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Every February, Dave and Jenny Buck of Minneapolis declare a ban on restaurants, movies, even coffee shop lattes. They clean out the pantry and the freezer, buying only milk, fresh produce and a few generic items. “We call it economic camping,” says Dave Buck, 50. “We just get down to basics.”

Six years ago, alarmed at the ads bombarding their young sons, now 12 and 14, Jenny Buck persuaded the family to take the “no-spending month” challenge. “The first thing you learn is how much extra time you have because you aren’t running to the store,” says Jenny, 47, like her husband a fundraiser for nonprofits. Instead of dining out, the family hosts potlucks, borrows movies from the library, or looks for free activities like playing cards.

Jenny Buck estimates no-spending month saves them $2,000 to $3,000. It has been such a success, the family now extends its frugal ways through March. “The overriding principle for us is about really appreciating the life we have,” says Jenny. “Without adding anything more, we are rich beyond belief.”

Pay yourself first. “Save automatically on a regular basis, either through a workplace retirement plan or on your own,” says Steve Brobeck of the Consumer Federation of America. “Instruct your bank or credit union to transfer a modest amount every month or pay period.”

Congress may pass a law requiring businesses to offer individual retirement accounts, which would help people without a workplace plan. Meanwhile, save 15 cents of every dollar earned, pretend that money doesn’t exist, and live off the rest, says EBRI’s Dallas L. Salisbury. “After a few years, when you see how much you’ve saved, that’s what’s really matters."

Elizabeth Pope writes about work and retirement.


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