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Stop Overspending: 10 Things You Can Cut From Your Budget Now

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With the threat of a double-dip recession, the return of high unemployment rates, and a general feeling that Congress couldn’t care less about the middle-class worker, many of us are feeling that it’s time to go a step beyond trimming the fat from our budgets. And while cutting from your budget some of the 10 things we’ve listed below may seem too hard, we’ll also give you some ideas to take away the sting.

1. Meat

Let’s get the hardest one out of the way first. Depending on your (and your family’s) appetite, this may be a big budget buster. Americans spend $142 billion annually on beef, chicken, pork, turkey and lamb at retail and food-service outlets, according to the market research firm Packaged Facts. And while you don’t have to give up meat forever, going meatless every other week or so can save you some serious change — and not just this month, but in the future. According to the Packaged Facts 10-year observational study, some of its 545,000 participants could have avoided costly medical complications by eating fewer red and processed meats. Substitute meat with beans, whole grains, and eggs (which are a great low-priced, complete protein substitution).

2. Ink cartridges

The inevitable happens: you’re low on ink. The $20 or more per cartridge sounds prohibitively expensive, but with stores like Cartridge World, you can get all your cartridges re-filled for half the price. It’s affordable, convenient, and super easy as the staff tends to be knowledgeable in this niche.

3. New shoes

Once upon a time, there was a pair of well-loved shoes that were just starting to fall apart. The owner could have tossed this pair and bought something new, but then she took them to a shoe repair shop (yes, these still exist outside of fairy tales), and they were even better than new. And for less than $10. Not all repairs are so cheap, but if you can find a local shop, it will be less expensive than shipping away to an online store — and definitely cheaper than buying a new pair altogether.

4. Junk food

Most people are lured into bad purchases by potato chips, microwave popcorn and those puffed cheesy things that turn your fingers orange. They are quick snacks, but while convenience is great, many of these items still leave you hungry (and orange). And while these snacks aren’t crazy expensive, the cost adds up and there are ways to snack so much better for way less.

Try making regular kernels of popcorn and putting them in a couple of tablespoons of heart-healthy olive oil on your stove at medium heat. Use a soup pot as even a half cup on popcorn with fill the entire kettle. Shake the pot while it cooks to keep it from burning, and sprinkle on a little salt or shredded Parmesan cheese, and you’ll have a much more nutritious and super cheap snack, as a bag of regular popcorn sells for half the price of a box of microwave bags, and makes oh-so much more.

5. Goop for your hair

Bathroom cabinets all across America are brimming with pomades, styling gels, hair wax, control sprays and a myriad more. This is on top of the hair dyes, highlights, shampoos, conditioners, clarifying treatments and hair masks. And it’s all a tad unnecessary, and may actually be leaving your hair in worse shape. So many of these products contain alcohol, which dries out hair, and other allergens and even carcinogens. When buying products for your hair, go with the less is more technique, and if your hair needs a “treatment,” check out Long Locks for ideas. Their most popular recipe is the Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse, which can be made from ingredients right from the kitchen and will leave hair silky and shiny.

6. Stain removers

Did you know that crushed aspirin made into a paste can get rid of sweat stains from your favorite white camisole or tank top? While spot remover sticks and pre-treatments may seem like a good idea, many times they just don’t follow through as advertised, and now you’re out the cash for the treatment and the article of ruined clothing.

Many sites offer homemade recipes, but the best are often the simplest. Tipnut lists a few all-purpose (and effective) recipes. My favorite: with berry or fruit stains, pour boiling water on the stain. It just melts away. And you can’t get much cheaper than water.

7. Rust remover

If the item is small, try Alka Seltzer to remove rust. For bigger items, make a paste out of baking soda and white vinegar and let that sit for a few hours while it eats away the rust. Then buff away for a beautiful like-new shine.

8. Gasoline

While gas prices in the U.S. are among the cheapest globally (in Russia, gas costs more than $10 a gallon), gas is getting more expensive — especially when paychecks are getting smaller. Driving slower, making sure tires are properly filled, and combining trips can help save you at the pump.

However, the best way not to buy gas is to use other methods of transportation. Even walking or biking to work once a week can add up to big savings. Set a goal to cut out one fill-up a month, and then get creative. Your reward: an extra $60 or more and probably some toned calves.

9. Medicine

While it is unhealthy to not buy necessary medications, and impractical to stop buying pain meds, the prices of name-brand medications are ridiculous. For over-the-counter medications, go generic. They often have the same potency at a fraction of the price.

For prescription medications, use care when looking for discounted brands. There are many fraudulent companies out there preying on folks searching for a deal. To help wade through the thousands of sites offering cheaper prescriptions, check out LegitScript, which has a database of 86,073 pharmacy Web sites, of which only 323 are legitimate.

10. (Expensive) Friends

This one may seem obvious, since you can’t get friends at the store, but in life, there is always the tendency to use money to impress others or just to try and make others like us more with gifts. Whether it’s buying a round of drinks at the bar or treating a friend to an expensive birthday gift (they always spend a lot on you, so you have to do it too, right?) — or even feeling that in order to have this friendship, you have to be willing to spend money on theater or vacations — is an enticing but dangerous trap.

Have the honest talk with your friends: “Yes, I want to do these things with you. I feel bad that I can’t afford these outings. Can we instead do something less expensive or free?” Have some ideas like a movie night where everyone brings over movies they already own. Or a game night, which is not nerdy but tons of fun. Or just make dinner together–communal cooking is always a bonding experience. Whatever the suggestion, remember that if your friend shoots it down and insists on the fancy outings, they may not really be your friend. Real friends will love you no matter how much you can spend.

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