Here are nine sure ways to save money -- and feel good about it in the process:
* Know the difference between wants and needs. Here's a game to play with the family. Let each person write down 13 things they can't live without. Then, pare down the list to eight. You can take the children's input into an executive session for the adults of the household to consider as a last step. The process makes for good discussion and leaves you with a good idea of what you truly need and what the most precious "wants" consist of. I had no idea why Carter wanted the black and yellow boots for his 9th birthday until I saw him watching the Steelers in the Super Bowl!
* Don't "go shopping." A lot of us have the habit left over from the 90s of unwinding at the mall, feasting on all the latest eye-candy. However, simple as it sounds, if you don't go shopping, you won't spend money. It really is true that the less often we go to the sore, the more money we will save. As a bonus, if we shop with a plan and a list of items needed, we can get in and out of a store quickly with just those items purchased.
Each time we go to the store, we are subject to advertising for things we do not need. Mentally turn down the volume control or use the "off" button to ignore advertising for stuff we don't need, whether in the store, on the Internet, in newspapers, magazines, on TV or ... you get the idea.
If shopping is filling a purpose other than acquiring needed goods and services, we need to look at why we shop. Perhaps we shop to socialize or for a "personal reward." Some may use shopping as an antidote to depression, to boost self-esteem or assert independence and status. Let's remember that time spent on healthy friendships and physical activity gets those mood-lifting endorphins going and may mean money in the bank at the same time! Let's shop for the right reason.
* Take care of what you have. For an investment with excellent returns, spend time building a life worth living. Simple attention to sound health practices will put money in your pocket as well as many more lasting benefits. A good diet, exercise, adequate rest and proper dental care will go a long way to helping maintain a healthy body. A strong family, supportive social and spiritual bases and work that you respect give momentum and purpose that make it all worthwhile, even in the tough times.
That said, let's remember that everything we own, owns us. We are giving away the time and energy we have on earth to care for our stuff. We need to take Don Aslett's advice, and decide today if it is worth our time and energy to possess the profusion of items we think we "own." Be brave. Apply that same principle to the upkeep of all; yes all of your possessions.
* Wear it out. What's the last item you actually wore out? Landfills bulge with items that still may be perfectly usable. Think how much money it would save if you simply decided to use things even 20 percent longer and then give away usable items to charity.
* Do it yourself. Learn to do as many of those upkeep and maintenance tasks for yourself as possible. Exchange know-how with a capable friend. Take classes to learn new skills that would help you be more self-reliant. At the same time, squirrel away a regular amount to hire competent people for the tasks you cannot do.
* Anticipate your needs. With some planning, you will not need to buy many costly items until they go on sale -- hold out for 20-50 percent off the regular price. Anticipating needs also eliminates one of the biggest threats to your frugality: Impulse buying.
* Research value, quality, durability and multiple use. Don't just be a bargain shopper and automatically buy the cheapest item available. Durability is critical for something you plan to use the next 20 years.
* Get it for less. There are numerous ways to hunt for bargains. Comparison shop by phone or check on the Internet. If the Internet is a scary wilderness to you, a teen-to-45er next to you will be glad to help. The more educated you are about the product and the more specific you can be about the exact make or model you want, the more successful your bargain-hunting will be. Get at least three prices from different stores for large-ticket items. Check mail order and e-mail discounters. Bargain. You can ask for discounts for paying cash, for less-than-perfect items and for items already marked down. You can ask for discounts anywhere, anytime -- nothing ventured, nothing gained. Buy it used. You may be surprised at the high quality of much "pre-owned" merchandise. As a matter of fact, donating brand-new items to thrift stores is one way that shopaholics justify excess purchases.
* Finally, make better plans for the money and the items you used before to "impress folks." Consider the emergency fund. Start additional monthly principal payments. Divide up your credit card bill into 24-monthly payments and each month, find the new payment by dividing the remainder by one less month. Twenty-four this month, 23 next month, and so on. Feels good! Find someone who is more needy than you and make a personal commitment to help. Americans during the Depression gave a full percent more to charity than we do. Take a look at ways to use that money to help others build useful lives beside you. Now there's an investment that will pay off.