February 29, 2012
By: Sean Naron, Consumer Federation of America advocacy associate
As a first year saver I quickly learned to rely on a few tricks to stretch my paycheck here and there so I was able to build towards my goals without sacrificing all forms of fun. Last week, I discussed the difficulties of dealing with the disappearing paycheck and how to make sure start saving. That’s the easy part. It is much harder to consistently build your savings without dipping into it. So here are some more lessons I’ve learned and tricks that I use to get the most out of what I’ve got:
Lesson 3: Goals are important and necessary. Start small, and visualize.
I have personally found that it is really helpful to set small, attainable goals. After my Blackberry had an unfortunate incident involving a large amount of… water, I became very focused on acquiring a replacement cell phone. Rather than shelling out a fairly significant amount of money at once, I put small amounts away while I shopped around for the best deal. By saving, even for a relatively small item, I was able to keep on budget and reach my goal in a matter of weeks.
For larger goals, it’s easy to become disillusioned with reaching it. A trick I’ve found effective is to print out a picture of whatever you’re saving for: car, house, tuition— whatever. Incrementally mark off checkpoints along the bottom for every $50-$100, depending on the cost of the item. Hang that picture somewhere noticeable (mine is next to the mirror I use while getting dressed in the morning.) As you save towards that item, take a sharpie or crayon and shade in what you currently have saved. Every morning you will see what you are saving towards and how close you are to reaching your goal.
Lesson 4: Never be afraid to ask for something. It’s the best way to get a deal.
For example, last week I overslept and didn’t have time to eat breakfast at home. So I did what most of us would do— I ran out to grab a bite near my office. The place near me has a nice little breakfast menu, but I found the majority of it overpriced. For $6.99 they had 2 eggs, hash-browns, 2 pieces of meat, and 2 slices or toast. I figured I didn’t need all that food; I was, after all planning on eating the lunch I packed, so I asked the line chef if he could drop the meat and toast for a discounted price. He agreed and handed me a slip of paper to hand top the cashier. When it was prepared, I grabbed by breakfast and checked out.
Final price: $2.99.
In the scheme on things, it is obviously not a ton of money, but that $4 covered my commute home and allowed me to do a little more . Now, I just have to get them to name the menu item after me.
You can read the first part of Tales From a First Year Saver or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Bank Account here