Heather Levin is a Kiva contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance. She lives in Michigan and is passionate about saving money, being conscious of the environment, helping those who are less fortunate start small businesses.
Can you imagine being in a situation where $50 could be the difference between being self-sufficient and enduring a lifetime of poverty?
Here in the United States, it's difficult to imagine such an inconsequential sum having that much influence over our destiny. But in places such as South America, India, and Africa, a loan of $25 can change someone's life.
Many people would like to give to Kiva on a monthly basis. But it can be a real challenge to invest $50, $75, or $100 per month, especially when there are so many other bills to pay. What you may not realize, though, is that there are plenty of easy ways you could save $5 a day to help Kiva. These simple cutbacks can allow you to make a positive difference in someone else's life.
1. Skip the "to-go" breakfast and coffee. Consider how many times you stop and get a large coffee and breakfast sandwich on the way to work. Chances are, you spend more than you think on these convenience foods. A study conducted by Accounting Principles found that the average American spends more than $1,000 a year just on coffee - think of how many loans you could make with $1,000.
By cutting your to-go breakfast, not only will you eat healthier by eating at home, but you will easily save $5 or more per day.
2. Avoid office snacks.
Do you have a soda or vending machine at your place of work? Many office workers would agree that they spend at least $5 per week on these unhealthy foods, and sometimes much more than that. The average office worker spends at least $80 per year just on vending machine snacks.
Instead of investing in food that's only doing your body harm, keep your office stocked with healthy snacks like almonds and walnuts, fresh fruit, and yogurt. Take the change you were dropping into the vending machine and send it to Kiva instead.
3. Cancel your cable.
According to the latest research, most Americans watch at least five and a half hours of television each day. The average cost of cable is $40 to $60 per month, and if you have satellite TV or premium channels it's much more than that.
Canceling cable TV is one of the easiest ways to enhance the quality of your life - you can use this time to exercise, enjoy the company of friends or family, or even start your own business. Plus, cutting your cable means you can put that monthly expense to much better use.
4. Eat lunch at work.
While it can be enjoyable to get out of the office, eating lunch at restaurants really adds up over the course of a month. According to the Accounting Principles survey, the average office worker spends more than $2,000 per year just on restaurant lunches.
Make it a goal to eliminate one restaurant-bought lunch each week. This can easily save you $5 to $10. And in addition to saving money, packing your own brown bag lunch is often much healthier than eating out at a restaurant.
5. Trim Your Impulse Buys
You probably already realize that grocery stores encourage impulse buys. From the magazines and bottled water at the checkout line, to the fresh, hot bread just coming out of the oven in the bakery, grocery stores are filled with temptations.
Take a minute to calculate how much money you spent on impulse buys the last time you were at the store. Chances are, it was at least $10 - and sometimes it's much more than that.
You can save hundreds of dollars each month by sticking diligently to your shopping list and avoiding the impulse items (especially high-calorie snack foods) that retailers want you to grab. Make sure you don't go to the grocery store hungry. If you're starving, have some water and a healthy snack before you leave home. Also, try shopping with your iPod and headphones on. Often, up-tempo music will keep you motivated to get in and get out - and the less time you're in the store, the less likely you are to grab something you didn't plan for.
Every time you make a decision to save, put that money in a specific place. It could be a change jar in your bedroom, or in a special savings account. For example, if you cancel your cable service, have the amount of that expense transferred once per month into your "Kiva account."
ING Direct gives you the ability to create sub-accounts online for easier savings. You'll never miss the money, and it will start adding up rapidly. Or, whenever you intentionally avoid eating lunch at a restaurant, take the $5 or $10 you would have spent and put it in a jar in your bedroom.
All of us can make a real difference in the world by helping Kiva, and these positive changes ripple outwards in ways that most of us will never see.
The best part about Kiva is that because of their 99% repayment rate, every loan you make is returned to you. You can, in turn, use that money to loan someone else, changing even more lives in the process.
Have you ever given to Kiva? What was your experience?
Have questions? As always, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.