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Trick yourself to spend less

I'm often asked to reprise a column I did a couple of years ago that gave twentysomethings a list of tricks they could play on themselves to spend less and save more. I'm happy to do it, with new and invaluable advice from Lynne Koplitz, a young woman who's establishing a career as a comedienne in New York City.

Koplitz does standup comedy for a living, but before she got her big break she waited tables. With so much of her income in tips, she developed a repertoire of simple yet effective ways to manage her cash — habits that still help make her money last between gigs.

Each month, for example, Koplitz divides her expenses into categories — for clothes, for fun, even for her dog — and puts money for each into an envelope so that she doesn't overspend.

Not only does she toss spare change into jars, but she also tosses dollar bills into a drawer. "Then you can grab a few singles to pay for takeout instead of breaking a bigger bill, which is the road to disaster," says Koplitz.

When she was a waitress, Koplitz would keep her first $50 a night in tips as spending money. After that, she'd save half of everything she made. She still has an automatic savings plan, only now she tells her accountants to stash 5 percent of her income in an account that's available if she needs it. "My mother always told me, 'That's your getaway money,' " she says.

To control her credit card debt, Koplitz once resorted to freezing her cards in a bowl of water. Now she carries just two cards — one is American Express, which she must pay off each month — and keeps the rest with her accountants. "If I want to use one, they can ask if I really want to spend the money," says Koplitz.

Don't have an accountant? Have a friend hold on to your cards so you're not tempted to use them, advises Koplitz.

To keep down entertainment costs, she takes guests out to breakfast rather than dinner "because it's cheaper and you get more." And when you're out with a group, never pay with a credit card and collect cash from everyone else. Says Koplitz: "You're probably going to come up short on the bill, and when it's time to pay up, the cash will be gone."

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to