For many consumers, it's not lack of knowledge keeping them from spending smarter, but lack of experience. That's why a little time invested now could pay dividends for years.
Take a spending smart field trip. This seven-stop excursion involves two types of destinations, those in your community and those online: one a day for a week. Or, if you prefer, you could knock them out in an afternoon.
The point of completing these quick-and-easy errands is to introduce yourself to spending-smart resources that could save you money in the future.
* Store brands: Buy at least one store brand on this week's grocery-shopping trip. Store brands are so much better in quality than a generation ago. You might find several that you prefer over name brands. Expect to pay significantly less, often 20 percent less, which adds up to savings of hundreds of dollars a year, even for small households. Buying store brands is also low-hassle: no sale-watching, no coupon-clipping, no warehouse-club membership. Some stores are even offering their own lines of organic foods. Try house brands for nonfood items at chain drugstores -- over-the-counter medications are especially good values -- and at mass discounters.
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* Dollar store: Visit a dollar store and take a mental inventory of what's available. What are exceptionally good deals there? Snacks, canned foods, paper holiday decorations, children's party favors, cleaning products and nonelectrical accessories for electronics, such as iPod cases and USB printer cables.
* Public library: You won't find a resource with more free stuff -- books, magazines, audio CDs, movies, computer databases, Internet access and live help from a professional research librarian.
* Thrift or consignment store: Buying used gets you the same item for far less or a higher-quality item than you could otherwise afford. It's also a great reminder of how consumer items depreciate.
* Online: Click around your newspaper's online classifieds section, eBay.com, Craigslist.com or Freecycle.org. Think of all as an online thrift store.
* AAnnualcreditreport.com: Whether you borrow money or not, examining your credit report is important for two reasons. First, make sure it contains no mistakes that could increase your borrowing costs. Second, make sure no one else is opening credit accounts in your name.
* Shopbots: Choose three big-ticket items you bought recently and re-shop them using an online shopping robot, or shopbot. Examples are Google Product Search at Google.com/products; MySimon.com and Shopzilla.com. How much would you have saved if you used these tools to comparison-shop before you bought?