A third of consumers expect to be worse off financially in 2009. Another 27 percent see no financial improvement this new year. So buckle up, bucko, make a plan (after the New Year's Eve Advils kick in) and try to honor a few of these financially frugal resolutions. You'll thank yourself in 2010.
1: Review your debts. Mortgage rates are falling fast, so is it time to refinance to your advantage? Are you paying off credit cards every month (and on time)? If not, can you set a goal to do so?
2: Review your expenses. Is there one thing you can do to help cut costs enough to matter? Eat at home more often? Focus on a machine-washable wardrobe rather than one that must be dry cleaned? Do you really need both a land line and a cell phone these days? Are HBO and those other extra cable perks worth the extra monthly fees? Tried store brand foods lately?
3: Change wasteful habits. Do you drive with a heavy foot and waste gas? Ease up and travel less. Do you go to the grocery store when hungry? Eat first. Do you shop critically or buy on impulse? Do you waste energy with too much heat or air conditioning? Electric rates are rising fast.
4: Save more. Consumers save about 1 cent for every $1 they make. Is that the best you can do? Take advantage of annual IRA contributions, aggressively fund your 401(k), watch for deals on bank CDs and other guaranteed investments. Remember: Pay yourself first.
5: Give gifts of time rather than money. That applies to charities, friends and children.
6: Review insurance policies. Consider higher deductibles to trim premiums. Make sure your home insurance reflects any significant drop in your home's value.
7: Improve your health. Sure, this one makes everybody's New Year's list, but consider it from a cost point of view. Better health means less expense.
8: Take control of your investments. Sure, it seemed cool after the market meltdown not to open your monthly 401(k) or brokerage statements. Don't be a fool. Manage your money or find someone good to do it for you. And don't assume the stock markets have hit bottom.
9: Uncertain about money? Ask people you trust to recommend an accountant or certified financial planner. Better to pay a fee for quality advice than to remain in the dark.
10: Get a part-time job (if you don't have a full-time gig). Easier said than done, I know, these days. But don't be so picky if you're trying to replenish your piggy bank. Don't expect the stock market to replenish your personal coffers any time soon.
Above all, don't read this and do nothing. If it all seems overwhelming, pick just one resolution and try it. Every small step helps. Happy New Year.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]