When traditional financial advice doesn't fit your situation, it's time to get creative. In the case of finding ways to save money, ignoring the conventional wisdom and writing your own rules can lead to dramatic results.
Here are five savings strategies that may at first seem counterintuitive, until you start adding up all the dollars you're no longer spending.
1. Rent, don't buy
AOL co-founder Steve Case recently spoke on The Colbert Report about the shift from owning to sharing. It's a shift I've seen firsthand, living near popular Zipcar (ZIP) locations and bicycle-sharing stations. In this economy, it just makes sense to switch to a pay-per-use model on items you don't use frequently.
For 2011 (the latest figures available), AAA estimated that the average cost of car ownership is $9,000 a year, assuming you drive 15,000 miles each year. Since my weekly trips to the market don't even come close to that, the $7.75 an hour car rental from Zipcar -- which includes the car, gas, insurance, and 180 free miles -- is a much better deal. (Note: Rates vary by location. Zipcar requires a nominal application fee.)
The renting math doesn't just apply to automobiles, either. During the past few years, a new term has made its way into our collective vocabulary: mortgage prisoner. Studies have shown that, all things considered, you'll save approximately $1,700 per year if you buy rather than rent, provided you stay in your home for six years or more.
But if you're someone who's ever been trapped in a mortgage or a long commute, or couldn't take a job in another state because you couldn't sell your house, you know that $1,700 in per-year savings doesn't always materialize. Sure, it's a little harder to make a place feel like a home when you don't own it, but renting also makes it easier to pack up and leave should a better opportunity come along.
2. Turn off automatic bill pay
Sound counterintuitive? Automatic banking is great for paying regular, necessary expenses like a mortgage or rent, and is unbeatable for socking away savings. But the process of automation makes it too easy to forget about what you're buying.
Some bills you need to see to feel. It's that tangible act of getting a bill and taking the time to pay it that makes the spending register as "real." Also, automatic renewals can hurt you when it comes to professional memberships you're not using, overages on your cell phone, or an automatic top-off on your Starbucks card.
3. Unsubscribe, unlike, un-friend and un-follow
Customers spent nearly $25 billion shopping online this past holiday season. If you were one of clicking masses, you're probably getting frequent emails with unbeatable deals delivered weekly, if not daily, to your inbox, Facebook wall, or Twitter feed. If you're a member of a daily discount coupon delivery service, the temptation can be overwhelming. Who doesn't want a discount wine tasting or a balloon ride?
While those services can be great for saving on things you use (like a haircut or groceries), they can also be a gateway to spending too much money on unnecessary items. In fact, 58% of Internet users surveyed said they have made a purchase as a direct result of a marketing email, and 8% as a result of social media.
Curb the urge to cave in to shopping temptation. Turn off notifications from these and all emails that tempt you to spend money. Stop following retailers on your social networks. Opt out of anything that is selling you something. Not only will it help clean out your inbox, it will help keep you from cleaning out your wallet.
4. Declare a weekly "Shopping Day"
If you're prone to spend money in fits and spurts throughout the week, are an impulsive shopper or tend to be disorganized about your spending, pick a single day during the week to do your shopping.
Your shopping day can be devoted to gifts, household items, or whatever might be on your must-purchase list. Create a running list, or, if online shopping is your preferred mode of purchase, bookmark things you want to buy. Then, once a week, check back in and buy everything that you still need/want at once. (Although you'll probably find that after retracing your shopping footprints, you no longer need or want many of those "must have" items on your original list.) It's easy to spend a few dollars here and there, but seeing it all at one time will put things in perspective and help curb the impulsive shopping habit.
5. Lastly, put down your smartphone
Studies have shown that people spend 30% more when shopping on a mobile device than when shopping on a regular computer. Delete any store or shopping apps on your phone.
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