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Kickstart Your Efforts With These Smart and Easy Money-Saving Ideas

Buy generic. Whether you’re shopping for grocery store items or clothing, you can save a lot by skipping brand names and designer labels. This proposition is not all-or-nothing. You don’t have to give up a brand whose quality you believe is worth the price premium. But prove to yourself that the premium is really worth paying by trying the store brand. Is there a big difference, or any difference? When it comes to clothes, a label can mean higher quality, but ask yourself whether you’ll probably grow tired of (or grow out of) the piece, or accidentally stain it, before the premium you paid for quality has time to pay off. Anyone who regularly sits on and breaks their pair of $175 sunglasses is soon perusing the “2 for $50” kiosk outside the store with no regrets.

Learn to cook a couple basics. With a couple kitchen basics under your belt—the omelet, and pasta with a quick sauce—you can put meals on the table a few nights a week and save big on restaurants and takeout. The versatility of an omelet can’t be overstated, and nutritionists consider the humble egg a perfect whole food. Just about any veggies or meats you have on hand, including leftovers from restaurants, can be turned into a delicious and healthy omelet. The same goes for pasta and a quick sauce of white wine, butter, and garlic. There’s no limit to what you can stir in. Change up the sauce another night by making it from cream, Parmesan cheese, and garlic.

Set up automatic transfers. A big obstacle to saving is many people think of doing it more often than they sit down and do it. Money that transfers from your checking account (where your paycheck drops) to your savings account in the background, automatically, is money you have saved without any effort. You won’t notice it. You can increase the amount when you’re flush, or lower it when expenses are greater.

Get books for free without leaving home. Through your taxes you have been investing in your local library but may never have stepped through the door. Many people aren’t aware that Amazon has worked with libraries all over America and with the makers of an app called Libby to let library members borrow books on their Kindle. Simply find books on the Libby app and send them to your Kindle. The app is available for iPhones, Android, and Windows. All you need is a library card and a Kindle.

Ready for More Advanced Ideas?

Use your negotiation skills. When looking to purchase any item where the price can be haggled over (a vehicle, a house, a piece of furniture, jewelry), you should prepare yourself to negotiate. Research the prices of competitors so you can ask for a price match. The service TrueCar will tell you how much other car buyers in town paid for the same vehicle you’re interested in. When any salesperson asks how you like the item you’re looking at, always start with, “It’s nice, but it’s a little more than I wanted to pay.” You’d be surprised how many salespeople suddenly “remember” that a sale is happening.

Make your money work for you. The money you save in a bank account helps the bank make even more money, so they compensate you by paying you interest. Trouble is, the feds have kept these interest rates so low for so long, they hardly matter. Look for savings tools that pay the most interest. Certificates of deposit (CDs) and IRAs are both viable options for stowing your money where it can’t (and shouldn’t) be touched for a number of years while it earns for you. For a shorter return on your investment, you can buy stocks and then sell them when the price goes up, but this comes with risk (what if the price only goes down?) and tax consequences.

Comparing savings accounts has never been easier, nor has stashing your money in a bank in another state (or only in cyberspace). Since every bank is FDIC insured (you should confirm anyway) and geography doesn’t matter anymore, focus on banks with the highest interest and no maintenance fees.

Need to Refinance?

Use a calculator to determine the savings you can get by refinancing your mortgage. You enter the loan terms, dollar amount, and interest rates, then see what your new monthly payment would be. A refi can help you discover money for savings where you didn’t realize it was. For instance, let’s say you have been comfortably making a mortgage payment of $1,750 but a refinance could save your $250. Designate all that $250 for savings. You didn’t miss it before; you won’t miss it now. Your savings will grow at great speed with money you didn’t realize you had.

Health Savings Account

You may have been shown the HSA option when choosing a health plan and did not realize the benefits. You fund your HSA savings account with direct deposits from your paycheck _before taxes._ The money is yours, just like a regular savings account. It never “expires” like the funds in a health _spending_ account, a kind of account that many consumers confuse with an HSA. Your HSA money stays there year after year, ready when you need it. The HSA bank will issue you a debit card that you can use for any medical expense, whether it’s a doctor visit, new eyeglasses, a dental checkup, or a flu shot. HSAs are combined with high-deductible medical coverage because your HSA makes paying a higher deductible almost painless.

Saving for Your Child’s Education

Waiting until your son or daughter starts applying to colleges to figure out how to pay for it puts you at risk of signing up for a dangerous student loan. Ask anyone who is still paying down a student loan long after their college jersey has disintegrated from age, and they’ll tell you that a student loan is practically diabolical.

Start investing early in a college savings plan so that when the day comes, your child has a good chance of remaining debt-free. A decent savings and a part time job could be all your student needs to stay free of debt in the college years.

Newer options for saving for college aren’t known by many people. For instance, some universities have begun to offer parents the option to prepay for their child’s college career. Basically, you can lock in the current cost of tuition by making regular payments toward it. When your child starts attending, it won’t matter how high tuition has climbed because you’ve already paid. Prepaid college programs are also tax deductible.

UPromise is another good savings program for parents to put money aside for college. Furthermore, they partner with many retailers, so when you buy something, you earn money for the account.

Any parent will tell you that college seemed very far away the day they started saving for it, but suddenly it was time and they were very glad they had been saving.