After the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, it's easy to get swept up in the ritual of making resolutions. The year stretches out before you like a clean slate, making anything seem possible. But when the party dies down and it comes time to get started on your new healthy, frugal or charitable goals, actually doing so might seem easier said than done.
If one of your resolutions this year is to save money, spend less or start contributing to a new fund, don't get overwhelmed by thinking you bit off more than you can chew. Make a number of small changes in your life and you'll be surprised to see a big impact by the end of the year. Then you can take your saved cash and put it towards a bigger goal.
Make it easier on yourself. Here are things you can do to save money this year that take five minutes or less:
Evaluate your budget once a month.
Take five minutes once a month and evaluate your spending. Make sure every expense on your list is something you are actively using or consider valuable. Automatic payments for gym memberships, music or movie streaming and other services you might have forgotten about can add up quickly. By doing a quick sweep of your expenses, you can eliminate some of these costs throughout the year.
Keep your credit cards at home.
Maintaining a few credit cards and accounts is important for a healthy credit score. However, if you always have your credit cards within arm's reach it can be way too easy to rack up a high balance. Unless you know you are making a specific purchase or need it for emergencies, leave the credit cards at home most days and rely on your debit card or even better, cash.
Stick to your own ATM.
When you do need cash, try to exclusively use your bank's ATM. Plan ahead so that you're able to withdraw cash (even if it takes five extra minutes), and you'll avoid steep fees as well as potential charges from your own bank.
Prep for the grocery store.
Take five minutes to prepare before you head out on your grocery shopping trip. Make a list of everything you need (and take note of those things you already have, so you don't double up). Then search for any coupons you have around the house, as well as on your favorite coupon website. You can easily search by brand and print specific coupons, or look at your grocery store's circular online to see what is on sale that week. It only takes five minutes, but you'll walk in much more prepared and less likely to stray from your shopping list.
Sign up for a cash back and coupon website.
It takes less than five minutes to sign up for a free coupon and cash back website, and if you're an online shopper this can add up to big savings. Always look for a coupon code before you buy anything online, and click through the cash back site first to earn back a percentage of your total. Bonus if you can stack these rewards together!
Sign up for a free budgeting tool.
If keeping a budget or managing a spreadsheet doesn't come naturally to you, there are plenty of free tools that make budgeting a breeze. Mint.com is one website that will keep track of all your accounts and assets in one place. You can easily set up a detailed budget and receive alerts when bills are coming due or your spending in a certain category is nearing its limit.
Get a library card.
Many libraries still offer free membership to give you access to thousands of books, magazines and movies. Head into your local library and sign up for a card and you'll have instant access to unlimited resources. If you prefer to read your books electronically, you can rent eBooks at the library too. Don't forget to check out the movies -- though you might have to join a waiting list for new releases, this is a much cheaper alternative to subscription services or DVD rentals.
Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.
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