Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working professional, or you’ve just graduated college, taking charge of your finances will help you achieve your long-term goals. But if you’re channeling the lifestyle habits of the women from Sex and the City, you’re unlikely to be stocking much money away. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional shoe splurge or a night of cocktails with the girls, but it’s important to keep these things in check. Use these tips to more effectively boost your savings.
1. Double-Check Sales
The sign in the store window may scream, “Sale!” but you shouldn’t take its promise at face value. Before pulling the trigger on any deal, research the item online to see if you can find a better price. You might be surprised how often that “deal” isn’t really a deal at all.
2. Cut Spending
Write down all your expenses for one week, then look at the results. If you’re swinging by Starbucks every morning or you’re buying a round of drinks for friends every Thursday night, the long-term costs can take a toll. You don’t have to eliminate this type of spending completely, but you should budget for these “extras” and cut yourself off when you run out of cash.
Also, be conscious of what you throw into your grocery cart on a whim. It’s easy to “treat yourself” to a new lip gloss, nail polish, or a magazine when you’re out and about, but they’re probably just piling up at home. These minor expenses may not break the bank, but they do add up in the long run.
3. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
You’ve got a lot on your plate and a budget to manage — it’s normal to have something slip through the cracks. If you miss a bill payment or you exceed your credit limit, don’t beat yourself up. Fix the problem, identify what led to the oversight, plan to prevent the same mistake from occurring again, then move on.
4. Eliminate Credit Card Debt
If your credit card debt is adding up, now’s the time to get it under control. Set a budget so you’re living within your means, then start funneling any surplus to your credit card bills. If you’re not sure how to live on your salary without taking on debt, talk to a financial adviser or debt management counselor to troubleshoot the problem.
5. Adopt a Savings Mentality
After the kids are grown and you’ve retired, how do you plan to live? It may seem like you have years to figure it out, but the years will fly by faster than you think. Start planning for your future now. Enroll in your company’s 401(k) plan or open up an IRA and start saving for retirement.
6. Use Your Smartphone
Smartphones are great for socializing, but you can also use them to save money and earn cash. Try a coupon app, such as Grocery IQ, to save money on groceries, then check out CheckPoints, an app that enables you to earn points toward gift cards by scanning products while shopping.
7. Reduce Clothing Expenses
Before you hit the store for a new outfit, take a good look at your closet to see if you can get by with what you have. Even a well-worn wardrobe can usually be updated with a few inexpensive accessories or a creative eye for mixing and matching. If you’re still in need of something new, use FatWallet to search for discounts and coupon codes to popular clothing retailers, and don’t shy away from shopping at second-hand stores. Plato’s Closet and Goodwill have a surprising amount of high-quality, name brand apparel.
8. Score Free Stuff
You’d be surprised how much you can save by finding opportunities to score free stuff. For instance, you can sign up for the rewards program at your office supply retailer (make sure you enter your email address to get updates), then wait for a 100 percent cash back sale. You pay full price for the items you buy, then you receive the amount you spent back in the form of a rewards certificate.
Also, check out the website Freecycle. Users advertise a wide variety of items for free — you just have to go pick them up. And many restaurants offer birthday rewards to members who sign up for their online newsletter: you can usually score free appetizers, drinks, or desserts. Once you start saving, use your extra cash wisely. Bulk up your emergency fund, funnel more cash to your IRA, or open a college fund for your kids.
Are you a frugal woman? How do you save cash?
Laura Cole writes about developing smart spending habits, investing for retirement, and establishing work-life balance.