning podcast. As an adjunct professor in personal finance, she teaches overwhelmed millennials how to accelerate paying off debt and be financially independent. Follow her on Twitter @whitneyhansenco.

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This millennial has made $100,000 reselling clothes
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