Ten Secrets to Saving
Cheap is chic, frugality is in fashion, and Americans have sworn off their spending addiction. In a replay of 2010, their top resolution for 2011 is to save more money, according to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank: Americans fell off the wagon. This year, consumers aim to save an average of $2,600, a far cry from their average goal of $14,000 in 2010. The reason: many of them didn't meet their ambitious savings target.
That doesn't surprise me. I've always believed that the trick to saving money is just that -- a trick. You don't have to strike it rich on Wall Street, win the lottery or even earn a six-figure salary to build a comfortable savings cushion. You just have to play mental tricks on yourself to stay focused on spending less and keeping more cash. We've written about a lot of these strategies in Kiplinger's, and I have my favorites.
Tops on my list is to have your boss (or your bank) take money off the top of your salary for retirement or some other goal. Even better than paying yourself first is having someone else do it for you. You don't have to think about it, and the money won't burn a hole in your pocket.
Coming in a close second is to start now. Don't wait till you make more money. The more you make, the more you spend.
Start small. Use our How much will my savings be worth? calculator to see how even $100 per paycheck will add up over time.
Write down your goals, which makes them more real. Be specific. "Saving for the future" is admirable but vague. Pledging to save $2,000 for a vacation to Cancun is likely to get you there.
Set up an account for each goal -- education, vacation, car, computer -- or for large, recurring expenses, such as insurance premiums.
Deposit your paycheck into your savings account and transfer money as you need it (don't exceed the number of transfers you are permitted per month). My college-student son thought of this one on his own, and he told me it was "painful" to have to withdraw money from savings.
Subtract your credit purchases from checking right away so that you're not surprised when you get the bill. My husband does this religiously; he learned this trick from his brother.
Toss spare change into a glass jar on your desk or dresser and watch your money grow. I once ran into a fellow who told me that he makes a habit of squirreling away spare change and found money (like the quarter he picked up while we were standing in line at Quiznos). His stash adds up to about $1,000 per year.
Give yourself an instant reward. Each time you brown-bag your lunch instead of eating out, toss the savings into your cash jar.
After you pay off a loan or a bill, keep writing the check and send it to a savings or investment account.
Head start. Getting into the savings habit is a matter of mind over money. But it helps to have some cash, too. Fortunately, most of us will get a head start this year with the 2% cut in the payroll tax -- which could mean as much as $2,136, depending on your income. But Kiplinger's can do a lot better than that. In our cover story, we show you how to save $50 a day on everything from mutual fund fees to your next glass of wine. That adds up to $18,250 per year. If the people surveyed by American Express had read our story, they would have had a much better chance of meeting their savings goal -- and more.