New Year’s resolutions from our readers

There’s nothing like a brand new calendar year to get you thinking about possible ways to save money or make better use of the money you have.

Are you wishing you could do a better job financially in 2008? If so, I’m happy to report that many readers took the time to e-mail me throughout 2007 and share all sorts of practical, money-saving ideas.

As you reflect on your financial resolutions and goals, consider these tips provided by readers from across the country. And if you have tips of your own to share, please do so here.

1. Budget, budget, budget. Val Nylen of Albuquerque, N.M., used to teach budgeting classes to low-income women. She learned a lot from that experience, and she wrote in with these insights: “Families should keep track of every cent they spend for at least two months and then work out a budget. It may need to be adjusted several times until they realize all their costs, but in the long run it will help control that money drain. It also helps to see all the waste in little items. There are several good books available on budgeting and they can be found for free at the library. But it does take everyone in the family to make a budget work. It also teaches everyone to handle money better. In this land of instant gratification, that can be the real lesson.”

2. Get your children involved. Barbara of Kennesaw, Ga., a self-described “60-year-old retiree who’s been there,” agrees with Val that budgeting is a family affair. She offered these words of advice: “Involve your children in your family’s finances. Start teaching them early on about the value of money: how to earn it, how to save for short- and long-term goals, how to spend wisely. Give young kids an allowance and teach them how to manage it. Let older kids get jobs that don’t interfere with school so they can practice managing their own money (and making mistakes with it) under your supervision. Involve all the kids in family budget discussions about expenses that relate to them and at their level: food, clothing, school supplies, sporting goods, dance lessons, special events, vacations, etc. Mortgages, insurance and car payments don’t have relevance until they’re in high school.”

3. If you’re eligible for discounts, seize them! Barbara also shared these additional words of wisdom: “If you’re 50 and over, take advantage of senior discounts.  Don’t be shy or paranoid about joining AARP, which is a major conduit and promoter of good deals for older people with more discretionary income than young families. Reality check: The older you get, the more discounts there are for everything from groceries to banking to vacations. An example: Taking AARP’s Driver Safety course can offer significant savings on auto insurance to drivers age 55 and older. However, the best senior deals often go unadvertised, or a merchant may not know to offer one to retain good older customers. Don’t ever be afraid to ask.”

4. Simplify your bill-paying throughout the year. Consider this idea from Bonnee Brown of Parachute, Colo.: “I spend my tax return on things that make my daily life easier. Last year I called the utility company and went on a budget billing plan. When I received my tax return I prepaid it for a year. … Now I have $150 a month that I can spend on other things or bills. I did the same thing with my cell phone bill, home phone/satellite and Internet bills. It has made the monthly balancing of the checkbook just a little easier. It is also nice to know that if by chance I lose my job … my kids will have heat, electricity and something to watch on TV while I use the Internet and phone to find another job!”

5. Count those pennies. Do you have lots of loose change hanging around the house or making your wallet or purse weigh far more than it should? If so, this bit of advice from Corrie Jaynes of Rockville, Md., is for you: “At the end of the day I put all of my change from my wallet into a piggy bank. It is surprising how quickly it adds up. Usually at the end of the week, I am able to get from $9 to $14 without realizing that it is adding up. It is a great way to end up with extra cash for the weekend.”

6. Play the game and win. Kathy Umberson of Ontario, Calif., has devised a system for reminding herself to be careful with money. “I’ve made a ‘game’ to challenge myself to see how long I can get by without buying anything frivolous,” she writes. Here is one highlight from her many-faceted game: “I go through my pantry and actually (gasp!) make meals out of what groceries I have in there. I open cans of soup and cook rice or pasta, and (another gasp!) cook fresh vegetables and actually bake chickens or whatnot for dinner and have leftover meals to take to work during the week. For those people who buy their food out every day – (those fast-food companies and restaurants LOVE you!) – and are not familiar with this practice … try it. It’s actually kind of nice as it gives you a chance to sit and unwind or read a magazine or play cards or something with fellow co-workers if you like, or just to be alone and breathe and unwind. Why go out into traffic and spend all that time going somewhere to eat when you can sit and eat and relax and goof around during your lunch hour?” And here is yet another rule of Kathy’s game: “If I see something I think I really want, I write it down and think about it for a night or two. I usually forget about it or decide it’s not needed. If I keep thinking about it, I ask myself if I’m being impulsive and only thinking I need it. … I usually decide I’m being impulsive and tell myself to drop the issue. If I truly think I need the item, I then have to justify to myself why I need it. (An answer of ‘Just because’ is not a good justification, and neither is ‘’cause I want it’!)”

7. Shun junk food – or at least limit it. Scott of Reno, Nev., shared this advice that can improve both our bottom lines and our bottoms: “Stop buying junk beverages or filler food. (It’s) a no-brainer, but so many things we pick up at the store are not needed or harmful to us. We just need to get used to not having them. Our health is so important to a positive outlook – plus not having the extra pounds on your body will give you (more) energy.”

8. Clear out the clutter. Here’s yet another idea provided by Scott from Reno: “Get rid of your storage space. People spend at least $50 to $150 per month on these super-sized junk drawers, (which contain) boxes of stuff you never see or use. (Remember) the old phrase, ‘If you don't use it in six to 12 months, get rid of it.’ ”

9. Save some green by going green. A reader named Carey wrote in to share these environmentally friendly ideas: “Hang laundry on the clothes line to dry. Buy compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent, and also use 60-watt bulbs instead of 100-watt. Not only turn down the temp on the water heater but remember to wrap it. Open the windows and save air conditioning for the unbearably hot/humid days. (This also helps reduce indoor air pollution.) Check the condition of caulking around doors and windows. During the winter months wrap most windows with plastic window wrapping kits. Leave one window per room unwrapped. Airing out your house periodically reduces indoor air pollution and allows the inside air to heat up more efficiently.”

10. Think like a financial guru. A reader named Linda offered an idea that could work for people who are highly organized and detail-oriented: “This is for people who have the money to pay for large purchases, but want to make a little profit on the way to ownership. When making large purchases, if the seller offers ‘no payment and no interest’ for X number of months, take the deal, put the money into a CD for just short of the due date, and then pay for your purchase in time to avoid the interest.”

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