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10 ways to save $50


"I am going to start an emergency fund this year by taking $50 a month and buying U.S. savings bonds."

Tape this resolution to your bathroom mirror: It's your new mantra. And remember, unemployment and dead transmissions are emergencies; trips to Disneyland are not.

Ah, but where does that $50 a month come from?

Here are 10 strategies used by real people. Follow their lead, and you'll easily reach your goal of owning a dozen $50 savings bonds this time next year:

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1. Change your eating habits and cook in bulk
2. Shop for things you need, not for recreation
3. Frequent the library instead of bookstores
4. Stop acting like Lord and Lady Bountiful
5. Put your pets on austerity
6. Give small gifts with large love notes
7. Re-evaluate your telephone needs
8. Pay all of your bills on time
9. Put away fancy blouses and grab a spritz bottle
10. Get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI)


1. Change your eating habits and cook in bulk.
Food is expensive, especially convenience foods and dining out. Saving $50 is easy when you make a couple of changes in your eating habits.

Sean and Kathleen O'Malley save big bucks by shopping with a list, buying generics and cutting back on meat consumption. You'll find recipes for tasty, inexpensive, meat-free meals, such as tuna casserole, rice and beans and quesadillas on the Allrecipes Web site.

Julie Johnson wasted money on prepared foods, such as frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottled Frappuccino. Her 7-year-old daughter is old enough to slap peanut butter on a piece of bread, and she's going to make the time to brew her own coffee.

Ready to invest in a CD? Find the best yields in your area.

Sandra Lawrence will save $50 a month by making chai tea at home instead of paying a whopping $2.25 a cup outside. She's also going to plan meals and cook in bulk. top of page

2. Shop for things you need, not for recreation.
Recreational shopping leads to overspending. Toss those catalogs as soon as the letter carrier delivers them, and never enter a mall or retail store without a list of what you need and how much you intend to spend. Make your purchases, and go home.

JoAnn Hudson, a self-proclaimed shopaholic, is going to save money by putting a moratorium on nonessential spending. It isn't hard to save $50 a month when you make a commitment to stop buying clothes, shoes and accessories; especially when you already have more than you know what to do with. top of page

3. Frequent the library instead of the bookstores.
Books are as necessary as air and sunshine, and they don't have to cost a bundle. If books are your bag, a fancy bookstore is a dangerous place to be. They're expensive, and they encourage impulse spending. Sandra Lawrence, a book lover, is saving $50 a month by reading the unread books spilling off her bookshelves and going to the public library. Your tax dollars fund the library; take advantage of it. top of page

4. Stop acting like Lord and Lady Bountiful.
Unless you have a serious cash surplus, you shouldn't be paying more than your fair share of expenses. April Gonzalez got into the habit of picking up the tab for family and friends whenever they went out for dinner. After all, she was the one with the big job. She was also the one with the big debts and the big dream of homeownership. To save up for her down payment, April stopped playing the role of Lady Bountiful. She's now the proud owner of a townhouse in Florida. top of page

5. Put your pets on austerity.
Indulging Fido and Boots in gourmet vittles, homeopathic medical treatments and expensive grooming can put you in the poorhouse. Don and Pam Curran spent $530 a month on pet expenses. Saving $50 is a ground ball; just cut a couple of the dog's acupuncture treatments.top of page

6. Give small gifts with large love notes.
Gifts say "I love you." Everyone should give them and everyone should get them, but no one should go into debt for them. Love notes attached to small, thoughtful gifts will not only save money, but will touch the heartstrings of the recipients.

Share a happy childhood memory with parents and siblings; reminisce about the nice things a friend has done; tell little kids and grandparents how beautiful and special they are.

Johanna Olson is saving $130 a month by collecting inexpensive baskets, filling them with small, thoughtful gifts and attaching big, fat love notes.

Here are some ideas for filling the baskets: an African violet for a plant lover; home baked cookies for a gourmand; magnets and paper clips for a curious youngster; chits redeemable for babysitting for busy parents.top of page

7. Re-evaluate your telephone needs.
Cell phones can be expensive, especially if you're footing the bill for a houseful of users. Do a "needs analysis:" Dump the phones that aren't absolutely necessary. Look for cheaper plans for the others. Kee Smith is getting rid of her cell phone to save $50 a month. Tamara Torrence needs her phone for work, but expects to save at least $50 a month with a cheaper cell-phone plan.
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8. Pay your bills on time to save on fees and penalties.
Credit card companies charge errant customers hefty fees for minor infractions. Pay your bill a day late and you could get slapped with a much as a $39 fee. If the fee pushes you over your credit limit, bang, another $29 can hit your account. That's $68, for nada.

Sandy and Allen Lane got caught in this spiral. Their credit card balances grew, even when they stopped spending because the minimum payments weren't enough to cover the interest, penalties and fees they got hit with each month. By having Sandy, the more organized partner, take over the bill paying, they set themselves free.

top of pageFor a look at more nasty practices by banks, check "20 sneaky credit card company tricks."

9. Put away the silk blouses and bring out the spritz bottle.
Donna Cooper is a fastidious dresser with a penchant for silk and a $150 a month dry cleaning tab. Here are ways to save on dry cleaning costs:

  • Put the silks in the back of the closet, and move the wash-and-wears to the front.
  • When clothes are wrinkled, hang them on a shower rod, spritz them with a fine mist of hot water and they'll be wrinkle-free in the morning.
  • Got a spot? Remove it yourself. North Carolina State University Web site gives general hints for removing spots and stains, and recommends products that work.

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10. Get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI).
If you're paying PMI and your home has appreciated in value, look alive. The magic number is 80 percent of the value of your home. Once you've gotten the mortgage down to that, it's time to pay a visit to your lender to discuss canceling this policy. George and Gayle Franken's home has appreciated, and they're counting the months until they can be free of this monthly albatross.

-- Updated: Dec. 7, 2004

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See Also
Pros and cons of biweekly mortgage payments
Cash out refinancing. Know the ropes and save
Cheap is chic
8 ways to consolidate debt

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