Start Small - Think Big

With 2010 half over, you may find yourself nowhere closer to your financial goals than you were on January 1st. Yet, year after year, saving money and getting out of debt remain one of the most popular resolutions. The question remains – what’s stopping you? Take action today and work towards your financial goal by “starting small and thinking big.”

Start Small: What’s the secret to saving? Spending less than you earn is the key to saving money and avoiding debt. By making small and manageable changes to your lifestyle, you can further decrease your expenses. Tackle a few spending ‘vices’ at a time rather than radically altering your lifestyle. Some easy ways to save:

Rethink the “essentials.” The latest-and-greatest cell phone, video game, or computers are nice to have, but by no means necessities. Buy what you need, not what you want.
Turn saving into a game – roll your spare change, mail in rebates, sell unwanted items – do whatever you can to get closer to your savings goal!

Save automatically. Have a portion of your paycheck (as little as $25) transferred automatically to your savings. Chances are you’ll never even notice the difference.

Think Big: Individuals with a savings plan are 50% more successful than those who don’t. Take the opportunity to join Virginia Saves and create your own simple savings plan for free. America Saves members also have access to the “My Savings Tracker” which can help you track progress towards your savings goal. Need help figuring out what to save for?

Got other suggestions? Share them here!

Make More Money

When it comes to saving money, you have two options – cut expenses or increase your dispensable income. For most Americans, our largest expenses such as housing and transportation are fixed and cannot easily be reduced. So what do you do when you’ve cut all the expenses you can?

Get rid of things you no longer need:

Take a look in your closets, attic, or storage space. Chances are you’ve accumulated some items you no longer need. Sell unwanted items like DVDs, video games, or comic books to specialty stores which generally give you a better deal.

For collector’s items or items of higher value, list online through auction websites.

Hold a garage or yard sale to get rid of your remaining items or things of lower value. If you don’t have much to sell, consider hosting a joint or neighborhood sale to increase traffic.

Monetize your hobbies:
If you are a gifted crafter, consider selling your crafts at local fairs or online.
Got a way with words? Make money through blogging by charging for ad space. The larger your number of readers, the more you can charge for ad space. Additionally, freelance writing or editing opportunities can be found online.

Online stock photography sites allow users to submit and sell their photos online. Each time someone uses your photo, you’ll receive a small stipend.

Other ways to supplement your salary:
Participate in medical or market research studies. Companies often hire research firms to do market research on new products. By donating a few hours of your time, you can make $50-$200.

Get a second job. If you work a traditional 9-5 schedule, consider working 10-15 hours a week at a restaurant or retail store. Work at an establishment you already frequent, and as an added bonus, you’ll receive employee discounts on merchandise.

Make sure to bank your extra income towards your savings goal! Track your progress towards a savings goal by joining Virginia Saves, and using the America Saves My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

Saving on Food and Groceries

Grocery shopping – you’ve got to do it, right? Going out to eat – you don’t have to, but sometimes it just turns out that way. Believe it or not, the average family of four spends more than $500 on groceries and food each month.

You can easily add another $50 or $100 to your monthly savings by making simple changes:
START by shopping smart at the grocery store:
  1. Shop with a list and coupons when purchasing groceries. If you purchase certain items regularly, stock up on them when they are on sale for additional savings.
  2. Buy in-season produce. Not only is the produce more fresh, but also is substantially cheaper. To find out what’s in season click here.
  3. Avoid convenience food. Pre-cooked, pre-sliced or pre-packaged food is more expensive. Buy whole carrots rather than baby ones, and create your own “100 calorie” snack packs.
    SUBSTITUTE and ANTICIPATE for further savings:
  4. Eat less meat. Vegetarian meals are often cheaper and healthier than their meat counterparts. Consider substituting beans for meat or enjoy pasta with summer vegetables in a few dinners each week to add to your savings.
  5. Don’t just pack your lunch; bring snacks and beverages with you as well. A $2 snack or water bottle adds up over time. If you’re going to be away from home, be prepared.
  6. Avoid restaurants, but if you must:
    If you’re going to go out to eat, check out the local entertainment section in your newspaper for discount or 2-for-1 coupons. If your favorite restaurant does not offer coupons, consider ordering appetizers rather than entrees.

Make sure to bank your savings! Track your progress towards a savings goal by joining Virginia Saves, and using the America Saves My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

Seven Ways to Save

We all want to save money, it’s the “how” that causes some confusion. If you’re not currently saving or living paycheck-to-paycheck, you need to start by changing your behaviors. Begin by tracking your spending and making a plan to save. Saving money is simple once you realize where it’s going.

Here are seven ways that you can save $100 or more in 2010:
Reduce your cell phone plan or switch to a prepaid plan. Many of us overestimate our cell phone usage. Drop minutes or features you’re not using to add to your savings.
Walk rather than drive to destinations less than a mile. You’ll not only burn calories, but also save the wear-and-tear on your vehicle.

Shop around for auto and homeowners' insurance: Before renewing your existing policies each year, check out the rates of competing companies (see the website of your state insurance department). Their annual premiums may well be several hundred dollars lower.
Utilize a cash-only spending plan. Unlike using your credit or debit card, you can’t spend what you don’t have on you, and it makes resisting temptation easier.

Take full-advantage of discounts! Ask your HR department at work to see what discounts or group deals like are offered.

Make your own entertainment by hosting a game night with family and friends. One board game costs less than $20 and produces hours of entertainment.

Ask your local electric or gas utility for a free or low-cost home energy audit. The audit may reveal inexpensive ways to reduce home heating and cooling costs by hundreds of dollars a year.
Make sure to bank your savings! Track your progress towards a savings goal by becoming an Virginia Saver, where you can utilize the America Saves My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

Last Minute Vacation Savings

As America celebrates its independence and your friends are off on vacation, you may be wondering how you can afford a last-minute summer getaway. If you start saving today and make minimal adjustments to your lifestyle, you can afford a getaway by Labor Day.

Step 1- Figure out your goal & save automatically. If you save $5 a day from now until Labor Day, you can save $300 towards your weekend getaway. Double-that and you’ll have over $600 towards your vacation. By joining Virginia Saves, you can utilize the America Saves My Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress towards your vacation. Have a portion of your paycheck transferred automatically from your checking to savings account.

Step 2 – Find ways to cut back for even more savings. Saving $5 or $10 daily seems like a difficult task, but it’s easy when you examine where your money is currently going. Without a budget and savings plan, we all have a tendency to overspend. Here are quick ways to add more to your savings:

•Bring your lunch, snacks, and beverages from home. Avoiding to-go lunches and vending machines can easily save you $5-10 each day.
•Institute a “no spend” day or take a moratorium on buying non-essentials like books or the latest fashions.
•Sell gently used clothing, electronics, and other items through local consignment stores, online, or by hosting a garage sale. It’s a great way to de-clutter and add to your savings.
•Cancel cable and other non-essential subscription services for the summer. Check out your local library for free books and DVDs.

Step 3 – Save even more on your Labor Day getaway. One of the benefits of last-minute travel is the potential to score good deals. Check out a guidebook for your vacation destination for low-budget recommendations for food, activities, and accommodations. For further savings:

•Bring your own snacks and meals for the car ride rather than relying on fast food. Eat at low-budget restaurants whenever possible.
•Choose a place to stay that has a kitchen, so you don’t have to go out to eat as often.
•Check out online travel websites to book discounted flights and hotel rooms.
•Ask for discounts! If you’re a student or in the military, discounts are available pretty much anywhere. Many hotels also offer discounts to AAA members or government employees.

This post is part of the Virginia Saves Kick Start Your Savings Summer. Each week we'll focus on saving for a particular savings goal or how to save on everyday expenditures.
To kick start your own savings click here.