You don't have to be a financial genius to know the economy is in trouble. And you don't have to be stupid to go broke - just a little careless.
We'd hate to see that happen. So we've devised this list of 19 items designed to help you cut back. There were supposed to be 25, but we just followed our own advice.Don't look at it as economizing. Look at it as personal improvement - every sacrifice carries a benefit. Or look at it this way: Better to cut back and tell yourself it was your idea than wait for things to get so bad you don't have any choice.
1. Take a hike. You knew this was coming. Park your car and walk - to your job, to the store, to a bus stop or at least to a cheaper parking lot. Look at it this way: If you pay $5 a day five days a week to park, that's $100 bucks in one month. Look in the mirror. Chances are hoofing it won't kill you.
2. Carpool. Hone those crucial social skills while you reduce travel costs.
3. Talk to yourself. Five simple words - that's all we ask. The next time you're poised to buy those Little Debbie oatmeal cream-filled pies, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" Apply this principle to other purchases: Cars. Your fifth tube of red lipstick. Ball caps decorated with fake bird poop and some witty remark about seagulls.
4. Make a deal. If you do indeed decide you need something major - anything from a new TV to a house - financial planners say this can be a good time to commit. Because everyone else is holding back, there are deals to be had if you have money and moxie. So do it. Then congratulate yourself on your wisdom.
5. Go to a matinee. Instead of sharing the cinematic experience in prime time, hit a movie before 6 when it costs about half as much and, often, fewer people attend. Not only do you save money, you seriously cut your chances of sitting in front of someone who says, "Oh, look, this is the part where she jumps up out of the bathtub and dies a screaming death." Your quality of life will improve.
6. Stay home. Cocooning is cool. And where do you have to go that's so important, anyway?
7. Flaunt worn-out clothes. Jeans with holes: instant chic.
8. Bag a lunch. It's fun to pack your lunch. No, wait. That's a lie. But it is cheaper. Even if you spend just $3 a day five days a week, that's 60 bucks a month, which would buy a really big pile of chipped ham. Besides, it's probably healthier to bring a lunch from home than eat a hamburger dripping with special sauce. Did you ever really look at that sauce? What are those little green things floating in there, anyway?
9. Balance your checkbook. Avoid late charges and the threat of boomeranging checks while you enjoy the freedom that comes only from knowing where every single penny of your money has gone. Of course, this may only depress you further.
10. Make a list. When you go to the store, go armed with a planned list of what you need (i.e., "chipped ham - $60 worth."). Do not deviate from this list. Not only will you save money, you'll save time.
11. Take a calculator. A corollary to the above, especially helpful in the grocery store. You'll know pretty much what you're spending, saving you the stress of attempting to buy $80 worth of food with $55 and a real stupid grin.
12. Break a bad habit. In many cases, being obnoxious costs you money. So improve yourself and become the richer for it. Return library books and videotapes on time to avoid a late charge; give someone else the joy of seeing "What About Bob?" Stop biting your fingernails to save the need for expensive press-on models; spare others the unsightly sight of you hunkering down over your cuticles. We won't even mention smoking - oh, what the heck. Cut it out. Right now.
13. Don't wear socks. High school students already understand the wisdom behind this cost-cutting measure. They know bare ankles look great with ripped jeans.
14. Shop cheap. In these lean times, more fine citizens just like you have learned that good deals abound at thrift and consignment shops and other stores that deal in used merchandise, such as records and furniture. Remember, it's not secondhand, it's vintage. It's chic. It's retro.
15. Clean out your closet. Chances are you'll find something wearable that you forgot about, possibly saving expensive and time-consuming forays to the mall. If you come up empty, think of someone else for once in your life. Give away what you do find to a charity and feel good about helping someone who needs it.
16. Cut your own hair. Be proud of your self-reliance. Amuse your friends.
17. Grow your hair long. It's cheap. And in some circles, it passes as a fashion statement.
18. Deny yourself. Think: What in your life could you live without? Eating out? Pedicures? If people get everything they want, they end up shallow as well as broke.
19. Don't deny yourself. Then again, if you cut out everything enjoyable you'll only hate yourself. Treat yourself or someone else and be grateful, for once, you're not eating chipped ham.