Don’t Miss These 5 Opportunities for Automatic Savings

By Janet Alvarez, Wise Bread

Most of us understand that saving regularly is one of the simplest ways to reach our financial goals, but we don’t all take advantage of easy ways to automate our savings. As part of America Saves Week, we’ve devised a list of five automatic savings opportunities that are often overlooked. These go a step beyond mere automatic transfers from checking to savings. They’re easy, straight-forward ways to save money automatically that most of us don’t take advantage of yet, and they increase your chances of reaching your goals even faster.

1.  Direct Deposit Your Tax Refund Into Savings
According to the IRS, the average American’s tax refund now stands at over $3,100. Don’t let that windfall slip through your fingers. Deposit all or part of it into your savings account, instead, and watch your money grow. Plus, the IRS allows direct deposits into one or more accounts, such as a checking and savings account, which means you can choose to spend a portion and save the rest. (I’d recommend saving all you can.) Conveniently, you can also direct deposit all or part of your refund into your Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or use it to purchase up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds. You can split your refund using tax preparation software, or Form 8888, if you use paper filing.

2. Don’t Forget Bonuses or Commissions
Do you get quarterly or yearly bonuses? Are commissions a part of your earnings? Then don’t forget to direct deposit all or part of these funds into your savings. Consult with your employer about direct depositing the funds into your savings account, or set up automatic transfers from your checking to savings accounts when you expect the funds.

Another alternative? Increase the contributions on your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), during those times you receive extra earnings. It’ll help you max out your contributions faster and earn any applicable company match to boost your savings even further. Consult with your HR representative or your company’s online retirement plan portal to manage your contributions.

3. Save Your Spare Change
Some banks and credit unions offer programs which automatically round up to the next dollar on any purchases you make, and transfer the spare change from your checking to savings account. These programs are free, and provide a fool-proof way to jumpstart your savings and always pay yourself first. You probably won’t miss the spare change in your checking account, but your savings will sure be glad for the extra boost. Even small amounts saved over time add up.

4. Credit Card Rewards Can Boost Savings, Too
Many popular credit cards rewards programs offer several rewards options, ranging from airline miles or hotel points to cash back. Sadly, many credit card rewards perks often go unused, making them less than rewarding. But if you choose to receive rewards in the form of cash back, instead, many cards will deposit the rewards sum directly into an account of your choice. If you’re limited to receiving the funds into checking, you can always transfer the funds to savings. Either way, you’re boosting your savings painlessly. Don’t forget to pay off the balance on your card at the end of every month to avoid costly interest fees, otherwise you’ll spend more on interest than you’ll receive in rewards.

5. Set Your Savings Rate Higher
So, you think you’re a savings pro now that you’ve got regular transfers or direct deposits into your savings account? Well, you can go a step further still by periodically increasing your savings rate, whether to your employer-sponsored retirement plan or your savings account. Many 401(k) plans allow users to opt-in to periodic increases in their savings rates, such as a 1 percent increase in their contributions per year. If you prefer to contribute to a savings account or other savings vehicle, consider increasing your contributions regularly, such as every time you get a raise.

Having the foresight to automate your savings can help you beat temptation and stay ahead financially. And the techniques described above are easy ways to take your savings to the next level.

Janet Alvarez is the Executive Editor for Wise Bread and a contributor to TheStreet.com and U.S. News & World Report.

Classic “Dadisms” About Money

Fathers Day Tools

Dads tend to have a funny way of expressing themselves don’t they? I chalk it up to the fact that most dads have a repertoire of favorite sayings they always use. You know the ones, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” or “Rub some dirt on it, you’ll be fine” and the always classic “Don’t make me turn this car around!”. These oft-spoken phrase are known as dadisms and for Father’s Day I thought I’d share a few classic dadisms that pertain to money…

  •  Money doesn’t grow on trees you know. Score one for old dad because money, in fact, does not grow on trees. I can hear all the smart mouths out there saying: “But paper comes from trees and money is made of paper so there!” I know they’re saying it because it’s what I said to my dad whenever he told me this. Well it’s knowledge time kids: today’s American bills are actually made of about 75% cotton and 25% linen. So go easy on your dad, he’s just trying to impress on you the fact that money doesn’t come easy, and you don’t want to waste it.
  • Do I look like I’m made of money? A classic dadism. No dad, of course you don’t look like you’re made of money, because as your child I would also then be made of money, and therefore wouldn’t need to bug you for $20 so I can run to the comic book store. This is of course just another weird way that our fathers were trying to get us to think about money more critically, instead of just buying every shiny thing that caught our little eye.
  • Were you raised in a barn? or Are you trying to heat/cool the whole outside? Ah, this one may be my favorite. Anyone who didn’t close the door fast enough, or left it open because they “were just going to be a second then I was going right back outside dad! Geez!” probably heard this tried-but-true favorite of dads everywhere. What we fail to understand as children (well, one of the many things) is the concept of utilities. “You mean we don’t just get unlimited water and electricity for free? Yeah right dad, pull the other one.” But once we get a little older, have our own place, and are paying our own electric bill we quickly understand that our wise dads were just trying to get us not to waste money. (Special mention goes to moms for their variation of this phrase that applies to kids who stand with the refrigerator door open for extended periods of time trying to figure out what they wanted to eat.)
  • If it were easy then everyone would do it. Another very popular dadism but this is just the plain and simple truth. Thanks dad, for helping us all learn that hard work and perseverance is what will get us ahead in life.

Even if it might sound like gibberish or the insane ramblings of an over-worked, middle-aged man on the brink, more often than not dads actually do know what they’re talking about. They just have a weird way of getting the message across. So be thankful our dads passed these phrases along, many of us will be using them on our own kids one day.

13 Money Superstitions for Friday the 13th

friday 13th

Friday the 13th is the one day (or more than one depending on how the calendar falls) when everyone seems to get at least a little superstitious. The date is so famous (infamous?) that it even has two words to describe the fear of it, and boy are they doozies: friggatriskaidekaphobia and paraskevidekatriaphobia. Good luck saying that five times fast. Anyway, we all know the most-common superstitions associated with Friday the 13th: don’t let a black cat cross your path; don’t walk under a ladder; breaking a mirror will bring you seven years of bad luck; etc. Well, people tend to be very superstitious about their money also, so let’s take a look at 13 common money superstitions.

  1. See a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!
  2. If you always pick up burnt matches instead of leaving them to lay then money will come to you.
  3. Write with green ink (never red!) and money will flow from your hand.
  4. Fold a new dollar bill lengthwise and you’ll keep your money.
  5. Keep a penny wrapped in paper in your pocket and money will continue to find you.
  6. If you mend or sew on clothes while wearing them you will always be poor.
  7. Peel an onion and burn the skin then money you are sure to win!
  8. If your left palm itches and you rub it on wood then you’ll receive money by the end of the week.
  9. If you see a shooting star and say “money” three times before it’s gone then riches will soon be yours.
  10. If you find money on the first day of the year and keep it, then you will have money throughout the rest of the year.
  11. If your initials spell a word it means you will be rich.
  12. Placing money in the right-hand pocket of new clothes will ensure you have money. Placing it in the left means you’ll have no money as long as the clothes last.
  13. Giving an empty wallet as a present will bring bad luck to the recipient.

This list just barely scratches the surface of all of the money superstitions I’ve heard over the years. For example, I recently heard one that says sorting your money according to denomination is supposed to bring good luck, but I’ve always done that because of my OCD, not because of luck.

Know any other money superstitions? Share them in the comments below…

Tips for Traveling this Summer

Wow, this food is expensive!

Unless you absolutely can’t avoid it, don’t waste your hard-earned money on airport food. In an airport, you are a captive audience, so they will charge insanely high prices for everything. If you just can’t stand waiting, I recommend something small like a pretzel.

Even when I’m rolling through the airport at a typical mealtime, I’ll only have a snack. Personally, I’d rather save my money and appetite for the really good food when I arrive at my destination.

Less is more.

Twenty dollar bills tucked into jeans pocket. Shallow dof.

Cash is an easy way of paying for things quickly and conveniently, but it does have some drawbacks:

  • One credit or debit card can hold thousands of dollars’ worth of purchasing power, but the same amount of cash puts quite the bulge in your wallet. Save space, travel light on the green.
  • Cash is not replaceable. Once that stack of bills you have in your wallet gets lost or stolen, it’s gone. With a card, you can cancel it quickly and conveniently, significantly minimizing any losses you may incur.

I recommend only carrying enough cash for incidentals, such as tips, cab fares and other small purchases you may want to make. For your big souvenir purchases or vacation dinners, credit or debit cards are much more convenient and likely offer rewards to offset some of the cost.

“Hey, I’m leaving the eastern time zone!”

For your protection, many financial institutions will block cards that show unusual use. For example, being used on vacation in San Francisco, California, when you typically only use your card in the tri-county area. While this may seem like a hassle, it really is for your protection and is avoided by simply calling and letting your financial institution know where you are going to be and for how long.

Compartmentalize.

For the cash you do carry, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I may be going a bit far, but when I travel I carry some in my wallet, some in my checked bag, some in my carry-on and I’ve even been known to stash some in my sock. (Note: take stashed cash out of socks before going through security!) If one or more of these items gets lost or stolen, you should have something stashed away to fall back on. At the very least, I recommend splitting your cash into two separate locations, such as your wallet and your luggage.

Have fun, but be safe!

vacation1

Of course, the most important part of vacationing is to have fun, but remember to be safe about it. Don’t flaunt the fact that you are a tourist or that you have a bunch of cash in your wallet. Heavy tourist locations are notorious for having a lot of people who will try to take advantage of the unwary vacationer.

Use the comments below to talk about your best money-saving travel tips.