Personal Finance > Smart Assets
5 easy savings tricks
These (relatively) painless measures can add some heft to your savings account starting immediately.
April 15, 2003: 12:38 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money Senior Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) If you had a nickel for every time someone told you to contribute to an IRA, pay down your credit card debt, save for a down payment or build an emergency fund well, you'd probably be a lot richer than you are now.

Doing any of those things is a good idea, of course, but coming up with the cash is tough for a lot of people.

But maybe it doesn't have to be all that hard.

To that end, here are five easy ways to save (and promise, no suggestions about cutting back on your beloved latte):

Trick No. 1: Turn take-home pay into stay-put savings. Commit to saving your extra paychecks. If you're paid weekly, you'll get 52 paychecks a year, which means some months you'll get five paychecks instead of four. If you're paid every two weeks, you'll get 26 paychecks, which means some months you'll get three paychecks instead of two.

Barbara O'Neill, author of "Saving on a Shoestring," suggests that at the beginning of the year you figure out which months you'll get an extra paycheck and then, when they come in, deposit them directly into savings.

If you think it would be hard to live without those checks, consider this. Your major expenses won't change from month to month, O'Neill said. So if you can afford them in those months where you get two (or four) paychecks, then you should be able to afford them when you get three (or five).

If you don't like that suggestion, try diverting 10 percent of your net pay into your savings account each time you get paid, and then using the rest to live on. Once you see your savings build, said certified financial planner Pat Jennerjohn, you'll be less likely to pull money out because you'll become attached to the higher balance.

Trick No. 2: Champion your chump change. Too much change can be heavy, annoying ... and valuable. If you throw your extra change into a jar and add another dollar or two to the mix every day, you could easily come up with an extra $100 a month to deposit into your savings account, O'Neill said.

Now for this method to really work, you need to stop tapping into your bank account every time you sense a cash shortfall in your pocket. You'll meet with more success if you give yourself a certain amount of money to spend each week and then plan your purchases around that amount without dipping into savings.

Trick No. 3: Let bonds do your bidding. Some employers sponsor payroll-savings programs that allow employees to buy savings bonds with automated withdrawals of as little as $25 from their paychecks, said certified financial planner Dee Lee.

Such bonds currently are paying far more attractive yields than many interest-bearing bank accounts and CDs.

If your company doesn't offer such a program, you can set up your own automated bond-purchase program through, O'Neill said, or

Trick No. 4: Make coupons really work for you. If you're a coupon clipper, you may feel a smug satisfaction when you look at that line on your receipt that lets you know how much you've "saved."

Say your last trip to the grocery store saved you $10 thanks to your coupons. Take that "savings" one step further and stick $10 in your drawer, Lee said. In fact, put the amount you save using coupons into a drawer every time you shop. At the end of the month, tally the proceeds and deposit them into an interest-bearing savings account.

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Of course, this exercise will be counterproductive if you're buying something just because you have a coupon. Use coupons to buy only those things you use regularly.

Trick No. 5: Get money back on your retirement contribution. For tax years 2002 through 2006, Uncle Sam may give you a tax credit of up to $1,000 for contributions you make to a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, a 401(k) or a 403(b), said enrolled agent David Mellem.

The credit can be used to reduce the tax you owe or, if you're getting one, to increase your refund. So, for example, if come April 15 you expect a $500 refund and you qualify for a $500 tax credit, your refund check will be $1,000.

To qualify you may not, among other things, be claimed as a dependent. Your adjusted gross income also can't exceed $50,000 if you're married; $37,500 if you're a head of household, or $25,000 if you're single.

Uncle Sam will give you a tax credit of up to 50 percent of $2,000 in contributions (for a maximum of $1,000). But that rate applies only if your AGI does not exceed $30,000 for married couples, $22,500 for heads of households and $15,000 for singles.

The more you make up to the income cap, the lower the percentage of your tax credit. For example, if you're married and have an AGI of $49,000, the government will credit you with only 10 percent of contributions of up to $2,000, or $200.

(For more information, read IRS Form 8880.)  Top of page

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