By Cyndi Cohen Published January 3, 2012 Credit Unions Online
Many people are resolving to save money as they kick off the New Year. This is a smart goal, but can be a tough one to stick to if it’s not backed by a solid plan equipped with cost-conscious strategies. Here are 12 tips to help you get started and maintain your frugality throughout 2012.
Create a realistic budget. January is a good time to sit down and figure out where you are financially. If you went a bit overboard during the holiday season, not to worry. You can put a budget in place that will help you recover from that holiday hangover, track spending going forward, and ultimately, get you where you want to be in terms of saving. Get some budget building basics.
Stop frivolous shopping for the winter. Although after-Christmas sales can be tempting and you may have gift cards from the holidays to use, you can probably get through the remainder of the winter with what you already have. Focus on learning how to save rather than spend over the next several months. Come April and May, you’ll be happy you have some extra money in your savings account, and any gift cards you had will be a pleasant surprise ready to be used for some new spring clothes, items for your home, or outdoor entertainment.
Use cash rather than credit. Purchases made with real, green money are seemingly more meaningful than when you swipe a plastic card. When you see those dollars leaving your hand, the reality of spending is more apparent and you’ll be inclined to spend less. You will also be working toward paying off your credit card rather than tacking on more charges to what could be a high interest rate card with an already high balance.
Pay off debt that has accumulated over the past year. Work toward paying off all debt including major credit cards and any store cards. If necessary, do a balance transfer with a 0% interest rate card. Many credit card companies, especially this time of year, will be offering promotions that boast a zero or low rate introductory rate for a specific term anywhere from 8-22 months.
Cook more at home and brown bag it. You can save more than you think by avoiding restaurants and coffee shops, and packing your lunch for work or school. The average adult probably spends about $15 per week on coffee and $40 per week on lunch. Dining out varies but is almost always less cost effective than cooking a meal at home. Your dollar will go much further at the grocery store, and the estimated $4,000 - $5,000 per year that you’ll save will be sure to come in handy! Treat yourself to lunch or your favorite java one day a week and save restaurant dining for special occasions. When you do plan to dine out, check out restaurant.com for dining deals.
Look online for holiday deals throughout the year. Special holiday deals abound online for the celebration of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Earth Day, 4th of July, Halloween, and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift or throwing a themed party, online discounts can help you get a great deal. In fact, many credit unions offer discounts on a variety of retailers, including department stores, florists, clothing stores, book stores, personal care & beauty merchants, entertainment venues, costume stores, restaurants, and much more. This is a great, free perk of credit union membership that is easy to access and well-worth checking out.
Go for low-cost family entertainment. Think of cheap, if not free ways to entertain your family throughout the year. During the winter months, daytime activities might include sledding or a brisk outdoor stroll to fill the fresh air quota, and those cold nights are the perfect time for movie marathons and hot cocoa. If you want to venture out, an early bird brunch and day at the library, or an evening of pizza and bowling are inexpensive and fun outings. As the weather warms up, outdoor activities are endless from a day at the park or beach with picnic lunch to a free summertime concert. Also keep an eye out for credit union sponsored discounts on amusement park admissions as well as museums and local attractions.
Start vacation research now. If you’re planning a summer vacation this year, it’s a good idea to start looking into flights, tickets, and packages now. According to thetravelbug.net, the key to a discount vacation is booking in advance. People will find better discounts on airline tickets if they book vacations up to 6 months in advance. For further savings, you can also look for vacation packages that are bundled.
Use coupons and discounts when shopping in stores and online. Whether grocery shopping or making purchases online, check the Sunday paper and the Internet for money-saving coupons and promotional codes. Sites like coupons.com and smartsource.com are useful for manufacturers’ coupons. When shopping online, many retailers offer discounts and free shipping offers in the form of promo codes which can be found by doing an online search or by using a site like promotionalcodes.com that presents offers by store and category for easy searching.
Quit smoking. Aside from the obvious health benefits you will gain by kicking this habit, you’ll also gain about $1,500 per year by not having to purchase cigarettes. This doesn’t even include the extra fees you may be paying in health insurance as a smoker. All things considered, if you are a smoker, try to make at least two New Year’s resolutions this year – save money and be smoke-free in 2012. For resources on smoking cessation, visit cdc.gov.
Do some spring cleaning. This is the year to empty the garage or attic, go through all of your old things and discard all that are unwanted or not being used. Gather items that are in good condition and take them to a flea market or consignment shop, or have a yard sale. This is a good way to recycle and earn some extra cash. Donate other items to a local shelter, school, or SPCA.
Stop paying bank fees. If your bank is charging you fees for anything from checking to online banking, 2012 is the year to say “goodbye” and look for a more affordable financial institution. Join a credit union where you will not only enjoy low or no fees but will also benefit from better rates on loans, higher yields on savings, superior member service, and valuable financial education. Find a credit union and join today!
2012 – The Year of Saving!
Here’s to keeping your New Year’s resolutions this year, especially when it comes to saving, budgeting, and smart spending.