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The country’s top personal finance priority for 2019: Save more.

There’s been reason for concern about the economy, jobs, investments and housing this year, yet the national savings rate fell to a 13-year low of 0.8 per cent in the third quarter. On both an emotional and financial level, you’ll feel better in the year ahead if you park some cash in a savings account.

Finding extra money to save can be a challenge, though. To help give you ideas how to save more, check out these four easy steps to free up $2,400 a year. That’s money you can gradually feed into your savings account over the next 12 months.

Step One: Stop paying monthly chequing account fees

A chequing account at a big bank with unlimited transactions every month typically costs about $14 to $16 a month. You might be able to eliminate this fee by holding a lot of cash in your account. For example, Bank of Nova Scotia waives the $13.95-a-month fee for the Scotia One Chequing Account if you keep a cash balance of $4,000 or more.

Another way is to open a chequing account with online banks such as Tangerine (owned by Scotiabank), Simplii Financial (owned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) or Alterna Bank (part of the credit union Alterna Savings), or one of a growing number of credit unions offering no-fee chequing with unlimited debits.

For help in comparing accounts, try the Account Comparison Tool offered by the federal Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (type this URL into your browser: Total savings by switching to a no-fee account: $15 a month, or $180 annually.

Step Two: Fight hard for a mortgage discount

Whether you’re buying or renewing, check rates with a few different lenders or mortgage brokers and try the website RateSpy. Mortgage rates vary these days according to your personal situation, so be clear about your pay, job situation and how much of a down payment you have.

Here’s a snapshot of how rates vary among lenders. One of the big banks offered a special rate of 3.89 per cent in late 2018 for a fixed, five-year mortgage, while a national mortgage broker offered 3.49 per cent. Let’s apply that difference of 0.4 percentage points to a mortgage of $200,000, which is more or less the national average outstanding mortgage balance.

Assuming a 25-year amortization, your payments would be $997 a month at 3.49 per cent, and $1,040 a month at 3.89 per cent. Total savings: $43 a month, or $516 a year.

Step Three: Bring your lunch to work three days a week

Life is hectic, so let’s say you’ll buy lunch twice a week and bring your own the other three days. You could save even more by skipping a daily visit to a coffee shop, but consider the benefits. Going out for coffee gets you away from your desk, which is good for your health. And if you stick to a medium regular-type coffee, that’s just $2.50 a day, max.

Let’s estimate the cost of buying lunch at $10 a day. If you were to bring your lunch three times weekly over 48 weeks (the rest is holidays and vacation), you would save $120 a month, or $1,440 over the course of a year.

Step Four: Renegotiate your telecom bills

If you’ve never done this, call your cable TV/Internet/phone provider and ask to speak to a customer retention person about whether there are any available deals that would cut your monthly costs. Explain that you’re evaluating all possible options to spend less, including alternative providers.

Already made that call? Then look for an opportunity to reduce your costs by choosing a lower service tier. Do you really watch all the cable channels you’re getting? Do you actually watch much cable TV, or do you just need a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime or another streaming service? Let’s estimate that you end up saving $22 a month by reviewing your telecom costs, or $264 a year.

Combine Steps 1 through 4 and you have $200 a month to put into savings, or $2,400 a year. You thought you didn’t have money to save, but it’s sometimes right there for the taking.

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