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December 8, 2008

10 Ways to Kick-Start Your Resolution to Save Money

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Photo Credit: J. Hetherington/Getty Image

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Keep Track
You can't save money if you don't even know how much you're spending. Before you get down to the business of saving your money, take a week to track every single penny you spend. At the end of the week, you'll have a good idea of what you need to tackle first — for example, you might consider switching to a bank that's close to your office or home and offers no-fee withdrawals if you find out you're spending a lot on ATM fees.

Sell Out
The quickest way to get some cash in your hands? Sell things you don't need. Have a garage sale, put your old laptop up for sale on Craigslist, or sell your used books on Half.com. The extra money lining your pockets might inspire you to see how much you can save if you put in a little effort.

Ask Your Man Questions
Is your relationship getting serious? Before you move in or marry your guy, make sure you know all the intimate details of his financial situation. The five things you need to know? How much he makes, how much debt he has, how you plan to split expenses once you're married or living together, how many kids you'll need to put through college, and where he sees himself in five to 10 years, whether it's as CEO or as a starving grad student.

Keep Your Hands Off Your 401(k)
Dipping into your 401(k) early should be used only as a last resort. It'll cost you a penalty of at least 10% for cashing in before you're 59. Add the taxes Uncle Sam collects and you've already lost a sizable chunk of your savings.

Ask for Forgiveness
Not from a higher power — from your bank. A late payment charge isn't written in stone, despite what they would have you think. If you've got a clean record, you may be able to get away with not paying it if you slip up — as long as you ask. Make a call to your credit card company to see if they'll waive it, just this once. Just don't make a habit out of it!

Invest
Think it's a bad time to invest your hard-earned cash? Think again. "Although the market's not going to go up right away," buying stocks or mutual funds now, when they are less expensive, is like "buying a dress from Banana Republic for $50 instead of $100," says senior financial adviser James E. Law of Law, Chemtob, and Associates. The less you spend initially, the less risk is involved, and the greater returns could be. If, and only if, you have extra cash (your grocery money doesn't count!), consider putting your money into stocks, bonds, or even your office's 401(k).

Don't Make Stupid Mistakes
Late payment fees, bounced checks, and overdraft charges, besides wrecking your credit score, are easily avoidable money-suckers. Start balancing your checkbook and keeping track of your cash flow and bill payment due dates on a service like mint.com and you'll never have to spend shoe money on bank fees instead.

Get Specific
Instead of vowing to spend less, give yourself a fighting chance by deciding exactly what you'll be spending less on. Will you be eating breakfast at home instead of buying something on your way to work? Will you drop the expensive membership to the gym you've been to twice in the past year and buy a pair of running sneakers instead? Giving yourself guidelines and following them makes you an active participant in your quest to save cash, instead of a helpless bystander to your spending sprees.

Get Insured
It might be tempting to go without health insurance if you're only going to a couple of doctors' appointments each year, but keep this in mind: A recent Harvard study found that nearly half of all bankruptcies today are attributable to overwhelming medical costs. Feeling healthy? Even minor injuries that end with a trip to the emergency room can leave you thousands of dollars in debt. Don't risk it.

Save on Your Energy Bills
Start by saving money in your home — if you're smart, you can save as much as 30% on your energy bills every month. Start by investing in compact fluorescent light bulbs (they use less power and last on average 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs), using cold water for your laundry, and unplugging electronics when you're not using them. These small changes can make a big difference in your wallet.

Keep reading for 10 ways to kick-start your resolutions to get organized and get in shape.


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