“I feel like I’m living paycheck to paycheck and am having a really hard time figuring out areas where I can possibly save up some money for the future. What should I do?” — Travis from Lincoln, NE
Money is like a cake. When you get that delicious dessert, it can be tempting to eat it all at once. But if you do, you’ll end up with a stomachache, that sugarcoated feeling on your teeth, and perhaps most importantly – no cake for later.
Similarly, if you spend all of your money, you’ll probably end up regretting your splurges – and wishing you had some funds sitting in the bank.
Often, savings strategies are obvious – you set a big piece of cake aside, and it’s there waiting for you. But sometimes, it’s the little things that make that cake disappear. I’m reminded of the time my childhood friend Mike held a cake on his lap while we were driving home. He took fingerful after fingerful of frosting – and when we got home, Mike discovered that he had completely defrosted the cake without realizing it.
The following list features both kinds of savings strategies – big ones that work all at once, and little ones that add up over time. All of them can be put into action during a single week and every single one ensures that you can have your cake and eat it too.
1. Track Your Spending, and Make a Budget
Understanding where your money is going is the best way to start saving, which is why your first step is to make a budget. It might be that, once you make your budget and realize how much you’re spending in certain categories, you can immediately save $100 by making little trims here and there.
2. Pack Your Lunch
One of the keys to saving is developing long-term habits – such as bringing your own lunch to work instead of eating out. If you’re worried you don’t have time, cook something on Sunday and put it in individual Tupperware containers. Start this week, and over the course of a month, you can easily save $100.
3. Check If You’re Being Over-Serviced
It’s easy to “set it and forget it,” paying the same bills every month. This week, take a look at your regular services – are you using all of your cell phone minutes? Do you have more coverage than you need on your car insurance? Are you utilizing any extra cable channels you pay for? If your answer is no to any of these, call your provider, and change your plan.
4. Negotiate Your Bills
Checking for over-servicing isn’t the only way to lower your regular bills. If you’re not paying a promotional rate for services like cable and Internet, you’re paying too much. Call your service provider, and ask if there is any way you can lower your bill. If they don’t automatically say yes, suggest that you’re going to find another provider. Be patient, nice, and firm, and you can get a better rate.
5. Vow to Reuse, Repair and Repurpose Instead of Buying New
Every time you think about buying something new, ask yourself – do you really need it, or can you make do with something you already have or that you can borrow from a friend?
6. Get to Know Your Credit Card
Visit your credit card company’s website and read the fine print. Many credit cards offer free benefits that are not well publicized. These benefits may include extended warranties, free tickets, price drop protection, extra discounts, concierge services, and cash giveaways. Of course, you should not use a credit card at all if you carry a balance every month. If you can’t control your spending, consider switching over to a cash-only system.
7. Change Your Living Situation
Yes, this is a big change – but it also has big financial rewards. If you have extra space in your house, try renting out a room, either permanently or to travelers using a service like Airbnb. Or, if you live alone, it might be time to get a roommate.
8. Clean Out Your Pantry
Empty your cupboards, see what you have, and plan meals around the ingredients you want to use up. You’ll slash your next grocery bill, and you’ll help ensure that food doesn’t go stale.
9. Create an “Inexpensive Fun Club” With Friends
If you’re trying to save money, it can be disheartening when friends invite you to things that you don’t want to spend money on. Instead, be proactive and invite your friends to share in frugal activities with you, such as potlucks, watching movies at home, and board game nights.
Note: February 25-March 2 is America Saves Week. For more information and resources, visit http://www.americasavesweek.org/.