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3 ways to save on a tight budget

By Paula Pant ·
Monday, November 19, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

A few years ago I set a goal of saving for a trip overseas. At the time, I was a recent college graduate on an entry-level salary.

After paying my basic bills, I didn't have much discretionary income. I wasn't sure how I could find savings within my already-tight budget.

My goal was realistic but ambitious. I needed to find small ways to motivate myself to save. Here are some of my favorite strategies, and how they could work for you.

No. 1: Return two to three items in your cart. Walk through the grocery store, completing your normal round of shopping.

The moment before approaching the checkout aisle, pause, look at the items in your cart and pinpoint two to three "luxuries" you can live without. These should include "discretionary" groceries such as a package of Oreo cookies or a gallon of Odwalla juice.

Place those items back on the shelves. Then -- here's the kicker -- tally up the amount those items would have cost. Remove that money from your wallet and place it in a "savings" envelope. This prevents you from spending that money on something else.

This little habit forced me to save roughly an extra $10 each week. Over the span of a year, that added up to a several hundred dollars.

No. 2: Collect coins. Pay for items with cash, but only use bills. Avoid handing coins to the cashier.

When I used this strategy, I kept a little coin satchel in my purse, which I treated as a one-way vessel: I'd toss spare change in, but I'd never take those coins out when paying for an item. If something cost $9.45, I handed the cashier a $10, regardless of how many nickels and dimes were stuffed into my bag.

When I reached my apartment, I dumped the coins into a jar. Over the span of several months, I amassed a major collection of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. One winter day, I rolled these coins into deposit envelopes and was surprised to see that I had accumulated several hundred dollars.

No. 3: Stay organized. Time for a pop quiz: What do the following items have in common: mascara, lip gloss, swimming goggles, earbuds for an MP3 player and a generic watch from Target?

These items cost roughly $10 each (assuming you buy a generic or drugstore-quality version). They are also small and easy-to-lose. If you misplace these five items, you will have to spend $50 replacing them.

That's why staying organized helps save money. It's tough to say just how much I've saved as a result of keeping track of my belongings, but I think it's reasonable to estimate that I avoid spending an additional $50 a year or so.

Paula Pant blogs at about creating wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns five rental units and owes her great life to strong money-management principles. Follow Paula on Twitter @AffordAnything.

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November 20, 2012 at 9:02 am

It's amazing how much those little things add up. I often go through the month thinking that I didn't really buy anything special. Then when the credit card bill comes, it's like "how did that get so high?"

Yep, it's all those $20 trips to WalMart.

Great article! Simple but effective!