Cultivating Money-Saving Values and Attitudes

Inflation, and its attendant high cost of living, has been taking a toll on populations all over the world and, in Jamaica, the situation is no different. There is an undercurrent of anxiety about the future as people's way of life seems to be eroding each day. One of the pieces of advice I offer most to both the young and old is: save, save, save. Start an emergency savings fund. Start a retirement savings fund. Build an investment portfolio with funds you have saved. But oftentimes, the complaint comes back that, these days, there is practically nothing from which to save, that only the rich can save. Which is absolutely not true. The ability to save money often comes in the most unexpected of ways and can be accessed by anybody, regardless of how much money you make.

Every cent counts

Saving money, on paper, is a simple concept: Don't spend as much and put the excess funds in a savings account. For many Jamaicans, this, however, is not necessarily an easy assignment. But it's doable if you return to old-time ideas about saving money.

Remember those childhood days when your mother would pack a lunch for you, using foil paper for a sandwich? Do you remember her instructing you not to throw away or crush up the foil and her rinsing and reusing it? Remember hand-me-downs? Mothers weren't about to buy new clothes for their children if there were perfectly good "gently worn" clothes to be passed down from older siblings and cousins.

With a little creativity you too can minimise your spending. Here are three under-the-radar tips — and they can seem like little things — to help cut costs and add up ultimately to big savings. Challenge yourself to come up with others.

1. Always review your receipts

Your purchases, especially from buying groceries, are critical to saving money. Sure, we all know that food prices have increased and we check on the prices of the big things: meats, etc. But sometimes, it's the little things that can escape attention. Recently, I heard of a woman who, on checking her grocery bill, was shattered to discover that the "little" indulgence of four imported apples cost her almost $1,000. A bag of Otaheite apples, she lamented, would not break the bank: a teachable moment.

Also, keeping your receipt handy by sticking it on your fridge, with the perishables highlighted, will help you remember that they are sitting inside. How many times have you thrown out lettuce or tomatoes buried and rotting in the bowels of your fridge? Each time you throw out spoiled food or produce, that's money down the drain; money that could have gone to your emergency savings fund.

2. Unplug power strips

When you were growing up, did you have that one parent or relative who went around the house turning off switches and grumbling about "why every light in the house burning?" Some people think that if appliances are turned off, that's all that matters. Don't underestimate the "phantom load" or "vampire energy" your appliances and electronic devices are still using if they are off but still plugged in. Think this is a myth? Try this on for size: The US Department of Energy says, shockingly, on average, 75 per cent of the electricity used to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off. These include televisions, lamps, and even toasters.

This summer, one of the hottest in recent memory, has forced increased air conditioning usage here in Jamaica. Electricity charges are through the roof. Turn down the thermostat. Consider unplugging other appliances and electrical items from the power strip at bedtime while the unit is going. If you haven't done so, invest in a few power strips so that one switch is needed to turn off several devices.

3. Set yourself a $500 challenge

So many times you'll end up with a $500-note in your wallet, as change from a purchase or paying a bill. It may stay in the wallet, becoming disposable income. What if, every time you find yourself with a spare $500, you put it in a savings jar at home, rather than spend it on, say, chewing gum or a chocolate bar at the pharmacy check-out? If you did this four times a month, in six months you'd have saved $12,000, more than enough to open a fixed deposit and begin your savings journey.

And, while we're on the subject of cash, consider using cash more. The convenience of debit and credit cards cannot be overstated. But one of the drawbacks of paying with plastic is that it can easily obscure the reality of your financial situation by giving you a false sense of wealth because you don't have to repay the loan right away. That is, until you receive your statement and are plunged into credit card debt. Cash, meanwhile, is a physical representation of the money you worked so hard for, which will make you disinclined to waste it.

Bottom line

We can return to our parents' and grandparents' money values that said every cent counts. Rather than making excuses not to save, find little ways to do so beginning today. You could be on your way to fulfilling your financial goals.

Lamar Harrisvice-president,wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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