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Clark Howard: Shaving some bucks and handling your finances

By Clark Howard, HLN
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Watch Clark and Robin Meade talk razor-nomics with soldiers from Fort Benning, Georgia
  • You can't control government spending, but you can control your own
  • Change how willingly you spend your money on things like coffee or parking
  • Owning a new car for 10 years is optimal, buying used is even better
  • Work on an overall "reset" about the way you handle money

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- We all hear the horror stories about runaway spending in government. In fact, the feds recently reported that we had 13 consecutive months of budget deficit. Clearly, we can't control federal spending. Nor can we control state spending all that effectively.

What we can control is how we handle money in our own lives.

You may have heard that I routinely use a disposable 17 cent razor to shave for anywhere from six months to a year at a time. Am I a glutton for punishment? No. A listener once told me that if you dry the blade after each use, you can really make it last. What a great way to stretch your money!

It's not a contest to see how much I can bleed to save a few bucks. In fact, never once did I cut myself with my year-old disposable blade. The minute I do that, I'm getting a new razor.

A lot of people heard my story about the razor and trivialized it. True, it's only a 17 cent razor I'm saving money on. But the razor story is really symbolic of a whole mentality about thrift.

Here's another example: I won't pay for parking; I'll walk as far as I have to in order to find free parking. Yet sometimes my penny-pinching ways yield some unintended consequences. While in Appleton, Wisconsin, I refused to pay the $1 surcharge to park right next to my hotel. I decided instead to park a half-mile down the road across some railroad tracks.

In the morning, I got to my car and there was a ticket on it. A $25 parking ticket! I tried my best to fight it, but there's an ordinance that doesn't allow parking from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. in the whole city of Appleton. So I had to pay $25, plus an extra $1 processing fee, as if to add insult to my financial injury.

Not too Clark Smart, huh?

Of course, worrying about low-cost things such as parking or disposable razors alone will not change your overall financial picture. But again, it's all part of a process of changing what you spend money on and how willingly you spend it.

In yet another illustration, you can brew a cup of coffee at home for about 6 cents a cup or you can pay more for it at a Starbucks or elsewhere. Think about all the things you spend money on in your life. Where can you stretch a buck?

In the big picture, are you buying more house than your budget allows? Are you cycling through cars too quickly? Owning a new car for 10 years is optimal. Buying used is even better. In fact, driving a used car for four years is the financial equivalent of owning a new car for 10 years.

This economic slump we've been in has been more painful than many past ones. Why? Have we had more unemployment? No, we haven't. It's been more painful because people went into this recession with a higher average level of debt versus income than in the past.

When you have less debt and fewer obligations, you can save more money. So it's not necessarily about making a 17 cent razor keep going and going, but that can be the beginning of an overall reset that I want you to do in your life about the way you handle money.

Be careful, however, not to take the fun out of life when you're doing your reset. Know that possessions, debt and obligations don't equal fun. Spending for lifestyle doesn't equal fun. But gathering experiences and sharing them with family and friends does.