Protect Your Savings With A Spending Firewall

So, you’ve tried all of the traditional savings tips you see on the internet; you’ve started buying generic brands, you rent your college books online (if you don’t, you definitely should), you eat less fast food, and you’ve tried keeping a limited amount of cash on hand, only to find that having a debit card is too convenient not to do. What could you possibly do to save more money without trying to abide by a budget that’s so tight you’re bound to break it?

Two words:

Spending firewall.

What does this mean? Well, on computers, a firewall is something that keeps intruders out of your system. This is a very similar concept, except you’re the intruder, and you’re hard-earned cash is the computer.

Think about the money you spent on a whim in the last year, or the things you’ve bought that you couldn’t care less about now, as they waste away in your room. How much would you have now, if you hadn’t bought those things? I’m guessing the number is going to be a saddening one, if you’re anything like I was, as I began to wonder how I had somehow spent the $6,000 I had made at my job so far. So let’s lay down some very important rules before I explain myself further.

  1. Do not put ridiculous limitations on your social life in an effort to save money. You have earned the right to enjoy yourself, life is short.
  2. Eat. Eat as much as you need to be healthy. It’s foolish to starve yourself for money.
  3. Have I explained it well enough yet? If you make yourself miserable to save money, you will eventually crack and stop doing so.

Okay, now that we’ve got those out of the way, I will reveal my secrets to you. In this age of internet, I’m going to guess that your bank has an online banking service; if they don’t, they need to get one. Since you’re reading this, I’m also going to guess that you can access the internet, either on a computer or your phone.

This last part is more up to your bank, but for me, it was free: You need to set up a second checking account.
“But wait, shouldn’t it be a savings account if this is for savings?”
No. Savings accounts tend to have withdrawal limitations, which I learned the hard way via a $75 fee. Set up a second checking account, and make sure that you do not get a debit card associated with it. This is where all your money will go. This is a passive savings account, one that does not force you in any way to save, but motivates you to do so willingly. When you get paid, estimate how much you will need to eat until your next check; it’s alright if you end up going over, so don’t worry. Now take that amount and put it in your primary account (the one with the debit card). Deposit everything else you just made into the second account.

Now, whenever you want to pay for something other than food, whether it be a bill, new shoes, a game, boxing gloves, a toaster oven, or a cat, you will have to transfer that money into your first account, via your computer or phone (USBank, which I use, even has a handy mobile app!).

Sounds too simple, right?

That’s the point.

This method means that you will have to think twice before making any purchase, as it requires actual effort to do so. We humans are predictably less likely to do something if we have to put forth effort to do it. Now you will be able to think to yourself, “Wait, do I really want this enough to take that $40 out of savings?”. This is especially effective due to the concept of loss aversion, which basically states that we are more motivated by loss than we are by gain. Seeing your savings drop will be almost painful, so you’ll make sure that you feel truly good about the things you purchase before you purchase them.

Now, it’s true that if you restrain yourself from ever going out to eat, seeing a movie, or buying that new game you want, you will save more money than you will doing this. But do you really want to live like that? This method allows you to still go to the movies with friends, but only if you truly think that it’s worth the money it costs. You re-evaluate what’s important to you, and will recognize what isn’t worth your money anymore. Because that’s what money’s for, right? It’s yours; it’s for you.

Martin Boehme is a web developer, language nerd, and Nintendo fanboy. Talk to him in English, Spanish, French, or very basic Japanese on Twitter.

Hey there! Please note that some links in the article may be referral links, meaning that if you buy something through them, I'll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you). This helps to support CIG, but please don't buy anything unless you truly believe it'll benefit you! You can learn more here. Thank you :)

Want to Earn Better Grades?

Did you find this article useful?

Over 150,000 awesome students are learning how to dominate their classes, get more done, and land the jobs they want - and you should too.

Join in, and I'll also send you a free copy of my book on earning better grades!

Leave a Reply

8 Comments on "Protect Your Savings With A Spending Firewall"

newest oldest
Notify of

@annedreshfield Thanks, I’m glad you think so. 🙂 I came up with this after several different methods of saving always seemed to fall through for me. Now I’m a lot happier, because I get the convenience of my card AND the inconvenience of needing to think before I buy.


That’s great that you did this too! I think more college students should try this out, it’d definitely be helpful to have a good amount saved up for when all those loans come around.


That sounds like it would also work really well. 🙂 I don’t think I could do it though, my deep love for spontaneity demands that I can transfer money quickly (assuming it’s worth it, of course!).


Martin, this is a great idea. You’ve hit on why I only carry cash with me around campus and only use my debit card on occasion — if I let myself use it, the cash will disappear and I’ll spend without even thinking on my debit card, and then hate myself later when I check it out online. Not fun.

My latest conversation:

The VBlog

Some savings accounts do come with ridiculous fees (I feel like saying “It’s my money, give it back!) but I use online savings accounts (think Ally) that have no fees but the processing time between moving the money from online to your bank account is 2 days.

This way I have to plan ahead, see how much money I need till the next check then the rest goes directly online to savings. Then if I see something I really want that’s out of my budget I have to wait 2 days for the money to transfer. By that time I’ve changed my mind anyway!

Thomas Frank

I’ve taken this a step further – I put most of my savings into a mutual fund. Not only do I get a much better return, but it’s also a huge pain and an actual loss for me to take money out.

Katie Walker

Actually did this without even realising it. I can tell you, it works too. And for me, it means no impulse buying, because my bank doesn’t have a mobile app. I set up two accounts, which are linked, but only one can be accessed with the card, the other has to be transferred online to a different account. I strongly recommend doing this, it’ll not only save you money, but you won’t end up with a bunch of junk you don’t need. 

Thomas Frank

I did this too with my bank setup – if I remember correctly, I actually declined overdraft protection in order to force myself to think of that money as off-limits.

// Read This Next

How I Paid Off $14,431 In Student Loans In 6 Months – BEFORE Graduating

Want more? Join over 150,000 students and grab my free book on earning better grades  →