The 10 Commandments of Saving Money

Rogelio Solis/AP
There are thousands of savings tips that can help you grow your nest egg. Whether they involve brown-bagging it to work or using coupons at the supermarket, these are generally useful savings habits that can give you a leg up on ending each month in the black.

But there are only a few super-sized savings rules that can truly transform your finances. Rules so big they deserve to be etched in stone. So, in a personal finance homage to a film that is the Easter and Passover season's answer to Christmas and "It's a Wonderful Life," I give you "The Ten Commandments" ... of saving.

1. Thou Shalt Know Where Thy Money Goes

When generals go to war, they need an overview of the battlefield. Maps, reconnaissance and data show them where the enemy is susceptible. In the battle for savings, the first thing you have to know is where your money is going.

Sites like allow you to connect all your bank accounts, credit card and loans to cloud-based software so you to track your finances on one screen, in real time, with just the click of a button. They also analyze your expenses and highlight areas where you might be wasting money. Best of all, it's free.

2. Thou Shalt Eliminate Debt with Extreme Prejudice

If you were only to obey one of these commandments, this would be the one to choose. Debt is bad, but it's the interest on that debt that's like kryptonite to your savings goals, and the sooner you eliminate it, the sooner you can become a savings Superman.

Moving debt from high-interest instruments, like credit cards, to lower-interest instruments, like a line of credit, is a start. Consolidation loans can be help as well, but the easiest way to get out of debt fast is to take the interest expense you save and put it directly toward your debt's principal amount.

3. Thou Shalt Read the Fine Print

Most people would be shocked at the amount of money that they waste on service charges, convenience fees and annual dues hidden in financial contracts. If that low-interest credit card charges you $99 annually no matter if you use it or not, is it really that great of a deal?

Bank where checks are included and there is no minimum balance requirement. Make sure if you transfer a balance to a lower-interest credit card that there is not a transaction fee attached. And if you rarely or never use that credit card with the annual fee, request that the fee be waive. Most issuers will do it, but if not, cancel the card.

4. Thou Shalt Pay Attention to Timing

At the risk of sounding like a '60s folk-rock star, to everything there is a season, and waiting for the right season to purchase big-ticket items can save you a bundle. For example, car dealers will discount their inventory when the new model year arrives to free up room on their lots, so If you are in the market for a new car, that's the season to buy.

Many big-box retailers and department stores have semiannual sales where you can pick up appliances, electronics and home goods at a discount. The key is to fight against the urge for instant gratification on your purchases.

5. Thou Shalt Keep an Eye on Interest Rates

Even if you are able to pay off most of credit cards and loans, the one debt most people can't pay off is their home mortgage, which is why you should watch interest rates. When interest rates move down, it can be an opportunity to refinance your home loan and save money on your monthly mortgage payment.

But remember, if you just take the money you save and spend it, you're not saving at all. Earmark the difference between your new mortgage payment and your old one for your bank account, or if you plan to live in your home for the life of the loan, put the extra towards your principal and own your home sooner.

6. Thou Shalt Find Money in Thy House

Most people would be surprised to learn just how much money they have laying around their house. Those books you've already read can be sold on Cash4Books or (AMZN), and your old phones and mobile devices can be sold to companies like Gazelle.

Cleaning out the clutter in your home doesn't just feel good but provides you with an opportunity to feed your piggy bank by having a garage or yard sale. And what about those tchotchkes you inherited or your comic book collection? Do you still really want them? If not, try listing them on eBay (EBAY) for some serious cash.

7. Thou Shalt Use Technology to Find Deals

The Internet makes saving money so easy that your grandmother would likely throw her coupon box at your head if she knew. Sites like Groupon (GRPN) and Living Social will send deals on goods and services in to your inbox, and apps like Out of Milk can alert you to store sales just by driving by them.

The Internet also is a great resource for finding free activities for you and your family to do on weekends, holidays and school breaks.

8. Thou Shalt Not Forget to Prioritize Your Retirement

This is a tough, because it's hard to save money now that you don't expect to use for 30 or 40 years. But like it or not, there is going to come a time when your earning years are over and we will all need a retirement fund to bankroll the golden years. So if you don't want yours to be bronze years, you have to make retirement saving a priority.

The good news is that you have many years to accumulate those funds and to let them grow, which means that small amounts of savings directed towards it can go a long way. For example, you can take a percentage out of every saved dollar, say 25 percent, and earmark it for your retirement. This is an easy and painless way to create both a short-term and long-term savings fund.

9. Thou Shalt Not Try to Keep Up With the Joneses

A huge part of winning the saving game is changing your mindset about how you think of money and what its function is. Too often we get caught up in the game of keeping up with the Joneses and buy things we don't really want -- and certainly don't need -- just to keep up appearances.

What many people don't take into account is that that boat, RV, ATV, third car or Jumbotron flat screen that their neighbor bought probably comes with a loan or a high-interest credit card payment. Before making that next reflexive, one-upmanship purchase, ask yourself if you really want it and if it will bring you that same warm fuzzy feeling that a full savings account will.

10. Thou Shalt Act Like Thy Don't Even Have It

We can't spend what we don't have, so the more you act like you don't have it, the more you will be able to save it. Have retirement and college savings funds automatically deducted from your paycheck before you ever see it. Schedule a "secret" payment from your checking account to your savings account each week.

When you come across found money -- like a rebate, an overpayment refund or even $20 in your pants pocket -- just act like you never had it and put it right into your savings. With practice, you can get pretty good at this, so much so that if you have an unexpected windfall -- say from an investment or an inheritance -- you'll forget it even happened. Only your savings account will know.

(By the way: If this has given you a craving to see Charlton Heston as Moses, "The Ten Commandments" -- the 1956 classic, not the 2006 version -- is on ABC at 7 p.m. Saturday. Enjoy.)

No man is an island, or even a peninsula, so I encourage your feedback in the comments below. And don't forget to pick up my book, "Trading: The Best of the Best -- Top Trading Tips for Our Time."

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It is always a good idea to get rid of debt, whether it's mortgages, car payments, student loans or other. The sooner you get rid of it, the better off you will be and the more you can save. Learn about what these kinds of debts can do to you and your financial security at Once you get out of it, try your hardest not to get back into debt.

May 07 2014 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ava Wong

I like the tips... thanks for them! There are lots more ways to cut costs. These are just a few.
1) drop the smart phone and get a "dumb" one. Save about $50 per month. Get a low-priced tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire) or use your old iPhone as a wi-fi only device. Wi-fi is available everywhere; you really don't need to pay for cell-based data plans
2) call your car and home insurance company and tell them you want to go through all your coverage because you found another carrier that is cheaper. They'll probably help you "find" 10% off or more.
3) speaking of car insurance - An expensive policy from GEICO, Progressive, etc. is not needed. You can find one usually for less than $30/month from a place like 4AutoInsuranceQuote (Insurance Panda also has good rates). If you spend too much on car insurance from one of those big companies, chances are you are simply funding their expensive TV ads with cute animals.
4) compare what your house is really worth to your assessment. Many assessments have never been properly adjusted down to reflect the market over the last 4 years. We cut our property taxes by about 20%.
5) re-fi your 30-year mortgage to a 15. The interest rate will drop by at least 50-75 bps, more depending on your current rate. The payment may go up slightly, but it is because you are paying off your loan faster. If it's possible, get the mortgage paid off before the kids go to college. At a minimum, have it paid off before you retire.
6) review your credit card bills for all the things you are paying $10-20 per month for that you no longer need. I bet everybody has at least a couple
7) drop all magazine (paper and on-line) subscriptions. Sorry WSJ, but that includes you too. If you look around, you can find comparable content for free.
8) review your investment portfolio for ways to replace higher fee mutual funds or ETFs with lower fee ones. S&P500 funds/ETFs shouldn't charge more than 0.10% in fees. Fees may be higher for specialty funds, but they are all coming down fast. If your company 401K uses high-fee funds, talk to the folks in charge. A difference of 25 bps in fees will mean a difference of about 5% in your portfolio value after 25 or 30 years.
9) and of course the most impactful -- never carry a balance on a credit card. If you can't resist, cut up the cards.

April 22 2014 at 1:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

No 1 should be if you believe in Jesus you should not follow what he tells you as those who do not give Caesar his due. Wonder if when the bill comes due if that would not turn Muslims and others into followers of Jesus? Jesus to add to it could come up with if you think of blowing up someone you get those 17 virgins too and it is a done deal.

April 19 2014 at 10:59 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

That's all well and good but don't you have to have some left after you pay your bills etc?

April 19 2014 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ectullis's comment

Aint you been to the mailbox lately, Captial One is giving free credit cards away, I get at least 3 offers a week while I am now dealing with lawyers to pay one off I had no intention of paying off, a BOA there with penalties out of the Kazoo when I was out of work and broke. And still Capital One, more offers please!

April 19 2014 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would say the big takeaways that I have from watching Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey is that your financial commandments are pretty simple.
1. Don't spend money on stupid stuff, save what you would have wasted on the $100 bar tab instead.
2. You need life insurance, especially if you have a family, but don't get caught buying whole life insurance. It is a ripoff. Instead of spending $300 a month you can spend $20 for the same coverage. Go to a place like Life Ant to get it online, or call an agent from prudential or genworth.
3. Put money in your 401k like crazy, get your entire available match.
4. Don't spend too much on your house or apartment, don't rent if you don't need to. Own and own responsibly.
The biggest thing you can some restraint, take control, work harder, and get yourself in shape.

April 19 2014 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

"...connect all your bank accounts, credit card and loans to cloud-based software so you to track your finances on one screen, in real time, with just the click of a button. They also analyze your expenses and highlight areas where you might be wasting money. Best of all, it's free.."

And it makes it exceedingly easy for a mediocre hacker to steal all your information in one easy to copy spot.

April 19 2014 at 2:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Number 11 should read thou shalt have to adopt 11 million+ new illegals, and any other people on welfare!

April 19 2014 at 1:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kabube's comment

already did that

April 19 2014 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Your ten saving commandments are correct. However, somewhere between the ages of 55 to 85 you may have to put a spouse in a nursing home. Whether you pay for it yourself or apply for Medicaid your financial future will be destroyed. Must have a good Long Term Care Policy.

April 18 2014 at 10:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

# 11
Thou shalt not allow the Commodity Market to use excuse after excuse to raise energy prices.

April 18 2014 at 7:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ray O. K.

Sex is the only answer!

April 18 2014 at 3:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply