This post is part of the TaxACT How I Save blog tour, which teaches you ways to keep more money in your pocket. Last year, TaxACT saved America over $240 million on tax preparation. How much can you save? To learn more about tips and strategies on saving, click here.
I grew up as a saver. I’m not sure if it’s coded in my DNA (my parents are both savers) – but from a young age I started hoarded money away in a candy tin hidden in the back of my closet. Later I upgraded to a checking account and way later a savings account.
My early years were spent earning money through odd jobs like building a pet-sitting empire and recording voices for video games in Japan. It wasn’t until I repatriated to the United States and went to college that I got something resembling a “real” job.
My Strange way of automating savings
In college I spent three years working as a resident assistant. Lots of residence life programs pay their employees in free room and board, but ours gave you the choice of applying income towards tuition or into your bank account. With my college degree already covered between scholarships and the generosity of my parents, I opted for the bank account.
The job paid in six $1,000 stipends over the school year, three per semester. By my sophomore year in college I knew I wanted to move to New York City after college and decided I need to have a sizable nest egg saved up by graduation. This goal motivated me to tuck away 50 percent of my paycheck each time I got paid.
My method, however, was a bit strange. I would actually have my Dad transfer $500 per paycheck into his bank account. We kept a running tally of how much he was holding for me, but this way I had a checks and balance in place. Before I could splurge, I needed to ask my Dad to transfer back some money. He never refused to send me my own money, but it did give me pause before I could make a rash decision.
Today, nearly four years out of college, I continue to automatically tuck away a portion of each paycheck (unfortunately I can’t afford 50 percent anymore). Except now it goes into my savings account and not to the Bank of Dad.
In order to stay within a budget and save money each month, I created a few routine habits.
Practical Ways I Pinch Pennies
Cooking in bulk
I don’t love cooking. If my wallet and waistline could afford for me to eat out at every meal I would. Unfortunately, neither of those things will accommodate my desire. Instead, I save time and money by cooking in bulk on the weekends. Sometimes it’s a crockpot meal, other times it’s a bit more time intensive, but most weekends I take a few hours to make two meals. I freeze some for future weeks and the rest are consumed as lunches and dinners during the week.
No, it doesn’t bug me to have a rather monotonous meal plan. I also do easy dishes like scrambled eggs loaded with veggies on nights I don’t feel like eating one of my bulk meals.
Avoiding the common New Yorker trap of only having restaurant menus in my kitchen saves me a couple hundred bucks a month.
Ebates, Mr. Rebates and RetailMeNot
My feelings towards shopping are about as warm and fuzzy as my feelings towards cooking. It’s something I have to do when an item of clothing or a pair of shoes wear out, or I need more bath products or when birthdays and Christmas rolls around.
On the occasions I do shop, I do two simple things.
- Check cash back portals like Ebates and Rebates* to see if I can get money back for a purchase I need to make.
- See if there are coupon codes or other discounts on sites like RetailMeNot.
The extra three minutes of time it takes to check out these sites can save (or earn) a couple of bucks or sometimes even closer to $10 or $15, especially if I can stack cash back.
Recently, I bought a pair of TOMS shoes online. They were already on sale and Ebates was offering 10% cash back plus free shipping by clicking through their portal. I got the shoes for $60, free shipping and earned $6 cash back (so I paid $54).
Now, here is where this can really save you money. When cash back portals pay out, put the money in savings! And if you save money from a RetailMeNot coupon, PUT THE MONEY IN SAVINGS! Otherwise, you’re not really saving it, are you?
Like most other bloggers, I do freelance writing on the side to earn extra income. Every penny I earn from freelancing goes directly into my savings account. Part of the reason is due to taxes. I don’t want to be caught with my pants around my ankles when Uncle Sam comes calling. The other reasons are because it pads my emergency fund and gives me extra money to invest.
Your Savings Doesn’t Exist
Ultimately, the best piece of advice I could share is to create a mentality that your savings isn’t there. I know sometimes Peach or my friends get annoyed when I say, “sorry, I don’t have enough money to do [insert activity] this week.” Yes, technically I do. I could pull money out of savings. But instead, I focus on what’s left in my budget/checking account. If an activity would overextend me I pretend my savings doesn’t exist. It’s there for emergencies. It’s there for buying a car. It’s there for a down payment on a house. It’s there for retirement. It’s not there because I want to see Cabaret this weekend and then go to Le Cirque.
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*Ebates and Mr. Rebates links are referral codes. If you sign up, I will receive a kick back (which I’ll of course save).