10 tips to spend less and save more

Around 40% of Americans prioritize saving money for a New Year’s resolution. The second most common goal is paying down debt. But like the annual pledge to “get in shape”, it’s easy to get discouraged and drop out after a couple of months. Here are ten successful techniques that can help you stay on track for “fiscal fitness”:

  1. Automate savings – increase the retirement deduction from your paycheck. If you don’t see it, it’s easier to live without it. While you should contribute at least enough for your full company match (an automatic 100% return on your investment), that’s hardly enough to put away for retirement. Plan to increase your retirement withholdings when you fill out your annual W4 form.
  1. Budget in small bites – if sitting down to figure out a complete annual budget is overwhelming, pick two areas to budget. Set aside the money in cash and spend only what you have available for it ($100/mo. each for clothes and gifts, for example). When you have those two groups under control, add another item, such as eating out, and so on. Soon, you’ll find yourself looking for ways not to spend.
  1. Spend it all – find ways to cut back on purchases (buying refurbished rather than brand new, for example), but go ahead and “spend” what you’ve saved by putting the difference in a savings account. Seeing the tangible results of good decisions is a strong motivator to stay on track and find even more ways to save.
  1. Set incentives – eating rice cakes and salad every day with no hope in sight for a hot fudge sundae is a fast way to break your resolution. And jumping from unrestrained spending to living on a shoestring is a shock to your system, too! So set up a simple reward system. When your savings account reaches $2,500, you may splurge on a nice dinner out. At $5,000, get out of town for the weekend. The point is to have short-term “prizes” to anticipate. Of course, you should set a spending limit for each “indulgence”.
  1. Inventory your debts – ignoring a mountain of debts won’t make them go away. In addition, snubbing your credit card statements makes it easy for identity thieves to “borrow” your information. Make a list of all of balances with related interest rates and terms and dig in to pay them off. We typically recommend attacking high interest debt first, but you may prefer to pay off lowest balances first or consider a loan consolidation.
  1. Ditch the credit cards – if you absolutely must use a credit card, set rules for you and your spouse. For example, cash before credit without the okay of your partner and no charges that you cannot pay by the next statement.
  1. Plan ahead – do you normally get a tax refund or bonus during the year? Have a plan for it – and not just a plan to splurge. If you really need that instant gratification, set aside a small part of your windfall for a special treat, but follow your plan for the balance.
  1. Pass it on – as you begin to save and spend more wisely, train your children to do the same. You can start as early as age three to help your kids understand money responsibilities (see this excellent technique for teaching toddlers about money). The best favor you can do for your children is to provide them with the basics and let them figure out ways to pay for the rest (from cell phones to cars). For example, I would pay for a basic pair of tennis shoes for my boys when they were growing up. If they wanted the “cool” shoes at triple that amount, they could make up the difference. This lesson not only saved me a lot of money, but it has stayed with them as adults.
  1. Shop your insurance – check annually to be sure you’re not leaving money on the table for property and casualty insurance. For example, if you have an older car that is paid off, consider dropping collision and comprehensive unless the annual premium is 10% or less of your car’s Blue Book value. And if you do save money, see tip #3 above.
  1. Look at the big picture – your “baby-step” goals should be part of a defined plan to accomplish your life goals. If you want to retire five years early, begin a second career, or become debt-free in the near future, consider working with a Fee-Only® financial planner in your area. A Fee-Only® planner will help you identify and focus on action-based solutions so that you are no longer gambling when it comes to your finances – and your future.

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