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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.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 25, 2013 1:03PM

Logo: Couple counting money (Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Blend Images, Getty Images)One of the most common pieces of personal finance advice is to have some money in the bank, both for potential emergencies and future goals.

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 or


(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 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.

How do you save? Are your savings for emergencies or a financial goal such as a down payment on a someday home?

More on MSN Money:

Feb 25, 2013 2:31PM
one year I saved all my change and dollars at the end I had $600 took my kids to disney : )  no longer buy sodas ,bring my luch and always are looking for ways to save. When younger i got  into financial problems but  finally got it right. I reasd books and anything that haa to do with finances.
Feb 28, 2013 7:23PM

I'm a waitess, at the end of my shift I take whatever doesn't make a $20 bill, might be $1 or $19! I put it in a gallon jug taped shut to keep me from being tempted! Save it for Christmas or emergency car repair! It adds up fast! This is just another idea to help people save, it works for me!

Feb 28, 2013 9:36PM
Some of these cut backs can make people loose their jobs, such as postal services.  Please when taking time to save think how the impact could effect others and their jobs.  Besides who doesn't enjoy getting a real card in the mail.  It's the thought that counts, and yeah it might cost some cents,  but a smile of being thought of is worth more than the postage.
Feb 26, 2013 5:14AM

Here in metro Chicago many (most?) banks have FREE coin counting machines so I don't even have to roll my coins  or use the machines at the grocery stores.



Feb 26, 2013 1:37PM

So if I get a 2% raise I'm supposed to put the extra into a savings account...what about when my bills go up 3%?


When I bring my own coffee to work I'm supposed to bank the $1 or $2 I "saved"??  I don't have the $2 to begin with, that's why I didn't stop at Starbucks.


I understand what the article is trying to say - take care of your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves, but you can't put into savings what you don't have to begin with. 

Feb 27, 2013 1:28PM




....I am amused by some of this stuff....however, until we get the government to do will always be hard to keep what we food and gas and taxes....

My wife and I are going to go through a financial fast throughout the month of March. We coined the phrase "Financial Ramadan." It's a great month to do this because we are both getting three paychecks this month and we have no travel plans. We are only going to spend money on necessities such as gas and groceries. We stocked up supplies in February to help achieve this goal. If all goes well, we may do it again in September. Wish us luck!
Feb 28, 2013 2:08PM

I have a cute bank that I put all my coins in.  I am not allowed to open and roll it until it is so full I can't stuff another coin in, it takes me a couple years and has equalled over $600.

A friend of the family has one of those old glass water cooler bottles full of quarters, it is so stuffed you can get coins out!, one of these days I am going to "accidently" drop a hammer on it, forcing him to take them all to the bank. 

Feb 28, 2013 7:37PM
I was fortunate to get a small raise, but with the changes IRS implemented in 2013 all of my raise and a a few more dollars of my paycheck are now going to taxes....   However, I have two piggy banks, one at work and one at home, so I clean out my purse and drop the change in.
Feb 28, 2013 7:48PM
We have always put change in a jar and have the jar so it doesn't look like a bank. I have it painted dark green with green material on the top with a slot cut for change to go in.  we used to take it to the bank to have it deposited to savings or use it for a fun day, until the bank started charging 3% of the total to count it and they don't like it brought to them already rolled up. So we have found it is easier to save a few bucks at a time in change and just deposit it to savings, that way they don't have to put it in a machine to count it and it doesn't have to be rolled up. 
Feb 28, 2013 11:01PM


I understand the point the writer of this article is trying to make, however, in my case I tried to simplify things by paying my utily bills on line and in my state ( Texas ) there is a charge in 2 out of 3 companies! I could pay with a check but I still have to order them , with a cost and buy a stamp.

Sometimes this advice works in some areas of our lives, sometimes it's just to make a point.

If you can't save here try to save there.

In my opinion.

P.S. I bring my lunch, don't drink Starbucks, don't like it and it's too expensive. I like Donkin Donuts coffee so much better!!! And you can get it at the grocery store! Or any discount store, as well as Starbucks, at Marshalls I believe. I bundle my errands to save gas , and continuously shop for better prices on cable, internet and telephone. So far I got the three of them for $85.00 I'm planning to get a cell phone plan for $45.00  I was paying $130.00 for cable, internet and telephone, so I'm getting there!!!

Good luck everyone, the start is having the thought in mind !!!

Mar 1, 2013 12:12PM

I started saving and just spending on necessitates 10 years ago when I put blinders on for my retirement.  However, I wish I had done better.  Now that I am retired I will continue spending only for necessities until such time that I start drawing down on my 401K which will be used for extras and vacations.  I try to explain to young people how important it is for them to save for emergencies and the future.  I wish someone had talked to me when I was younger so I could have started earlier to save.

Since I just retired I do not know what my budget will look like until maybe 6 months from now but I will have to make it work since I have no plans to return to work even part-time.  I have planned for the day I would no longer have to get up at 3:00AM to go work.  If it means eating rice and beans everyday, well be it.

Feb 28, 2013 8:45PM
I dog sit and capool one kid to school...all my earnings from that I saved, so once a year we'll take a trip somewhere, or I could treat my family for outdoor activites, like snowboarding in Mammoth, horsebackriding in Arizona.  Now I'm start to save again for this year activities. 
Mar 1, 2013 2:53AM
We have a jar that we put all the money we find (I call them pennies from heaven but we find, all kinds of money silver coins to dollar bills, once I was lucky enough to find a $20 in a bar bathroom) and we save that money from vacation to vacation then we cash it in and use it to help fund our's usually around $30 a year...those pennies add up, I hope people keep dropping them for me! I take my lunch, my husband's job feeds him every day.  The little things add up, we are so much better off than we were a few years ago, we've learned our lessons about money the hard way!
Mar 1, 2013 2:19AM
I am now retired, however I used about half of these tips. Thirty years ago I put $300.00 in my checking account to avoid fees.  I have never paid fees. I also pay forward as shown above.
Mar 6, 2013 8:06AM

I started doing a few of these tips this year after, for years, saying I couldn't save any money. Funny now knowing you are going to be shelling out an obscene amount of money for your child's upcoming college tuition will do that to you. But it worked. I started by using any "extra" money such as rebate checks, birthday gifts, anything I didn't fully expect. Now I'm even adding in the money I get back from my flexible spending account...and with one in braces w/ monthly payments, that adds up.

While I know this won't pay my son's tuition, it's a nice little fund I finally have going!

Feb 28, 2013 10:03PM
I can't agree with #19.  If I'm working hard, by all means I DO deserve that fancy coffee twice a week.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

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.