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The Family Budget

Mary in Waltham, MA
Jan. 18, 2009

Evaluate your wants and needs to cut everyday expenses.

The father of Zen Buddhism, Lao Tzu once said, "in order to contract, it is necessary to expand." That philosophy explains some current trends, where acquisition has expanded in the realms of shopping, spending, and technology, but have these practices improved the quality of our life? Lao Tzu and I disagree.

I advise eliminating clutter, possessions, and distractions in order to achieve more clarity and peace. Sticking to a budget goes a long way toward peace of mind! The current economic downturn offers us the perfect time to re-evaluate everyday excesses. That begins with recognizing the difference between wants and needs. The following tips will help you distinguish between the two. ??????


Are there items hanging in your closet with price tags on them? If possible, return all items you haven't worn or don't need. For the future, keep your receipts in one central place so that you have easy access if you need to make exchanges.


Before heading out to buy the latest fashions, take inventory of what you already have. You might find that last year's coat is just as good as this year's "must have" style. ????


Have you found items that you don't need or want, but are perfectly usable? Opportunities for local resale are just a click away through EBay and Craig's list. Local consignment and thrift shops are great for reselling new and gently used household and clothing items.


Now is the perfect time to do a garage sale. Corral your neighbors to team up and split the efforts. You can reconnect with your community and gain a little pocket money in the process. Donate whatever you don't sell to a local charity.


Monthly credit card bills indicate how you live. Are you paying for a gym that you never visit, subscribing to magazines you never read or indulging in one too many lattes? Consider these expenses and make a list of what is necessary and unnecessary. Make budget cuts wherever you can.


Are your weekly expenses hitting your checkbook as well as your waistline? Plan a hiatus from your take-out menus and eating out by preparing home-cooked meals. Make a list and clip coupons before you head to the store -- planning ahead saves money!


Just because the latest model iPod is out or the seasons' latest fashions have hit the shelves doesn't mean you have to upgrade. Resist the urge to splurge. Don't replace the old if it's not broke. Reuse what you have and ignore those sales incentives.

Mary Carlomagno is the owner of a company that specializes in clutter control and shopping addictions. She has written two books on the subject, as well as several articles for Care.com.

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