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Small change plays a big role in achieving your savings dreams

Money market accountsFor some people, saving money each week may mean the difference between a homemade tuna sandwich and the tuna entrée at Fisherman's Wharf.

While some families can't fathom saving money each week, building a nest egg is certainly doable, and with careful tracking it won't eat into your mortgage or car payments.

We've come up with some surefire tips to help you pay down those bills, go on vacation or save up for a child's college education.

Here's the goal: saving $6,000 in two years -- which translates to about $55.90 each week, depending upon interest earned.

That's two years from today -- so get started!

Benefits of leftovers
Leanne Washington did just that. The 34-year-old Baltimore teacher is living proof that eating leftovers pays.

Washington says she couldn't cut back on her evenings out to McDonald's with her two sons or save any money.

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"It was so easy to take the kids out to eat almost every night after working long days at school," Washington says. "I didn't have a savings account -- if I were to lose my job, there would be no cash on hand."

After a visit to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware Inc. last year to set up a debt-management plan, she is well on her way to having an emergency stash of cash and then some.

What did she do?

For starters, while she paid off loans and credit card bills, she arranged to have $100 deducted from every paycheck and deposited directly into a savings account. Then, she started cooking large meals over the weekend for dinners throughout the week -- which meant eating out only once a week.

Her sons also chip in on the savings plan by preparing brown-bag lunches each night. To make some extra cash, they walk dogs and wash cars on the weekends. Finally, the whole family has kept a chart of the money saved, to plan for a trip to Disney World at the end of the year. So far, they've saved $3,500.

"Not only was she able to decrease her debt but she managed to start saving money at the same time," says Marilyn Nall, a CCCS counselor.

Saving money is only the first step -- then you have to hang on to it.

Look at a money market account
Money market accounts provide a higher rate of return than a regular savings account -- often more than double the interest rate of a statement or passbook savings account. It's also a good choice because of its restrictions on withdrawals and balances -- making it less desirable for an individual to take out money.

Here's what money market accounts offer:

  • Limited access to the money. Typically, an account holder may be allowed up to six withdrawals per month, three of them by check.
  • If the owner exceeds the allotment, a bank often will charge between $5 and $15 per withdrawal. Repeat offenders may have their accounts closed.
  • A basic account may require as little as $100 to open. The minimum balance required to avoid fees averages between $500 and $2,500.

The danger of having a money market account is the temptation of tapping into that money once it starts accumulating. Emergencies happen, but to prevent that cash from being chipped away, earmark it for a specific goal. Also, avoid making exessive withdrawals from the money market account because the over-the-limit fees can quickly add up.

If you don't have enough money to open a money market account, the tried and true savings account is another option. Some banks and credit unions don't require a minimum deposit or minimum balance. While the return on interest is much lower, there are fewer fees and penalties for withdrawals.

Once you've opened that account, the next step is deciding what to use that $6,000 for. Like your fingerprint, each savings goal is unique. What may work for a recent college graduate may not work for a family of four.

After that decision has been achieved, it's time to start tracking the money flow. Buy a small notebook and, each day, write down the amount of money you spend. This includes gas, that double espresso latte, snacks from the vending machine and lunch at that swank café. Each night, add up the total costs. Do this for a week and total your expenses. By tracking the money for just one week, you can see exactly where you can set limits and make some changes.

Moneysaving advice
Regardless of your age, marital or family status, the following DO list can help you start saving that $55.90 each week.

DO: Take your lunch to work
Even though leftover spaghetti gets boring if you eat it every week, try to cut back lunch outings to once or twice a week by alternating leftovers with lunch outings. Depending on where you eat and how often, some financial experts say you can save as much as $40 each week.

DO: Save your loose change
That 50 cents for the Snickers bar: put it, along with your pennies, dimes and nickels, into a large pickle jar or coffee can. Make a habit of dropping change in the money bucket at the end of each day. Roll the coins weekly and deposit them into your money market account. Make it a family project.

DO: If you can, skip the dry cleaners and buy a bottle of Woolite
Dry cleaning bills can quickly add up, depending on the type of career you have. Many shirts and slacks can be hand-washed in a sink with Woolite or a similar product. Air dry the garments and press with light starch.

DO: Skip the movie outings
Or at least limit how often you go. In New York City, the average movie ticket costs $10. Try catching the flick during afternoon matinees. Better yet, rent a video or two, pop some popcorn and start a tradition with "weekly movie night."

DO: Make a list before you go grocery shopping
Doing this prevents helter-skelter shopping and spending more money than you want. Try to estimate how much money you want to spend. Take a calculator to keep on track.

DO: Arrange to have money deducted from your paycheck
If you get paid biweekly, arrange to have $111.80 deducted from your paycheck (that's $55.90 twice each month) and transferred to a money market account. If that's too much money, try starting with a smaller amount and work your way up to $55.90 a week.

Some financial experts say that trying to save too much will cause you to dip into your savings account just to make ends meet -- that defeats the purpose of savings.

Remember, the key to making these mini-savers work is to keep a running tally of how much you've saved and to always put that money in your money market account. Emergency cash should be kept in a separate savings account.

Finally, even if there is no specific goal in mind, saving money should be as commonplace as breathing, say some financial counselors. Not only does it provide a solid sense of security, it establishes life-long budgeting habits.


-- Updated: April 2, 2004

See Also
How to set up a spending plan
A budget worksheet
17 sneaky ways to save
Savings glossary
More savings stories



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