In this age of high inflation, national debts, recession and international economic vacuum, it remains with the individual to be penny wise but not pound foolish. Just how do you nurture your little nest egg in the face of the financial vultures that encourage you to part with your money at every turn? Here you'll find some tips on how to make saving an easy and less complicated task.
Once you've got a reasonable grip on not overspending and avoiding unnecessary purchases (which is primarily a personal strength exercise), pocket change can be your biggest boost to monthly savings.
Rather than fish around for exactly the right money or use all those pennies you have for the little things, only spend paper money or large value coins. Take all the change you have at the end of each day and just stash it away into a jar, piggy bank or a sock. Then, at the end of the month, assuming you do a reasonable amount of cash transactions (and not debit card payments), you'll have a nice little stash of money.
You'll barely notice the shift in your spending from coins to notes, and over the span of a year or so, you'll have a significant amount saved. There are now Coinstar machines in many American supermarkets that will sort the change very quickly, and give you a receipt to get notes at the cash register. This method does take a percentage of your money as a processing fee2. If you are more patient, you can go to your local bank with the change and wait while the clerk painstakingly counts it all out.
Shrapnel in Shared Accommodation
One method of saving in a shared home is to put your spare change in a bucket. The money you and your partner or housemates have saved can be a 'rainy day' fund, which can be used for essentials like pizza, beer and other communal comestibles.
For those of us that hate to deal with finances and aren't very good at putting money aside, here are a few tips on how to save and make money painlessly and almost imperceptibly.
If your workplace has a credit union or system for contributing to private retirement plans, take advantage of it. Start with any amount, but have it regularly taken out of your pay packet, then forget about it. Never look at the gross (before deductions) figure on your pay stub. Each year, review what you're doing and see if you can increase the amount. If you get a raise, put half of it in your automatic deduction system.
If you finish paying off a loan, continue making the monthly payments, but instead make them to your savings account. You're used to getting by without that money each month and it will start adding up to help you with high cost purchases.
Start pension schemes when you are young. The more you can put away the better off you will be when you decide that you don't fancy working anymore.
Stocks and shares are risky but you can minimise the risk you take and still manage to save and make money. Diversify your investments or use a unit trust3. You may still lose money but the loss should be spread out a little. Don't invest more than you are prepared to lose though. You may win, you may lose. Keep tabs on your stocks and shares and don't get too greedy - get out on the up, before your profits start to go down.
Saving from a Young Age
If you have young children or relations, you can encourage them to save from a young age by opening an account for them when they are born and contribute to the account on birthdays and other celebrations. It is often best to allow the little ones to contribute to the accounts but not withdraw from them - and if you can, say you'll match their contributions, then do so. Before you know it, your little ones will have grown up and they will have enough to pay for a second-hand car or one year's university tuition fees.
Eating on the Cheap
Go shopping at the supermarket 30 minutes before it closes. All the perishables are marked down to stupid prices - bread at 10p a loaf and so on. With your newly acquired cut-price loaf of bread, make sandwiches for lunches, rather than going out and buying them. It's cheaper and you'll always get the variety you want. Just don't leave them at home.
The above gives two examples of how we can save money when it comes to food and grocery shopping. Other ways of saving money include buying the supermarket's own brand, taking advantage of '2 for 1' offers, and using loyalty cards which repay faithful customers with money off vouchers. Bulk buying food is also another way to make huge savings, but can become repetitive. Here's one Researcher's experience and tips on how to stop budget meals becoming boring.
My way of saving food money is to eat instant noodles. My preferred brand is Top Ramen, because it tastes good (compared to other brands) and costs no more than $0.10/package on sale.
Furthermore, for a few pennies, one can add garnishes and vegetables to the noodles and get a complete meal. Suggested ingredients are lettuce, green onions, egg, Spam (though Spam is expensive), leftovers, Chinese sausage, and just about anything else that can be easily shredded and boiled.
If that gets too repetitive, sometimes I eat rice in place of noodles. Rice costs less than $.50/pound where I get it, but a pound will easily make several meals. A 25lb bag for $12 will last me for several months, if not years.
For a quick and cheap meal, one can make fried rice. Take some cooked rice, put it in a pan. Add chopped green onion, then a raw egg, and mix. Add almost anything else, such as (but not limited to) lettuce, Spam, leftovers, Chinese sausage, onions, carrots, zucchini, bacon, and anything else easily diced and stir-fried.
Mmmm... I'm getting hungry already.
Shopping for Clothes
We all like to look our best, but haute couture doesn't come cheap. So how can we look a million bucks without breaking the bank? Well first of all, try to raid your mother's or father's closet for clothes that they no longer wear, but are either still in fashion, or have come back into fashion.
Simplicity goes far in life, especially in the area of dressing the body, so if you know that there is a particular pattern or solid colour that you enjoy wearing, then buy various pieces that come in similar tones and/or a favourite texture. You will be able to mix and match these items, and should get a fair amount of use out of them, since it brings you pleasure to wear them.
How many times will you wear formal attire? If you can avoid purchasing a formal suit, try to rent one for whatever the occasion is4. If you absolutely have to have a formal dinner suit, then buy one from a second-hand shop; you'll get a classic cut suit at a cut down price.
Shopping and End of Season Sales
When it comes to sales, and shopping in general, remember to do your research with big purchases. It is important to know your stuff when it comes to items like computers, cars, houses, and furniture. These items are expensive, but more importantly they will see a lot of use. If you buy a computer that crashes all the time because you failed to determine which brands are reliable, you will curse your purchase later. Learn to understand the basic and extra features for the items, research brand names, and learn what the going prices usually are. That way, you will spot a good bargain when it comes along and can buy with the knowledge that you will be happy with your purchase later down the road.
If you can buy wholesale, do so - this cuts out the expense of the middleman. Also, buy from stores that purchase wholesale materials or buy in big lots. With food staples and disposable home goods, purchase no-name brands or the grocers' store brands. These are usually made by the same folks who make the name-brand items. You could also buy in bulk on things like soap, toilet paper, nappies, and so on if you have the storage, as you will save money and you know you will use it all eventually.
Knowing When to Buy
Every year at the end of January and July in many European countries, clothing and other articles are sold at a lower price. This is to get rid of one season's goods to make room for new season's articles.
In the USA, computer equipment is usually cheaper from Labour Day (the first Monday in September) through to New Year. You can most frequently bargain for a good deal on a car towards the end of the month, because salesmen and dealerships are tracked monthly and sometimes get anxious when their total sales count is low. Linen is cheapest during White Sales on major holidays, especially in the spring. Clothing is least expensive for everyone shortly before school starts in autumn.
Be warned and don't become addicted to sales. Some stores have been known to artificially raise prices5 in order to drop them back down in '50% Off' or '2 for 1' sales. Don't let this fool you. If you don't have any idea what the going price is for something, don't buy it just because it is on sale. You risk getting burned either by purchasing something you need at a higher price thinking it was on sale, or by buying something you never needed in the first place.
Watch your impulse buying habits, but do treat yourself now and again. For instance, many stores include items by the register and on the ends of aisles that they hope you will buy on an impulse. Do you find yourself purchasing things from these areas that look good at the time, but which you never use? If so, make a concerted effort to avoid impulse buying from these areas. On the other hand, do allow yourself the occasional splurge item. It will make you feel good, and you're less likely to splurge in a big way. Just make sure the item is something you genuinely want, not something the store has convinced you might be a good idea.
Around the Home
So far, we've looked at ways of how to save money in banks and shops, but there is a surprising amount we can do around the home to cut down on costs without cutting corners. For instance:
Don't leave your television on standby. Turn it off from the mains, as leaving it on standby actually uses up quite a bit of juice.
Use energy-saving lightbulbs - they're planet friendly too.
Switch radiators off in the summer.
Only have the heating on for long enough to heat the water in the winter. Put it on for an hour before you get up in the winter, so the bedroom is warm for getting dressed, and then for about three hours in the evening.
Switch lights off in rooms you're not using.
Turn the thermostats down 5°C and avoid using electric blankets as they are real energy guzzlers.
In the summer, open the windows, turn off the fans and airconditioners until you absolutely must go to sleep.
Pay all bills by direct debit. You usually get a slight saving for paying this way. If you can't pay DD, pay through your bank, not via the post as it will save the price of a stamp.
Buy books second-hand.
You may be surprised how many hobbies are good investments. Here is a list of a few things that will, in time, earn you some money.
- Swatch watches with or without their original packaging
- Model cars or trains
- Books - for example, if you have a pristine first edition of the first Harry Potter (The Philosopher's Stone) book, you can expect to get around £1,500 or even more - One of the first edition 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone' hardbacks was sold for £10,575 at a Sotheby's auction in early 2002.
- Figures from Star Wars
- Comic books
- Collection Cards (Pokémon, Baseball, Football)
As with all collectibles, you must be prepared to know what you are doing, or you are likely to squander your money. For this reason, it is always best to collect things you have a general interest in.
Don't be Afraid to Spend
When you've planned your budget down to the last penny, and you have £20 for yourself, don't be afraid to spend it. Buy yourself a new book, a new scarf or DVD. These sorts of little purchase can make the rest of your budget seem a lot less restricting and will make you feel happier.