A recent column brought a flood of messages to my inbox, most of them with the same message that goes something like this: I want to save. I need to save. But I don’t have any money to save! How can I even get started when I am so close to the edge?
First, let’s review: When it comes to saving money, we Americans are a pathetic lot. Here we are blessed with the highest per capita income on the face of the earth, yet most recent data shows we’re saving 3.1 percent of our disposable income. Because that’s an average, that means a whole lot of you have nothing saved, nothing to fall back on in the event of an emergency or unexpected expense. It feels like you’re just one paycheck away from being homeless and that’s a terrible way to live and one of the greatest contributors to our collective stress.
While not wishing to throw you into a panic, I really need to get tough on this. You must start saving! You have to see yourself as more important than your creditors. Get in line in front of them and pay yourself first! Just do it. When you get your paycheck, your refund, birthday money, etc., take the first part and stash it away.
You don’t need a lot of money to start a real savings account. You can start with an envelope in your dresser drawer. Put a dollar in it. There. You’ve started saving. Make a commitment that you will keep adding to it no matter how little. The key is to save regularly, every week, rain or shine. And when you’ve accumulated $50, open a savings account at the bank or credit union.
To help you get started, here are some very painless ways to get your stash off the ground:
• Stop using your debit card. The ease and convenience with which you use that thing is startling. You don’t realize it, but it allows money to slip through your hands like water. For your day-to-day spending, switch to cash. It is inconvenient and that’s the way it should be. Make it difficult for you to spend your own money.
• Stop spending coins. Even if the bill comes to $4.02, hand over a $5 bill and get $.98 in coins. Now, every evening empty your pockets, purse and wallet of all those coins into a container. If you think that won’t start adding up, think again. In one year my husband and I saved $1,100 in coins simply because he doesn’t like to carry them around.
• Take the coupon savings in cash. Next time you shop for groceries, ask the checker to give you the subtotal before deducting the value of all your coupons. Write your check for the subtotal, and then receive cash back for the difference. Go directly to your savings place and stash that cash. Now you’re really saving at the grocery store.
• Stash all windfalls. A windfall is simply money you were not expecting. It might be a $1 rebate check for light bulbs, $25 from your aunt for your birthday, a quarter you found in the street or tax refund. Instead of seeing this as money to spend, save it!
• Automatic deduction. The most painless way to save is through automatic payroll deductions. You don’t miss what you don’t see. Sure you might miss that $20 or $50 in your check next week, even the next. But in time, you’ll completely forget about it. But your savings account won’t.
Your goal should be to save 10 percent of everything you receive, without fail. Seem like an impossible dream? Not at all. Just start small, start today and keep going one coin, one dollar, one percentage point at a time!