by Kimberly Palmer



When times are tight-as they are now for many Americans facing declining

home values, depressed stocks, and tighter credit markets-cutting back on

indulgences can seem inevitable. But it might not be. U.S. News asked

budgeting experts for advice on how to make ends meet during tough times

without sacrificing too many of life's pleasures. Here are their top tips.



Take bubble baths. If soaking in hot water doesn't cheer you up, find out

what does, because it could stop you from wasteful splurges after a bad day.

"Especially in times like these, it's very important for people...to find

other ways [than shopping] to make themselves feel better, whether it's

tantric methods, meditation, Chinese balls, or bubble baths-just do what

will not break the bank," says Ken McDonnell, program director at the

American Savings Education Council.



Host movie night. Going to the movies, especially if you're a popcorn fan,

can easily cost $40 for two people. Instead, suggests Faye Griffiths-Smith,

community leader for the American Association of Family and Consumer

Sciences, rent a movie and invite friends over to watch.



Learn to cook. Not only does eating at restaurants add up, but so too does

buying lunch. If you cook dinner at home, you can bring in leftovers to work

the next day or take a few minutes to pack a sandwich. If mornings are

always rushed, then try packing it at night before bed, suggests Jean

Austin, family and consumer science educator for the Maryland Cooperative

Extension Service. And when you shop for your ingredients, make sure you

have a snack first. Going to the grocery store hungry often leads to impulse

buys, Austin warns.



Use the library. Your taxes are paying for it, so take advantage of the free

books and movies. Austin says that even her small library in Maryland's

rural Kent County offers DVDs, audio books, and free Internet service.



Drink at home. Whether your beverage of choice is green tea, espresso, or

beer, it's much cheaper when consumed in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Going to a bar with friends can easily cost $50, McDonnell says. Instead,

pick up a six-pack and hang out at a friend's house. The social interaction

will cheer you up without the hefty bar tab.



Use your savings. If you squirreled away three to six months of emergency

savings in advance of being forced to tighten your budget due to a job loss

or other unfortunate event, now is the time to use it. "Everybody should be

contributing to their own emergency savings fund where it's earning

interest," says Austin, so when times are tight, the money can go toward

monthly bills and even some small indulgences.



Decide what you really want. Most people can cut 10 percent of their

spending within 10 minutes, says Ramit Sethi, author of the I Will Teach You

to Be Rich blog. Just write down your major spending categories, such as

food and loan payments, and then guess what percentage is going to each

category. Make a second list with what you want the percentages to be, and

then make a third list describing what they actually are. If the reality

doesn't match up with your ideal, then adjust your spending.



Dress in layers. Turning your thermostat down a few degrees and wearing a

sweatshirt to stay warm can save on monthly heating costs, says McDonnell,

which adds up over time. Just don't skimp on your monthly mortgage or rent

payment, or if you need to adjust the payment schedule, contact your lender

. Keeping your home should be a top priority.



Copyrighted, U.S.News & World Report, L.P