Here are a few areas you want to watch.
GROCERY SHOPPING: It's easy to fall into the habit of making frequent trips to the store to pick up foods and treats you want or think you need. Your monthly bill can increase significantly if you aren't disciplined. Set an amount to spend on groceries, and aim to keep it within that amount.
BIRTHDAYS: Try to plan ahead for the upcoming year. Otherwise, you're stuck with last-minute shopping, which leads to overspending. Shop sales and holiday clearance and secondhand sources to stock your gift closet, or regift when possible to keep costs down. In a nutshell, don't buy lavish gifts you can't afford.
CLOTHING: Even if you shop sales or buy secondhand clothes, it's easy to overspend on clothing and accessories. Aim for home-washable garments that are solid-colored and classic clothing with clean lines, such as crews, turtlenecks, V-necks, tailored jackets and cardigans. You can pare down to 10 to 20 articles of clothing that are easy to layer and mix and match. Don't overlook talking to friends and family members and putting out the word that you would love to take their castoffs, or have them keep an eye out for sales you might miss.
SCHOOL: It's great to support the local school. But be mindful of how much you're spending each month. Instead of buying at every fundraiser, why not volunteer some time? Find out what you already have at home for school supplies, too. If used items at home are still in good condition, your child doesn't need brand-new replacements. If you do need to replace, invest in quality items that will last longer.
BAD HABITS: Don't just look at what you've spent. Think about why you spent it, and try to break any bad habits, such as disorganization, boredom, junk food, smoking, drinking, gambling, etc. Work on eliminating these unhealthy habits.
CRAFT SUPPLIES: They can be hard to resist. If you have unfinished projects, work on those before buying more supplies for new projects.
TWO-INCOME TRAP: All is fine until one income is lowered or lost. Prepare for the worst. Make every effort not to rely on both incomes entirely.
SERVICES: Re-evaluate all the services you have, such as cable, phone, insurance, Internet, subscriptions, etc. Can you pare these down? Consider bundled service, canceling subscriptions, or comparing companies.
SINKING FUND: Do you have a sinking fund (savings account) for short-term planned expenses? If not, create one. This can include categories such as car repairs, medical bills, home repairs, vacations, etc. If you already have one, evaluate whether or not you need to increase savings in any categories.
Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail email@example.com.