Want to Save More? Build a Balance Sheet

How much money is coming in and going out? Tracking every dime you spend for a week will help you find the extra cash for an emergency fund
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One of the lessons from 2020 is the importance of having an emergency savings account. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of people in the U.S. do not have the all-important rainy-day fund. The challenge can be how to save money when cash flow is tight.

Financial literacy starts with people having an awareness of their own personal finances. It is common for people to pay their bills without really knowing how much money they have coming in and going out. This makes it difficult to create a solid savings plan.

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If you haven’t already, it’s time to take stock of what your own personal balance sheets look like. Knowledge is power, and this knowledge will give you the ability to find where you can save money on your monthly expenses.

The easiest way to start is to simply create a list of everything you spend money on. Yes, everything. Tracking every dime you spend for a week will help you spot the spending habits that might otherwise go unnoticed, like grabbing a cup of coffee or a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers. These add up and need to be accounted for.

Next, list all of your regular monthly expenses including utilities, rent, mortgage and insurance. For expenses that you pay annually or bi-annually, determine what that expense adds up to on a monthly basis. Once you have an idea of how much money you have going out, determine exactly how much money you have coming in. Now comes the moment of truth: is there more money coming in or more going out?

If there isn’t enough money in the black, look at each of your expenses to see where you can save. Expenses such as your groceries, personal care items, cell phone bills, and utilities are some examples of expenses that are not typically set in stone, allowing you to lower the cost. 

As an experiment, I decided to try this for myself on three of my recurring monthly bills: cell phone, cable bundle, and home alarm system. By simply calling these providers, talking about new plan options, and asking for discounts, I was able to lower my expenses by a total of $190 a month, saving a cool $2,280 a year. 

By doing this you will now have additional disposable income to add to your savings account. Make sure you get any changes and deductions in writing or at the very least get the name of the person who helps you.

Insurance is another area in your budget that you have some flexibility. Make sure you’re getting any multi-policy discounts you are entitled to. Also, some insurance companies are offering discounts since people are not driving as much as they have in past years. Adjusting coverage and deductibles may also save money, but make sure you are properly and fully covered.

My father would always tell me to be aware of being “nickeled and dimed” into debt. Look at fees you are paying on things like credit cards, and any reoccurring charges on services you no longer use. It takes a few minutes to do and can end up saving you money every month. 

Setting up an automatic savings account is another way to save small amounts that can add up to a big savings.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her moneysaving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.