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How to Save Money, Even When You Don’t Have Any

Even if you have a decent job and don’t waste a lot of money, it’s
possible you’re in a situation where, like millions of other people, you
are living from paycheck to paycheck. You think that you’d like to save
money, but it just doesn’t seem practical when every penny you earn
goes toward the costs of daily living. However, even in seemingly dire
situations there’s almost always a way to put aside cash in small
amounts, and the benefits of having a growing accumulation of savings
will end up rewarding you in many ways, both practically and
psychologically.

How to Save Money

First of all, it might be worth it to define exactly what you mean
when you say you “have no money,” and then redefine it in a way that’s
more amenable to adaptation. Quite often I’m amused when a female
acquaintance tells me she can never afford to put any money aside
because she’s always completely broke, and then I look at her and notice
freshly filled acrylic nails, new Manolos, or this season’s latest
Prada bag.

No wonder she has no money to put aside! Let’s be clear: if
you can afford to pay all your bills and have enough left over to buy
designer goods and spa treatments, you’re not broke, even if you
consistently have no money left at the end of each month and are
gritting your teeth until your paycheck comes.

It’s amazing the lengths we will go to try to convince ourselves that
certain items we buy are necessities rather than extras. Often I hear
the excuse, “But I have to have these designer clothes and expensive
shoes because one of the requirements of my job is to look my best all
the time.” That’s understandable, but it doesn’t mean you have to spend
all your extra money, every paycheck. Let’s be honest, if you’re
supplementing your wardrobe every single month, you’re doing it because
you enjoy it, not because it’s strictly required. But that doesn’t mean
you have to give up shopping altogether — even if you just cut your
fashion spending down to every other month instead of every month, think
of all the extra money you’d have.

I promise you, no one is going to
notice if you buy new clothes every eight weeks instead of every four
weeks.

Even at lower levels of income there are always extras that we
quietly slip into our budgets. Of course you want to treat yourself, and
that’s an important part of keeping your sanity, especially if you’re
constantly stressed about money. But even something as simple as a
weekly night out with your friends can end up running away with your
wallet if you’re not careful. It’s not uncommon to spend fifty or even a
hundred dollars or more in one evening at a club or bar, especially if
parking or cover charges are involved. Think about what would happen if
you passed on the invitation even one week a month, and put that money
in a savings account instead — it wouldn’t seem like much incrementally,
and probably you wouldn’t even really miss it, but at the end of the
year you’d have enough put aside to do something really nice for
yourself, perhaps take a vacation somewhere exotic. If you really want
to be forward-thinking, maybe you could even use that money to start on
some small investments, which in return will pay for many more vacations
in the long run.

One of the keys to making this work is setting up a system where the
money you set aside is no longer money you consider “available” for any
reason whatsoever. This can mean a simple psychological shift, or
perhaps a more physical one. Some people have enough willpower that just
telling themselves the money they put away no longer exists is enough
to keep them from accessing it. Other people need a little more help to
forget about a pile of money as if it weren’t there. Ask your bank (or
shop around at different banks), to find out what sort of savings or
incremental investment options are available, and choose the one that
has the most excruciating penalties for withdrawals. Preferably, you
want something where withdrawing your money would end up costing you
almost as much as the withdrawal is worth. It also helps if getting your
money is more complicated than just logging on to the internet branch
and entering your PIN number. In this case, the more of a hassle
withdrawals are, the better it is for your money situation. You’ll
probably think twice about your perceived need of some luxury item if
getting the money for it will incur significant service charges, take
three weeks, and require lots of paperwork for which you actually have
to go to the bank and stand in line.

Believe it or not, saving at least some money is possible in almost
every circumstance. Even if you start out with very small amounts — say,
five dollars a week — by the time a year has passed you’ll have put
aside well over two hundred dollars, which isn’t earth-shattering, but
it’s nothing to scoff at, either. Don’t avoid saving money on the
grounds that you think miniscule weekly contributions will never amount
to anything. If you can gradually raise your weekly savings to ten or
twenty dollars a week, even if it’s not every week, you will soon find
you have a respectable cushion of cash that can be used for small
investments, as well as doubling as an emergency fund. Over a period of
months or years, these things can really add up. It may require some
small sacrifices on your part, but the if the end result is that you end
up in a better financial position overall, no doubt you’ll feel that
any minor adjustments you made to your lifestyle were worth it.

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