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Control Your Runaway Expenses

For many of us, the cost of living has risen faster than our income has. In some cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

Saving Begins at Home

  • You may be spending more of your income on housing than in the past. Make sure you are getting the best rates available for both your mortgage and any equity loans, and that you are deducting the maximum amount allowable under current Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. Shop around to be sure you are getting the best deal possible.
  • Review your home heating fuel consumption for the last 12 to 24 months. Craft a budget that reflects current prices. Regardless of fluctuations in fuel prices, conservation is essential. Check your insulation and consider installing a programmable thermostat, if you don’t already have one.
  • Check with your local electric and water departments for conservation programs and tips. Expect their rates to continue rising, and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
  • Examine your phone and Internet bills. Are you really using all the services you’re paying for every month? Cell phone bills can become exorbitantly high due to overages or roaming charges. Periodically, monitor your use to be sure you really need all these services, or look into bundling what you do use regularly with one provider at a reduced rate beyond an introductory offer.

Shopping By the Numbers

  • Headed to the grocery store? Make a shopping list, get a store card for specials, clip coupons, and grab a supermarket circular to be on the lookout for weekly deals. Doing so may reduce your weekly food bill considerably.
  • Clothing prices may seem sky high, but you have the power to bring them down to earth by remembering that the name brand on the garment does not necessarily mean that the clothing will wear any better or last any longer than the “no-name” variety.

Health and Fiscal Fitness

  • A regular fitness program may lead to better health and fewer visits to the doctor. In many cases, the sidewalk in your neighborhood will work just as well as the fitness club down the street. Talk to your health care provider about ways to incorporate more weight-bearing activity into your daily routine, e.g., fast walking.
  • If your doctor approves, choose “generic” medications and look for pharmacies that offer reduced rates that may also offer reduced prices on prescription eyewear.

Entertainment and Dining Out

  • The “necessity” of cable television is a wonder of the modern age, and the cost continues to increase. Assess your cable usage to see if all those “must-have” channels are really necessary. It may be time to sign up for fewer TV channels and take more trips to the library.
  • The cost of a trip to the movie theater is another increasing expense. Enjoy Friday nights at home with the family making pizza and watching DVDs. Family game nights are another economical option.
  • There are times when busy schedules make eating out a necessity. However, dining out need not come with a high price tag. “Two-for-one” specials and “kids eat free” offers have become more commonplace.
  • All the “little” expenses—banking fees, morning lattés, magazine subscriptions, personal care products, lottery tickets, etc.—can gradually grow until they devour the best-laid spending plans. Decide which of these items are truly necessary and omit the rest.
  • The final budget-buster culprit is the credit card, with its associated annual fees and finance charges. High interest, long-term credit card debt can be expensive, so develop a “pay-off” plan to strategically lower this costly burden until you are debt free.

We may not be able to control rising prices, but we are not powerless either in our choices to spend and save more wisely. If you have fallen prey to runaway spending and increased your consumption, you are not alone. Develop a workable budget today to help control your runaway expenses—and still have fun!

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