Hard times call for some penny-pinching

The Associated PressMarch 8, 2009 

It's time to polish up your penny-pinching skills. We're stuck in the worst recession in a generation, and managing your money will be more critical than ever. "Americans are mad about money right now, and we should direct that in positive ways," says Jeff Yeager, a personal finance expert.

In a five-day series, The Associated Press will share advice on budgeting that goes beyond the basics. Today, we explore some lesser-known tactics from personal finance pros to help you on your way.

HALT (HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONELY OR TIRED): When you're any of these four things, you should avoid shopping because it can lead to bad decisions, says Mary Ellen McCarthy, advisor with Responsible Investing. Deal directly with whatever is making you unhappy instead of shopping to feel better, she says. Substance abuse programs teach people to be vigilant when they are in a HALT state. It's good advice for overspenders, too.

DON'T OVER-BUDGET: Figuring out your costs and sticking to a spending plan works fine for many people. But for others "budgets are painful and ineffective," says Ken Robinson of Practical Financial Planning. Instead, pay a set sum into a savings or other account when you get your paycheck. Make it the first thing you do -- you'll find it's possible to live off the rest when you don't see extra money.

FISCAL FASTING: Go a week, a few days or even one day without spending a dime. "It made me realize how much money I'm really ripping through," says Yeager, author of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." You'd be surprised how much you can save, and it opens your eyes to things you can live without on a regular basis, and how much money we waste. $1.99 for a Dasani? Don't think so. Besides a push toward a tighter budget, it's a reminder that we can still have fun without spending any money.

AUDIT THE GUILT: That three-speed juicer mocking you? How about the air purifier that's now stashed in the garage? Most of us deal with the occasional case of buyers' remorse. Yeager suggests sitting down as a family to conduct a "What the heck was I thinking" audit. Take out receipts, go over bank statements and credit card bills, and see how many purchases you wish you could wipe out. You'll notice some patterns and learn from your mistakes. At the very least, it could trigger an alert the next time you start to fork out for the latest tech gadget.

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