For a good deal of my life, I lived under a dark cloud of fear that I would end up financially destitute—a bag lady. Studies reveal that I’m not the only one. Most of us have felt that way, not because we’re broke, but because we lack confidence. That makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Look, we don’t have to accept financial insecurity as some kind of life sentence. And that constant and gnawing fear of becoming destitute? Forget it! We can do something about this.

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Become a saver. Saving money is like magic because it changes your attitude and calms your fears. I saved my way out of a six-figure pile of debt. Knowing I had cash tucked away in a safe place quieted my insatiable desires. That is where I found my determination to stick with repaying the debt. You must start now, today—no matter your situation. Even if you are in debt and struggling to catch up and even if you are already contributing to a 401(k) plan at work. This is different. You need money in the bank to boost your financial confidence.  Read more

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?

Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

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While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that, I mean money that is put away in a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite. Read more

From frozen key locks to hazy headlight covers, today I have a handful of completely unrelated household tips to entertain but also make your life a little easier. Enjoy!

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Organize household supplies. Use an over-the-door hanging shoe rack with clear vinyl pockets to organize and store cleaning supplies, one item per pocket. This gets them up and out of the reach of children. But even better, now you can actually see what you have.

Open blister packs. Use a manual can opener to open “blister packs” that take the strength of a muscle man to break into. The can opener will make a neat and safe cut to open the package so you can retrieve its contents and not slice your fingers in the process.

Remove headlight haze. Have your car’s headlight covers become hazy? You could spend a lot of money on a commercial product to remove that haze or grab some toothpaste and a soft cloth. Apply the toothpaste and vigorously rub the toothpaste over the entire hazy cover. Wipe off the toothpaste with a clean rag. Look at that! Completely restored to clear and bright. Toothpaste is abrasive. You are essentially sanding away the haziness. If you have a lens protectant, you will be sanding this away as well so you may want to replace it after doing this.

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I can’t think of many things worse than waking up on Dec. 26 with a raging debt hangover—an all-too-common after-Christmas condition.

The only reason you paid for everything with a credit card is that it was convenient. Besides, it’s not safe to shop online with a debit card, so what were your options?

Of course, you promised yourself that you would be paying the balance in full the minute the statement arrives, but who are we kidding here?

You were already carrying a balance on every card in your wallet, so now all of those new purchases will exacerbate the problem by plunging you even deeper into debt. Worse, you don’t even know for sure how much you spent because who keeps track when you pay for everything with a credit card?

Just imagine if you’d kept your promise that this year would be an all-cash Christmas—that you locked those credit cards away where they were safe from you. You’d be heading into the New Year with a much different attitude. No excuses, no hiding the holiday bills; no worries and no regrets.

I’ve got some good news for you. This year really can be an all-cash Christmas. You can do it and make your cash stretch even further when you take advantage of the lower prices when you shop online. You really can shop with CASH at Amazon, absolutely no credit card or debit card required.

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Habit is defined as behavior repeated so often it becomes almost automatic. I am in awe of the power of habit. It’s a force to change your life, and it is available to anyone no matter your situation, no matter your circumstances.

For five years, author Tom Corley observed the daily habits of the rich and the poor and documented his findings in his book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals. Corley defines the rich as those earning at least $160,000 per year, with a minimum of $3.2 million in assets. Individuals with an annual income of less than $30,000 and fewer than $5,000 in assets are defined as poor.

Remarkably, Corley discovered that rich folks have a lot more in common than only income. They share the same habits and daily behaviors, which for the most part he did not find among the poor. Corley presents a compelling argument that becoming rich is not about how lucky you are. It may have more to do with how you spend your day, beginning with the hour you wake up.

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It makes me laugh now, but years ago when I watched a particular episode of the television show Little House on the Prairie, I was so judgmental.

Whaaaat?! Are you kidding me? Not Pa!

Seems the mercantile had some new fangled plan where the owner would trust Pa to buy stuff now, put it on his bill and he could pay for it later. There I was, horribly deep in debt myself, but aghast that kind of thing would be allowed back when life was so simple.

As convenient as credit can be, it can really mess up a person’s life. While I won’t get into that here   (you can read all about my journey, how I beat the debt monster and you can too, in my book Debt-Proof Living), a couple of letters in my inbox this week reminded me just how easy it is to become blinded by easy credit.

Dear Mary: Can you give us some tips on overcoming temptations and impulse buying?  I’m sure you printed a flow chart of sorts once before, to help people decide what they really need vs. impulsive spending. Thank you. Barbara

Dear Barbara: Here is a cleaned up version of the chart I scribbled out and attached to my checkbook cover many years ago. It was a kind of visual STOP sign I needed to make me think about what I was doing. Hope this helps!

Dear Mary: We are one month behind on our mortgage payments and plan to catch up this month. We have told our credit union we will pay half on the 1st and the second half on the 13th. This will bring us current. They call all day, every hour. When we answer they say they have to call us constantly until the amount due is paid. That is their policy. I say this can’t be true or allowed by law. It seems like harassment. Cindy, Maryland

Dear Cindy: I can certainly understand your frustration, but I can understand your lender’s policy as well. I know of no laws they are breaking by calling you at reasonable hours during the day. (You may be confusing this with laws that protect you when a debt is turned over to a  third-party collector.)

Look, when you signed the original loan document, you promised to make your payments on time, every month, in accordance with the agreement. You failed to do this. It’s not the end of the world, but you have to look at this from their standpoint.

If you broke your promise to make a payment on time, why should they believe that you will keep your promise to catch up on the 1st and 13th? If you didn’t have the money last month, what makes them confident you’ll have it this month in addition to your regularly scheduled payment?

Rather than feeling entitled to paying late on your terms, why not consider this through their eyes?

Untold thousands of people in this country have decided to walk away from their mortgages. But do they tell the lender this fact? No. They stop making their payments and then lie when the lender calls. They remain in the home until the lender can make it through the complicated and expensive maze called foreclosure. The statistics are staggering. Many people manage to eek out years of making no payments while remaining in the home.

You missed a payment and that’s a red flag for your lender. Frequent calls are keeping them at the forefront of your every thought, which you have to admit is pretty smart.

Here’s an idea: Tomorrow, call them before they can call you. Be kind and once again express your remorse for running late. Tell them exactly the day and time that you will be bringing them money, even if you’ve told them a dozen times. Then keep your promise. Show up in person. And be grateful for their long suffering.

Dear Mary: Several years ago, I began following your advice use cash, not credit or debit cards for day-to-day purchases. On paydays, I’d stop at the bank and withdraw enough money to last until the next payday. I then challenged myself to have some of that money leftover in my purse, which would then go into a piggy bank at home.

I just want to thank you because this has really worked well for me. I am way ahead of their game. I still don’t use debit cards for purchases―only cash. I feel like I have won and all from a lesson learned from you several years ago. Keep up the good work. We’re still listening! Carol

Dear Carol: Your letter just made my day. Thanks for writing.

I know it’s hard. I know you’re desperate. You’re stressed and losing sleep. Things are tough. You have to do something, and soon.

But whatever you do, don’t touch your retirement account. Don’t borrow against it. Don’t withdraw from it. Leave it alone.

What’s so bad about liquidating a retirement account?

Momentum. Your retirement account, even if it’s currently losing value, is money you are going to need after you reach retirement age. And I can guarantee you are going to need it much worse then than you do now. If you bleed it dry now, you stop the momentum—the pace at which it is growing. Think of your retirement account as completely out of your reach for now.

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I used to think that small amounts of money didn’t matter. What difference could $5 here or $10 there make when we were more than $100,000 in debt (not counting the house and cars)?

So what if I increased our debt by such a small amount—it wouldn’t really matter because we already owed so much. I used the same argument for not paying anything more than the minimum monthly payments on our credit cards because that too would make no difference.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. The truth is that we five-and-10-dollared ourselves to death. It was the little things that added up to create a huge monster. Thinking that the little things didn’t matter freed us to think $2, $5 or $20 didn’t matter … then $50 didn’t matter, and on and on it went.

Ironically, it was the little things that turned us around, too. Sending an extra $2, $5 or $20 every month to rapidly repay the debt we were targeting helped us find a way to make the payment $22, then $35 and soon a $100 payment became standard.

I’ve had people look at me like I was a little weird when I suggested they should not use a first-class stamp on a postcard. I mean, does 15 cents really matter? I think it does, not so much for the dime and nickel, but for the attitude. You see, if you casually throw 15 cents away when it comes to a postage stamp, it’s much easier to begin thinking slightly larger sums don’t matter, either. And soon you’ll be on your way to thinking $20 is not a big deal. Then you’ll be headed for trouble.

Yes, my friends, 15 cents does matter. If you understand that, then $1.50 matters and $15 will matter even more, and on and on right up to $15,000.

Some wise person once said, “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” I have proven that to be true and I hope you can, too.

Here are three easy ways to stash cash:

Coins. Don’t spend them. Save them, instead. Every evening, empty your pockets, purse and wallet of all coins. Even if the bill comes to $4.05, hand the clerk a $5 bill and stash the difference. When you accumulate $25 or so, roll, wrap and send them off to your savings account.

Windfalls. No matter how small, make it a habit to bank all coupon savings, rebate checks, refunds and other “found money.”

Save an extra 10 percent. Stash 10 percent of your pocket money, grocery money and any other “walk around” funds you control in your secret savings spot. Chances are you won’t even miss it. But soon you’ll discover that $2 here and $4 there really adds up.