Alethia Calbeck of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service helps people get out of debt... And start saving.
She says the first step is to write down every cent you spend for about a week. Then, identify where you can cut back.
Re-evaluate what you might consider "fixed" expenses. Do you really use all the cell phone or cable services for which you're paying? Or could you use a cheaper plan with fewer features?
Look at your insurance the same way. Often, raising your deductible can cut your premiums. Put the money you save on the premiums into your nest egg, in case you do need to pay the deductible in an emergency. But if no emergency occurs -- you're ahead. You've saved money you would've given to the insurance company.
If you have credit card debt, call the credit card company and see if they'll reduce your interest rate. Calbeck explains that if you owe $1,000 at 20%, and you make the minimum payments, if you get a rate reduction to 17%, you can save more than $600 and shave four years off how long it'll take to pay that amount back.
Then, look at little things. Maybe bring your lunch instead of dining out, or stop buying snacks or coffee at work. Again, put what you haven't spent into an interest-bearing savings account.
It can even help to put your pocket change into a jar each night.
Even if you only save 50 cents each day, by the end of one year, you'll have more than $182 saved up.
Financial counselor Clarky Davis, who runs the "Debt Diva " website, says willpower is a must, especially when you're shopping.
She says even if something looks like a great deal, unless you really need it, you shouldn't buy it. Instead take the money you would've spent on that purchase and put it in the bank.
Both Calbeck and Davis admit that not touching what you've put in the bank is the hard part.
Here are some suggestions to keep you on track.
Have your interest-bearing savings account at a different bank than your checking account. And don't have an ATM card for that account. That makes it tougher to withdraw money impulsively.
Set up automatic transfers from your checking account into your savings account. If the money "gone" as soon as your paycheck is deposited, you're less likely to be tempted to spend it.
For more tips, check out these websites:
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Delaware Valley