(1) Write it down! – You’ve probably heard this before but the act of simply writing down a goal considerably increases the chances of you actually accomplishing it. One of our favorite quotes is: “A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Antoine de-Saint Exupery
One major thing to remember when writing down goals is to make them concrete and specific. “Saving money” is not good enough. “Saving $10,000 for an exotic family vacation” is better…
(2) Set up your “buckets”– Regardless of the stage of life you are in it’s smart to have different accounts (or buckets as we call them) assigned for specific goals and needs. Initially everyone needs to at least start with their “emergency bucket” where at least three months living expenses is tucked away. Get a few other goal buckets lined up as well. If you’re working you’re likely to have a retirement bucket (401k, 403b etc). If you’re self-employed or own a business set up a SEP IRA or a Simple IRA. (there are plenty of choices here but you get the idea) Do you have a “vacation bucket” or an “automobile bucket” ? Get them established and then start filling them up!
(3) Tackle dumb debt – Credit cards are NOT dumb or evil; not paying them off in full each and every month is. We won’t get preachy here and to state the obvious the past few years have truly tested many Americans who had to do their best to make ends meet. What we’re pointing out here is that it makes absolutely no sense to hold a balance on a card when you have cash or other “non-performing” assets elsewhere. For example: If you have $5,000 on a card that charges you anywhere from 13% to 22% and your friendly neighborhood bank is ‘generously’ giving you 0.01% to hold your money….there is a serious disconnect.
(4) Buy the company not the coffee – This has been written about thousands of times but it deserves restating. The morning cup of Starbucks coffee should be a treat not a daily routine. If you’re dropping in 5 days a week for a $3 cup of coffee that adds up quickly and it’s a silent savings killer. Get yourself a top quality coffee machine and enjoy brewing it at home as part of your morning routine. Freshly brewed coffee smells better inside the house than it does in the drive-thru. Instead of spending $780 a year inside the Starbucks store consider investing that money on the stock (SBUX) itself! Now we’re not recommending a single stock to our readers without knowing their specific goals and risk tolerance, but a world class company that has people conditioned to pay and average of $3.65 for a latte might be one to investigate! As of this writing SBUX is up 32% over 1 year and 341% over 5 years…enough said.
(5) Put on your chef hat – Here’s another obvious one but just step back and think about your own dining habits. How much do you spend a month at restaurants, fast food chains, or picking up a snack from a vending machine or convenience store? Every once a in a while a nice dinner out is absolutely wonderful but when the average American is wasting thousands of dollars for what is actually relatively unhealthy food, it doesn’t help your body or your bottom line. There are plenty of simple tips to help lower your dining bills : Instead of an expensive dinner date with friends get together with them for a fun potluck where everyone brings something interesting. Prepare a quality meal in proportions that last two days. If you’re working try packing a lunch. If you have meetings over lunch try getting more creative on time and location. By simply planning ahead and not being in a “dining pinch” where you feel as though you need to eat out due to convenience…you’re saving money! Shave off $50 per week in this category and you’ll have $2,600 extra a year to park elsewhere.
(6) Be the CFO of your chateaux – Chief Financial Officers of companies need to understand where the money goes and how to keep a handle on expenses to help drive their bottom line. This isn’t about being cheap and cutting corners when it comes to being the CFO of your own house. At least once a quarter take a look at your bills and evaluate them. For example: Have you refinanced your mortgage? When was the last time you price checked your car or homeowners insurance? Are you mindful of your energy costs? What are the true fees you pay for your investments? Have you bundled your internet, phone, or television services? Take the time to think “outside of the box” and explore how you can cut unnecessary expenses from your budget.
(7) Bulk up on the paper not the milk –We’re talking about your next trip to Costco… As much as we love that store be mindful of what you should be buying in bulk. We’ve written about places like Costco before but purchases that make sense here are things like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, soap, and laundry detergent. In other words think “non-perishable” and avoid buying 10 pounds of bananas that will be racing to rot quicker than the 3 gallons of milk you bought. Unless you know you’re going to get through the perishable item don’t buy them!
(8) Calorie counting works in finance not food – We’ll try and stick to our core expertise here but the concept of dieting and saving a few bucks is the same. If you’ve ever tried to shed a few pounds a great way to start is by writing down every single thing you eat in a day. Do that for at least a week straight and you’ll be surprised how a handful of snacks here and there adds up to unnecessary calories and ultimately unwanted pounds. The same principle can be applied to your money. Write down every single penny you spend for a month. Take a look at it and with the help of some tracking software or simply eyeballing it you’ll undoubtedly notice a pain point or two that is hampering your savings goals. Back to our diet and food tangent…most diets fail after a while as counting calories is tedious and not truly habit changing for a long-term diet to stick. What counts more is being aware of our choices, whether they be needless snacking or frivolous spending.
(9) Think “Baker’s Dozen” when it comes to your Mortgage – You’ve likely read pros and cons for paying off your mortgage or not as you approach retirement. We’re not even going to cover that here but rather just touch on the assumption that you have a home loan. Chip away at your mortgage without too much pain and save thousands of dollars by simply making 13 payments a year. While there are companies that can help you with “bi-weekly mortgage payments” you can also self-manage it. Simply add 1/12 of your regular payment each month to your check and you’ll basically have made 13 payments by year-end. On a 30 year mortgage of $400,000 at 4.5% this simple approach eliminates at least five years of payments and over $63,000 in interest payments!
(10) Drive that car into the ground – Consider driving your car as long as you possibly can. Obviously there comes a time when repairs and maintenance can force you into a new car but for most people the reality is that they simply want a new ride and with that comes a new payment! By the way, once you are finished paying off a car loan (or any loan for that matter) keep writing the check but put those funds into one of your newly created “savings buckets” we touched on in point #2!
If you’ve learned, implemented, or like at least one of the above tips, consider passing on that same wisdom and savings discipline to a friend or family member! Over half the battle of being a smart saver is simply starting so spread the word and enjoy the rewards!