If you're hoping to save more money in 2021, the 52-week money challenge is a great way to make that goal a reality.
The 52-week savings challenge gives you a weekly savings goal throughout the year. It starts small and increases week after week, helping you build motivation and stamina. By the end of the year, you will have saved nearly $1,400.
Hacking the 52-week Money Challenge & 14 Tips to Help You Save
What is the 52-week money challenge?
The 52-week money challenge is super simple in theory – you start on week one by saving $1 and increase your weekly savings by a dollar every week for a year. You put $2 in savings on the second week, $5 on the fifth week, $30 on week 30, and so on.
After 52 weeks of saving, you will have saved $1,378.
Sticking to a yearly savings plan is difficult. You’re fired up at the start of the year but a couple of weeks in you start to lose motivation. Finishing the year means you have to practice self-control and remember to set money aside each week.
The challenges are real, but the benefits of the 52-week money challenge make it a realistic goal to set for yourself this year.
Starting small feels manageable.
At the end of the 52-week money challenge, you will have saved nearly $1,400. That’s a daunting amount to think about in the beginning. Breaking it down into 52 weekly saving goals makes it feel like an attainable goal.
You build momentum.
Learning to save money, no matter how small the goal is, helps you build healthy financial habits that snowball through your life. And because the 52-week saving challenge starts with small, realistic goals, it encourages you to continue saving through the rest of the year.
It’s a flexible goal.
There are several ways to approach the 52-week money saving challenge (more on the options below), but the point is that you can find a strategy that works for you. You can set the challenge up to save more, frontload the weekly savings goals, and even create a game out of it.
It’s not about how you save – it’s that you save. That’s the real goal.
14 Tips to Hack the 52-Week Money Challenge
1. Find a place to save your money
Before you do anything else, decide where you’re going to save your money. I recommend opening a high-yield savings account for this annual saving goal. This will make it much easier to see and track your progress.
Even better is that high-yield savings accounts help you earn money back on your savings because they offer a higher than average APY. Instead of saving your money in an account with a 0.05% APY – the current national average – you can earn 0.55% back on your savings.
2. Flip the challenge
The 52-week money challenge starts by saving $1 a week, and the last week of the year you’ll put $52 in your savings account. In the last month alone, you will need to save $202.
For many people, $200 is a lot to save at the end of the year. Think about the timing – it will be the holidays and you’ll need to save $200 on top of holiday shopping, travel plans, etc. A good budget can help you fit both your normal holiday savings in with your weekly savings goals, but it may feel really tight.
What about flipping the challenge so you start out saving $52 in the first week? Then $51 in the second week, $50 the third week, and so on. It might motivate you to stick with your annual savings goal if you see your account grow to $200 in the first month alone.
3. Visualize your goal
At the end of the 52-week challenge, you will have $1,378. What are you going to do with that chunk of cash?
Maybe it’s vacation spending, buying a new laptop, adding to your emergency fund, retirement savings, or buying a new couch. Use your goal to create a visual reminder that helps you stay on track for this year-long saving challenge.
Here’s an example that I’ve used: Print a vacation picture and stick it on the front of my planner. Vacation is a huge motivator for me – I’m always ready to get back to the beach. Looking at a picture of my family together at the beach reminds me why I save, and it motivates to me keep saving.
You can try other things, like set the lock screen on your phone with a picture that relates to your goal, put something on the door of your fridge, or on your desk at work.
4. Break down the 52-week money challenge
The 52-week money challenge has you saving nearly $1,400 throughout the year. If you divide that by 52, that’s saving $26 a week. No rule says you have to save $1, then $2, then $3, etc. You can make $26/week your savings goal and still reach $1,400 at the end of the year.
The real point of the 52-week savings challenge is to make routine savings a habit.
5. Gamify the challenge
Gamification is applying game-like elements to routine tasks to encourage participation. Turning something into a game can make it more fun, and you can easily gamify this annual savings challenge.
Here are some ideas:
- Compete with a friend: A little friendly competition can motivate you to stay on track.
- Reward yourself along the way: Think of this as “leveling-up” in a game. You can reward yourself when you hit the $25 level, $100 level, $500 level, and so on. The reward can be something small like a sticker for your planner or a latte from your favorite coffee shop.
- Set up a point system: For every week you save the recommended amount, give yourself a point. There can be a reward tied to earning all 52 points or not – it’s entirely up to you.
6. Automate your savings
If you want to set your savings goal on autopilot, I recommend using an automated savings app like Qapital. Qapital helps you mindlessly save money throughout the year with different savings triggers and rules, and there’s even a 52-Week Rule.
Qapital’s 52-Week Rule works just like this challenge, starting with a $1 the first week to $52 the last week of the year. Or you can set the rule to go backward and start with $52.
Once you’ve set this rule in your Qapital account, Qapital automatically withdraws money from a linked bank account and saves it in an FDIC insured online savings account. It’s truly set-it-and-forget-it style savings, but you can pause the 52-Week Rule at any time.
It costs as little as $3/month to save with Qapital, and they have some other fun savings rules, like rounding up transactions to the next dollar amount and saving the difference. Qapital also has trigger-based savings. For example, you can set a trigger to save $5 every time you post on Instagram or every time the International Space Station passes over your location.
Learn more about Qapital in our 2020 Qapital Review: Save More Money Without Even Noticing.
7. Invest your 52-week savings goal
To make your money go even further, consider investing it. Micro-investing apps like Acorns or Stash make it possible to invest with small amounts of money because you’re purchasing fractional shares of ETFs (exchange-traded funds) and stocks instead of full shares.
Below is an example from my personal Stash account. I have 0.68678 shares of the iShares MSCI USA ESG Select Fund.
You’re not going to get rich with micro-investing – investing with small amounts of money produces micro-results. However, investing is one path to long-term financial health, and the 52-week challenge can help you build an investment routine.
8. Sell stuff to stay on track
If at some point during the year you’re struggling to meet a weekly goal, see if there’s something at home you can sell to keep yourself on track. With challenges like this, all it takes is one tough week to completely derail some people’s progress. Don’t let that be you this year.
I can think of a bunch of things in my house I could sell – books, an old smartphone, too-small kid’s clothes, a fish tank I’ll never use, and more.
Here are some good places to sell stuff online once you have some things to sell:
- Facebook is an easy place to sell online because you probably already have the app. You can use Facebook Marketplace or post in local buy-sell groups.
- Decluttr is an app specifically for selling gently used tech, like laptops, cell phones, video games, tablets, and they even buy Legos by the pound.
- Poshmark is a website for selling on-trend clothes, shoes, and accessories.
- 5miles is an app for selling nearly any kind of goods in a local radius.
- Selling on eBay is another option, especially if you’re flipping items for a profit.
9. Go through your subscriptions
Subscription-based services quickly add up over time. There are streaming services, beauty boxes, shave clubs, not to mention countless apps that charge just a few bucks each month.
Hitting your weekly goals with the 52-week money challenge might be the motivation you need to go through your subscriptions and see what you can cancel.
The easiest way to find what subscriptions you’re being charged for and then canceling some is to use the Trim app. Trim analyzes transactions from your bank and credit card accounts to find recurring ones. The app tells you how much you’re spending on them and asks if you want to cancel.
Trim sends a message to the provider to cancel the subscription for you, and if they aren’t able to for some reason, you can contact the company and cancel. Trim’s subscription canceling service is free to use.
10. Save at the first of the week
One of the best things I’ve ever done for my finances is to front-load my savings, which is referred to as pay yourself first. Before you spend money on anything else, you deposit money in savings.
Instead of waiting until the end of the week to save what’s left, you’ve made saving money a priority. All the rest of your spending has to fall in line with your savings goals.
11. Do a monthly no-spending weekend
Pairing a no-spend challenge with your 52-week money challenge sounds like a lot of challenges, but they work really well together. A no-spend challenge, even just a weekend, means you’re eliminating some of the days you would typically spend money.
A no-spend weekend sounds easy, but many of us are unaware of how many little things we spend money on throughout a couple of days.
On a no-spend weekend, you can find all kinds of free things to do: movie night in, hike, go for a bike ride, picnic at the park, cook dinner with your partner, etc. You can tackle some big project you’ve been neglecting, like cleaning out the garage or going through your out-of-season clothes.
12. Keep going with the 104-week money challenge
After 52 weeks you will have $1,378, but you can save another $4,082 if you keep going for another 52 weeks. That’s $5,460 saved over two years.
The 104-week challenge is obviously more difficult because you start with $53 in the first week of the second year. In the final month of the 104-week challenge, you will set aside nearly $400.
13. Up the ante
For anyone who regularly makes large contributions to their savings – you super savers and high earners out there – the 52-week money challenge might sound too small for you. Don’t worry, you can still play along!
What about upping the challenge to start with $100 on week one and adding $5 to that each week throughout the year. Or applying a 10x multiplier to each week. Savings challenges are for anyone. It’s about finding one that forces you to push your boundaries.
14. Combine resolutions
Is there anything else you’d like to do this year besides save money?
Maybe this is the year you finally quit smoking. Fine yourself $20 every time you buy cigarettes and put that $20 in your savings account. That takes extra willpower, but in the long-run, you’ll be grateful you pushed yourself.
Maybe your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more. You could set a goal for working out at least 30 minutes 5 times a week. And each time you work out, reward yourself by putting an extra $5 in savings. Or it can be a weekly savings reward.
There’s an obvious difference in saving money in terms of a rewards or fines system. And like any habit, regularly saving money can be psychological, so find an approach that makes sense for the way you think about saving.
The final word on the 52-week money challenge
Saving money is hard for so many different reasons. The point of this challenge is to give you an approachable starting point to building good savings habits.
Making a game out of saving money is the motivation some people need to finally start saving money. It’s the start of an emergency fund, vacation savings, or a portion of your annual IRA contribution.
Money saved now is a future opportunity. And it’s not about how you save, it’s that you save money at all.
You will save $1,378 throughout the year. That’s $26.50 a week for 52 weeks.
The $5 challenge is a way to save nearly $7,000 throughout the year. On the first week, you save $5, $10 the second week, $15 on week three, and so on. Each week for 52 weeks, you up your savings contribution by $5. In the last week of the year, you’ll deposit $260 for a total yearly savings balance of $6,890.
Another version of the $5 challenge is anytime you receive a $5 bill as change, you set that $5 bill aside until the end of the year.
If you were to save $5 a week for the entire year, you would have $260.
You would have $1,040 if you saved $20 a week for a year.