How to Control Spending and Grow Your Savings

We all could benefit from some tips to control spending and build up a savings stash.

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Recently I was asked to teach a class on how to get your spending under control and start saving as part of a life-skills program for young single mothers. I came up with a presentation that I titled “Savings Tips and Tricks, or How to Make a Million Dollars One Dollar at a Time.” After I’d finished, I read about a survey conducted by Edelman Financial Engines showing that 85% of parents emphasize the value of financial independence with their kids, yet 40% are still supporting their adult children financially. It seems to me that a lot of young people could benefit from those tips and tricks to get on top of their spending and build a savings stash so they can make it on their own.

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Know your money personality. Figure out where you fit in among three basic categories: people who like to hang on to money, people who like to spend it and people who don’t want anything to do with it. These personalities are typical of everyone, regardless of income or age. And if you know how you relate to money, you can make the most of your strengths and learn to overcome your financial weaknesses.

Remember, money itself is neither good nor bad. It’s a tool you can use to build financial success and security.

Write down where your money comes from and where it goes. Even if you think you know this in your head, writing it down with pencil and paper, on a computer screen or in your cell phone notes makes it more concrete and helps you spot hidden surprises. It’s like making a to-do list: If you write it down, it’s more likely to get done and you can check it off.

Record your expenses for a month or two. That should be enough to identify the things you have to pay for, such as rent and groceries, and the fun things you’d like to buy, such as clothing and travel. You don’t have to track every nickel. You could make a guess as to what you’re spending and then compare it with your bills, receipts and credit and debit card statements to see what’s out of whack.

Keep those paper receipts. Toss them into a fun container or a jar as a reminder of how much you’re spending.

Come up with a spending plan that suits you. Once you know where your money is coming from and where it’s going, you can develop a plan for getting on top of it. Think of this as a way to control small expenses now so that you can buy bigger stuff — and have more fun — in the future.

Spending plans are personal; what works for your friends won’t necessarily work for you. One example of a simple, low-tech strategy that many people still swear by is the envelope budget system. Once you know your weekly or monthly expenses, stash the money for each category into its own envelope. And include an envelope for savings.

This is a powerful tool because you can actually see where the money is going and how much is going there. If you’re spending a lot in one category, you can cut back on that expense and put the money into another envelope that comes up short — or into savings. (You’ll find an array of envelope budgeting systems at If you prefer to go digital, use online budgeting tools or apps such as

Enlist a budget buddy. Share your goals, and if you’re tempted to fall off the wagon, ask your friend to help you stay on track.

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.