2/25/2013 5:03 PM ET|
21 painless ways to save
Some tips on tucking it away -- even if you think you can't -- just in time for America Saves Week.
Sounds great. But the personal finance gurus don't always tell you how to do this on the money you have right now.
Maybe rising food and energy costs have a stranglehold on your wallet. Some months it seems that just paying your bills on time is a major achievement. How can you possibly save?
Sneakily, that's how. Just a little budget-tweaking, and maybe a few mind games, will boost your savings account.
Let's start with an oldie but goodie:
1. Save all your change in a jar. Once a month, count and deposit it. Sure, it might only add up to nine or 10 bucks at a clip. But in a year that's as much as $120 that might otherwise have ended up in the vending machine.
Kids tend to like wrapping coins, so invite them to help you. Your whole family will learn how small change literally adds up to financial freedom.
America Saves Week starts today and continues through Saturday. Why not make savings a priority this year?
Suppose you eventually add four more stealth savings tactics from the list below, and each contributes an additional $50 to $100 per year. Would you say "no thanks" if someone offered you $500 to put in savings? Me neither.
Remember: It's not savings unless you save it. Be vigilant about planting those money seeds into a separate account that isn't attached to checking. Making the cash a little harder to get at will keep you from tapping the fund unnecessarily.
Money you can't see
2. Automate it. The obvious choice -- if it's taken out of your paycheck in advance, you will have to learn to live with what's left. Try one hour of salary per week (or per month, if you're living close to the bone). Or how about adding up your children's ages and saving that amount? Keeping them in the forefront will remind you why you save.
3. Save your raise. If you were lucky enough to get even a 2% raise, figure out what that means and automate it into savings. (Or add it to your already-automated savings figure.)
4. Bank online. Since it takes three to five business days to get the money transferred to checking, you've got a built-in cooling-off period. If you really, really need the money once the funds are available then go ahead and use it -- but by then you may have found another solution. (If so, then transfer it back!)
5. Make coupons pay. Stores print coupon savings info on your receipt: "You saved $6.20!" Transfer that amount to savings, immediately.
6. Round up. Still use a checkbook, or at least balance your checking account with a paper register? That $42.27 you paid the gas company should be recorded as $43. Each month when you balance the register, transfer the difference into savings. Or you could . . .
7. Swipe a few bucks. The day before payday, look at your checking account. If there's $54 left, move $4 (or $14) over into savings.
8. Pay it forward. Finally finished paying off your daughter's braces? Keep writing that check, i.e., transfer that amount into savings every month. Not possible? Transfer half the amount.
More money mind games
9. Found money is fund money. Work bonus? A $20 bill in a birthday card? Manufacturer's rebate? Put it into savings.
10. Dollar bill challenge. Each night take at least one dollar bill from your wallet -- when possible, take all of them -- and stick them in a jar. Bank these bucks once a week to reduce the temptation to dip into your funds. Variations: The five-dollar-bill challenge, or the "save all bills whose serial numbers end in 3" challenge.
11. Save symbolically. Planning to buy a new car next year? Save $20.14 a week until then. If your 10th class reunion is in mid-September, save $10 a week starting now to pay for tickets, a new outfit or a babysitter.
12. Stamp out stamp use. Still writing checks to utility and credit card companies? Sign up for online bill pay, and put the money you once spent on postage into your savings jar. Assuming five bills per month, that's $27.60 per year added to your stash. On that subject…
13. Cut back on all mail. Why not use e-cards to mark Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and new babies? Or write a heartfelt note instead of spending $3 for a card that says "Congratulations on your anniversary"? Bank what you would have spent on stamps and cards.
14. Find a savings buddy. Got a friend, sister or cousin who's also interested in saving? Talk once a week, by phone or in person, to share tips and tactics -- and successes. Or you could . . .
15. Start a savings challenge. If you're the competitive type, find a like-minded friend and set goals -- and a prize. For example, whoever saves the most in the next six months has to buy the other person his favorite craft beer, or watch her kids overnight.
16. Get a cash-rewards credit card. Sometimes it's only 1% in payback, but a dollar is a dollar, right? This is especially true if you can put big-ticket items like appliances, medical treatment or auto repairs on the card. Look for the best deals at sites like CardRatings.com or CreditCards.com.
(Spare) change you can believe in
17. Soft drink savings. Can't kick the mid-afternoon soda habit? Buy 12-packs on sale. Figure the cost difference between those cans and the ones in the vending machine. Save the difference. (Not a soda drinker? Pay yourself for bringing teabags or instant coffee from home.)
18. The curse jar. Your children will love reminding you: "You said the S word! Put a quarter in the jar!" (Incidentally, the "jar" can be a piggy bank, a vase or the box your kid made out of Popsicle sticks. Just stash that cash.)
19. Modify a habit. That twice-a-week fancy coffee might be your only luxury. Still, could you cut it to once a week? You love a nice manicure, but how about getting together with a friend and doing each other's nails?
20. Pay yourself for laundry. Every time you do a load of wash at home, put at least $1 and preferably $2 into a jar. Oh, and any money you find in shirt or trouser pockets gets added to the fund.
21. Fight impulse buying. Suppose you're tempted to buy that oh-so-cute stuffed animal for your daughter, who already has enough critters to fill her own ark. Instead, type the toy's cost into the free ImpulseSave.com app and that amount will be instantly transferred into savings. (No smartphone? Access ImpulseSave from any computer.)
Obviously not all these tips will apply to everyone. Take what you can from the list -- but don't overdo it right away, lest you burn out on virtue.
Start slowly, but do start. These seeds will grow into the emergency fund of your dreams.
And speaking of dreams, you'll sleep a whole lot better knowing that you have some cash set aside the next time your car starts making a weird noise.
Readers: How do you save? Are your savings for emergencies or a financial goal such as a down payment on a someday home?
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Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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