Every so often I hear how people save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by doing the simplest things. What bothers me is that these ideas just don't seem like they really work, and they certainly wouldn't work for me.
My wife recently told me the story of a couple who saved all of their spare change over a four-year period and it's paying their airfare to Barcelona this summer. My first thoughts were: "Is that really possible?" followed by "I could never do that" and finally, "Would I really want to do that?"
If it works for you, charge ahead. But my plan is much different.
In the middle of each year, I take stock of my financial situation and determine how I can save more money. After returning from summer vacation, I revisit my budget and begin saving for Christmas gifts and money needed to pay my property taxes. But my real goal is to keep putting money away for retirement or emergencies. Here's my plan for the second half of the year:
Raise my 401(k) contribution by 1 percent. This is an amount that I won't miss. For a person earning $50,000 annually, 1 percent is $500 -- approximately $10 per week. The payoff is the amount of money I will earn over the next several years, as well as the tax benefits.
Don't spend any money in July or August... Pick a month that works for you. My family has birthdays and other major events in the fall, so in either July or August I don't spend any money outside of paying bills, food, gasoline and other essential items. This means everything -- no $3 lattes or cheap Christmas wrapping paper. Go "cold turkey" for 30 days and pocket the savings.
...And tuck away those savings in a CD or IRA. Don't scrape by for one month and fritter it away the next month. Take your savings from the 30 days of scrimping and open a CD or an IRA. Putting the money in a regular online savings account won't work; it's too easy to reach in an emergency.
Check all regular bill payments and pick one where I can get a lower rate or payment. The best targets this year are my car and homeowner's insurance. I had a break-in about three years ago, and my homeowner's insurance has nearly doubled. In September, I plan to shop around, and then call my current insurance company to see how they can cut my premium.
Invest any extra earnings in a CD or IRA. I cover high school football games for a suburban daily newspaper from September through November. It doesn't pay much, but squirreling away this money each year into a long-term savings vehicle adds up.