Tips for saving money and controlling your expenses.
1. Pay yourself the same day you pay your bills, says Karen Altfest, vice president of L.J. Altfest & Co. in New York City and a certified financial planner. "Don't wait until the end of the month to see if you have money left over, because no one ever does. Instead, decide how much you want to save and write yourself a check before you pay your electricity and phone bills."
2. Pay off your credit cards on time, and don't spend an extra 18 percent on interest, says Altfest. "Leave your credit cards in a drawer at home, and carry only one with you for emergencies. Treat it like your last $50 bill so that way when there's a sweater that catches your eye in a store window, you'll have no choice but to look the other way."
3. Buy your staple items -- milk, diapers, laundry detergent -- in advance and in bulk. "Not only will you pay less per item," says Altfest, "but you won't be held hostage by the high-priced convenience stores at midnight."
4. Shop around for phone service every year, says Altfest. "You should never assume you're getting the best deal out there. Just remember to take changeover fees into account."
5. Eliminate unnecessary cable channels. "My son is a big sports fan, but he's away at college," says Altfest. "We saved hundreds of dollars by signing up for the sports channels only for the summer. Just make sure your cable company doesn't have a start-up charge. And even if it does, you may still find you don't watch so many music
or movie channels."
6. Refinance your mortgage. "Interest rates are so low right now that it's a great time to refinance, particularly if your mortgage is old," says Altfest. "Even after the refinance charges, it's possible to save thousands of dollars every year."
7. Cut out coupons, but be careful to use them for items you'd plan to buy anyway. Says Altfest: "Saving 50 cents on a $2 box of cookies you don't need still means you're out $1.50. Those items really add up."
8. Win over friends and family by sending personal notes instead of commercial cards. "I started doing that for sympathy cards and people loved it so much, it spilled over for birthdays and anniversaries, too. I saved $3 to $4 each time -- and over time that adds up to a significant amount," says Altfest.