Fiscal Fitness '09: Stop "Mystery Spending," Save $200 a Month

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Today's tip is part of our Fiscal Fitness '09 series. Every weekday this month, you'll get help getting fiscally fit as we work toward our goal of saving $2,000 to invest in 3 stocks!

I swear I had $2,340 in cash lying around here someplace. Has anyone seen it?

It sounds ridiculously irresponsible to misplace that amount of cash, but according to a 2007 survey commissioned by Visa USA, nearly half of Americans copped to losing track of that much over the course of a year. One in five reported $25 of unaccounted spending a week, and 7% of those with holes in their wallets said they lose track of $100 or more a week.

The culprit is "mystery spending" -- cash that flows unaccounted from the wallet to, well, who-knows-where. Those who suffer from acquisition amnesia say cash tends to evaporate when they are:

  • Spending a night out on the town
  • Grocery shopping
  • Out with children
  • Shopping during a sale
  • Shopping with friends

Of course, Visa's (NYSE: V  ) own business solution to help customers track cash is to encourage them to use its Visa check card. That certainly makes tracking your spending easier, but as we pointed out previously, relying on plastic -- whether a credit or debit card -- psychologically preps us to overspend.

A better way to keep your cash from disappearing into the ether is to guard its value mightily in spending situations like the ones mentioned just above.

It's time to sweat the small savings
We kicked off our Fiscal Fitness '09 regimen with some tips about tracking your spending money, then moved right into ways to whittle down those big-ticket, infrequent bills.

This week, we'll focus on easy ways to save on expenses that tend to rack up even when we're paying close attention to our cash. Based on the Visa USA poll, instituting a few savings tricks (we'll have more all week) could be worth anywhere from $25 to $200 a month.

More ways to save...

  • Tips from the Fool Community: On the Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, folks have been sharing their best money-saving secrets since the beginning of the month. Take a moment to cheat off their homework (it's allowed -- even encouraged!) and share your savings tips, too:
  • Game the warehouse club system: If you've wondered whether joining your local Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) , BJ's Wholesale (NYSE: BJ  ) , or Wal-Mart-owned (NYSE: WMT  ) Sam's Club makes sense, be sure to read this thread -- and even get a few great recipes!
  • Lose the labels and get one-third of your money back with generic grub: Stop wasting money stocking your pantry with status brands. Instead, fill your grocery cart with generic grub (or "private label," in the language industry folk prefer). Most big grocery-store chains, including Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) , Supervalu (NYSE: SVU  ) , and even smaller chains like Winn-Dixie (Nasdaq: WINN  ) , offer store brands.

    They can cut your supermarket tab by one-third or more -- and you needn't worry about settling for bland over brand, either. In countless taste tests, shoppers swore they either couldn't tell a difference, or preferred the no-name vittles to the swankier fare. (The one exception seems to be peanut butter. Go figure.) For chocolate chip cookies, orange juice, frozen lasagna, raisin bran cereal, coffee and peanut butter, label snobs will pay $33.40 -- $9.55 more than if they had gone generic.

Read the latest from Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks to get our other money-saving tips. You can also keep up with our tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, or leave a comment below.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. Wal-Mart and Costco are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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