Saturday, October 18, 2003

Track spending to save

Personal Finance

By Steve Rhode and Mike Kidwell
Gannett News Service

Question: I have a good-paying, professional job. My problem is that I can't seem to save money. I end up going the last five days or so between paychecks hoping nothing breaks and we don't run out of anything, because I have $30 in savings, $10 in checking and nothing in cash. I haven't taken a vacation for five years, and when I look around my apartment, I don't seem to have anything expensive anywhere.

I just don't know where my money goes, but also I feel like I can't stop spending. It's always someone's birthday or my daughter needs new clothes. How do I get out of this rut? I'm 30 years old and divorced. I have no 401(k) or retirement fund to speak of. Why can't I get it together? I'm starting to feel stressed and panicky about juggling the bills each month and my daughter's future.

Answer: You need to start tracking your spending. Not just the big stuff but the little things, too. Put a small notebook in your purse and write down every penny you spend for the next 30 days. Then total up your overall spending. Examine how much you spent on gifts, gasoline, groceries, eating out and every other category.

Little things add up

We like to use the example of a daily cup of coffee because it points out how simple purchases can really add up. If you buy a $3 coffee every morning on your way to work, you spend $15 a week, $60 a month and $780 a year.

Totaling your monthly expenses, coffee included, is the only way for you to know where your money is going and where you can start to make cuts. Change isn't always easy. Remember that each time you spend you'll be making a choice between having what you want now and having what you'll need in the future.

Q: My roommate is having financial troubles and, now, debt collectors are calling her. I usually screen my calls, but sometimes they get through. They ask me questions, and I really don't want to answer them. Am I obligated to tell them anything?

A: No. As long as you don't have any joint accounts, you don't have to tell them anything. It sounds like you might want to talk with your roommate, though. If she's having problems paying her bills, that probably means she's going to have trouble paying her share of the rent.

Help find a solution

Be a good friend and protect yourself at the same time by helping her find a solution to her problems. If she needs a new job, suggest that she check out Web-based job sites, such as and She can also sign up with local temporary agencies for shorter-term jobs. As for the debts, encourage her to research solutions at our site,, or the Consumer Federation of America's site,

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