The economy has seen better days. And so, perhaps, have you. According to a new survey conducted by Real Simple and Starbucks*, 63 percent of people are frustrated by trying to find the right balance between saving money and enjoying life. Despite the aggravation, pinching pennies is paying off: Fifty one percent of people report that over the past six months they have been able to save successfully―either a little bit or a great deal of money. So how can you stay on budget without going berserk? By sticking to a few smart strategies.
*Telephone survey conducted by StrategyOne among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 American adults in July 2009.
2 of 4Hallie Burton
Often generic or clearance products bought at mass retailers, such as Target, are of equal quality to those with brand names. Experts agree that some inexpensive health and beauty products, like toothbrushes and dental floss, are just as good as pricier versions. The same goes for shampoo, mascara, and day cream.
Likewise, fashion staples such as jeans, shoes, and hosiery are worth the extra bucks, while trendy accessories and pieces with short shelf lives―like T-shirts―are not. Take Real Simple reader Allison Melott’s experience with shoes: “Buying poor quality shoes and then having the foot, leg, and back aches that result is like spending dollars to save pennies. It just doesn’t make sense.”
It’s easier to cut back when you don’t feel deprived of the joys in life. The majority of survey respondents―62 percent―say it’s important to spend a small amount of slush money every now and then. Moreover, half of the respondents say that, unless they continue their daily low-cost rituals, such as a morning cup of coffee, they don’t feel like themselves. In fact, Real Simple reader Kym Kinsley says, “A latte is a part of my mental wellbeing, and I told my husband that it is a nonnegotiable item no matter how tight money becomes. So he gets me one every morning before he goes to work.”
Kinsley isn’t alone: Twenty four percent of people report that a cup of coffee is their preferred pick-me-up. Including Real Simple reader Deanna Savage, who said she's not willing to give up her "daily Starbucks fix." Other winners:
Buying lunch: 44 percent
Ordering a movie on demand: 20 percent
Buying a magazine: 18 percent
Making an impulse buy at a cash register, such as candy: 17 percent
Downloading music: 17 percent
Still, there are ways to be smart about these purchases: Occasionally check sites such as couponcabin.com and coolsavings.com and print out deals to keep onhand. Want more tips? See:
In the survey, 46 percent of people admit that they feel guilty when spending money on social activities. To combat that guilt, try these strategies:
Pay yourself an allowance each week for entertainment and nonessential items―even if it’s only $50. Sticking to a hard number should help wipe out (or, at least, greatly reduce) guilt.
Sign up for an automatic monthly deduction of a set amount from your checking account to a high-interest savings account such as ING Direct. Knowing that money is going into your savings before you can spend it should ease your worries.
Realize that sometimes the benefits of spending money go beyond your bank account. Real Simple reader Rute Filipe Belanger reports that her gym membership pays off in dividends. “Life looks so much better after a great workout,” she says. “I focus better, get more work done, and do not go shopping as much to relax. So the gym membership saves me money and makes me a healthier happier person.”