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It's not too late in year to rein in spending

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You'd probably love to find easy, quick ways to offload some family household expenses and pad your budget in the midst of the high season of holiday shopping.

Insurance payments on the kids' cars? Monthly triple-digit bills for the cellphones and cable TV? And don't overlook your iTunes account that your 16-year-old taps into with alarming regularity.

Welcome to my world.

I've been thinking a lot lately about doing a better job of containing costs, especially with two kids in college.

If you're in the same boat, the good news is that it doesn't take much financial maneuvering to trim budget fat, even this late in the year. As long as you're comfortable with the tradeoffs, cut, cut and cut some more.

Here are some options:


  • Lose the landline. You carry a cellphone but still have the old, dependable landline phone on the kitchen counter. That can be an expensive backup, considering it may be costing you $20 or so a month. Take the $240 annual savings from disconnecting and park it in your emergency cash fund or a college savings plan.


    • Manage the minutes. Review your cellphone bills carefully. Make that very carefully, because the bills can go on for pages. Are the kids going over the monthly allotment of texts? Are your data plans more than what you need? Would this be the time to offload the cell bills to your kids by dumping them from the family plan? Run the numbers and check your cellphone contract.


    • Cut the cable. Do you really need to surf through 500 cable channels, especially if you're like me you and only watch a handful of them regularly? Downsize the $200-a-month cable package. And while you're at it, ask the cable provider if you can go without the standard two-year contract and instead pay for a monthly service. Or cancel the cable altogether and wait a couple weeks until you can take advantage of a signup rate. Despite some inconvenience, you might come out ahead.


      • Shop the car and homeowner's insurance. I recommend getting a bid or two every year on your car and home insurance, realizing that you generally reap the most savings by bundling those two coverages with the same insurer. Can you raise the deductible to save on the cost of insuring the 12-year-old family minivan? If your college student won't have wheels at school next semester, remind your agent because it might cut another $70 or so off your premium. And if you haven't done so already, it may be time for the young adults in your family to pay for their own car insurance, along with the annual taxes on the car.
      • Nibble away on the mortgage. Rates are historically low right now and are likely to remain so well into 2012. Time to refinance? Check out the refi calculators online at sites such as
      • Set a holiday shopping budget you can't break. Every year you promise not to go overboard on buying holiday gifts, and a month later buyer's remorse sets in when the credit card bill arrives.


      • If you feel pinched for cash, evaluate your giving strategies. Stick with a gift exchange with family members, so you don't wind up buying something for every aunt, uncle and cousin. Set spending limits, and require the kids to do the same. Think homemade gifts rather than buying two or three cheaply made items.



        • Take advantage of student or employee discounts. If you're thinking of upgrading the family computer, you could save a bundle by ordering from a campus bookstore that offers discounts for students. Your employer might offer a similar discount on computers and cellphones.


          Granted, these and other strategies might not provide the silver bullet you're looking for. But short of winning the lottery, taking any type of action to better manage your money should leave you with the good feeling that comes with making progress.

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