In this week's Sunday edition of The Wall Street Journal, Brett Arends wrote a short article about saving $5,000, fast. Before we begin saving any money, though, we have to make a choice. Making a choice means taking responsibility.
There are three uses of money: we give it, save it, and spend it (the average American was brought into this world already knowing how to do the latter). In order to give or save any money, we must create a margin in our lives. Creating a margin requires that we live on less money than we make; this is the choice we make. Novel idea, I know, but when 70% of the country lives paycheck-to-paycheck, we have to lay this foundation first.
So what can you do to save some money? First, create a spending plan - or budget - you must know where every dollar is going in order to allocate more toward savings. Likewise, with a budget you'll know exactly where each of those saved dollars is going so they don't vanish. The vast majority of those who create a spending plan - and execute on it - feel like they get a raise because each dollar is accounted for and has a purpose.
Look at your grocery and eating out spending categories. Our rule-of-thumb is budgeting $150 per person per month in the household. Consider great resources like Angel Food Ministries to get groceries for more than 50% off. Pass on one restaurant meal each month and you'll save around $600 a year.
If you've gone for more than two years without having your insurance policies re-quoted, it's time to make some phone calls. If you have a solid emergency fund in place, increase your deductibles. Auto, homeowner's, and life premiums are constantly being evaluated and updated. Just because you've been loyal to one provider doesn't mean you're getting the best rates. Consider contacting an independent agent who can find the best rates at a variety of providers. Don't be surprised if doing this saves you anywhere from $300 to $1,500 in premiums this year.
Once you get the ball rolling, you'll find plenty of other categories in your budget to generate savings. Look at your cable and cell phone packages, estimate savings by packing a lunch, and try brewing your own coffee at home instead of buying it on the run. Craigslist and eBay are your friends; sell what you know you don't need and generate some cash.
All of these lifestyle and financial changes require a choice. Having a few thousand extra dollars in the bank would be sweet affirmation of a choice well made.