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TheRootDC
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Posted at 01:07 PM ET, 01/03/2012

A frugal 2012: pay off debt, budget, trim fat


Confetti is dropped on revellers at midnight during New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square in New York, January 1, 2012. (GARY HERSHORN - REUTERS)
Happy New Year. I hope you are still filled with cheer and good will - you’ll need it! Now that the jingle bells are behind us, have you checked your financial statements from your holiday spending?

Reports are showing that Americans were a hot mess with the credit card spending over the holiday. Boo and hiss! We need to get that handled, RIGHT NOW! I would hate for you to be paying for that discount waffle maker in three years because of high credit card interest!

Today, I have a few New Year budgeting tips for you. Read these tips for info on how to budget well, kill debt and live fabulous this year. I speak from experience and wrote about my journey in my book, The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life.

I slayed more than $20,000 in debt and so can you. The book chronicles the year I decided to get financially fab and battle my debt - all while managing this mediocre economy and my active social life.

Here are a few of my ‘New Year’s Budgeting Tips for After the Bubbly has Spilled!’

1) Do a “No Spending/No Buy” Challenge: I’m a big fan of going a month without spending any extra money on anything other than gas, bills and housing. I do it once a year. I spend the month without dining out, getting my hair or nails professionally done, shopping or even getting my car washed. I save almost $400 each time. I had no idea I had so much fat in my budget. You’ll be amazed at much money we let slip through our fingers.

I suggest February as the month to do the No-Buy Month. It’s early enough in the year to change your spending and it’s a short month. Win-win! If a month is too long, try to go a week without extra spending and see how you like it. Your bank account will love being pampered and not stressed. Scouts honor!

2) Budget Beginnings: Write down how much you take home in salary in month after taxes. Compare that number to your all of your monthly spending and living expenses. You can use an online calculator, too.

This should give you a snapshot of how you are doing in the personal finance department. If you are spending more than you bring in, or just want to save more...

3) Trim the Budget Fat: Decide that twice a month, you will try to make something more affordable in your life. That may mean calling your mobile phone company and getting a better cell phone plan. You can try billshrink.com to see if it has any suggestions for a better cell plan. It may mean adjusting your car insurance coverage. If you want a lower rate on your credit card, call up your provider. Or use creditcardconnection.org or bankrate.com to find credit cards with lower rates for a balance transfer.

4) Have an APP-etite: Download a FREE money-saving app on your mobile. You always have your mobile with you. One popular app is Shop Savvy, which is available on iPhones and Droids. To use the app, snap a photo of a barcode of an item with your phone’s camera and Shop Savvy finds the best deal from local and online retailers.

The Coupon Sherpa app finds and displays in-store coupons. Coupon Sherpa is available on the  iPhone. Gasbuddy helps you find the closest and cheapest gas in your location. It’s available on most smart phones.

5) Mint.com, the free online personal finance site, scares me- but it works. It lets me know when I have bills due. It alerts me if I’m going over budget on any my monthly expenses like food or clothing.  It’s free and aggressive! Another website, Supercook finds recipes for the food that you have in your kitchen. To use it, plug in what food items you have in your home andSupercook finds a suitable recipe. No more letting produce wither on the shelf!

6) Keep it Fab: It may take you a few months - even years- to get your financial situation where you want it. You still have to have fun. Make a plan to attend at least one free or low cost event in your community per month. It could be visiting the museum on a free night.

You can hit up a happy hour that offers small plate meals for a low cost. Crash a lecture on a college campus. Join the Facebook page/group of your favorite club promoter to find out the “free before midnight” specials to the parties. Frugal is fabulous! I’m a living testament!

Natalie P. McNeal is the creator of TheFrugalista.com and author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out Of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life, detailing how she got rid of $20,000 worth of debt while living life on the frugal side of fabulous. She is also addicted to Twitter, so follow her @frugalista.

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By Natalie P. McNeal  |  01:07 PM ET, 01/03/2012

Categories:  The Root DC Live

 
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