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17 sneaky -- and fairly painless -- ways to build a nest egg

If your idea of creating an emergency fund involves scooping up the change that falls between the cushions, you could probably use a little extra green for the lean times. Rainy days are guaranteed. Rainy day funds aren't. So here are 17 virtually painless ways to put aside some money.

1. Start your stash
Get an envelope, cookie jar, coffee can or whatever you like and set aside the same amount every week. Whether it's $5 or $20, after a couple of weeks you're going to have a nice start on an emergency fund. The trick: don't count it, don't spend it and remember to hide it where no one -- including yourself -- will be tempted.

2. Tip yourself
You go to lunch and tip the waitress 15 to 20 percent. (Ten if you're a cheapskate.) Put an equal amount aside for yourself, and your "tips" will add up quick, says Gary Foreman, editor of The Dollar Stretcher, a Web site devoted to living better for less.

"It becomes part of your expenses over time," he says. "And you don't realize how quickly it adds up."

If you're a big fast-food fan, put a dollar in your savings jar every time you hit a drive-through window.

3. Live one raise behind
Rather than spending that 3 percent cost-of-living raise, bank it.

And the next time you get a raise, increase your disposable income by the amount of your last raise.

"You're always one raise behind," says Foreman. "And it doesn't seem like you're depriving yourself compared to your co-workers or friends in a similar stage of life."

4. Get cash back
Feel virtuous when you refuse "cash back" from your debit card at the check out? Instead, take a small amount -- $1, $2, $5 -- and slip it into your savings jar. At a buck here and there, you'll forget about it. But it will quickly grow into a nice emergency fund.

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5. Become your own bill collector
Just paid off a big debt like a car loan or child's tuition? Keep making the payments -- this time to yourself, suggests Barbara O'Neill, a professor of family and consumer sciences at Rutgers University.

"It's a chance to ramp up your savings," she says.

This also works on a smaller scale. If you recently switched phone companies or discovered a flat-rate plan that's saving you money every month, put that cash aside in your savings jar. Electric or water bill lighter than you expected this month? Ditto!

6. Join Ye Olde Christmas Club
You don't even have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the benefits of a Christmas club. On a regular basis you put a certain amount in an account for your future holiday cheer. Many clubs will draft an automatic deposit, and some job-affiliated plans come right out of your check, so you don't think about spending the money you never see
.

7. Claim your discount
Do you use those shopping membership cards that print your "savings" at the bottom of your receipt? Even if you believe the cards are a gimmick, you can make the system work for you. Set aside that money in your savings envelope, says Michelle Jones, editor of Betterbudgeting.com, a site that focuses on family money management. Jones estimates she saves an average of $15 on each weekly grocery trip. For a savings account, "that's a lot of money," she says.

And coming on the heels of a large grocery purchase, you're less likely to miss it.

8. Love the IRS
Get a refund this year? You're in good company. Thanks to new tax laws, a lot of people will have a little extra money coming their way after April 15. Either put the check right in your savings account or cash it and stash it. It's not that you don't need it. It's that you'll probably need it more later.

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-- Posted: Sept. 20, 2004
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