Try a stealth saving plan
Because I have nearly always lived within the circumstances of a budget which had very little slack, I've developed some strategies which I've dubbed "Stealth Saving Plans." These are sometimes goofy, yet effective ways that people who walk a budgetary tightrope can get some money put aside for the long term while still keeping it liquid enough to get at in case of emergency. After reading this selection of ideas, please feel free to add your own tips and strategies in the comment section for all our readers to share.Pay yourself first: When it comes to putting some of your income into savings, always take your own money right off the top. If you have committed yourself to saving a specific number of dollars each week, that money should be the first deduction from your net pay. The fact of the matter is, if you think you're going to put money into savings after your budgetary obligations are satisfied, it'll never happen. Don't try to treat yourself with leftovers. It's your money because you earned it and for the most part you have first rights to say where it goes. Take your savings commitment right off the top, then take care of everyone else.
Diversionary Direct Deposit: Most employer payroll departments will allow you to make direct deposit transfers right from your paycheck. Find out if your employer does this. Direct deposit can be a great tool for getting your savings commitment out of the way before your paycheck begins to dwindle. Keep this money secure from your own discretionary raids by having your savings deposit transferred to an account that's set up at a bank other than where you do your other personal banking.
The magic checkbook: I haven't used one of these for a while but they're really cool. The way a magic checkbook works is simple. Every time you write a check, simply round up to the next dollar when you calculate your balance. By doing this, you're letting your partial dollars "disappear" into your magic checkbook. You reconcile your check book each month by verifying which checks have cleared but you leave the balance figure alone. I believe my father did this for about a three year stretch and at the end of it he had squirreled away about $600.
Out of sight is out of mind: Do you remember the old saying; "Out of sight is out of mind"? That idea works well with money. Put that nest egg where you won't be increasingly tempted to grab it as it grows. As example, we have a savings account for our daughter's future. We don't serve it by direct deposit but we do put money in there fairly regularly by simply sending a check designated "for deposit only" along with a note instructing the bank to make the deposit to our daughter's account. To protect the balance from pilferage at times of mild financial stress, the account is set up in our old home town. It's a six hour drive away and we make a point of not having account access online.
A bird in the hand: Some folks have a hard time saving because they like to remain as physically close to their money as possible. Those are the people who carry two entire paychecks in their pocket as cash. I heard of a fellow that maintained a good savings program even with this type of financial personality. In order to stick to his commitment of saving, each payday he would purchase two or three rolls of dimes and when he got home he would put the coins into one of many clear glass containers. The theory is, coins don't spend as easily as currency does, so even though they're close at hand, they're less likely to go anywhere. The intent is to keep the money around long enough to add up, and when it totals a few hundred dollars it can be cashed in and put out of the way. These types of strategies require serious discipline but they can be made quite effective.
Let the tax man carry it: Some people really like the idea of letting the tax collectors gather some extra money from each paycheck and then having them pay it back as a lump sum in the next year. This works very well for some people, myself included. I even ask the IRS to take an extra five dollars out of each weekly check because I know that'll be five dollars I wouldn't save otherwise. The financial purists will tell you that this is a flawed strategy because that money should be working for you rather than the government. I do agree with them but if over withholding is the only way for you to gather a noticeable wad of money, then go for it.
The way to use that tax refund or other windfall to create a financial coup is by using at least part of it to help pay off debts that you have or by putting it into a savings program which will help lower your tax burden for the next year. Talk to a tax and accounting professional about how to handle your tax refund and about savings plan options. Conversation with a good CPA is always a worthwhile investment.
If you're like me, you work very hard for your money. People like us should expect our money to work just as hard as we do. The first step to putting your money to work is by saving up enough to give you some leverage. Saving money isn't hard but it does take some discipline. If you formulate a plan that you can live with, get it started, and stick to it, you will find that it easily becomes a natural habit. You can try a stealth savings plan like the ones I've mentioned here or you could come up with your own special style. Either way, the point is to keep some of your money before you spend it and to keep it working for you. That's the way the big dogs do it!