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Saving effectively starts with a budget

One way to save is to buy postage stamps now, before the prices go up.

Stephen Lam/Getty Images/File 2013

One way to save is to buy postage stamps now, before the prices go up.

Who doesn’t want to save money?

There are big ways to save and small ways to save, and every January advice is dispensed about the best ways to hold on to more of our money. It seems simple enough — spend less, save more.

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Here is an easy way to save this month. Buy postage stamps now.

A first-class stamp is going up 3 cents to 49 cents Jan. 26. If you have s0-called forever stamps on hand, they’re still good . . . supposedly forever. The Postal Service says the increase is only for two years, which remains to be seen.

Other money-saving strategies are to buy used items instead of new ones and to put off a purchase until you’ve thought about it for a while.

Just about every financial guru advises drawing up a budget. In fact, says the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, only two in five adults maintain a budget and track their spending.

If you do make and stick to a budget, it is easier to reach other goals such as saving more money, paying off debt, spending less, and developing long-term goals.

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Online tools such as Mint.com can be helpful. And there are lots of iPhone apps for personal money management, such as Mint, Dollarbird, Spendee Budgt, and Check.

But for many people its hard to live within their means, or they are unemployed or underemployed and rack up debt just paying their bills. The average household owes $6,690 in credit card debt, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, chief executive of CardHub and WalletHub.

Consumers are beginning to repeat the mistakes that got them into so much trouble during the Great Recession.

‘’After paying down more than $1 billion in amounts owed to credit card companies during 2009 and incurring a modest $2.2 billion in new debt during 2010, we’ve racked up an average of $41.2 billion in additional credit card debt in each of the following three years, according to CardHub Debt Studies.

Alexa von Tobel, a certified financial planner and founder and chief executive of LearnVest, a personal finance website, is the author of ‘‘Financially Fearless,’’ a just-released book focused on advice for young women.

Von Tobel recommends creating a 50/20/30 plan, with 50 percent of income going for such essentials as rent, groceries, and utilities, 20 percent going toward savings, and 30 percent being left to spend on the ‘‘things that bring happiness to your life.’’

Don’t know where to start? The National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests the following:

 Track your expenses. To find money available for savings, first determine where you are spending your money. Write down every cent you spend. At the end of the month, take a look at where your hard-earned cash really goes.

 Create a budget. A well-designed spending plan considers all sources of income, living expenses, debt obligations, and savings. Be sure to incorporate all fixed, variable, and periodic expenses.

Whether it’s saving for retirement, education or a vacation, the adage remains true: Pay yourself first.

 When constructing your budget, be realistic when looking for opportunities to save money. People are more successful when they cut back, as opposed to cutting out. Don’t be too strict, or you won’t stick with your plan. Know, however, that small changes over time can add up. For instance, instead of eating lunch out every day, brown-bag it two days per week. Take a look at your cable package and cellphone plan to determine whether you have the right fit for your lifestyle. Evaluate the necessity of having a land phone.

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