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Professional cheapskates give their 2 cents on coping during tough times

Saturday, January 10, 2009

STEVE LADURANTAYE

With every penny spent taking on added significance as markets melt and jobs evaporate, saving has become the new spending. Here are some ways to cut expenses and tighten the belt until signs of a turnaround can be seen on the horizon.

Back to the barbershop

It's been 20 years (and more than two million copies sold) since David Chilton wrote The Wealthy Barber, but he's still willing to dish out the advice. While the book focuses on ways to obtain financial security, he insists it also provides guidance for those looking to cut back.

"The single biggest mistake people make in financial planning is buying more stuff," he says. "Not convinced? Help a friend move - conspicuous consumption has overwhelmed us. It's difficult to save when you're always buying new televisions."

He recommends throwing your bank card away, leaving your credit card at home and using cash for all of your transactions. It saves on ATM charges, which can add up at $1.50 (or more) a pop.

"I've always done that, and it has always felt very healthy," he said. "Because, boy, is it ever easy to spend money when you've got a card in your pocket."

Back to budgeting

Okay, everyone agrees the only thing worse than putting together a budget is trying to follow one. Well, too bad for you, says Gail Vaz-Oxlade, because budget you must.

"People are lazy, so they don't budget," says Ms. Vaz-Oxlade, who dishes out financial advice to the hapless and indebted on the television show Til Debt Do Us Part. "The only way to know where you are is to know how much money you spent."

Don't need a budget because you're good with money? Liar, she says - most of the people who argue with her about the irrelevance of hardcore budgeting don't even know how much they earn per cheque.

"I'll bet you dog to doughnuts that you're spending more than you think," she said. "I challenge everyone to track their expenses for three months, and they'll see."

There is an interactive tool on her website - gailvazoxlade.com - that can help people track and critique their own spending habits. There is one caveat, however.

"You need to read the instructions," she says. "I can't stress that enough."

Back to coupons

Linda Leatherdale knows a thing or two about personal finances and adjusting to difficult economic circumstances - she spent the last 23 years as a business editor and writer, but was handed a layoff notice last month. On her birthday.

She now dispenses free advice at lindaleatherdale.com, and says one of the most important things people need to do is splash their children with a cold dose of financial reality. After all, parents won't likely be able to tap into their home's equity if bank accounts start running low.

"Kids think money grows on trees, and this is a time when you need tough love," she said. "Designer stuff has got to go out the window - if the kids feel they must have these things, then consider shopping at Goodwill."

She said it's time to channel your grandparents - avoid using credit, and ask if stores have layaway plans for must-have items you can't afford. Coupons can also be useful.

"That's right, it's back to coupons if you can believe it," she said. "But you need to be careful - it can be similar to points programs in that you buy things you don't need just because you have a coupon."

Back to frugality

Squakfox.com - a blog that insists frugality can be "sexy, delicious and fun" - recently compiled a list of 50 painless ways to save money.

While some tips are predictable - bring your lunch to work, dine out less and buy used stuff - there are others that you don't hear a lot about. Like Tip #4: Raise your insurance deductibles.

"Get out your policy and raise the deductibles on your car and home insurance. You're not likely to claim the small stuff so choose a $5,000 over a $500 deductible to cut your insurance costs by about 40 per cent."

Of course, not all of the site's suggestions are practical. Getting rid of your loveable, but hungry, dog could save you up to $1,100 a year - but you'll probably end up spending that much on Kleenex as you cry yourself to sleep each night.

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