Lean economic times breed a kind of desperate rush to do something to save money — right now. While it’s always better to take a breath and think out practical steps to reach personal goals, there are basic changes we can all make immediately to begin to live within our means and to take full responsibility for our financial health.
Keep yourself accountable: In financial terms this means such things as tracking expenses, building a viable budget, using cash instead of plastic, and shopping with lists instead of by impulse. The key is to write it all down. Make every financial act tangible and view each one in relation to the other. This is the only way to keep yourself accountable and to compete against yourself to constantly improve your performance.
Get conscious: So much excess spending is due to unconscious habit. Accountability breeds consciousness. You need to make sure you know what items and services actually cost, that you are controlling your use of real money instead of mindlessly swiping a piece of plastic, and that you do not allow impulses to guide your spending. When you are completely aware of your habits, then you can intelligently compare prices and vigorously pursue the best deals.
Stand up for your financial needs: Don’t pay for anything you’re not using. Go over every bill, every service contract. Ask yourself if you can do with fewer minutes on your cell phone plan or even switch to a pay-as-you-go model. Keep an eye on the latest insurance news. Did your insurance company recently take a hit? Maybe you can negotiate a lower rate. Insurance companies would rather lower your rates than lose a customer. What’s the annual percentage rate on your credit card? Will transferring your balance to a lower interest rate card help you pay off the debt faster? Most people are shocked at how much money they can save by reviewing their service contracts and simply asking for reductions.
Get a handle on your habits: Just watch what you’re doing. When you walk out of a room, turn the light off. When the gadget isn’t charging, unplug the charger. Buy store brands, not the name brand your Mom bought. Go to the library, not the book store. Eat real food at home, not expensive frozen meals or even more expensive restaurant or take-out fare. Curb the instant gratification monster. If you can’t afford something now, save for the item and savor the anticipation or use lay-away programs that are coming back into style with a vengeance.
Jettison any false pride you’re harboring: The middle of a recession is not the time to give in to competitive consumerism in some desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” No one is “too good” for a sensible economizing measure that will resolve present debt and help to establish long-term financial security.