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How to Save Money (A Few Cents at a Time)

Updated on September 1, 2012

The struggle continues


Many families in America and around the world have been forced to survive with fewer financial resources than they previously enjoyed.  Although experts proclaim the economy is improving, many are still struggling.  Credit card debt is rising.  Payday loan companies now inhabit strip malls and business districts.  In these trying times, it is extremely important to find ways to stretch a dollar.

There is a wealth of information available about saving money, but much of it assumes a high level of income to begin with and involves investment advice and tax shelters.  More modest strategies are still geared toward men and women with income levels that offer some choices.  What can someone struggling to make ends meet do to improve their financial situation?   

How can we save money?  An old adage advises us to “watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”  Unlike similar advice such as “starve a cold and feed a fever,” this is actually worth paying attention to.  If you find small ways to put aside money, you will manage to save.  If you plan to set aside an extra $1000 each month that you weren’t saving before, you will likely fail.  It is too large a goal to tackle in one step.  How can we improve our situation?  How can we save money if we don’t have much to begin with?  How can we reduce our reliance on credit cards or payday loan companies and improve our financial situation?

The good news is that it isn’t impossible to make your weekly pay check last an extra day or two.  There are simple strategies that can be utilized by anyone to leave a few more dollars in our pockets.  These twelve recommendations won’t put a Jaguar in your driveway, but they might help if you’re struggling to make ends meet.



There are things we can do to save

We all need to find ways to stretch a dollar
We all need to find ways to stretch a dollar
These recommendations won't necessarily put a Jag in the garage...
These recommendations won't necessarily put a Jag in the garage...
...but the will provide a few more dollars to work with
...but the will provide a few more dollars to work with
It is possible to save money by performing maintenance tasks yourself
It is possible to save money by performing maintenance tasks yourself
Look for bargains everywhere you go
Look for bargains everywhere you go
Shop opportunistically
Shop opportunistically

Twelve strategies for saving money


1.  Know your weaknesses.  Recognize and offset your weaknesses.  If you dine out too often, buy groceries with the money budgeted for food before you can hit your favorite restaurants.  Make your own coffee instead of buying lattes.  Go to the library instead of buying books.  Whatever your spending weakness is, you must acknowledge it to combat it. 

2.  Anticipate needs and search for opportunities.  Identify your future needs and plan for their fulfillment.  Take advantage of yard sales, coupons, store clearance items, generic substitutes or rebates and shop opportunistically.  Shop around and buy when bargains are available.  It’s okay to have a few extra rolls of paper towels in the basement, especially if you found a good deal.

3.  Ask for and accept help.  Don’t suffer in silence—let others know what your needs are.  You will likely find someone happy to help if they can, particularly if you are anticipating your needs well in advance.  Giving others time to help you dramatically improves your chances of getting the support you need.  Each time someone offers you assistance, accept with grace and dignity.

4.  Give help whenever you can.  Offer whatever you don’t need to others.  If someone gives you a new sofa, offer your old one to another family in need.  Finding a new home for unwanted items may encourage someone else to reciprocate, and you could end up with something else you need.

5.  Do things for yourself.  If you can maintain automobiles, machinery, furniture or appliances, you will save a tremendous amount of money.  It is very expensive to have mechanical or electronic devices serviced for you, and failing to care for them will necessitate their replacement sooner than is necessary.  Check the oil in your car or change the filter in your furnace—it will pay off. 

6.  Make things last.  I’ve owned my wrist watch since 1973 and intend to wear it for the rest of my life.  A good leather belt can last decades.  A dirty or stained jacket will still keep you warm.  Don’t dispose of things unless they no longer serve a purpose.  If it still has a value—either its original function or a new one—hang onto it.

7.  Become aware of resources in place that can help you.  Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, there is probably a place to get help.  Look for grants or scholarships if you’re returning to school.  Be aware of tax breaks and utilize them.  Apply for a small business loan if you’re starting a new venture.  Whatever expense you’re facing, there likely is help somewhere.

8.  Stay one step behind trends.  Whether purchasing phones, cars, computers or clothes, the bargains come from shopping after everyone else has already made their purchase.  If you can wait to buy, the price will come down.  Music, clothes and automobiles can be purchased used and technology drops quickly in price to make way for upgrades and new products. 

9.  Complain when you need to.  Complain in a polite, rational manner when it is appropriate.  If the food you were served in a restaurant is cold, tell your waiter.  If you bought a defective product at your local big box store, return it.  A tool the retail or service industry utilizes to keep customers happy is to discount or “comp” their products or services.  If the price reduction or freebie is worth it, accept their offer with thanks and don’t hold a grudge.

10.  Plant a garden.  You don’t have to be a farmer with hundreds of acres of crops to save money through gardening.  A small area in the back yard can yield tomatoes, onions, green peppers, radishes and more.  Try planting corn, watermelon or cucumbers if you are a bit more ambitious.  It will taste wonderful and be far more cost effective than buying from the grocery store.

11.  Save change in jars.  This advice is hardly unique, but it is easy and practical.  Split a dollar instead of digging into your pockets or purse for coins, and put the change you get back in a jar every evening.  (Keep a few dimes and quarters in your car for parking meters and tolls, however.)  This will leave fewer bills in your wallet to spend, and the change will quickly accumulate.   

12.  Network.  Let your social network know how things are for you.  Don’t bombard family and friends with sob stories—be honest but upbeat.  Demonstrate that financial burdens haven’t defeated you.  Keeping in touch with your contacts might eventually provide the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.



And more....

There are, of course, many other ways to save a little money not mentioned here, and they are just as valid as most of the items on my list. You can brown bag lunch or only shop when you're in a hurry; you might borrow books instead of buying or downloading them; you probably care well for your vehicle to make it last as long as possible. There are no "right" or "wrong" ways to save because anything you do to save a few bucks is beneficial. I am not advocating using my methods instead of other ideas as long as you find ways to save.

Good luck.

Don't bear burdens alone


Perhaps you’ve heard some of these suggestions before, but the social aspect of these ideas is worth emphasizing.  It is important not to bear burdens in silence; ask for assistance and help others in return.  Teaming up to save money is not only a good way to save a few dollars; it will help solidify your friendships, as well.  We all need other people to succeed in life, during good times and bad.  Looking to friends and family when the going gets rough makes good sense and will benefit you in ways unrelated to money.  Be gracious, both in giving and accepting help, and you will quickly see your situation improve—financially, and in other ways, as well.

These twelve recommendations won’t allow for an early retirement, but they will help.  Like dieting or fitness training, watching your budget requires mental discipline and support from others.  If you struggle to make ends meet, these simple steps will contribute to your long-term success.  I wish you everything you need for a comfortable, happy life.  Good luck!




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