How to Be a Stealth Saver

Americans save a little over 5 percent of their personal disposable income, according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. It’s not surprising, then, that many people wonder at the end of each month where their money has gone. But don’t despair! There are many easy ways to pump up your nest egg without trying too hard. The California Society of CPAs ( offers these practical tips.

Go Straight to Saving

Instead of putting your weekly paycheck into your checking account, deposit it into your savings account instead. That way you will have to think about each amount that you transfer into checking to spend. You may find yourself reconsidering some purchases and saving money before you even spend it.

Make it Automatic

It can be tough to remember to save, but there are a number of ways to make it easier. First, sign up for the automatic savings option at your bank. Even if you only have the bank transfer a few dollars a week from your checking to your savings account, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you’ve accumulated at the end of the year.

Another nice surprise: the amount of money that will build up over time if you sign up for automatic payments to your company’s employee retirement savings plan. Once again, even small regular contributions can grow into a substantial nest egg by the time you’re ready to retire. If your employer matches some or all of your contribution, try to take full advantage of the offer. Otherwise, you are turning down a free addition to your future wealth.

Keep Records

Impulse spending becomes a lot less appealing if you have to stop and write down each purchase. Taking the time to list your outlays gives you an opportunity to think before acting in haste. It can also help you get a good sense of your financial habits and form the basis of a monthly budget.

Set Limits

If you vow to make only one withdrawal from an ATM each week, you’ll be amazed at how well you learn to budget your money and make your dollars stretch. Another smart step: Use your debit card instead of a credit card whenever possible. When you know that you are making direct withdrawals from your checking account—instead of tapping into a credit line—you will probably be a little more cautious about how you spend. But, be aware of any charges your bank imposes for the use of your debit card.

Set Aside Spare Change

Many people brag about saving a down payment for a car or other big-ticket item by taking the change from their wallet each night and dropping it into a cookie jar. It may sound silly, but this technique can actually help you amass a considerable amount. To simplify the process, many banks have coin-counting machines that will deposit your spare change directly into your account. If you start now, you may find you have quite a bit saved toward holiday gifts or other expenses by the end of the year.

Reward Yourself for Saving

It can be hard to give up small indulgences, such as a morning latte or lunch at a nice restaurant. When you bring your own coffee or lunch from home, take the money you would have spent on takeout and put it immediately into savings. Your growing bank account will be a nice reward for the little treats you’ve given up.

Consult Your CPA

Setting up—and maintaining—good savings habits is one of the many financial challenges that families face. Remember that your local CPA can help. Turn to him or her with all your financial concerns and questions.

Copyright 2011 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.