5 Easy Steps to Greater Financial Security

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Saving for retirement is really about small moves that add up over the years. Here are my five favorites.

The following post comes from Len Penzo at partner site LenPenzo.com.

Few people enjoy penny-pinching, but it’s easy to cut back on wasteful spending that costs most of us hundreds, if not thousands, a year. And it’s unlikely to harm your happiness or your quality of life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: With more money stashed away in a retirement account, you’ll get the peace of mind that comes with financial security.

Here are five low-hassle ways to do it…

1. Use an online savings account for infrequent expenses

It’s easy enough to account for monthly expenses like groceries, cable bills, and student loans. But we often forget to take into account annual expenses – car repairs, home maintenance, property taxes, magazine subscriptions – that come infrequently or once or twice a year.

The best way to handle this is to estimate the annual expense and, every week or month, automatically put money into an online savings account earmarked for that purpose. INGDirect, for instance, allows you to create up to 20 individual savings accounts. Best of all, you can always move money between accounts if, for instance, a big car repair hits and you haven’t yet saved the money. At the end of the year, sweep any leftover money into your IRA or rainy-day savings accounts.

2. Be ready to switch cell phone and cable carriers

Nobody likes to lose a customer, particularly big companies with the financial wherewithal to take a hit on discounts for a few educated (and mildly patient) consumers. When it comes time to renew your cell phone bill, explore your options and, if you like your current carrier, call them to negotiate if you find a competitor with lower rates or better features. Do the same with cable every six to 12 months.

If the company won’t budge, try the nuclear option: Threaten to leave. They’ll often come around, and if they don’t, you’ll at least know you’ll be saving money by switching. One note of caution: The process of canceling and opening a new account can take some time on the phone or in the showroom. If you don’t have the time, the savings may not be worth it.

3. Get deals on gas

Saving a few dollars on a tank of gas may not seem like the most effective way to boost retirement savings, but stretch those savings out over a year and it starts to add up. Saving even $2 a tank, per week, add ups to $104 a year. And Internet sites and smartphone apps like GasBuddy make it easy to search for the lowest prices in your area. That extra mile is often worth the extra savings.

4. Do it yourself

Laziness (and in some cases, a lack of self-confidence) can cost you big. Over the course of a year, paying for someone to complete simple maintenance tasks like installing windshield wipers, unclogging a drain, and washing a car can really add up.

Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience or necessity, but typically it’s either because we don’t feel like doing it, or don’t feel like we can do it. But the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) community is alive and well online, and you can find written and video instructions on everything from painting a room to building a kitchen table. Give it a shot, save some money, and give your retirement savings a boost.

5. Don’t pay for storage

Backing up files like photographs, documents, and music is essential in today’s digitally centered world. But it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to do so. In fact, unless you have particularly huge storage needs, it shouldn’t cost anything.

Services like Amazon Cloud storage gives users 5 GB of storage for free. If you own an Apple device like an iPad, iPhone, or desktop computer, its iCloud offering backs up an unlimited number of files created or stored in its native applications (iPhoto, Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheets, etc.). Music purchased via iTunes is automatically available for re-download if your hard drive crashes and, for $25 a year, its iTunes Match service will even store music purchased outside the Apple universe. Google Music and others offer similar services for free.

Stacy Johnson

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