You've seen that cute doggie in the window and you want it. (Replace the word "doggie" for BMW, ski boat, new couch, or whatever it is that you're dying to buy.) Now what? Saving money often involves changing the way we think about everyday spending and living habits. Most of the time, the changes we need to make are small, yet they can result in big savings.
Did you know that there is a federal program that was designed to encourage people to save for their future? About 10 years ago, Congress passed the Saver's Credit program during the Bush administration with the goal of assisting savers who make a decent living, but not a huge income.
Here's the deal: If you save $2,000 in a 401(k), IRA, 403(b) or 457 plan, the government will match your money as much as 50 percent, up to a maximum of $1,000. Save less than $2,000 and the government will give you a smaller percentage, either $400 or $200.
The San Francisco Chroniclereports that of those who qualify, 90 percent don't even know the program is out there. To find out if you qualify, go to: www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=107686,00.html.
Before you make any large, expensive purchase, ask yourself if you really need to own it. Could you rent it instead? Could your money be better spent on something else? Will the item appreciate or depreciate in value? Will it be an asset or liability for you?
First, set a savings goal
Determine how much you'll need for your purchase, as well as a realistic deadline. Then, break it down so you'll know how much to save each month or even per week. Keep a record of your expenses so that every penny is accounted for. Try these apps for easy record keeping:
Make a budget
Plan a budget with your goal in mind and actually stick to it. This one thing alone will determine your success. Create a special savings account specifically for this large purchase goal and put money in it each week or month, depending on how quickly you want it to grow. Don't save money in your checking account because your easy access to withdraw it will be too tempting. Even better, open an account at a local bank that has a promotion to give you a refund or cash gift for joining them.
Research the price
Use Pricegrabber or Dealtime to compare vendors and prices. Does it have to be new? If not, check out the price of the same thing sold as used on Amazon or eBay. You might even be able to find it for less on Craig's List or Freecycle. If you don't mind waiting longer, prices almost always drop with time.
Know how to separate your needs from your wants
Do you have to buy the item with all of the bells and whistles or could you purchase a less expensive version? Pennies add up.
Here are 25 simple tips to help you find more pennies in your life for that big purchase:
- Can you cut down on any expenses?
Take a second look at your utility bills, entertainment expenses, phone bills, insurance coverage and food costs. Call the providers and ask them for discounts and other ways to lower your bills.
- Pay with cash
Psychologically, you'll find it harder to make purchases because the money will seem more real.
- Automatic savings
Set up an automatic deposit of a portion of your paycheck into a special savings account for your purchase each pay period.
- Save your change
Every time you get change, put it in a change jar or special account. You'll be amazed how quickly it adds up.
- Carry large bills
Another psychological trick is to keep only large bills in your wallet. You'll find it painful to break them up when you make purchases.
- Save those Lincolns
A fun game to play with yourself is to save $5 bills. Every time one ends up in your wallet, tell yourself to deposit it into a special jar or account.
Pay your bills on time to avoid late fees.
Avoid bank fees
Only use ATM machines sponsored by your bank so you won't be charged fees for every transaction.
- Cook at home more often
Eat out less often.
Brown bag it to work
Use groups to get discounts
Create a bulk posse of friends who can split giant purchases and save. (You just can't eat 1,200 pounds of butter from Costco all by yourself!)
Cancel your land line and try living on just your cell phone.
I know you're worth it, but your future deserves your attention too.
- Stick to your grocery list
Avoid impulse shopping.
- Compare online
Use WhiteFence.com to help you compare prices on Internet, phone, electricity, gas and other service providers in your area.
- Stop buying bottled water
Using a water filter on your tap costs less than all that plastic.
Buy generic whenever possible
Buy less expensive brands and camouflage them in more expensive product boxes. (I do that all the time with my family and they rarely notice.)
Avoid vending machines
Bake your own bread
You'll be amazed at how cheap home-made bread is.
Lower your cable or satellite bill by reducing channels on your programming. Even cheaper, cancel them and watch TV and movies on Hulu.com for free!
Use free grocery store bags instead of purchasing trash can liners.
Consider using Ebates.com when making purchases online for rebates.
Make your own household cleaners and products