The Government Saved $102 Million Without Really Trying. How Much Could You Save?

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Three months ago, President Obama challenged his cabinet secretaries to come up with $100 million in budget cuts. Apparently, the task wasn’t that difficult. They’ve already found 77 different ways to save a total of $102 million. Most savings came through the simplest of solutions, like eliminating unused phone lines and printing on both sides of copy paper. Sure, this is an opportunity to bemoan government inefficiency and waste. But there’s also a moral here for anyone trying to save.

We can all find easy ways to save. Many people don’t bother saving a buck here or there because they think it won’t amount to anything in the long run. Quite simply, all those bucks indeed add up. For the federal government, getting rid of some phone lines doesn’t make much of a dent in the deficit. But when combined with a long list of other savings, it adds up $102 million—still only 0.006 percent of the deficit, according to the WSJ, but it’s something.

In almost everyone’s life, there is inefficiency and waste which, when eliminated, can similarly add up to some easy savings. Some folks could trim a cool $1,000 a month without much trouble. Others, perhaps only a few hundred dollars in a year’s time. No matter the amount, it’s more money in your pocket.

If you don’t think saving a little here and there is worthwhile, think about your credit card bill statement. So many people stare at it each month, puzzled at how the bill got so high. Well, it probably happened because of lots of little expenses—lunch here, a new belt there, and so on. Seems like small potatoes. But these little expenses all add up. Just look at your credit card statement total each month—or if you really want to be shocked into spending less, add up all of your credit card bills during the course of a year.

If little expenses add up, the reverse is also true: Little savings add up. Not spending $4 on coffee every day for 365 days equals $1,460 in the bank. By paying bills electronically, you save the cost of postage, envelopes (if necessary), and late fees you don’t accrue because of mail delays. By freezing food and making use of leftovers rather than tossing them into the trash, you’re saving money you would have later spent on takeout.

None of these savings strategies is groundbreaking. It’s all pretty obvious and dumb—sorta like the many ways the federal government managed to save $102 million.

One of the most practical, comprehensive lists of ways that anyone can save is in a new book from Peter and Jennifer Sander called, appropriately, 573 Ways to Save Money. The Sanders participated in a recent series of blog posts entitled What Will a Cheapskate Spend Good Money On, in which money-savvy folks revealed when they’re willing to spend more for quality goods, and when cheapest is the smartest way to go.