My husband and I didn't start out as savers. We were happy-go-lucky spenders, especially in the early days of our marriage. But gradually the reasons to save started to outnumber the impulses to spend: We had a child, we wanted a bigger house, the retirement fairy wasn't showing up... Then the economy began to unravel, and we all know what that meant. Although we've gotten better acquainted with the Art of Saving -- and come to love her cranky twin, Spending Less -- I increasingly believe that saving is like a set of muscles that needs constant toning: It takes practice and diligence. Yet even in the best of times, we all have so many demands on our money that when we do find ways to cut back, it's hard to stash away any extra cash before the next priority gobbles it up. But whenever you can, put a little away. Soon you'll be covered for an emergency. And that general feeling of panic about cash flow? It may start to subside. Here, some easy ways to cut back without feeling the pinch.
Be a Coupon Queen
Secrets from clipping mavens:
Clip newspaper inserts. They're usually the best source of deals in your area, says Sandra Gordon, coauthor of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products. And some websites offer printable coupons for food and other merchandise (like sporting goods and books). For our favorite sites, check out Parenting.com/coupons.
Collect them only for items you need and use. Toss the others without a shred of guilt: You're not saving if you're just buying extra stuff.
Store them alphabetically by type of product (coffee, wipes) in a small accordion file. It's easier to carry around and then find the coupon you need when you're at the store.
Combine coupons with other discounts, sale prices, or double coupon days at the store. Not sure when those are? Ask the checkout clerk next time you're there.
According to a 2008 government study, Americans are paying some $36 billion a year in various banking fees. Clear those unwanted charges out of your accounts:
Ask your bank if it signed you up for automatic overdraft protection (ODP), and what it will charge you if you use it (the average penalty is $27, according to the FDIC). Then, cancel the ODP, be more vigilant about your account limits, and save on those sneaky fees.
Pay bills electronically Most banks offer free bill-payment services, so take advantage of this money saver. No more stamps, save on paper waste, and avoid late fees -- it's all automatic.
Check Bankrate.com for banks that offer better deals for checking, savings, and money market accounts (look for higher interest rates or lower or no-minimum balance requirements). Sometimes a local credit union has the best terms.