8 Ways to Get Your Spending Back on Track
Whether you track every penny you spend or can't remember your last purchase, there are always ways to improve your spending habits. Being more in control of when and how you spend can help cut overall costs, which means more money can go toward savings and other goals. The strategies below are designed to help you exert greater control over your finances.
1. Make use of comparison apps for smarter shopping. Apps such as RedLaser, PriceGrabber and RetailMeNot allow you to easily compare prices and store coupons. You don't even have to worry about organizing and carrying around paper coupons; just hold up your smartphone at the register to scan stored codes. If you shop online a lot, also consider PriceBlink, a browser add-on that lets you know if there's a lower price elsewhere on the Web. Other useful tools include Coupons.com, the Favado app and Slickdeals, which is both a website and an app.
2. Use online tools to manage money. If you want new ways to track your money, technology is here to help. For example, the BillGuard app makes it easy to stay on top of bills and be aware of any potential fraud. Key Ring stores all of your loyalty card information so you can leave the stack of plastic at home. Mint shows you where your money is going and helps you stay on budget with reminders and suggestions.
3. Sign up for recall alerts. Since the federal government issues hundreds of recalls each year, it can be hard for consumers to keep track of them all -- and get their money back for faulty products. Sign up for alerts at recalls.gov or cpsc.gov so you can make sure the products you have around your house are safe, and get refunds or replacement products when they're not.
4. Talk to companies on Twitter. If you feel like you got a bad deal on a product because it broke shortly after you took it home or it just isn't performing the way you expected, consider communicating your displeasure over Twitter. It might be a way to get a refund or replacement more quickly. Banks, cable companies and other service providers are ramping up their Twitter accounts. Sometimes, the easiest way to lodge a complaint or get attention for a problem is by tweeting at the company in question. Any personal information or details should be restricted to direct messages or taken offline, but Twitter can be a good place to start.
5. Let social media lead you to the best deals. Companies are increasingly interacting with consumers on Twitter and other social media platforms, which means you can often find the best deals there, too. Retailers often release discounts to their fans and followers first.
To avoid overcrowding your Twitter account, consider creating a separate account dedicated to following retailers, so you can stay on top of upcoming sales. This strategy also works well for cutting travel costs, since many airlines post last-minute discounts on Twitter. You can always ignore the stream when you're not in shopping mode.
6. Embrace online fundraising. Kickstarter lets people launch creative projects online and collect funds for them. Successful fundraisers often rely on social media to help drum up support for their idea, and many seek relatively modest amounts (most projects aim to raise less than $10,000). If you're looking for a way to fund a specific goal that you think can generate public support, like traveling to volunteer overseas, then it could be a great place to start working toward that savings goal without putting the rest of your budget at risk.
7. Buy and sell online. Craigslist, eBay and clothing exchange sites like Tradesy make it easy to sell your unwanted items. You can make extra cash and also buy gently used items at a discount. PayPal can facilitate the payment process when you're not making the exchange in person.
8. Avoid Facebook-fueled spending. It's easy to see photos on Facebook and think all your friends are indulging in five-star meals and trips to exotic locations, but if you let those selfies influence your behavior, you could end up spending far more than your budget allows. Instead, plan activities with friends that don't cost a lot, such as potlucks and game nights.
Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.