Habit Changers

We all have habits, some better than others. The important thing is how you acknowledge and manage them. Just take it one step at a time...

Weekend Tripper

Easing into it…

Save money by "re-discovering" fun places close to home.
Plan ahead! Airfare and hotels are cheaper when booked in advance.

Diving in…

If possible, plan vacations during off-seasons.

Once you get to your destination, make your own breakfast and lunches so you only have to eat dinner out.
Get deeper discounts on car rentals by "naming your price" on sites that allow you to bid for lower rates.

Super saving…

Stay in accommodations with kitchens. Cook dinner most nights, saving dining out for a few special evenings.
Explore house swapping with friends who live in different states.

If you can be flexible with your travel dates, there are some deep airfare discounts out there.

Talk to the folks about that timeshare they never use.

Lunch Lover

Easing into it...

When you go out for lunch, order water instead of drinks. Restaurants make a lot of money from the high markup on beverages. If you go out with other people, consider splitting an entree. Serving sizes are often generous, so one order can go a long way.

Diving in...

If you can, store some food at work, like snacks, frozen entrees and canned soup. Leave them at the office so you're not tempted to spend when you're hungry. If you forget lunch, go to the supermarket instead of a restaurant or cafe.

Super saving...

Cook extra when you make dinner and freeze in individual containers. Take it out of the freezer the night before. Have a lunch cooking party with friends. Make soups and entrees in bulk that you then freeze in individual containers. Have the party regularly, rotating it from home to home.

Clothes Clothes Clothes

Easing into it…

Never buy clothes at retail price! If you see a "must have" in the store, note the label and style number, you can often find it cheaper online. Nip temptation in the bud and cancel subscriptions to catalogues and online advertising lists. 

Diving in…

Bargain hunt and compare prices online. (Just watch out for hefty shipping and return fees.) Use online coupon sites to save on online purchases. Plan ahead - stock up at the end of the season for big savings.
Be careful whom you shop with. Take the frugal aunt of your trendy best friend. Or just go it alone.

Super saving…

Shop at consignment stores. You can save big on designer items, and sell things you don't wear anymore.
Host a clothing swap party. Get your friends together and score some new fashions. Re-style basic or used clothing by adding bold, graphic elements. Even if you're a sewing novice this is a great way to give new voice to your inner stylist, and turn ho-hum items into trendy, custom and cost-friendly pieces. Organize a "Can I Wear it Week" with good friends. Wear only things you haven't worn for 6 months or more. Ask your friends to decide whether each outfit is a keeper or one to retire. You'll find many things you think are unflattering or unstylish are actually fine.

Dining Out

Easing into it…

Avoid Appetizers; or, if out with friends, consider splitting one. Eat dessert at home or share it with a friend to cut the cost. Eat a snack before going out to dinner. You'll spend less if you aren't starving. Drink tap water instead of other pricey beverages.  Use coupons for restaurants.

Diving in…

If you want to go out with a friend for a meal, try lunch instead of dinner - it's almost always cheaper.
If you're out and order a large meal, cut it in half before you start eating and take the other portion home. You'll have dinner for another night or lunch the next day. If you have kids, find places that have kids-eat-free nights. This can quickly add up to big savings.

Super saving…

Instead of going out, cook at home with friends or organize a potluck. Get together regularly with friends or relatives and cook a bunch of entrees or soups. Freeze the food in individual containers. Heat it up on busy nights. There are lots of ways to save on your grocery bill...Don't shop when you are hungry. Shop with a list.
Opt for foods that aren't processed. Learn to bake, you can freeze bread & cookies. Buy at discount warehouses and split purchases with friends or family. Go for generic brands. Limit meat portions: a serving should be 3oz when cooked, the size of a deck of cards. Opt for whole chickens instead of breasts. Grow your own organic veggies and herbs. Make a great snack by popping corn and seasoning it. Use coupons.

Takeout Tendency

Easing into in...

Buy instant meals at the grocery store, they are cheaper and efficient. If you want takeout once in a while - pick it up instead of getting delivery and save a couple bucks. Decide not to get take out before you get hungry. Once you're hungry you'll see take out as the only option.

Diving in...

Keep water or drinks in your car instead of buying them while you are out.
Keep a snack with you to eat on the way home from work.
Keep fast and easy recipes and ingredients on hand for quick and easy meals.
Plan meals for the week and grocery shop on Sunday.

Super saving...

Cook a bunch of food or soups, freeze them and bring them out on nights when you are too busy or tired to cook. 

The 1/3 Approach

Want to get to your goals faster? Here's a quick tip to make the most of your next raise, bonus, tax refund or other financial windfall: divide the total by three and give 1/3 to your past self, 1/3 to your future self and 1/3 to your present self.

Past self: increase your monthly payment toward debt pay-off, whether it's credit cards, student loans or a mortgage you're paying down. The sooner you're debt free, the sooner you can put even more of your money toward your present or future self.

Future self: take a third of that extra money and increase your savings, whether that's bumping up your 401k contributions by a percentage point or increasing the amount you're transferring to savings each pay day. Not saving yet? This is the perfect way to start!

Present self: use that final third to loosen the purse strings a little on your day-to-day spending – you worked hard for that raise, enjoy some of it today, knowing you're also improving the rest of your financial picture as well.

Dear Money Diary

Budgeting often gets a really bad rap – for most people it means some sort of restriction or giving something up. While budgeting is indeed a way to help prevent overspending on things that aren't financial priorities, try to think of it as more of a spending plan than a spending diet. 
 In honor of National Dear Diary Day, September 22nd, here are three ways to implement your budget spending plan – pick the one that works best for you.

Keep a diary. That's right, write it all down. The act of tracking where your money goes—even if you're not trying to limit how much you spend on what—at least brings awareness to your habits. Think about what your personal values and priorities are. Does your money diary reflect that through your spending? Adjust accordingly.

The envelope method. If you have one or two areas where you want to closely track your spending without having to save receipts or do math every time you want to spend, try using envelopes. Let's say you decide you only want to spend $100 per month buying your lunch at the office. Put $100 cash in the lunch money envelope and only pay with that cash. Money runs out before the month is over? Looks like it's time to brown bag it.

Find your app-titude. There are many free money apps out there that allow you to do everything from categorize your spending and track progress toward savings goals to setting alerts and just saving your spare change. Try out a few and see if one fits your financial lifestyle.

Being mindful about where your money goes doesn't have to be a daily exercise involving spreadsheets and counting pennies (although it can be if you want it to!), but it is an essential step on the road to financial security. Figure out the way that works best for you and create some new habits today.

Don't Let History Repeat Itself

One of the reasons we should read about history is so we can learn from past mistakes and hopefully avoid repeating them. The same goes for our own money mistakes! Here are some tips to avoid repeating bad financial decisions: 

Don't go back to school to avoid paying student loans: It's true that you can defer your student loans as long as you're enrolled in a qualified program, but if that's the only reason you're going to school, you're just delaying the inevitable. If you're hard-pressed to make your payments, contact your lender to explore alternate payment plans. But keep in mind, putting off paying them at all will actually just cost you more in the long run.  Make a plan today. 

Don't bank on your tax refund to pay off holiday credit card debt: How much extra are you paying in interest through this annual cycle of borrowing against your tentative tax refund? And what happens if your refund ends up being less than expected? Get ahead of the game by  setting up a monthly savings plan now so you can pay cash at the holidays and save in the long run. 

Don't borrow from your 401(k) to make ends meet: 401(k) loans exist so that workers can save for the future. Make sure you're not just using this provision as additional money to spend on everyday things. Before you take out a loan, realize what you're giving up. As long as that money is loaned out to you, it's not growing for the future, which means you might have to delay retirement - and you'll end up paying taxes twice on the interest. Rather than relying on 401(k) loans to make ends meet, be proactive and start an emergency savings fund.

Make Your Own Fairy Tale Ending

Everyone loves a good Cinderella story. Each college basketball season, fans look for that underdog team that will come from behind in the playoffs and take the whole thing. It rarely happens, but we hope for it every year, especially if our team is one of those underdogs with a fighting chance. 

But when it comes to your money, it's about more than wishing for that lucky break. There is no "Fairy Godmother" who will wave a magic wand to make your debt disappear and your savings account grow. There are only so many ways you can put off paying down credit cards and avoid saving money before reality hits.

Here are three tips to get on your own financial feet, and feel just as good as an athlete sinking that three-point shot in the Final Four: 

1. Stop using credit cards. If you're carrying a balance on your credit cards, stop using them TODAY and make a plan to start paying them off.

2. Build up a cash cushion.  Even if you can only afford to put away $25 per pay period, getting some cash into a savings account to start your emergency fund will enable you to stick to your debt payoff plan. 

3. Trim your spending. Small changes add up. Find little ways to  decrease expenses, then use that money to boost your debt payments or accelerate your savings.