Save big: 3 simple strategies that work

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That sunny beach vacation can seem like a pipe dream when facing the realities of utility bills, student loans and other financial obligations. But by changing the way you save with these simple steps, you'll be able to sprint toward those big financial goals.

Keep your eye on the prize

Say there's a luxury cruise that costs $1,200, hypothesizes Steve Repak, a certified financial planner and financial literacy speaker. "Instead of saying, 'I don't have $1,200, I'm going to charge it,'" the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money says, "it's a lot more manageable to break that price down and set $100 aside every month."

"We [often] look at the end result without saying, 'Let's take this a little bit at a time,'" Repak says.

Keith Klein, a certified financial planner and owner of Turning Pointe Wealth Management in Phoenix, Arizona, advocates thinking strategically about savings. "Nowadays you can go online and create a bank account with a custom name," he says. Labeling a targeted savings account with a specific goal is like putting a picture of a Jet Ski—or whatever dream purchase is on your mind—on a cookie jar; every time you see it, you'll know what the money in the jar is for, and it'll be that much harder to justify taking any out.

Economize … reasonably

Just as New Year's resolutions seem doomed to fail, often consumers try to follow an "all-or-nothing" approach when it comes to savings goals. "Extremes never work," Repak says.

"With any type of big goal, a lot of times we're defeated."

Rather than telling yourself you can never order takeout again, Repak recommends reasonable cuts to small items in your budget. For example, say, "'I'm going to start packing my lunch,' or 'I'm going to go to the movies every other week, instead of every Saturday,'" he says. "It's about giving up little things."

Klein says his clients also find success by cutting corners in surprising ways, whether it's using smartphone apps to help them collect coupons, or cutting down on unneeded recurring expenses. "How many people do you know who spend $5 to $10 a day on coffee?" he says. Renegotiating (or eliminating) charges for premium cable and high-speed Internet is another way to trim monthly costs, Klein says.

Enjoy your savings success story

Repak sees a lot of clients who are encouraged by the first steps they take toward saving. "After they've accomplished their first big goal, they see that the little changes in their behavior can be rewarding," he says. "Instead of looking for immediate gratification, they get the delayed gratification."

Always be on the lookout for new savings strategies, Klein says, and you'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. "The first reaction I hear when I try to get my clients to save more of their income—say 20 percent, instead of 10 or 15 percent—[is that] most will tell me they can't," Klein says. "But after six to nine months that starts to change. And then at our annual review, they tell me they're excited to save even more."

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