Want to break your bad money habits and start saving? Sandy M. Fernández learned how three women set themselves a goal and the surprising ways they changed their financial outlook from iffy to awesome. By Sandy M. Fernández, REDBOOK.
Americans have always loved a life challenge, whether it's surviving in a cabin in the woods for two years (hey, we're still reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden) or dropping a hundred pounds in a few months (The Biggest Loser). Nowadays, hard-core experiments in self-improvement are more popular than ever. I admit that I find some to be a bit much-like the guy who swore his family off the power grid for two years while living on the ninth floor of a Manhattan apartment building-but money- saving challenges have an obvious payoff, and they're fascinating. It's no wonder that people around the country are finding extreme, spend-freeze methods to eliminate their debt and grow their financial willpower. These three savvy women overhauled their money habits and discovered savings tricks we can all use. I know, because I tried them.
THE "52-WEEK SAVINGS" CHALLENGE
Waking up with the same old money trouble this New Year's Day made police dispatcher Kassondra Perry-Moreland, 47, mad. "I'd worked 53 hours of overtime at the end of 2012, yet I had almost nothing in my bank account," says the Union City, CA, mom of two. Later that day, a chart she came across on Facebook stopped her short: Labeled "The 52-Week Money Challenge," it showed how starting with $1 and saving just one buck more each week (i.e., two dollars the second week, three the third, etc.) would, in a year, create a $1,378 nest egg. "I thought, I have to do this," Kassondra says. She set up a Facebook page for the challenge, sent it out to a few friends and family members, and was soon inundated with people wanting join her, some from as far away as France and Australia. Kassondra has now set up accounts for herself and her children and is busy mother-henning her online brood to success-for example, reminding one woman that socking money away comes before shoe buying, no matter how cute and discounted those sandals may be. "This is about saving," she says, "but even more, I think it's about connection and helping each other succeed."
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Flexability: Challengers can follow the plan week by week, or try the "bingo method"-by simply choosing a doable sum each week and checking boxes off as they go. Kassondra's favorite tweak: "The popcorn method. Write the savings goals on strips of paper, then each Monday pull one out of a bag."
The bonus: Easy to start and unintimidating, this challenge puts "fun" in finance (where, you'll note, it's not normally found). And Kassondra hopes that's just the beginning. "I know that $1,378 won't solve anybody's money problems permanently," she says. "But it can get you thinking about saving and set you on the right path. This has made my finances a priority in my life, and that's a huge step."
REDBOOK test-drive: I started the challenge in April, and I've already saved $406. If I stay on track-and I plan to-I'll have Christmas paid for by the time Black Friday rolls around.
THE "NO NEW CLOTHES FOR A YEAR" CHALLENGE
Kelli Ryder took 365 days off from clothes shopping, in part because she was worried about consumerism: her own. "I used to drop by the mall twice a week," says the 26-year-old, who was living in Boise, ID, at the time. "I wasn't overspending, but I had stuff that I'd only worn once. It was such a waste." Initially, she was worried she'd cave at the first 20-percent-off sale, but she walked last year's heels right by it. And the effects of that year went far beyond her closet doors. "It seems like such a little thing," she says. "But I honestly never knew I had that kind of determination and drive. I'd always said I was going to do things-move away, quit my boring job-and months later would be stuck in my same old routine. That all changed after this." Today, Kelli lives in San Francisco and works for, of all things, an online design and fashion magazine.
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Lesson learned: "I literally counted down to when I could go shopping again [she went on a spree on April 1, the anniversary of her challenge], but I buy differently now," Kelli says. "My purchases are much more thought out. Why? Because I spent a year forced to wear all that impulse garbage I'd bought before, like stupid T-shirts that didn't even fit right." Her new criteria: A piece has to be beautiful, long-lasting, and versatile. "Everything costs more, but I buy less."
Hidden asset: "The support from my friends," she says. "Three months from the end, I found this perfect jacket, and I texted a friend saying, 'No one will know I bought it except you!' But she talked me down, and I didn't buy it. Of course, I still think about that jacket. It really was perfect; we just met at the wrong time."
REDBOOK test-drive: I've been on a clothing spend freeze for four months now, and have realized how many junky heels I've accumulated in my quest for a "good" work shoe. Now I'm saving up for a three-figure black pump with a stitched sole and a leather insole. Hallelujah!
THE "BUY USED OR BORROW" CHALLENGE
In 2006, Portland, OR, labor and obstetrics nurse Katy Wolk-Stanley read a news article about the Compact, a San Francisco group that had pledged to buy no brand-new goods for a year. Intrigued, the 38-year-old decided to give it a whirl: For a month, she'd only buy secondhand and try to borrow or share as much as possible, with exceptions for underwear and socks. "It was 75 percent about saving and 25 percent about the environment," she says. "I thought it'd be really hard, but once I started, it was freeing." In fact, Katy is still practicing the low-buy lifestyle today, and chronicling it on her blog, The Non-Consumer Advocate.
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Biggest discoveries: It's a no-brainer that cutting back on retail will save you money; Katy puts her savings at about $10,000 a year. "Having to look for something secondhand instead of getting it immediately also means I have more time to think about whether I really need it," she says. Most surprising to Katy, though, has been the gradual disappearance of her shopping impulse. "I no longer feel compelled to check out every sales rack," she says. "The savings have allowed me to work part-time, even when my husband was going to school. We spend less, but live more richly."
Best take-away: "If you need something, ask around before hitting the stores. Recently our butter dish broke; when I told my mom, she was like, 'I have three, take one!' And anything that's not in everyday use you might be able to share with neighbors. We go next door to use their shredder three times a year; they borrow our garden tools. Reciprocating keeps you from feeling like a mooch."
REDBOOK test-drive: I borrowed everything from suitcases to cars during this experiment, saving plenty of cash in the process. I did feel cheapity-cheap as I called a neighbor to ask if she had extra candles for my husband's birthday cake, but I quickly realized the discomfort was all mine-my friend just laughed and shared, and afterward I felt elated not to have another little carton going into my junk drawer.
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