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Savers toot their own financial horns

After ran a story on the 7-day money challenge, readers flooded us with e-mails describing their own savings success stories. They also had lots of advice and tips for others who need help sticking to a budget.

The money challenge is simple. Figure out how much cash you need to cover a week's worth of expenses such as groceries, gas, food out and entertainment. Then, get that amount of cash and put away your credit or debit cards. You need to note what you're spending in a notepad as you go through the week or you won't remember where the money went. Can you make it seven days? Or will you run out at midweek?

This exercise will help you understand your spending habits and identify where you can cut back in order to keep within your budget. If you need to create a budget, just use this handy work sheet.

The stories that follow are from readers who are conscious of their spending and proud of their saving ability. Maybe one of their tips will help you get on the road to saving.

Success stories:

The fun bank
I have a little "mind trick" that readers might find useful. First, figure out how much they can use for spontaneous spending each month. I take that amount out of the bank in cash and put it in a wallet that I think of as my "fun bank."

Then I put a quarter of that money in the wallet I'm going to spend out of. If I have to spend over that weekly limit -- for example, a Friday lunch with people at work -- then I go to my fun bank and withdraw what I need.

The trick is to say to yourself, "I have to go to the bank to get the money to pay for that." But you're not going to a brick-and-mortar bank either in person or via your ATM card; you're going to your fun bank.

It took months for me to get used to it, but now the enjoyment of spending money I know I can afford to spend far outweighs any disappointment I might feel at not being able to buy something that I want right now, this minute. For those things, I save up.
Lea B.

Categorize spending
I did this same challenge a year ago. We took a Christian financial counseling course and wrote down everything we spent for a month. I then started taking out cash from my paycheck for several categories -- gas, groceries, entertainment, everyday spending and miscellaneous -- and budgeted "setbacks" for the direct deposited payroll. I was allotted so much for each category for a two-week period. I could not spend grocery money for gas, for example. When the money in that category was gone, it was gone.

That was a year ago and I am doing well with my spending. We have money in savings for the "unexpected." I falter every now and again, but for the most part it has been a very good thing for all of us.

Next: "Do I really need this?"
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