The ultimate savings hack to try this year

Collage of a dog with donuts for eyes.

Can’t seem to save money? You’re not alone. Modern life comes with many sneaky little expenses, lots of which have inflated in the last year with the rising cost of living

But saving is as much a mental game as a financial one. It can be hard to wrap our heads around what $1,000 really means, or how a budget should change our spending habits – especially if we’re an emotional (or impulse) spender.

So if you’re struggling to save money and have no idea what to do, it could be time to try out a simple yet game-changing technique: the drip-feed method.

Drip-feed your spending with this simple life hack

Collage of a man watering his savings.

The drip-feed method is simple: park all your money in a savings account, then slowly draw from it throughout the month to top up your debit card. Think of it like a mouse drawing tiny amounts of water from a large bottle. 

Essentially, this strategy means your money is in savings mode first – spending mode second.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • A mobile banking app.
  • A savings account with fee-free, unlimited withdrawals or transfers.
  • A budgeting app or bill reminder alert to stay on top of crucial expenses.
  • A debit card.

You might need to do some research or account comparison to set everything up – remember, switching banks is easier than you think. But once everything is in place, it’s time to start saving.

When you get paid, immediately put your check into your savings account. If you have a bill-paying account, put everything you need for the month in there, too (like rent, utilities, and services). 

Next, top up your debit card or transaction account in $100 - $200 increments weekly, as needed. Try and cap yourself at a weekly top-up amount, like $400. This way, you drip-feed how much you have to spend each week. It keeps you honest, on budget, and aware of what you’re buying.

By the time your next pay check rolls around, whatever’s left over can go straight into a more permanent savings account (preferably one with an interest rate between 3% - 4%). Repeat the cycle and watch your savings grow!

Got enough saved to leave untouched for a while? Consider parking it in a term deposit.

What are the pros and cons of this saving hack?

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Like all money tactics, the drip-feed method comes with pros and cons. Let’s break down why this strategy could work for you – and which drawbacks to keep in mind.

Pros of drip-feeding your spending

  • Automatically in saving mode, not spending. Savings mode can get hard to get into because it implies scarcity – something our monkey brains do not like. But by consciously putting your pay check in a savings account first and then drawing from it as needed, you can reassure yourself that: “Yes, we have money. It’s not scarce. It’s abundant – but just in storage.” Plus, this prioritises drawing from your savings as little as possible. 
  • Constantly keeping in touch with your finances. Do you find looking at your bank account painful, and so avoid doing it? The drip-feed method can give you a little exposure therapy since you’ll have no choice but to watch your balance carefully throughout the month. How else will you make those important top-ups?
  • Breaks down your pay check into smaller, manageable chunks. Wrapping your head around $5,000 in a month can be tricky. Where should all the dollarydoos go? As a rule of thumb, our brains can't really visualise anything more than $100 or longer than a week. In a nutshell, large amounts of money over a long time: hard to understand. But small money over short time: easy!
  • Turns your finances into a game. You know how your brain goes “woo” whenever Mario clears a jump? The same dopamine rush applies when you stay within budget. And the drip-feed method encourages you to find ways to push your weekly spending even lower, just for the satisfaction of saving more or having to transfer less. Essentially, you're programming yourself to clear the weekly jump. (Check out these other game-like savings challenges).
  • Shows you how large some transactions really are. If you know you have $2,000 in your debit account, an $80 impulse buy or two doesn’t feel as bad. But if you only have $200 in there, suddenly $80 feels like a lot! But the thing is: that $80 has the exact same impact on your finances no matter how much is in your debit account. The drip-feed method just makes it feel more expensive. 
  • Less of a disaster if your debit card gets hacked. If someone steals your debit card, no worries! You didn’t have as much to lose in there. 

Cons of drip-feeding your spending

  • You REALLY need to stay on top of bills. Emphasis on the really! The last thing you want is to get slapped with late fees if a utility or service provider tries to charge you and you don’t have the funds. Crucially, make sure you have a way of paying your rent in full and on time: if you don’t, you could earn yourself a black mark in the tenant registry, which hurts your chances of getting a new lease in future. Mitigate the risk of bounced transactions by setting a bill reminder alert or allowing notifications from a budget app. 
  • Read the T&Cs of your savings account. Unravelling the terms and conditions of a savings account takes a little reading, but it’s important to find one that won’t slap you with overuse fees, charges, or penalties. No point in losing money to silly mistakes!
  • Works best for routine lifestyles. Sometimes life is a little chaotic, especially if you throw in things like kids, frequent travel, or an unpredictable income. You may find the drip-feed method tricky or stressful if sudden or unexpected bills constantly nibble at your money. 

Weigh up the pros and cons, and remember: there are workarounds for every problem. You may have to tailor the drip-feed method to suit you, but that’s okay! Like all good plans, it’s flexible enough to be changed.

Level up your game with SMART savings goals

Collage of red hands all pointing to the same SMART goal (white circle) in the center.

For long-term thinkers (maybe you’re saving for a travel budget, after all), it can be great to set yourself some savings goals. This way, the drip-feed method has something to work towards.

Make your goals stick by turning them into SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

  • Specific. You know what you’re saving for and why. 
  • Measurable. It comes with a number. “Enough for a trip” isn’t measurable. $5,000 is.
  • Achievable. The goal is realistic for you. Start by seeing how much of your income the drip-feed method usually saves you, then plan accordingly.
  • Relevant. The goal fits your desires and lifestyle. A rainy day fund is valid! Cash in case of a zombie apocalypse is not.
  • Timely. Set a deadline. No ifs, ands, or buts. A cut-off date motivates you to meet your goal. If you have a hard time holding yourself accountable, get a trusted friend or family member to help you. 

Good luck, savers!

Looking for more savings inspiration? Check out these 10 ways to save on the cost of living. Compare savings accounts below.

Compare savings accounts - last updated 24 May 2024

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