(MoneyWatch) Even after one of the worst, most prolonged economic slump since the Great Depression, many folks still appear to have a careless attitude about money.
Exhibit A: State governments have billions of dollars in unclaimed funds. There are over $17 billion in matured U.S. savings bonds earning nothing that are owned by people who have probably forgotten about them. The IRS doled out over 60 million refund checks last year, and the average individual tax refund was about $3,000. Yet there are hundreds of billions in unclaimed dollars in IRS refunds and Social Security checks that went undelivered or were not cashed.
If I had a dollar for every person who told me they would rather get a hefty tax refund than pay a small amount of tax, I'd be a rich man.
The generation of folks who lived through the depression has a much different attitude when it comes to their finances. They tend to be careful with their money, live within their means, avoid debt and would rather accumulate money that dispose of it.
Perhaps what makes some folks more careful with their money is that's they think about it differently. They know it's hard to make money, but easy to lose it. They know firsthand that getting by in life is easier with fewer things and more savings.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about things you can do to save more of your hard-earned money.
- Don't overpay your taxes. Instead, adjust your withholding allowances to pay less tax now. You'll get more cash flow now and a smaller refund later.
- Think you may have a few accounts you've lost track of? Log onto this website for unclaimed property and start a search to find if you're due any money.
- Close unused bank accounts and consolidate investment accounts this year. Keep better track of what you have invested and monitor and make changes as conditions change.
- Increase the deductibles for your auto and home insurance to $500 and $1,000, respectively. Low deductibles are the most expensive form of insurance -- and most profitable for insurance companies.
- Replace an expensive cash-value insurance policy with a low-cost term policy that provides more coverage for a lower premium. Direct the savings toward building up your investment portfolio.
- Make a written plan of all your debts and apply any spare cash flow to paying them down, starting with those obligations carrying the highest interest rates.
Finally, don't ignore the little things. For example, I return bottles and cans, pick up a coin every time I see one on the ground and collect loose change in coin wrappers that I periodically take to the bank.
I'm not saying that you have to obsess about money and count every nickel. But if you want to make financial progress, you do need to change your attitude to that of an accumulator of money, not a spender of it.