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Times are tough, but a little effort to save now will help you weather future emergencies and set yourself up for financial success down the road. Whether the money you save goes into a rainy day fund or your 401(k), it's always worth it to put a little extra aside. That said, it's hardly easy when there are so many demands on your pocketbook. Here are 10 easy ways to save money and get you on the path to financial fitness.
1. Enroll in automatic deductions
One of the easiest ways to save money is by enrolling in automatic contributions to your retirement account. As soon as your paycheck comes in, part of it will automatically go to your 401(k). If your employer doesn't offer retirement benefits (or if you just want to save even more), you can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a high-yield savings account, serving the same purpose.
2. Share everything
You've probably heard the term "share economy" bandied about more than you can bear, but taking part does have some merit. You don't necessarily have to rent out an extra room, but consider sharing nannies with another family, renting a friend's equipment instead of buying your own, or joining a grocery share group to buy in bulk.
3. Keep the change
As much as people don't like Bank of America, its old "Keep the Change" program was one of the best ways to get people to save automatically. Whenever you made a purchase with your enrolled account, B of A would round up to the nearest dollar and put the remainder in your savings account. For example, if you spent $1.45, the bank would charge you $2 and put $0.55 into savings.
You can approximate that yourself by paying in cash -- bills, specifically -- whenever possible, and keeping the change in a separate bag that you empty at the end of the day. It may seem small, but every little bit helps.
4. Get a better return on your savings
The great thing about interest is that compounding does the work for you: $1,000 invested when you're 20 with a 4% annual return grows to nearly $6,000 at retirement without you lifting a finger. But it's important to maximize your yields: Consider a series of high-yield checking accounts or a high-yield savings account, and don't settle for a rate of less than 0.9%.
5. Lower the interest rate on your credit card
One easy way to cut the interest rate on your credit card debts is to switch to a lower-rate card. You can consider a balance transfer credit card, which gives 0% APR on transferred debt for 12 to 18 months, but be wary of the balance transfer fee, which can run from 3% to 5% and can eat away at your interest savings. If the balance transfer fee's too steep, consider a credit union card that has a consistently low rate and no balance transfer fee.
If you can't get a lower-rate card, call up your bank and ask for an interest rate reduction. Tell the bank you'd love to remain a customer but will have to switch if it doesn't lower the rate.
6. Automate your purchases
Use services such as Amazon.com's Subscribe & Save to automate delivery of essentials when you need them. Avoiding a trip to the grocery or department store not only saves you gas and parking money, but it also keeps you from impulse-buying more than you need. (We see you, candy at the checkout counter. We know what you're up to.)
7. Separate your accounts
Try to keep a "daily use" checking account and a separate "saving up" or "emergency" account. Direct-deposit a portion of your paycheck into your daily use account, but put the rest away. It's harder to spend money that you don't see.
8. Search for coupons
Cash-back websites and online bonus malls can earn you 5%to 10% off everyday online shopping, from Macy's to Target to J.C. Penney and more. Search for your store and see where you could be saving. Also be sure to run a search for "[store name] promo code" to see what discounts are available.
9. Consider securing your loans
If you have unsecured debt (such as a personal loan), the interest rate is probably higher than if you secured the debt somehow. If you're confident in your ability to repay, consider taking out a home equity loan or line of credit, or HELOC, and using the money to pay off your other debts. HELOCs tend to have lower rates than other loan types, helping you save money effortlessly. Keep in mind, though, that if you default on your debt you could lose your home.
10. Make a budget
Making a budget may seem daunting, but there are plenty of resources to help. Just sit down with an Excel spreadsheet, a browser window opened to Mint.com, or a simple pencil and paper and lay out your plan for spending less than you earn. It can be hard to stick to your budget once made, but believe me, it'll pay off in the long run.