From money-tracking applications to common-sense advice from blogs, the best tool for weathering these hardscrabble times is the Internet. So behold our online guide to dodging the recession:
Be hawkish about your finances. This, of course, is the linchpin of any savings plan: write down everything you buy/eat/smoke/drink/etc. But since most currency is exchanged electronically - Internet banking, debit and credit cards - why not let a Web application collect all this information for you?
There are a number of reliable personal finance trackers. In Canada, the best is Geezeo. It lets you set financial goals, view under-disclosed bank fees and categorizes all your spending. Best of all, it consolidates all your accounts - if you're willing to give it access to them - and sends you SMS updates on your balance. There's no better way - at least none that are this fast or free - to keep debt-free .
Invest. On every personal investment blog worth its salt, the message to young people is to invest. The long-term trend of any market is to go up, so unless you're on the edge of retirement, it's time to look at affordable investments. Exactly what you should invest in is debatable, but any asset worthy of your money, be it real estate, rare vinyl or a collection of domain names, deserves some attention.
Increase productivity. Though the Internet is an essential resource for any type of work, it can also distract you. And whether you're freelancing or full-time, now is not the time to get caught up with staring at Samantha Ronson's blog all day. Hence, RescueTime, an ingenious program that monitors your Web behaviour, tracking how much time you waste and which websites you waste it on. For instance, yours truly spent 30 minutes this week on the Hermès site and didn't even realize it. (I'm considering buying a leather passport holder, what with all this money I'm saving. Protecting my passport is also a good investment.)
Rent movies online. This is refreshingly cheap movies-by-mail system that beats out stores in some respects. No late fees and, depending on your rental plan, savings on rentals can enter the double digits. Check Zip.ca or Canflix.com.
Don't shave. This has nothing to do with the Internet, but it sure saves buying expensive razors.
Celebrate frugally. The most frivolous expenses can come when painting the town red. Don't put down the brush, but do buy a less expensive brand of paint. That's the gist of the group blog Wise Bread, which focuses on minimizing the costs of entertaining yourself or others. Full of advice on "living large on a small budget," Wise Bread tells you how to eat seafood on the cheap, the most cost-effective methods to get rid of acne and how to watch television without paying so much for cable (unsurprisingly, this involves watching shows online).
Open your books. You share the sordid details of your social life on Facebook, so why not reveal your financial self online, too? Discussing your finances at a dinner party or in the middle of a movie is annoying and borderline rude, but there's nothing to lose by comparing your balance sheet with those of people like you in an online forum. These are called personal finance social networks, and, if you can ignore the personal/social oxymoron and be comfortable talking about your money woes to strangers, these are very useful. They're full of ideas and advice for almost any financial predicament, and free. Check one out at the Geezeo site.
Micro-manage. According to the Canadian finance blog Thicken My Wallet, 80 per cent of saving is from 20 per cent of effort. It doesn't take a full lifestyle makeover to become fiscally responsible, just tweaks to your financial habits. Put in the 20 per cent - the minor tweaks - and reap the other 80 - the major savings. My 20 per cent: never buy a bottle of wine over $8, avoid taxis, leave my credit card at home during the week and get myself invited to a friend's or relative's house for dinner at least twice a week.
Stay the course! According to Woody Allen, 80 per cent of success is just showing up. I read that on my iGoogle quote of the day.
Joshua Errett is the editor of nowtoronto.com.