Small changes can add up to big savings

Why should the government spend money that it doesn't have to spend?

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It's sure a lot easier to find ways to spend money than it is to save money.

The government is no different than a big family trying to keep spending within its means when a couple of kids need braces, one needs a prom dress, the transmission just went out on the car and the roof on the house is leaking.

Unlike a family that is unable to pay its bills, the government can't declare bankruptcy and start over.

So it's commendable whenever there are efforts - no matter how big or how small - to save money.

Recently, the federal government announced that on May 1 new recipients of Social Security or other benefits would no longer receive a paper check, but would get their funds through direct deposits. Those who are already on Social Security have until March 1, 2013, to make the switch to direct deposit or a debit card. There are a few minor exceptions to this rule.

It's time to make the switch. Eight out of 10 people getting federal benefits already get their payments electronically.

"Even though we have done a good job of encouraging people to switch over, we still are making 120 million payments by mail for Social Security every year and another 15 million annually for veterans and other types of benefits," Richard L. Gregg, the Treasury Department's assistant fiscal secretary, told The Associated Press.

The government said the switch will eliminate lost or stolen checks or checks that are returned because the recipient has become homeless.

This change is estimated to save $1 billion over the next decade.

While that's not going to make much of a dent in the federal budget, it's these types of savings that are more likely to actually happen than the elimination of major budget items or programs.

Considering the world inside the Beltway, it's sort of appropriate that the quote "Watch the pennies the dollars take care of themselves?" is attributed to Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland."

Speaking of dollars, the Treasury Department should dust off the proposal to replace the dollar bill with dollar coins. These dollar coins have already worked their way into circulation in parts of the country, such as New York where they are used as change in the subways and in vending machines. Because dollar bills wear out in 18 months and coins last approximately 30 years, the savings have been calculated at hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Put those savings with the savings of not mailing benefit checks and you get at least $2 billion over the next 10 years. Again, that won't balance the budget in and of itself, but why spend money we don't have to?

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