Saving Money on a Tight Budget

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How can those who currently aren’t saving afford to save money? And how can those saving only a little save more? Here are our top ten tips for saving money when budgets are tight.

1. Find small savings that add up to big savings over time

Keep a careful record of all of your spending for a month. You may be surprised to learn how much you are spending on dining out or impulse purchases. One method is to save all your bills and receipts over the month and stack them into categories like “utilities” and “groceries.”

2: Comparison shop to find the lowest prices

When you compare prices at different stores before making a purchase, you can often find lower prices for necessary purchases — such as food, transportation, and insurance— leaving you more money to save. Bonus tip: Take a list with you to the grocery store and stick to it. This will help you from buying items you don’t need.

3: Limit spending on gifts.

Limit spending for birthdays and holidays, especially Christmas. Friends and family are more likely to appreciate a few well-chosen gifts than a more costly pile of gifts chosen thoughtlessly in a shopping mall spree.

4: Put all your loose change in a savings account.

For many people, that could add up to well over $100 a year.

5: Ask your bank or credit union to automatically transfer funds each month from your checking to your savings account.

The easiest and most effective way to save is automatically. Even as little as $10 or $15 a month helps. After all, that’s $120 or $180 a year. Learn more about saving automatically here.

6: Build an emergency fund to avoid having to take out loans to pay for unexpected purchases.

Emergency savings are usually best kept in a savings or share account, despite the low interest rates these accounts pay, because they are easy to access when you need it. Remember, keep a high enough balance in the account to avoid monthly fees. Learn more about saving for emergencies here.

7: Avoid using high-interest credit card and payday loans.

Payday loans typically charge interest rates of 500 percent, and the interest rate on credit card debts can run 25 percent. You can save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars a year by paying off these high-cost debts. Learn more about how to get out of debt.

8: See if you qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit.

Many low- and moderate-income workers qualify, each year, for an Earned Income Tax Credit that can be over $1,000, and often more than $2,000. IRS Publication 596 explains how to apply, or you can contact your local tax payer assistance center for in-person help. Then pay down debt and save with at least half of the money you receive from this credit.

9: Participate in a local Investment Development Account (IDA) program.

In return for attending financial education sessions and agreeing to save for a home, education, or business, you typically receive $2 for every $1 you save through an IDA program. So, saving $25 each month could end up as $900 at the end of a year. Find an IDA program near you.

10: Take advantage of any matches to retirement savings contributions that your employer offers.

Some employers match up to 100 percent of your contributions. If you’re not contributing up to their match, you’re leaving money on the table. Learn more about saving for retirement at work or on your own.

Looking for more savings tips? Here are over 50 additional tips for reducing spending and increasing savings.

54 Ways to Save Money

General Savings Tips

credit card being swiped in credit card machineBuild an emergency fund. It can make all the difference. Low-income families with at least $500 in an emergency fund are better off financially than moderate-income families with less saved up. Learn more about emergency funds here.

Establish your budget. Are you looking for an easy way to begin? On the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack the receipts into categories like restaurants, groceries, and personal care. At the end of the month you will be able to clearly see where your money is going.

Budget with cash and envelopes. If you have trouble with overspending, try the envelope budget system where you use a set amount of cash for most spending. And once the cash is gone, it’s gone. Learn more about the envelope budget system here.

Don’t just save money, save. There’s a difference between saving money and saving money for your future. So don’t just spend less, put the money you save into a savings account to plan for college expenses, retirement, or emergencies that can leave you financially better off. Learn more about what you should be saving for here.

Save automatically. Setting up automatic savings is the easiest and most effective way to save, and it puts extra cash out of sight and out of mind. Every pay period, have your employer deduct a certain amount from your paycheck and transfer it to a retirement or savings account. Ask your HR representative for more details about how to set this up. Or every month, have your bank or credit union transfer a fixed amount from your checking account to a savings or investment account. Learn more about automatic savings here.

Aim for short-term savings goals. Make a goal such as setting aside $20 a week or month, rather than a longer term savings goal. People save more successfully when they keep short-term goals in sight.

Start saving for your retirement as early as possible. Few people get rich through their wages alone. It’s the miracle of compound interest, or earning interest on your interest over many years, that builds wealth. Because time is on their side, the youngest workers are in the best position to save for retirement. Learn more about different options for saving for retirement in your workplace or on your own here.

Take full advantage of employer matches to your retirement plan. Often as an incentive, employers will match a certain amount of what you save in a retirement plan such as a 401(k). If you don’t take full advantage of this match, you’re leaving money on the table.

Save your windfalls and tax refunds. Every time you receive a windfall, such a work bonus, inheritance, contest winnings, or tax refund, put a portion into your savings account.

Make a savings plan. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. That’s where America Saves comes in. If you take the America Saves Pledge, we’ll help you set a goal and make a plan. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, advice, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system. Take the America Saves Pledge here.

Save your loose change. Really! Putting aside just 50¢ over a year will get you 40 percent of the way to a $500 emergency fund. And some banks and credit unions or apps offer programs that round all your purchases to the nearest dollar and put that money into a separate savings account.

Use the 24 hour rule. This rules helps avoid purchasing expensive or unnecessary items on impulse. Think over each nonessential purchase for at least 24 hours. This is particularly easy to do while shopping online, because you can add items to your cart or wish list and come back to them a day later.

Treat yourself, but use it as an opportunity to save. Match the cost of your nonessential indulgences in savings. So, for example, if you splurge on a smoothie while out running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. And think of it this way, if you can’t afford to save the matching amount, you can’t afford the treat either.

Calculate purchases by hours worked instead of cost. Take the amount of the item you’re considering purchasing and divide it by your hourly wage. If it’s a $50 pair of shoes and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself if those shoes are really worth five long hours of work.

Unsubscribe. Avoid temptation by unsubscribing from marketing emails to the stores you spend the most money at. By law, each email is required to have an unsubscribe link, usually at the bottom of the email.

Place a savings reminder on your card. Remind yourself to think through every purchase by covering your card with a savings message, such as “Do I really need this?” Write the message on a piece of masking tape or colorful washi tape on your card.

Participate in a local Investment Development Account (or IDA) program. If your income is low, you may be eligible to participate in an IDA program where your savings are matched. In return for attending financial education sessions and planning to save for a home, education, or business, you typically receive at least $1 for every $1 you save, and sometimes much more. That means $25 saved each month could become several hundred dollars by the end of the year. Find an IDA program near you.

Banking, Credit, and Debt Savings Tips

Pay off credit cards in full each month. The miles and cash-back are only valuable if you’re not falling into debt or paying interest. Learn more about debt and credit here.

Start with a goal of reducing your credit card debt by just $1,000. That $1,000 debt reduction will probably save you $150-200 a year in interest, and much more if you’re paying penalty rates of 20-30 percent.

Use only the ATMs of your bank or credit union. Using the ATM of another financial institution once a week might seem like no big deal, but if it’s costing you $3 for each withdrawal, that’s more than $150 over the course of a year.

Check your credit report for free once a year. Use your annual free credit report from the three credit reporting bureaus to look for inaccuracies or opportunities to raise your score. Credit scores are used by loan providers, landlords, and others to determine what they’ll sell you, and at what price. For example, a low credit score can increase the cost of a 60-month, $20,000 auto loan by more than $5,000. Learn more about your credit score here.

Pay all of your bills on auto-pay. This ensures they are paid on time, in full to avoid late charges. As a bonus, some loan providers offer a small interest rate deduction if you enroll in auto-pay.

Get free debt counseling. The most widely available help managing your debt is with a Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) counselor. CCCS’ network of non-profit counselors can work with you confidentially and judgement-free to help you develop a budget, figure out your options, and negotiate with creditors to repay your debts. Best of all, the 45-90 minute counseling sessions are free of charge and come with no obligations. Get started here.

Freeze your credit, literally. If you are having trouble controlling your credit card use, but don’t want to cut up your credit card in case you need it at some point, freeze your credit card in a bag of water. Needing to thaw your card will force you to really consider the purchase before you make it.

Entertainment Savings Tips

Take advantage of your library. More and more libraries are offering e-books, so you don’t even need to visit in person. Many libraries are also part of an intra-library loan system where you can borrow anything you want, but that they don’t have, for a minimal shipping charge. Just ask. And some libraries allow you to borrow things like tools and sewing machines.

Get unadvertised theater ticket discounts. Call, email, or tweet your nearby theater to ask about discount options that are often not well-advertised. Many theaters offer discounted seats for seniors, students, and young adults, such as pay-your-age or pay-what-you-can programs. Or they’ll offer rush discounts of any unsold seats immediately before a show.

Volunteer at local festivals. Cultural festivals and events often offer free admission to event volunteers. Contact the organizers of your favorite event to ask about volunteer opportunities and benefits.

Family and Friends Savings Tips

Create a family spending limit on gifts. Discuss placing spending limits on gifts within your family and/or a system where you only purchase one gift for one person over the holidays. These limits tend to reduce expenditures and be greatly appreciated by family members with less financial flexibility.

Plan gift-giving well in advance. That will give you time to decide on the most thoughtful gifts, which usually are not the most expensive ones. And if these gifts are products that must be purchased, you will have the opportunity to look for sales.

Start saving for college at the baby shower. It’s never too soon to start a college savings account for junior. Ask for contributions to a college fund instead of clothing and toy gifts for your new baby.

Don’t buy cheap clothes for cheap’s sake. It sometimes make sense to prioritize quality over price when purchasing clothes for the family. An inexpensive shirt or coat is a poor bargain for older family members if it wears out in less than a year, but could make sense for quickly growing children. Consider fabric, stitching, washability, and other quality related factors in your selection of clothes.

Organize a neighborhood swap meet. Here’s how it works: gather your friends and neighbors with kids around the same age and everyone brings gently used clothing, books, and school supplies, toys, etc., and receives a ticket for each item they bring. Each ticket entitles you to one item from the swap meet. If you contribute six books, you can leave with up to six new-to-you books. If you contribute seven items of clothing, you can leave with up to seven new-to-you items of clothing.  All leftover items are donated.

Designate one day a week a “no spend day.” Reserve one night a week for free family fun. Cook at home, and plan out free activities such as game night, watching a movie, or going to the park.

Food Savings Tips

Brown bag your lunch. The reason you hear this tip so much is that it works! If buying lunch at work costs $5, but making lunch at home costs only $2.50, then in a year, you could afford to create a $500 emergency fund and still have money left over.

Commit to eating out one fewer time each month. Save money without sacrificing your lifestyle by taking small steps to reduce your dining budget. Start off with reducing the amount you eat out by just once per month.

Plan your meals in advance and stick to a list while grocery shopping. People who do food shopping with a list, and buy little else, spend much less money than those who decide what to buy when they get to the food market. The annual savings could easily be hundreds of dollars.

Shop by unit price. Many grocery stores list a cost per unit of each item, such as the price per ounce or pound. Use these stickers when comparison shopping for the same product, just in a different size.

Stick to water. It’s standard in the restaurant industry to mark up the cost of alcohol by three to five times. So an easy way to cut down on your restaurant spending without changing your habits too drastically is to skip the beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Save time and money by doubling the recipe. Next time you make a family favorite, double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for another day. That way you can get two meals out of one and use the ingredients more efficiently with less waste. Aluminum pans of various sizes can be purchased on the cheap, especially when buying bulk, and make freezing and reheating a snap.

Health Savings Tips

Don’t skimp on preventive healthcare. Routine dental checkups, for example, help prevent fillings, root canals, and dental crowns, which are expensive and no fun.

Go generic. Ask your physician if generic prescription drugs are a good option for you. Generic drugs can cost several hundred dollars less to purchase annually than brand-name drugs. And since physicians often don’t know the costs you incur for a particular drug, you often have to ask.

Comparison shop for prescription drugs. Don’t just rely on the closest drugstore because the cost to you can vary significantly from pharmacy to pharmacy. Make sure to check out your local pharmacist, supermarkets, wholesale clubs, and mail-order pharmacies.

Purchase store brand over-the-counter medications. Store brand medications often cost 20-40 percent less than nationally advertised brands, but are the exact same formula. The premium you’re paying on brand names is for nothing but the marketing.

Home Savings Tips

Comparison shop for homeowners insurance. Before renewing your existing homeowners insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.

Refinance your mortgage. Explore if you have the option to refinance your mortgage to a lower interest rate. On a 15-year $100,000 fixed-rate mortgage, lowering the rate from 7 percent to 6.5 percent can save you more than $5,000 in interest charges over the life of the loan. And, you will accumulate home equity more rapidly, thus increasing your ability to cover large emergency expenditures.

Audit your home energy use. Ask your local electric or gas utility for a free or low-cost home energy audit. The audit may reveal inexpensive ways to reduce home heating and cooling costs by hundreds of dollars a year. Keep in mind that a payback period of less than three years, or even five years, usually will save you lots of money in the long-term.

Weatherproof your home. Caulk holes and cracks that let warm air escape in the winter and cold air escape in the summer. Your local hardware store has materials, and quite possibly useful advice, about inexpensively stopping unwanted heat or cooling loss.

Keep the sun out. Keep your blinds or curtains closed during hot summer days. Blocking the sunlight really does help to keep your house cooler.

Use less water. Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to reduce your water usage and water costs.

Cut laundry detergent and dryer sheet use in half. The laundry detergent sold today is usually highly concentrated and powerful. Use the smallest suggested amount, and often you can use less than what’s on the bottle and still get clean clothes. In many cases, using less actually washes more effectively because there’s no leftover soap in your clothes. And tearing your dryer sheets in half gives the same result for half the price.

Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees. For every 10 degree reduction in temperature, you can save up to 5 percent on water heating costs.

Transportation Savings Tips

Comparison shop for auto insurance. Before renewing your existing auto insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.

Invest in car maintenance. Keeping your car engine tuned and its tires inflated to their proper pressure saves money in the long run. Doing both can save you up to $100 a year in gas.

Check multiple sites for low airfares. Don’t rely on a single airline search engine to show you all inexpensive fares. Some discount carriers do not allow their flights to be listed in these third-party searches, so you need to check their websites separately.

Looking for more tips to save money? Or need motivation to save? Let America Saves help you reach your savings goals? It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. Take the first step today and take the America Saves pledge to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth over time. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, advice, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system.

Take the Connecticut Saves Pledge!

America Saves, a campaign managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.

Do you know your credit score?

Do you know your credit score?

financial goals in clouds: college, money, house, car
Photo: Shutterstock

People who check their credit score regularly are more likely to understand how scoring works than those who don’t, according to a new survey released by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore. The survey also revealed that the number of people who have checked their credit score recently has increased.

Whether you’re intending to use your credit soon or simply looking for ways to improve it for the future, here are three things you should know about your credit score:

  1. Missed payments can lower your score.Did you know that if you miss a payment on your credit card, car note, or student loans your credit score can be negatively affected? Payment history is one of the major components of your credit score. When you pay your bills on time each month, your credit score will gradually start to increase. If you miss payments or your bill is sent to a collections agency, your score will decrease.

    If you frequently miss payments, your score could drop significantly, and it will take time to raise it again. If you can’t afford to pay your balance in full, at least pay the minimum amount on time.

  2. Keeping a high credit card balance lowers your score. Believe it or not, carrying a high credit card balance month to month can harm your credit score. Credit utilization is the percent of your credit limit that you use each month, and your credit utilization ratio is a key component of your credit score. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit card balance under 30 percent of your overall credit card limit. For example, if you have two credit cards that each have a limit of $500, your total available credit is $1,000. In this instance, you will want to keep your balance below $300, or 30 percent, of your total limit.

    A large credit card balance can also feel overwhelming to pay down. When you aim for a low balance and pay your bill in full each month, you get a fresh start each billing cycle.

  3. Checking your credit report will not change your score. Annual check-ups on your credit reports will make sure they are error-free and won’t impact your credit score. This can be done for free each year at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 800-322-8228.

    Additionally, many financial institutions will let you check your credit score online for free. When you regularly monitor your score, you can see how your financial decisions are impacting your credit potential. Some tools may also show you how you measure up in the major credit scoring criteria, including payment history, utilization, and age of credit history.

Want to learn more about credit and your score? Take the short quiz offered by CFA and VantageScore online to test your knowledge at CreditScoreQuiz.org.

Darlene Aderoju works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at AmericaSaves.org.

April 2019 Workshops Announced

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Photo: Shutterstock

We will be presenting two workshops at the North Haven Memorial Library:

Making Change: How to Budget, Save Money, and Deal with Debt (Including Student Loans)

April 2, 2019 at 7 PM

In this workshop, we’ll discuss financial goal setting, how to develop a budget (spending plan), handle credit, and deal with debt. Student loans will be included in this discussion.

 

Is Retirement Among Your Plans for the Future?

April 23, 2019 at 7 PM

Do you look forward to retiring some day? If the answer is yes, but you haven’t been able to make it a financial priority yet and want to get started, please join us for this basic overview session on planning for retirement. (This session will provide unbiased information and no investment products or services will be promoted.)

To register for one or both of these programs please call: 203-239-5803.

Financial Literacy Month and Money Smart Week!

The month of April is National Financial Literacy Month. The week of April 21 through 28th is also Money Smart Week. Sign up for one of these financial education sessions.

Financial Fitness Checkup
Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 PM
Cheshire Public Library
104 Main Street

Do you want to improve your financial future? One way to get started is by participating in the Financial Fitness Checkup. This workshop will help you review your current status and identify actions you can take to improve your financial situation. Participants will have an opportunity to take a quiz about their current financial practices in areas such as general money management. saving, credit, debt, and other topics. (Individual results do not need to be shared with anyone.) We will review the questions and discuss why they are important as well as potential steps one could take to improve in each area. A resource list will also be shared. This workshop is provided by the UConn Extension Financial Education Program. Advance registration is required: Register online at http://s.uconn.edu/45i+ or call 203.272.2245, ext. 4. Contact: bbasel@cheshirelibrary.org.

Spring Cleaning Your Debt
Monday, April 23, 6:30 PM
Waterford Public Library
49 Rope Ferry Road

When it comes to spring cleaning, you probably haul the junk out of your garage, scrub your fridge, and wash the rugs and drapes. But don’t forget about your personal finances. Just after tax season is the perfect time to perform an annual evaluation and tidying up of your budget, bank accounts, debts, and investments. This workshop is provided by UConn Extension Financial Education Program. Advance registration is highly recommended. Call the Information Desk at 860.444.5805, X2.

Celebrating Connecticut Saves Week 2018

at LOB with postersAcross the country, February 26th through March 3rd will be celebrated as America Saves Week 2018. It’s a special opportunity for government and non-profit agencies, universities and high schools, financial institutions, and others to encourage Americans to assess their saving status and take action to save for their goals. This social marketing campaign is managed nationally by the Consumer Federation of America. Cooperative Extension has been involved in the campaign since its early beginnings in 2007. UConn Extension coordinates the Connecticut Saves Campaign with the support of several partners such as the Connecticut Department of Labor; the Connecticut Department of Banking; Connecticut State Library; People’s Bank; Hartford Job Corps Academy; HRA of New Britain, Inc.; Connecticut Association for Human Services; Better Business Bureau Serving Connecticut; Chelsea Groton Bank; and others.

This year, the Connecticut Saves Campaign will kick-off with a twitter chat on Thursday, February 22nd at Noon. During Connecticut Saves Week, “Take Financial Action: Saving Money and Dealing with Debt” workshops will be held at America Job Centers in Hamden, Bridgeport, and Hartford. These workshops provided by UConn Extension and the Connecticut Department of Banking are free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. The Connecticut Department of Banking is hosting a Financial Education Expo at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Wednesday, February 28th from 10 am until 1 pm and the public is invited to attend. If you would like to arrange for a Connecticut Saves Campaign workshop or event for your organization, visit www.ConnecticutSaves.org for more information.

Focus on Career and Financial Goals; Saving Money

Here is a media release from the Connecticut Department of Labor about upcoming workshops for Connecticut Saves Week.

CT Saves Week: Workshops at American Job Centers 

Focus on Career and Financial Goals; Saving Money 

February 8, 2018 – In recognition of Connecticut Saves Week, a special workshop offered at four of the state’s American Job Centers will focus on the importance of saving money, strategies to reach career and financial goals, and understanding credit reports.

The free workshops are coordinated through the Connecticut Saves campaign. Pre-registration is required and can be made online at www.cthires.com. For more information contact Christine Flammia at Christine.flammia@ct.gov or 860.952.1708. Workshops will be offered at the following American Job Centers:

• Wednesday, February 21: 1 to 3 p.m. at the New London American Job Center, Shaw’s Cove Six – 860.439.7400

• Tuesday, February 27: 9 to 11 a.m., at the Hamden American Job Center, 37 Marne Street – 203.859.3200

• Tuesday, February 27: 1 to 3 p.m. at the Bridgeport American Job Center, 2 Lafayette Square (GPS users: 350 Fairfield Avenue) – 203.455.2700

• Thursday, March 1: 9 to 11 a.m. at the Hartford American Job Center, 3580 Main Street – 860.256.3700

 

“These workshops are designed to help individuals and their families take charge of their educational and career goals by providing budgetary guidance that will lead to future success,” said Labor Commissioner Scott D. Jackson. “Whether the plan is to purchase tuition and books, buy a car to get to work, or start a savings plan, the end goal is improving economic security and employment opportunities for our residents.”

“It is important for everyone to take some time to look over their budget and determine ways to manage their debt and begin saving toward financial security,” said Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez. “This workshop is an excellent opportunity to learn ways to help manage your credit and work toward your financial goals.”

Attendees will learn about determining their family financial priorities, practical ways to reduce expenses, strategies for saving, and tips for staying motivated through an interactive session provided by Faye Griffiths-Smith, Family Economics and Resource Management Educator with UConn Extension. Kathleen Titsworth, Outreach Coordinator with the Connecticut Department of Banking, will explain what is in a credit report, and how to correct any errors that might negatively affect your credit.students and game

For more information about the Connecticut Saves campaign contact Faye Griffiths-Smith, Connecticut Saves campaign coordinator at faye.griffiths-smith@uconn.edu or 203.407.3160.

As part of the campaign, people will be encouraged to take the Connecticut Saves online pledge and commit to saving regularly for a personal or family goal. More information about the campaign and special events can be found by visiting www.connecticutsaves.org.

The Connecticut Saves Week campaign is coordinated by UConn Extension and partners include the Connecticut Department of Banking; the Connecticut Department of Labor; Connecticut State Library; Hartford Job Corps Academy; People’s United Bank; Human Resources Agency of New Britain, Inc.; Connecticut Association for Human Services; the Better Business Bureau Servicing Connecticut; Chelsea Groton Bank; Community Renewal Team; and others. 

 

Download the flyer at: 2018 CT Saves workshops offered at AJC offices

Facts About Families and Finances

financial facts graphic with piggy bank

Connecticut households may face a variety of financial challenges. Based on data from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s 2015 Financial Capability Study, 53% of Connecticut household found it somewhat or very difficult to make ends meet, 52% did not save money, and 31% paid only the minimum on their credit cards. See the Connecticut Families and Finances infographic here for more information.

Data source: FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s 2015 Financial Capability Study.