smart spending

5 bad money habits to kick for 40 days

Take it one step at a time, Sasiela says. As the year begins, pull your credit report from just one of the three main credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. You can request a report for free once a year from each agency.

Ignoring your savings

Around 28 percent of Americans don't have any money tucked away for emergencies, according to Bankrate's June 2012 Financial Security Index -- and it can seem like an intimidating goal to get started on.

But to start saving, Peter Fisher, a partner with Human Investing in Lake Oswego, Ore., suggests going on a "financial Paleo diet," which puts a money spin on the popular diet that encourages people to "cut out all the garbage."

"Here's my budget, and I'm going to cut out all the fat," Fisher says. "You're not coming up with this goal of 'I want to spend no money.' You're basically saying, 'I just want to quit throwing money away.'"

Sasiela says one way she plans to cut expenses is by giving herself manicures and pedicures instead of going to a salon for the service. It'll save her about $100 over 40 days, and more over the long term.

Trimming these extra expenses from your budget -- whether they're mani/pedis or fast food -- could accrue a nice chunk of savings that could be put to work as the start of your savings account, Fisher says.

But emergencies aside, you'll also need to stop ignoring your other savings needs. Your 401(k) won't contribute to itself, but your employer might.

Check out whether your company matches a percentage of your salary toward a retirement vehicle, open one and start contributing every month.

"Habit-wise, it should just be automatic," Carden says. "It's almost as if I make $100, I know that I really make $90" and put the other $10 in retirement savings.

Bad bank behavior

Banks may have backed away from charging customers the notorious $5 debit card fee, but they're still going full-steam ahead in charging customers for other services.

These include fees such as using ATMs and overdrawing from a checking account. But most of these costs can be avoided.

"We could argue all day long and say 'It's a bank ploy,' and 'They shouldn't let us do that,'" Carden says. "But at the end of the day, we need to sit down and take personal responsibility and say 'Do I have this money or do I not?'"

Pay attention to your banking habits over the next 40 days, and it could save you money over the long haul.

Making the unfortunate choice to overdraft every day for 40 days would cost you $1,233.20. Dodging just one of these account overdrafts could save you an average of $31.26, according to Bankrate's 2012 Checking Survey.

Same with ATM fees, which reached an average of $2.50 in the checking survey. Sidestepping this fee just once in 40 days could save you a few bucks; but bucking it once a day for 40 days will save you almost $100. ATM fees are easily avoidable by visiting an ATM in your bank's network or withdrawing money with your debit card at a grocery store or drugstore as a cash-back option.

Whether you're cutting back spending or trying to avoid pesky bank fees, keep your goal in mind while understanding you might make a mistake in those 40 days.

"We have to go into change knowing there are going to be falls off the wagon," Sasiela says. "Maybe it was too ambitious; maybe it wasn't ambitious enough. There's a lot of Goldilocks stuff to this, where everything has to be just right."


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