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4 Unusual Savings Strategies That Really Work

Paul Sisolak
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz presents the new Canadian five dollar bill made of polymer that is entering circulation today, at the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert, Quebec November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

It's just one of those facts of life: Saving money can be really hard. Even when you're sure to cover all your bases, like building a budget, keeping interest-bearing accounts and cashing in on credit rewards, the yields are always offset by expenses and other revolving bills that can negate the money you've managed to save up.

And the proof is in the numbers. As many as 73 percent of Americans don't have $1,000 saved up for emergency purposes, and many don't have any a savings account at all, according to a GOBankingRates poll of more than 3,000 people in June.

If you're trying to save and not getting ahead, it might be time to try one of these easy, everyday savings habits that will help you tighten your finances.

1. Save every $5 bill you receive.

It's called the "Five Dollar Plan." Whenever you come into possession of a $5 note, save it. Over time, you'll have a large enough stack that warrants a trip to the bank for a deposit. Save $5 a day, and after one year, you'll have racked up $1,825. If you're primarily a debit or credit user, the big task here is using more cash in your day-to-day spending to have enough physical money on hand to save.

2. For one year, take part in a weekly savings challenge.

Create and follow a new savings plan for each week of the year that gets more challenging with each passing week. It could be something as simple as opening a free checking account with an APY; dining out during happy hours; opting for less meat and more veggies; or even washing your own car versus a drive to the car wash.

The goal is to save $1 on week one, $2 on week two, and so forth, until week 52, when you should aim to save $52. At the end of the year, you'll have saved $1,378. Of course, if you can save more than that a week here or there, by all means, go for it!

3. Buy and sell prepaid gift cards.

Everyone loves gift cards because you can buy what you want with them. But buying them can get particularly expensive for the giver, and a leftover balance for the recipient can't be translated into cash.

Here's how to save on gift cards: Buy and sell them at a discount from various online vendors. Like an eBay for gift cards, sell your unwanted card on marketplace sites such as GiftCardRescue.com and Cardpool.com. Then use the earnings to purchase a new card of your choosing at a discount (which usually ranges from 5 to 20 percent). A $100 gift card bought for just $85? That's $15 saved and the card you want in your hands.

4. Seek dental work, haircuts and other services from students.

I needed a wisdom tooth extracted but was without health insurance at the time, which meant a potential out-of-pocket cost of at least $350. Rather than put up with the pain, I opted to get the tooth removed at a local university clinic, where the operation was performed by graduate-level dental students.

It cost a more agreeable $150, and I was duly impressed with the professionalism, care and attentiveness by the faculty and students. You can use the same strategy by choosing to get your hair cut at a beauty school versus a high-priced salon; some won't even charge you anything. Not only do you save money, but you help students get the experience they need for their career.

Other (More Common) Ways to Save

The possibilities are endless. For example, when looking for a new car, check your local dealerships for certified pre-owned vehicles. They'll be refurbished like new, but you'll pay used prices since they've gone through their biggest period of depreciation in value.

When it comes to insurance, never stop negotiating for better rates or a carrier with better premiums. Or, each time you withdraw money from your checking account, round up the amount to the nearest dollar figure, and transfer the difference into your savings. And don't forget to take advantage of coupons for groceries, clothing and other necessities. Over time, you'll come to appreciate the beauty in earning a pretty penny -- or a thousand.

Paul Sisolak writes for GoBankingRates.com, a source for the interest rates on savings accounts, CDs, mortgages, auto loans and more.

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