Let's face it -- these are frugal times: As the holidays pass and the New Year begins, everyone's looking to pinch pennies.
Here are 10 ways to save money in 2012, all tips taken from SecondAct's best posts on frugal living.
Jeff Yeager prides himself on being an uber-penny-pincher. The author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door doesn't just compost, he uses orange rinds to shine copper pots, and empty toilet paper rolls and dryer lint to make fire-starters. To kickstart a frugal lifestyle, he recommends a fiscal fast. For an entire week, go without buying anything (take care of bills that are due ahead of time), then use whatever you saved to pay down debt. Other suggestions: force yourself to sleep on purchase decisions, always pay cash, go paperless and eat lower down the food chain -- it's cheaper.
The less-is-more movement means something different to everyone, with some people looking to scrimp on food budgets while others want to save on travel. The result is a swath of frugal living sites offering advice on everything from food and recipes to entertaining, home organization, beauty, fashion, health, travel and personal finance. Some standouts: WiseBread, for smart advice on personal finance; Shoestring, for deals on kids' and pet items; and The Recessionista, with advice on living the good life for less.
Jill Cataldo turned a sideline lecturing about coupon clipping into a mini-empire. Today, she has a syndicated couponing column read by more than 20 million people and two DVDs, and she consults on the subject across the country. Cataldo's best strategies: Don't use coupons the week they come out because stores jack up prices in anticipation; use coupon-matching websites such as SavingsAngel, CouponMom and The Grocery Game, and combine manufacturers' and in-store coupons to maximize bargains. Also, don't overlook coupons for nongrocery items such as toys, housewares and clothes.
It is possible to find coupons for fresh food; just be prepared to work a little harder to locate them, couponing site AFullCup's Sarah Eve Fulghum tells SecondAct contributor Nancy Mann Jackson. If you like a certain organic brand, put yourself on the company's mailing list or "like" them on Facebook to get any members-only discounts they offer. Always buy produce in season when it's freshest -- and cheapest -- and take advantage of in-store loyalty programs for additional discounts.
You can save on your attire and still look great by following frugal chic evangelist Barbara Tobias' rules for building a wardrobe on the cheap. Aim for fashionable, not trendy, buy only what you really love, and be prepared to devote time to sniffing out bargains. Once a year, sell anything you don't wear regularly in a yard sale to collect funds for new finds you really want.
If you've seen the 2006 rom-com The Holiday, you know how vacation home exchanges work -- minus Cameron Diaz and Jude Law, of course. Budget travelers list their own residence on an online exchange and find a house, condo or other accommodation somewhere in the world they want to visit. Online services such as HomeLink.org, SecondPorch.com, TradetoTravel.com or SeniorsHomeExchange.com also work for people who own second homes.
House swaps aren't the only answer to cheap travel. Online bidding sites let you name your price for hotels and car rentals, but it pays to do your homework. Sites like Priceline and Hotwire don't disclose hotel names until after you've made a reservation. However, they do disclose properties' locations and amenities, enough details to use Google Maps to figure out which hotels you're being offered.
When it comes to cellphone plans, it pays to ask. Many carriers have unadvertised discount rates they only share if you inquire. Use online tools such as BillShrink or Cellphone Saver to avoid overpaying for service by comparing plans from competing carriers. Above all, personal finance columnist Greg Karpmake tells Entrepreneur, make sure your plan fits how you use the service: A deal might not be so great if it's more or less than what you actually need.
Get an early jump on low-cost gifts for next holiday season by canning jam, fruit, salsa or other goodies come summer and fall. Save money by using backyard fruit or vegetables from your garden or the local farmer's market. Or volunteer with an urban gleaning group to collect fruit that would spoil otherwise and take a portion of what you pick as payment for your labor. Keep gift wrap and simple labels you buy or make yourself. Drape jars in wrapping paper or festive fabric and finish them off with ribbon or a bow.
Forget clipping coupons: Consumers prefer the digital variety by a margin of six to one, according to research from Coupons.com. Click-to-print and mobile phone coupons already are popular. In the future, expect to see more coupons delivered via text message, as well as discounts based on near-field technology (NFT), which lets retailers send special offers to your smartphone based on your location.
SecondAct Asks: What frugal living New Year's resolutions are you making? Please share your best tips.