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Even the biggest spendthrifts can become savers if they're prepared to put on their game face.
Growing your bottom line

Savvy ways to save money

With home equity evaporating like dry ice on a hot day, many Americans no longer can rely on their homes as a source of quick cash. Likewise, credit card issuers are lowering credit limits for many consumers, imposing constraints on spending.

Americans are realizing that the spending party is over and it's time to build wealth the old-fashioned way -- by saving money.

Some obstacles stand in the way. For instance, real median household income grew a sloth-like 1.3 percent between 2006 and 2007, to $50,223, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And it's not likely to accelerate much in 2008.

For the average budget-challenged family, the escalating cost of living can be discouraging. But saving money involves a clever combination of cutting expenses and allocating any savings into a bank or investment account before the money disappears.

The goal is doable with stalwart financial discipline.

The savings game plan
The budget workout: Know where money goes
If you're serious about reining in spending, you'll need to implement a budget. Only 39 percent of Americans say they use a budget to track household spending, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Most consumers find it tough to save money because few families actually know the exact amount of money that's being allocated to a particular expense, says Gary Foreman, publisher of Stretcher.com.

"The main purpose of a budget isn't to tell you whether you can spend money or not. It's to tell you where you're spending it so you can take corrective action," he says.

Nipping unnecessary spending is tough without a budget worksheet. In fact, you're likely to derail your savings plan without one.

Budget worksheets can be especially useful for tracking ATM cash withdrawals -- one of the easiest items to overlook because of the frequency of these transactions.

"One has to detail every time money from an ATM is withdrawn and where that money is being spent," says financial adviser Steve Pomeranz, CFP, host of National Public Radio's "On the Money!"

"Some may not be so inclined to want to do it, but it's part of the effort to get your affairs in order," he says.

  What's your experience with investing?
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-- Posted: Oct. 27, 2008
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