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How to find $500 by Christmas

By Christine Romans, CNN
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Save $500 before the holidays
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christine Romans urges consumers to quit spending money on things they don't use
  • With roughly five paychecks until Christmas, Romans says you can find yourself $500 richer
  • She also suggests eating in, downgrading phone plans and other ways to cut spending
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Editor's note: Christine Romans is anchor of CNN's "Your $$$$$" and author of the new book "Smart Is the New Rich" (Wiley).

(CNN) -- You've only got about five paychecks left until Christmas. That means if you expect presents under the tree and not a debt hangover in January, you need to find the money starting now.

Can you save $500 by Christmas? You can try and here's how.

1. Stop paying for things you don't use. If you have not set foot in the gym since your New Year's resolution, ditch it. Cancel the subscriptions for magazines and papers you don't read. You can also raise your deductibles for home and auto insurance. Conservatively, that's $50 a month.

2. Check your cellular plan. Many people are surprised that they don't use as much on the data plan as they are paying for. AT&T estimates that 98 percent of customers use less than 2 gigs of data. And ditch the landline if you can. You might be paying for too much technology.

3. Eat in. Southern cuisine queen Paula Deen (no surprise) gave me this one. She says every time you stay home and grill a steak with your family instead of going to a restaurant, you put $35 back into your pocket. Do this once a week, and you've just saved $350 by Christmas.

Read an excerpt from Christine's new book "Smart is the New Rich"

4. Make a list of 10 things you routinely spend money on (clothes, groceries, gifts, etc.) and cut $10 from each. Gail Cunningham from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling also cautions against buying anything for the holidays that you cannot fully pay off in three months.

"Consumers who fight for bargains should realize that the 20 percent savings they were so happy to snag is lost if they have a double-digit interest rate on their card and stretch the payments out over months."

Delete your saved information on online shopping sites so you aren't tempted to nickel and dime yourself to death every time you get an e-mail touting $9.99 T-shirts. If you don't need it, don't buy it; if you can't afford it, put it down. Aim to cut miscellaneous expenses by $100 a month.

5. Along those lines, certified financial planner Doug Flynn recommends paying cash for an entire month. You get a better sense of what's coming out of your pocket, and it inspires some restraint.

6. Banish those fees. Only use in-network ATMs. The average cost for a trip to an ATM for a bank that is not your own is $3.54. Eliminate one trip a week for the next 10 weeks, and you've saved another $35. Find a credit union or community bank that offers free checking. The downside of credit card reform is some banks are looking for new ways to raise revenue and that means adding fees to your checking account. Bottom line: Don't pay someone else for the use of your money.

7. Switch to a programmable thermostat. The government says this saves $180 a year off the typical energy bill. Start now and you are on your way to saving for next Christmas as well.

Pick a few of these that apply to you, and you're there.

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