Now that the spending binge we call the holidays is nearly over, the time is here to think about saving money.
Like other promises people make on New Year's Day, such as losing weight, stopping smoking or exercising, the hard part of saving is starting.
"I'm a big believer in doing a budget every New Year's," said Stacey Hyde, a certified financial planner with Compass Financial Advisors in Memphis, Tenn.
Begin by figuring out how much you have coming in and going over your 2000 spending to find out where the money went, she said.
Usually you'll find some "leakage" - money that you have little or no idea where it went, Hyde said.
"If you can identify where the money is going, that's the biggest step for controlling it and saving," she said.
One way to plug the leak is to allow yourself, say, $25 a week for miscellaneous spending, she said.
"When that's gone, you're done. You don't pull out the credit card," Hyde said.
Another technique that works for some people is an envelope system, she said. You allocate amounts to each expense and put cash in envelopes to pay those bills. When the money runs out, you stop spending.
"Once you start using cash, you'll know very quickly where the money is going," Hyde said.
In making a spending plan, you have to set priorities, said Laurence Plummer, a financial adviser with Plummer Financial Consultants, his own Memphis firm. He is a believer in budgeting.
You can't do much to control fixed expenses such as mortgage and car notes, utilities, telephone and education expenses, he said. But variable expenses - entertainment, dining out, vacations - are normally what get people in trouble, Plummer said.
Once you examine your spending patterns, you may make changes, he said.
Combining New Year's resolutions is one way to "find" money to save, according to the folks at Charles Schwab & Co.
Want to lose weight and save money? Give up two trips a week to the doughnut store at $1 each and save $104 over the course of the year.
Invest that money at an average return of 10 percent a year for 20 years and you'll have $6,552, Schwab calculated.
Go for regular coffee instead of a specialty blend five times a week and you save $429 a year and more than 82,000 calories, Schwab figured.
Quit smoking? Even if you smoke only two packs a week, your savings could amount to $468 a year.
Another possible source of saving is a holiday bonus, if you get one. Last year, about 36 percent of U.S. companies gave out bonuses, and 37 percent of those windfalls were in cash, according to Fidelity Investments. A good use for that cash: a college savings plan for your children, if that's one of your priorities, Fidelity said.
However you find money to save, do it through payroll deductions or systematic checking withdrawals, Plummer recommended.
"If they didn't do it automatically, most people wouldn't do it," he said.
The Direct Deposit and Direct Payment Coalition backs that up.
A survey for the St. Louis-based group showed that people who save or invest automatically put away about $140 more a month than those who don't.
No matter how little you earn, you need to start your saving with an emergency fund if you don't already have one, Plummer said.
The fund should contain enough money to pay your living expenses for three to six months in case you lose your job, become disabled or another emergency arises, he said.
Make sure you can withdraw the money when you need it without penalties and put it in a safe vehicle like a bank or money market account, Plummer said.
"Based on the present decline in the market, this is the perfect time for people to understand why you don't invest your emergency fund money in the stock market," he said.
And, once the fund is set up, don't use it for "play money," Plummer said.
"Leave it there, let it grow and remember why you put it there. If you spend it on Christmas (for example), when your car breaks down or your air-conditioning goes bad, you won't have the money." If it comes to a choice between saving and paying off credit card bills, you should consider putting the bills first, Hyde said.
You save money on interest you don't have to pay on balances you reduce, and you increase your credit limit, which could be an emergency backup, she said.
"It's better than putting it in a savings account earning 2 percent. You're always going to lose paying 20 (percent) and earning 2," Hyde said. "If you can't pay your credit cards off every month, cut them up. They can eat you alive."
Once the credit card bills are paid and you have an emergency fund, you may start saving for other goals.
Plummer advised saving 10 percent of your income in addition to what you devote to building the emergency fund.
"If you do that, you will be financially independent for life," he said.
(If you have a financial question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like us to write about, call David Flaum at (901) 529-2330, write him at 495 Union Ave., Memphis, Tenn. 38103, or send him E-mail at email@example.com )
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