Personal Finance

Taking a knife to expenses

Following in the footsteps of The Frugalista Files blogger Natalie P. McNeal, I am preparing to embark on a month-long spending diet, cutting the stubborn belly fat from my expenses and blogging about it for all the world to read.

My target: to systematically reduce total spending for the month by at least 10 percent and then save the money.

But it won't be easy. You see, I'm not exactly what you would call a high roller. I'm not much for fashion, or fancy grooming for that matter. I don't have expensive hobbies. And I'm single (hey, ladies).

Finding -- and eliminating -- a superfluous 10 percent of my total spending may prove harder than squeezing water from a stone. I intend to find a way.

Working as a copy editor for The Miami Herald and seeing the avalanche of worrisome financial stories has been an invaluable motivating tool.

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The subprime mortgage meltdown has sparked a credit crisis. This global credit crunch has caused a worldwide slowdown.

Consumer confidence is down. Inflation is on the rise.

The ''R'' word is being tossed around like it's going on sale. And the housing slump continues to slump, as does the dollar.

Unemployment. Outsourcing. Stagflation?

These distressing headlines have made it clear that I need to wake up to the reality that change is constant and nothing lasts forever. Call me pessimistic, but it seems this party's coming to a close.

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So now you know the why. The how may turn out to be a bit more difficult.

As I mentioned, I'm not exactly a man of fine tastes. I don't covet and spend. I don't treat myself to fancy electronic gadgetry, for the most part, or nice clothing or salon treatments.

My rent is -- at least for South Florida -- magically low at $450 a month. My apartment is 15 blocks from my job, so I don't spend a lot of money on gas, except for when I visit my parents in Broward County.

Still, according to my 2007 year-end credit card statement, my average monthly credit card bill was $844.81. (Keep in mind that I charge nearly everything possible -- from gas to groceries -- and only use checks for expenses such as rent, utilities, Internet, cellphone, insurance and healthcare.) But unlike many Americans, I always pay off my full credit-card balance each month.

Assuming my credit-card bill equates to roughly half of my monthly expenditures and figuring my noncredit expenses are largely nonnegotiable, that means in order to cut costs by 10 percent, I'll need to reduce my credit card bill by around 20 percent.

In the last year I charged $2,379.79 for food outside the home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average 25-year-old-or-younger person spends $1,973 annually on out-of-home food. The average 26-to-34-year-old spends $2,918.

Ignore the harder-to-calculate random cash purchase (for those rare times when I happen to be holding it) and I'm somewhere in between the two age brackets, which is appropriate, as I just turned 26 this past week. Still, if I'm to meet my goal, the spending on food outside my own kitchen will need to decline decidedly.

I will need to drive less often and more economically. I will have to eat more food at home -- difficult without a working stove/oven -- and bring a lunch to work. I will not drink . . . as much.

In addition, I am going to attempt -- yes, attempt! -- to ride my bike to and from work for the entire month.

Obviously, if I'm not feeling well, or if it's raining or too hot/cold, or maybe if I just don't want to, then I'll drive.

It should be an interesting study to see how much I can save in a month.

So what do you think? Can it be done? Can you, in fact, squeeze blood out of a turnip, or some such metaphor? Do you believe in me?

Find out if I flourish or fail at (Click on Heavy Thrifting) and keep me company along the way.

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