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Readers share 10 money resolutions for 2009

With the economy in shambles and layoffs looming for many, some New Year’s resolutions are too costly to break. 10 Tips columnist Laura T. Coffey shares readers’ smart, money-saving ideas for 2009.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Are you, like millions of people across the globe, in the habit of breaking your New Year’s resolutions shortly after you make them?

If that’s your usual method of operation, this year might have to be different. With the economy in shambles and layoffs looming for many, some resolutions may be much too costly to break.

We asked readers to share their financial resolutions for the coming year, and dozens came through with all sorts of practical, money-saving ideas. It was difficult to do, but we’ve whittled all of your good advice down to 10 smart tips.

Now sit back, relax and resolve to use the information that follows to bolster your bottom line in 2009.

1. Assess what you have and make use of it.
Here’s this advice from Jocelyn of Chesapeake, Va.: “I looked in my closet and I had several things that I had not worn for a year or two, some brand new. I took them to a consignment shop, sold the items and made money. One coat I paid $15 for in a thrift store and sold it for $100 and the consignment shop paid me $50. Also, I used to throw away a lot of food because I could not get used to cooking for two. I freeze a lot more now. I take leftovers to lunch instead of always going out.”

2. Look great for less. Are haircuts, hair coloring, manicures and pedicures eating up an inordinate share of your monthly budget? If so, consider this suggestion from Melissa of Bloomington, Ill.: “Like everyone else, I’m reviewing every penny in my family’s budget to see where we can cut back and bulk up our savings. Still, I’m a girl who wants to look good. The solution? I go to the local beauty school for beauty and spa treatments. The work is done by students and supervised by licensed supervisors. It takes a little longer, but the quality is just as good as the salon. The best part: It costs less than half what I would pay at the beauty salon.”

3. Save money on entertainment without forgoing fun.
LeiLani of Hawaii offers these ideas: “Join Netflix for $5 to $10 a month, buy a popcorn popper for about $20, and save $10 to $15 per person on movie tickets and snacks at the theater. Haunt used bookstores for books, usually at half price, if you’re a book lover … Volunteer to be an usher at your local community theater to see live theater for free. Sometimes this is also possible for orchestras (and other venues). Have friends over for potluck parties rather than going out to restaurants. Play board games, watch your Netflix movies and just talk. Get involved in your church, temple or mosque activities. A lot of them are free or low cost: spaghetti dinners, church choirs, holiday parties throughout the year, church picnics and the like.”

4. Pay down debt instead of accumulating more stuff.
Consider these pearls of wisdom from Shannon of Walla Walla, Wash.: “If you get holiday pay, dump that onto your credit-card bills. Every little bit adds up. Anytime you get extra income, whether it’s overtime, holiday pay, etc., don’t ask what you can spend it on, ask what you can pay off. It’ll add up quickly. Same goes for your income tax return!”

5. Be a savvy comparison shopper. Erin of Richmond, Va., offers the following advice about coupons and generic brands: “Always comparison-shop when you’re using coupons and make sure that you’re getting the best deal. Know what things cost by reading grocery circulars or ads and paying attention while shopping. Coupons can save you money on certain items, but they can cost you more in the long run if they induce you to purchase brand names or items you wouldn’t normally buy OR don’t need. Don’t assume that all name brands are better than generic. Often, store and generic brands cost much less than name brands, even when the name-brand items are on sale or offering a coupon. Save the name-brand coupons for items you absolutely prefer over generic or store brands. In most cases, the quality of the items is the same, name brand or not. Often the only difference is the label/packaging.”

6. It’s actually kind of easy being green. So says Jane of Tulsa, Okla. She offers these tips for recycling, using less and saving energy on the home front: “Reuse your grocery bags for garbage bags, use cloth napkins, use half a dryer sheet instead of a whole one, and don’t overdry your clothes. Keep the laundry going so the dryer stays hot. Use newspaper for cleaning ovens and washing glass. I wear sweats and turn my heat down to 62 degrees. Open the blinds and let the sun warm the rooms during the day. Shut as the sun goes down to retain heat … Plan your shopping trips and errands, and map out your route to minimize gas usage. Make enough dinner for two meals, [then] freeze one and use microwave to reheat. [It] saves energy.”

7. Devise a budget — and stick to it! Chelsie of Belton, S.C., bases the following advice on her own experiences: “Write a budget before the month begins and account for where EVERY dollar will go. Then stick to it. If you’re married, both spouses need to agree to the budget and work together to be successful. One spouse cannot do it alone. If you’re single, find someone who can help keep you accountable. You can accomplish amazing things with your finances when you have a plan. My husband and I have been doing this for two and a half years and it works great! We are completely debt-free including our home and no money fights!”

8. Remember to take advantage of the points and rewards you’ve earned.
The following advice is related to credit and debit cards that provide you with rewards or points that you can cash in later. Here’s one giant caveat about the advice that follows: Always pay your credit cards off in full and on time each month! Otherwise, the fees and finance charges you’ll face likely will overshadow any benefits you’ll receive from using the card.

Bearing that in mind, Jennifer of Pompano Beach, Fla., writes: “Save all of your credit- or debit-card points to use … next Christmas. This year we had a crazy amount of points [and] we got an iPod classic, an Apple TV, a Sony Bravia 26” flat-screen TV, a Fuji 10-megapixel camera — all total somewhere around $1,300. My husband also flew to New York for the day to finish out end-of-the-year business — on points!”

Along those same lines, Denine of Lancaster County, Pa., shares this experience: “We bought a new home last year and used our Disney Visa credit card for some large purchases associated with our move. We pay our credit card off every month. Over the last two years, we have been able to build up $500 in Disney reward dollars. I cashed those rewards in for toys, music and video cash dollars to be used at major chain stores like Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us, and they operate like travelers’ checks. As a result, the Christmas gifts for our four children, plus all of the other little children in our lives, have cost us nothing this Christmas. Now that’s saving some cash!”

9. Discover the magic and wonder of thrift stores.
A reader from Virginia writes: “For my son, almost ALL of his clothes are from secondhand clothing stores like Goodwill. We are able to find name-brand clothes for next to nothing! We also buy our toys at secondhand stores. Your child doesn’t know the difference! We bring the toys home and clean them and give them to our son. He is happy and our budget is happy!”

10. Distinguish needs from wants.
On a final note, Sandy of Salem, Ore., shares this highly practical tip: “Every time I shop I say, ‘Do I really need this? How many hours of my wages will it take to pay for this?’ You have to learn to equate the price to hours of work. It makes you think twice about the purchase.” In a similar vein, Denise Marie of Ohio adds: “I heard this from a wise older woman: ‘I can buy anything I want, because I don’t want anything I can’t buy.’ Keeping this in mind helps when our eyes become bigger than our bank account.”

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