smart spending

Want to save money? Don't shop

"I learned that with couples who can't control spending, it is recreational," he says. "They will just buy."

This technique helped one couple making $65,000 pay off $30,000 in credit card debt in just 15 months, he says.

Focus on alternatives, not deprivation. The point isn't to do without something, it's to see if you can get what you need without buying new. And many times what you can do "depends on circumstance," says Rosenmoss. Once you decide you need something, find out if you can get it used, rent it or borrow it from someone you know.

Try it for a short period. Forgoing new items encourages people to "eliminate wasteful spending and divert money saved toward more important goals," says Ric Edelman, author of "The Truth About Money: Real Advice from One of America's Most Successful Financial Advisors." "But it's like a crash diet. It's not sustainable."

It worked for Compact members in part because it fit their needs and beliefs. So draft a plan that suits your own lifestyle.

"Begin by challenging all your assumptions about your lifestyle; every purchase you make," Edelman says. "What these folks are demonstrating is that much of what we do with our money is pointless and can be omitted without signs of loss."

And try out your new shopping strategy first for 90 days, says Howard. "Ninety days is a time we can all get our arms around," he says.

Separate wants from needs. "Don't just shift shopping from the market to secondhand," says Perry. Like a lot of middle-class families, he's discovered "we pretty much have everything we need."

Clothing for fast-growing kids remained one consumer item his family continued to need, and in a steady stream. That's where secondhand stores come in handy. "There is so much secondhand kids' stuff that is virtually new," Perry says.

Enjoy a well-earned sense of perspective. After cutting back on consumerism, group members have a whole new eye on some shopping traditions.

While Rosenmoss admits "a little weirdness" sometimes at not giving traditional birthday or Christmas presents, she's found that her kids are "pretty much OK" with a shopping-free lifestyle.

Conscious choices
Compact members know that their plan has been done before.

"We're not doing anything new," says Perry, who helped launch the effort. By tackling the project as a group, he hopes they have made it "easier for people to come together, and talk about things they didn't talk about."

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