No doubt many consumers will be happy to say farewell to 2008, with its record home foreclosures, massive job losses, and weak credit market.

However, the year taught some valuable lessons as well.

As the economy foundered, more consumers returned to some tried and true strategies — saving more, spending less and shopping smarter.

Federal data show consumer spending dropped 1 percent in October, followed by a .6 percent decline in November. Personal savings rates rose as well, hitting 2.8 percent for October.

“In this New Year people will be adopting a more frugal lifestyle,” says Debt Diva, Clarky Davis, a Raleigh credit counselor and financial consultant.

“They understand now that bigger isn’t necessarily better,” she said. “They are thinking that they don’t need a bazillion channels. Instead of having everything, they are reexamining what they really want and those things they truly value.”

Davis said consumers’ spending spree — and the high levels of debt that resulted — were egged on by clever marketing. Retailers made it easy for people to shop 24/7.

For those looking to better manage their finances in 2009, Davis offers the following tips:

  • Make finances a priority. You may have overspent during the holidays, so the new year offers a perfect time to start fresh.
  • Don’t make foolish financial moves like cashing out your 401k. The economy has been tanking since December 2007, so there is no need to panic.
  • Reevaluate spending habits. Go through your last six months of bank statements. Do this every two months to make sure you’re still on track.
  • Build a monthly budget and set financial goals.
  • Adopt a lifestyle that fits your budget. Find ways to reduce spending. For example, trim your cable package, turn down the thermostat or eat out less.
  • Put away the credit cards and pay with cash.
  • If necessary, find a part-time job to earn extra income.
  • Pay down debt, especially credit cards. The longer you carry a balance, the more money you are throwing away.
  • Start an emergency savings fund to cover unexpected expenses such as medical bills or car repairs. (Some of the big banks now offer programs that make saving easier.)
  • Keep your spirits up. Don’t think of these changes as deprivations but steps toward financial security.

Vicki Lee Parker is a syndicated financial columnist: (919) 877-5719;

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