January is a period of self review, filled with promises and new financial goals. But the post-holiday cocktail of disorganization and unrealistic expectations can sabotage self-improvement plans, including efforts to save money.
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Fortunately, January has been tagged Get Organized Month by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). It makes sense. Lack of organization costs time and money, according to a recent NAPO survey of consumer behavior. Cutting through clutter is important to my money-saving goals for 2011.
Too often, my newspaper pile becomes a graveyard for coupons. Potential savings die an early death because of clutter. For instance, I have squandered store coupons sporting savings of $1 to $10 due to missed deadlines or misplaced coupons. For 2011, I’ve begun to store coupons in a side pocket of my purse, which is always with me. Wallets and glove-compartments in cars are also a great place to store coupons. This system provides easy access to discounts.
The trendy push to live a greener life can be overwhelming, especially with the wide assortment of eco-friendly products, services and strategies on the market. Organization, however, can simplify green living goals. My strategy involves a disciplined room-by-room plan to reduce my family’s carbon footprint. For the first three months of 2011, I plan to focus on the kitchen, with green steps that will save the environment and my cash. For example, during the January discount sales on linens, I plan to purchase additional dish clothes and towels for the kitchen, which will save money in the long-run, because I will spend far less on short-lived paper products. Every three months, I’ll target a different area of my home.
In the checkout line, it’s easy to meditate or daydream. But being alert can pay off. On a regular basis, I have spotted errors in cash register receipts, including incorrect prices for sale items. Sometimes, the errors are my fault. For instance, I recently took advantage of a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) free promotion for toys. Unfortunately, one of the games I had selected did not qualify for the BOGO discount. I spotted the error, when I studied the receipt and noticed the double charge for the toys. And now with every purchase, I scan the sales receipt before leaving the store.
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Even when not used, cell phone chargers, coffee makers, micro-wave ovens and other appliances drain energy when plugged into wall sockets. Conserving cash and energy is my January goal, and I’ve been teaching my kids to unplug idle appliances. But this step requires organization and constant awareness. When we are running late, we leave the house in a whirlwind of anxiety and fail to take energy-saving steps. An earlier wake-up call will preserve energy and create less stress.
Late fees and other financial penalties are the byproduct of disorganization. To avoid missed deadlines, I plan to raise my financial IQ with my smartphone and laptop. Both devices provide digital calendars that can be programmed with bill reminders and deadline alerts. There are also a variety of online services that offer e-mail notices about approaching deadlines. Online bill-paying programs also add organization and efficiency.
With better organization some household chores and personal tasks can become money-saving, do-it-yourself projects. For example, if you have the talent and the right tools, you can save money with DIY haircuts, manicures, pedicures and other personal grooming chores. Car-washing, lawn mowing and house-painting duties can also represent frugal home projects. But calculate the cost of your time, and honestly evaluate your skills. Home projects can become money pits if you have to hire a professional to fix DIY errors.
During January, NAPO chapters in different regions of the country are hosting public events, including “Organize to Economize in the New Year” workshops, “Shred-and-Organize” gatherings and “Ask-the-Organizer” panels. To find a local event, go to www.napo.net.
Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a member of Wise Bread’s top personal finance blog network. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”