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Tips for controlling spending in tough times

Posted 3/11/2010

By Robert Mills

“Budget” is a word Americans—especially Nevadans—have heard a lot lately. At national, state and local levels, officials and analysts are examining their budgets with a fine-toothed comb.

Controlling spending is something you can do in your home as well.

If you’re in a tough financial situation, can see one on the horizon, or want to remain on solid ground financially, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) has several personal finance tips to help you.

“It’s all about prioritizing your needs and wants,” said UNCE Associate Professor Jeanne Hilton, an expert on human development and family studies. “Focus on what you really need for right now, and postpone most of your wants until the financial pressure eases up a bit.”

The first step is recognizing when it’s time to take action. According to the Web site, an interactive learning environment delivering information from Cooperative Extension experts from all over Nevada and the United States, many families do not adjust their lifestyle until six months after income is reduced.

Hilton advises people to make a list of their family’s inflexible expenses, such as rent, mortgages, insurance premiums, car payments and installment debts. These are your highest priorities.

Next, take a look at flexible expenses: food, utilities, clothing and household products. Your family should work together to curtail flexible spending.

“Have a family meeting to share ideas about how to cut back and still have fun,” Hilton said. “When everyone pulls together to take on the challenge, it will be easier to stick to a plan for living on less.”

In an effort to pull together the best ideas from around the country, Extension researchers have created an online resource called “Financial Security: Managing Money in Tough Times”. The Web site has reliable, research-based information on a broad range financial-survival topics for families, businesses, municipalities and small farms and ranches.

The public can also ask questions on any financial subject — from how to benefit from the federal stimulus plan to how to set up their bank accounts for maximum insurance protection — and they’ll get an answer vetted by experts from land-grant university around the country. Hilton, for instance, is a leader of one expert team called “Financial Security for All.”

Some additional tips for saving money from Managing in Tough Times:

  • Insulate pipes, ceilings, floors and heating ducts. Look for air leaks in windows and doors. Close off unused rooms.
  • Make a grocery list based on one week of meals and stick to it. Eat a snack before shopping so you’re not tempted to indulge. Try to leave the kids at home; it’s hard to say “no” to your child’s favorite food.
  • Buy low-cost proteins like dry beans, eggs, peanut butter, turkey and chicken. Large roasts can be cut up, slow-cooked and used for multiple meals, sauces and casseroles. Incorporate leftovers into new meals or store them for snacks.
  • Walk, cycle, carpool or use public transit to cut fuel costs. Walking or cycling is a great way to stay fit.
  • Staying healthy is a big part of budgeting. Good nutrition can cut down on illnesses and tooth decay. Take some community classes in order to better identify common illnesses like manageable colds.
  • Take advantage of public clinics and immunizations during local health fairs.
  • Take inventory of the family wardrobe to determine what should be handed down, mended or added. Create the attitude that hand-me-downs are cool.
  • Don’t shop for fun. Choose hobbies and activities that are inexpensive or free. Walk in the park or attend a free concert. Throw potlucks instead of lavish parties.
  • Build bonds with friends and neighbors. Form networks for carpooling, baby-sitting, house sitting, pet care and after-school activities.
  • Cut back on unhealthy, costly habits like drinking and smoking. You may consider eliminating these altogether.

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