You've probably thought, 'yeah, I should probably save more.' But eking out an existence is tough on a starting salary and sometimes comfort takes precedence over cutting corners. Besides, if you can only save $50 or $100 a month, is it really worth it? The answer: absolutely.
By starting to save now, you're giving your money -- however little it is -- time to grow on its own. The magic of compound interest means that you can contribute less money for fewer years if you start when you're young and still end up with more cash than someone who waits.
For example, if Natasha starts saving or investing when she's 25 and saves $100 a month for ten years then lets the money sit, her stash will grow to $174,928 by the time she turns 65 (assuming an 8% annual return). If Anna waits to until age 35 to start saving, and socks away the same $100 a month for the next 30 years, she'll have only $135,940 by 65. Anna will have contributed three times as much as Natasha, but will end up with nearly $39,000 less. (See why you should start saving now.)
Think you don't have enough money to save? We've compiled a list of our best tips to find extra money in your budget to sock away. These strategies won't require you to take a vow of poverty -- we know money's tight already. Rather, they're small and simple cost-cutters that'll help you get started saving as soon as possible.
1. Give yourself a raise and bank it. Boost your take-home pay by adjusting your tax-withholding and have the difference in pay automatically transferred to an online savings account. Kiplinger's tax-withholding calculator can help you revise your W-4.
2. Enroll in a 401(k). If your employer offers a 50-cent match for every dollar you contribute, even adding $60 a month will net you over a grand a year. Plus, you defer paying taxes on your contributions, so they take a smaller bite out of your paycheck. See how even small amounts can add up.
3. Raise your car insurance deductible. Upping your out-of-pocket outlay from $250 to $1,000 can save you 15% or more off your premium. Learn more about how to save money on your car insurance.
4. Pay off your credit card. Carrying a $1,000 balance at 18% blows $180 every year on interest that you could put to better use elsewhere.
5. Go green. Control energy costs with a programmable thermostat. Prices start around $50, but you'll cut your heating-and-cooling bill by 10-20%. For more energy-saving tips, see 12 Ways to Save Money by Going Green.
6. Bundle up. You may be able to save by getting a package of phone, Internet and cable from one provider.
7. Use your employer's FSA. Flexible spending accounts let you pay healthcare costs with pre-tax dollars. If your company offers them, take advantage and save 33% or more. See Take Advantage of Tax-Deferred Accounts for help.
8. Get a credit card with rewards. Spending $80 a week on gas and groceries? Putting it on a card with 5% cash rebates will earn you nearly $200 a year. Learn how to get the right card for you.
9. Kick the cigarette habit. Smoking is hard on your health and the wallet. Someone who smokes a pack a day will spend $2,200.95 annually. Learn more about healthy habits that save you money.
10. Brown bag it. Instead of spending $8 on takeout every day at work, bring a bagged lunch for $5. You'll save $60 a month and $720 a year. Do your own calculation at FeedThePig.org.
11. Negotiate your rate. Instead of paying an APR of 18% on your credit card, call your issuer and ask for a lower rate. If you have good credit, your lender might consider it and if you can provide examples of offers you've gotten from other companies, it'll strengthen your case. For more help, see How to Pay Off Your Credit-Card Debt in a Year.
12. Travel on the cheap. Bypass the old trifecta of travel search engines (Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz) and head straight for Kayak.com, which will search them all -- saving you money and time. See our list of the 25 Best Travel Sites for more cost-cutting resources.
13. Insure yourself. Even if your company has a health plan, you may be able to do better for yourself. Pairing a high-deductible medical policy with a health savings account -- which lets you put away pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket medical expenses -- can save money on premiums. Shop around at www.ehealthinsurance.com.
14. Make media free. Dust off your library card and enjoy DVDs and books for free. If you'd normally rent a movie a week and buy a book a month, you can cut costs by $30.
15. Change your calling plan. The average wireless-phone user spends about $60 a month, including taxes and fees. If you talk for 200 or fewer minutes per month, switching to a prepaid plan where minutes cost 25 cents a minute could save you $10 a month. Compare plans at www.myrateplan.com.
16. Park your car. Why pay $25 a week in gas when you could pay half that to use public transit? Check out carpooling at www.erideshare.com, or see how much you could save by biking or walking to work.
17. Ditch your gym. Forget the $40/month gym membership that'll cost you almost $500 a year and check out community centers in your area. Some may be free or charge a minimal fee such as $100 a year. Or buy a good pair of running shoes and work out the old-fashioned way.
18. Reshop your auto insurance. Using a comparison site like InsWeb can help you determine if you've got the best deal.
19. Learn to cook. Cooking at home saves on your food budget and it could even improve your dating prospects -- who isn't impressed by someone who can prepare a great meal?
20. Keep track of your money. The best way to save is to know what you spend. It might not be pretty, but detail every expense for a month to get an idea of where you can cut back. Nearly everyone has some fat they can trim from their spending to put toward a savings goal.
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