Reducing monthly expenses> and saving more money is the> must-make resolution for 2009.
"Budgeting has probably never been more important," says Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, a national network of fee-only financial planners. Think of it this way: spending is one of the few things you have some control over in an economy where investment portfolios are plunging and layoffs are widespread. And plenty of people feel out of control these days. In fact, a recent survey by Country Financial, a Bloomington, Ill.-based investment firm, found that one-third of consumers expect to be worse off financially in 2009.
While cutting back on an already-tight budget may seem daunting, there are ways to reduce spending without sacrificing your quality of life. The first thing to do is get organized. Use a free online budgeting site like Mint.com or QuickenOnline.com to view all of your spending on one page. Then evaluate areas where you may be able to cut back. "Really play detective," urges Garrett. "Is there anything in a category you can do without, or an expense you can put off?"
To help increase your chances of success, cut the fat with small, gradual changes. "If you cut too hard, too quickly, you'll never stick with that budget," says Aaron Patzer, founder and CEO of Mint.com. Instead of avoiding restaurants altogether, for example, cut the number of nights you go out to dinner from two times a week to once a week or start eating at less expensive venues.
To help you kick off your budget-minded resolution we've compiled a list of tips from financial experts on ways to cut back in seven key monthly expense categories.
Cellphone users often pay $10 or more a month for services they don't use or need, says Garrett. To make sure you're not one of them, check that your plan is the best deal for your phone habits. Text junkies, for example, should be hunting down plans with unlimited texting, while large families may want rollover minutes or shared plans. Heck, you might even find that the deal you get for your cellphone enables you to ditch your landline altogether -- and save an added $40 or more per month in the process.
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Credit card issuers are making it tough on consumers these days, tacking on fees and cutting credit limits. That makes picking the right card -- one that lets you maximize rewards and other card benefits while cutting interest -- crucial, advises Patzer. His pick: the American Express (AXP)
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Identify your weakness. Whether you always have to see a movie the day it opens at theaters or you re a fixture at the local pub, take stock of your entertainment expenses, says David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, an industry group that sets professional standards for credit counselors. While it s not necessary to stay home every night, aim to find more budget-friendly ways to enjoy your favorite splurges.
Here are some helpful ways to do so:
- 9 Ways to Save on Movie Tickets
- 6 Ways to Dine Out for Less
- Scoring Tickets Without Getting Ripped Off
Don t be lulled into a false sense of security because gas is less than $2 a gallon, says Jones. Prices can rise very quickly. Case in point: just five months ago, gas topped $4 a gallon. One way to prepare for such wild swings is to keep your car in tiptop shape. Not only does a well-maintained car have fewer problems on the road, but it also burns fuel at a more efficient rate. Replacing a dirty air filter, for example, can improve fuel economy by 10% -- saving you roughly 17 cents per gallon, according to FuelEconomy.gov. Keeping tires properly inflated saves about 3%, or 5 cents per gallon.
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It's time to make the switch to generic or store-label goods. They re just as good [as the brand names], but for a fraction of the price, says Garrett. Not convinced? They re cheap enough to try once, at least. At ShopRite, for example, a 15 oz. can of sliced peaches is 99 cents, while Del Monte's can costs $1.50.
Here are some other ways to save the next time you go food shopping:
- The Best and Worst Warehouse Club Deals
- 8 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill
- 5 Best Coupon-Clipping Web Sites
Are your insurance bills busting your budget? To cut premiums, consider raising your deductible, advises Garrett. Push your homeowners' insurance deductible from $250 to $1,000, for example, and you could cut your premiums by 25%. This move also improves your risk profile -- insurers know you won't be filing small claims (since you'll most likely have to pay for the whole thing), so they may be more inclined to offer other discounts, she says.
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Let the house get a little colder in the winter and a little hotter in the summer. Adjusting the thermostat by a single degree can cut up to 5% from your bill, depending on where you live, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. That s an average $180 a year with most programmable thermostats.
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