Cutting expenses is the way to spend less so you have money to save. But unless you are actually putting that money into a safe place to be held for some future use, you're not really saving at all. You're just spending less.
Even if you cannot save a great deal of money right now, that's OK. It's not the amount you save that matters as much as the fact that you make saving money a regular habit.
GRAB ALL THE DISCOUNTS
Many mortgage lenders and student loan companies offer incentives for their customers who set up automatic monthly payments. It's worth knowing you'll never be late, and if you can get even one-quarter of a point reduction in the interest rate, over time that will really add up to something significant. Automobile insurers give discounts to good drivers, nonsmokers, good students, cars with particular safety equipment and a number of other situations. But you have to ask. Make the call. Then save the difference.
Get fanatic about coupons, coupon codes and getting cash back when it's available. But don't stop there. Once you have that discount, be disciplined enough to actually save that 50 cents or $5 or whatever it is. Stash that cash. Rakuten, formerly Ebates, is the best way I know to keep all those small cash-back amounts in a safe place. If you don't have an account, you're really missing out.
SET DOLLAR LIMITS
OK, so this sounds curiously like budgeting. It is. Deciding ahead of time the amount you are willing to spend on something is an important limitation to impose on yourself. Maybe it's time to let your inner parent out — that part of you that knows how to demand discipline and good behavior.
Banks and credit card companies don't seem to have much trouble socking us with unbelievable fees, so take a lesson from them and fee yourself.
Every payday, impose a self-tax equal to one hour's pay — the gross amount before taxes. Consider it the price for having a job, and put that amount straight into your savings account. Give yourself ample warning that upon your next raise, that fee will jump to two hours' pay.
Every time you withdraw from the ATM or write a check, charge yourself a set fee of $1 by recording the actual amount plus a dollar. Deposits? A $10 fee for each deposit sounds about right. When you've collected $50 or $100 in fees from yourself, settle up and transfer the whole amount straight to your savings account.
Oh, the stories I have from my readers who have started this kind of self-taxing plan to create and build their savings. Amazing.
EMBRACE CHEAPER SUBSTITUTES
Have you given the store brands at the grocery store a chance? If not, you should. The payoff will be significant, and you could be pleasantly surprised to discover just how many items are identical to the name brand — only the label and the price are different. Always look for and then consider the less costly option.
PLAY WITH YOUR MONEY
Decide that you will never spend another dollar. That means all your $1 bills go into a stash. Or get really brave and put away every $5 bill that comes into your possession. Save them. Wrap rubber bands around them. Stash 'em in a safe place.
DREAMWASH EVERY PURCHASE
Whatever your goal is — $1,000 in your savings account, a new house, an all-cash wedding, a trip to Spain — "dreamwash" your mind so that you think of every purchase you make in light of this goal.
IT'S YOUR ATTITUDE
No matter how much or how little you have to save right now, you can develop a saver's attitude. The things we tell ourselves about money and the attitudes we choose have a powerful effect on our behaviors.
I've watched people with quite ordinary incomes do extraordinary things simply because they stopped feeling entitled and became habitual savers. That has made all the difference.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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