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Getting your finances in order in 2010

January 4, 2010 8:43:51 PM PST
If one of the lessons from 2009 is to save more money in 2010, tere are some pretty easy and fairly painless ways to keep more cash in your wallet. We talked to financial columnist Laura Rowley.

Here are ten ways that she suggests for achieving your goals:

1. Pay off your credit cards in full, because it's the most expense debt most people have. Try a free website like debtgoal.com, which helps you organize your debt and shows you how to pay it down faster. If you only pay the minimums, commit to an extra $100 a month. Debtgoal shows you how much time and money you'll save over the life of the debt - giving you a big boost in motivation.

2. Find those black holes in your budget by using an online tool to track your spending automatically. Try free sites Mint.com and Wesabe.com, that are supported by ads, or pay a small fee for an ad-free site like Mvelopes.com; I write a column for that site on successful budgeting.

3. Cut out the take out: The average household spends $2,700 on food purchased and eaten away from home. Try to reduce that by 20 percent by cooking dinner and bringing the leftovers to work for lunch a few times a week, and you'll save more than $500 a year.

4. Slash your drycleaning bill by hanging up suits immediately and airing them out and spot clean stains with a lint-free cloth. Wool, cashmere, silk, rayon and polyester can all be put in the machine on a cool/gentle cycle, using a laundry product for delicates. (That label is really there to protect the manufacturer from liability - garment makers wash the fabric before they make it into a garment.) Lay the items flat to dry. Assuming you spend just $20 a month on dry cleaning, you could save more than $200 a year.

5. Squeeze 25 to 50 percent savings from your water bill by replacing your old showerheads and faucets with low-flow aerating models for $10 to $20 each. Look for a model that's 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less. The average household spends about $475 a year on water, so your savings can average about $200 a year. (To figure out how much water your household uses each day and how much you can save, see this website: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/sq3.html.)

6. Check out a high-interest checking account at checkingfinder.com. These accounts pay 3 to 4 percent annual interest if you are willing to jump through a few hoops - such as doing 10 to 12 debits a month, receiving your statement online, using online bill pay and direct depositing your paycheck. If say you keep an average balance of $5,000 throughout the year. You'll earn $150 to $200 in interest.

7. Can the premium cable channels. Americans pay an average of $60 for cable, but only watch 15 channels, according to the Consumers Union. If you pay for premium cable services call your cable company and put your service on "vacation mode." You'll still receive basic service but save temporarily on the extras - and you'll get a good sense of whether you miss them. If you don't find yourself longing for the extras after a month or two, call and make the change permanent. Savings will vary depending on your cable provider, but can add up to as much as $200 a year.

8. Consider bartering your services with others rather than spending cash. Find those opportunities on craigslist.com, www.u-exchange.com, www.swapthing.com or www.swaptreasures.com.

9) Sit down with a fee-only financial planner for an hour or two to look at your 401(k) plan and see if your investments make sense, given your appetite for risk and time horizon. You can find a planner who charges by the hour at garrettplanningnetwork.com.

10) Create small money rituals: Save all the $5 bills from your wallet at the end of the day. Boost your 401(k) contribution by 1% every time you get a raise. Comparison shop for your auto or homeowner's insurance the day after your birthday each year. Tape a piece of masking tape over your credit card with your top financial goal on it to remind you where you really want your money to go. Small rituals become habits - and take a lot less time and energy than watching every penny you spend.


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