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Can the 10 percent solution strengthen your finances?

By Marc Pearlman

Can the 10 percent solution strengthen your finances?

A sad truth today is that many Americans don't have enough personal savings to enable a worry-free retirement. But a common misconception among people who are struggling financially is that in order to get ahead, they must earn more income.

While more income is one solution to this problem, it's not the only solution. Furthermore, many working adults are living paycheck-to-paycheck, regardless of income. This suggests that the problem may often be more related than spending than income.

Fortunately, you don't need a financial planner to implement a strategy that can dramatically impact your future financial freedom. I call this strategy the 10 percent solution and here is how it works:

Step 1: Cutting expenses

The first step is to attempt to reduce all expenses by 10 percent. This may be easier than you expect once you get some creative juices flowing. Below are some simple suggestions for shrinking your bills:

  • Shorten the length of showers to lower your water bill.
  • Keep the temperature in your home 1 or 2 degrees cooler.
  • Whatever you are currently spending on groceries, deduct 10 percent and then stay within that budget. It is easier to do than you may imagine.
  • Don't carry a lot of junk in your car. For every 250 pounds you haul around, your car loses about a mile per gallon.
  • Haggle with service providers for cable or Internet services. If you tell them you are considering using a different vendor, they will often offer incentives for you to stay with them.
  • Review your insurance policies to see if you can get a better rate.
  • Reduce entertainment expenses by considering free forms of entertainment. An example of this would be getting free movies from your local library versus a movie rental store.

If you are serious about creating wealth, regardless of your income, reducing expenses is a great first step. This is especially true since uncovering extra money can give you the resources to build an investment portfolio.

Step 2: Invest what you've saved

Cutting expenses is great, but if you take the money you save and use it to buy a new TV, you are not going to improve your financial situation. Setting aside money to fund more needless spending is akin to not eating today so you can eat twice as much tomorrow.

Instead, create a program in which you take the dollar amount you've saved by cutting expenses and invest it each month automatically. This can be taken directly out of your checking account after payday. The key is to make it automatic so it will become just like any other expense. The majority of people tend to make sure there is money to pay the expenses in their budget, so simply treat investing as another monthly expense that has to be funded.

One of the safer places to invest your savings would be in an FDIC-insured savings or money market account. But wherever you choose to put the money, the key part is that you are putting it to work for your future instead of giving it to someone else.

By using this strategy, you may begin to see that 10 percent -- money that had previously been going toward needless spending -- growing in a way that makes your long-term saving goals seem much more attainable.

But maybe you miss the spending?

Maybe seeing your savings grow isn't enough to make you forget the joy of carefree spending. In that case, there is a way you may be able to ease that sting without sacrificing your growing nest egg.

It involves selling those things you no longer need. As the saying goes: One man's trash is another man's treasure. Well, I am not sure anyone would consider my junk a treasure, but you get the gist.

You have likely accumulated plenty of stuff over the years that you no longer use. Appliances, DVDs, books and who knows what else. If you are no longer using these things and they are taking up space, do a little research on the best place to sell them.

Then use the money you earn to reward yourself. You may be amazed by how motivated you become to clean your house when you know that the iPad you have been hankering for can be yours without harming your savings in the least.

Marc Pearlman is the host of the Your Money Matters! radio show and operates an investment management business in New York.

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