By Jean Chatzky, with Arielle McGowen
In recent years, the average family of four has spent over $5,300 on food, nearly $3,000 on gifts, $2,100 on clothing and $3,000 on recreation. That's all well and good when you're spending money that you have, but what about if you're watching your pennies because of a layoff or a plummeting 401(k) balance?
In this economy, both are all too common. So it's time to get creative. Yes, there are certain expenses in the family budget that are fixed—your rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, gas to get you back and forth to work and groceries to put food on the table. I'd put childcare and health insurance on that list as well. But most other things are variable expenses: You get to decide where to cut back.
One way people are doing that is by not buying the things they wan—books, DVDs, toys—and instead, trading, renting, borrowing or even taking someone else's unwanted belongings. These days, the Internet has made it easier than ever to find the stuff you're looking for—for free or at the very least, cheap.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to save...