Trick yourself into saving money

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending.

But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?

Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can spend less right through your entire paycheck.

While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius when, in truth, you’re just spending all that you earn and wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings  — can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks, and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly, but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay, and call it Paying Myself First. Make it look like an invoice of $5 billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. People who really want to start saving have $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top — ahead of the rent, food or phone bills. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite.

Save all $1 and $5 bills. Make this your new personal rule. You do not spend $1 or $5 bills. Ever. Just find a cool place to stash them and don’t look back. You are going to be amazed how quickly your savings will add up — especially if you receive tips at your job. Can’t do both denominations? Then start by saving $1 bills.

Save all coins. This could be an alternative or addition to saving paper currency. Think this couldn’t possibly turn into anything useful? Think again! In just one year, my husband and I saved more than $1,100 in coins. We were shocked because it was so painless. Try it, but make sure you are diligent. The rule: Do not spend coins. Period.

Make payments to yourself. Once you make that last car, credit card or other payment, celebrate lightly, and then just keep making the same payments every month. But instead of making them to the finance company or bank, make them to yourself — straight into your savings account. After all, you’re used to not having that money to spend, so don’t change anything. Tricky, no?

Coupon savings. As you leave the supermarket so proud of yourself for all of your coupon savings, make a note of the exact amount you ‘‘saved.’’ Now really save it by depositing that exact amount into a savings envelope, drawer or account.

52-week challenge. This is cool. You’ll need a yearly calendar to pull off this trick. Look at each week’s placement in a year. Each week, save the number of dollars that corresponds to its placement in the year.

For example, in the first week in January, you save $1 because it’s week one. In the second week of January, you save $2, and so on. By the end of January, you will have saved $10 ($1 plus $2 plus $3 plus $4 equals $10).

Then, in the first week in February, you must save $5 because it is week five of the year. Continue without fail throughout the year and you will have saved more than $1,300. That’s a good start.

Another way to do this is to flip the plan so that you determine to save $52 in the week one, $51 in week two and so on until you reach week 52, during which you save $1. This puts the heavy lifting on the front end of the year when you have a fever pitch of enthusiasm and determination.

You don’t have to wait until next January to get started. Just figure out where you are right now in the year and save that corresponding amount.

Provided you stick to it, in no time you will have created a saving habit. You’ll be well on your way to building a respectable emergency fund!

Questions & answers

Q: My husband has two jobs — he is an artist and a salesman. He earns commissions from both, so we never know what our income will be. I work part-time and am paid hourly. I’m so embarrassed to admit that I have no idea how to go about setting up a budget. Is our situation impossible?

A: The mistake many who live on ‘‘mystery means’’ make is to spend whatever amount of money they earn as they earn it.

They multiply a good month’s income by 12, call that their annual income and set their lifestyle accordingly. Then they starve during the lean months, allow all the bills to go past due and hope a good month will follow soon.

The secret to living on an uncertain income is to determine the very minimum you need to live each month. Now put yourselves on that salary. No matter what comes in during a month, only pay yourselves that set amount.

And if it’s not enough to pay the bills, what you have may be a hobby, not self-employment.

Q: I recently found a website that promises to take our credit card debt and get it erased. They can do this because it is technically illegal for banks to issue credit cards. So this company takes your debt, challenges it in court and legally dissolves it.

I am skeptical but hopeful. Is this legal?

A: I don’t know what is more shocking: that anyone would suggest such a thing, or that you entertain that it might be legitimate.

Of course this is not legal. Don’t believe it for a second. It is one in a long list of internet scams that will hit you up for a big fee and leave you holding the bag. By the time they’ve fleeced your finances, you’ll be in default on your payments, and then you’ll be in even worse trouble.

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