With the cost of living spiraling ever upward, it’s a job in itself to save money and make ends meet, but it can be done. I have lived on a proverbial shoe string for most of my 58 years, so living frugally has become a way of life for me, in fact, so much so, that I don’t usually give it much thought until the topic comes up for discussion.
With perseverance and practice, frugality can become a way of life for you, too, and you will rejoice at the financial rewards and freedom once it has. Yes, I said freedom, as having a bit of savings in the bank and relatively few debts, if any, is a very liberating feeling. I am writing this article to share some of the ways my husband and I go about our daily lives in order to attain it.
First of all, no credit cards are allowed – period – and no loans of any kind unless it’s for a basic need you absolutely must have such as a roof over your head, and you simply don’t have enough money set aside to pay cash. Interest from banks, credit card companies, and other loan institutions can eat you alive. In short, do your best to live as debt free as possible.
If you must use an ATM to withdraw cash, draw out as much as possible during each transaction as some institutions charge a fee each time. Someone I knew had run up $50 in charges in a single month while pulling out only a few dollars during each of many visits to the ATM! The bank must’ve loved him!
As to banks – shop around to find out which one is paying the best interest rates. A few phone calls might have you moving your monetary assets to a different institution, but make sure they will be covered by FDIC in case the worst happens.
What about the car you’re driving? How many miles does it get per gallon of gas? My husband commutes to his job, 80 miles round trip, and bought a used Geo Metro just for that purpose – and yes, he paid cash for it. It is getting about 47 miles per gallon. This is saving us $80 per month when compared to our newer Subaru station wagon – paid cash for it also – which is comparable to most average cars. It would be an even bigger saving had we been driving an SUV or pickup.
Don’t fall into the hype of buying the new hybrid vehicles, as the prices for them are sky high which leaves you with no real savings. The money you hope to save on the cost of fuel will go to the car manufacturer and dealer instead. I might also suggest buying a good, used car instead of a new one. New ones greatly depreciate in value the moment they are driven off the lot. Used cars do, too, but not nearly as much, nor as quickly.
Plan your shopping trips. Go only once a week at most since the more often you visit the store, the more you are bound to spend on things you may not really need. While in any store, look at all the extra goodies as nothing more than temptation, and when temptation strikes, ask yourself honestly, do I need this item, or do I simply want it? Don’t make a habit of buying things if the latter is the answer that comes to mind. Nine times out of ten, if you put something back on the shelf after asking yourself that question, you’re not going to miss the item once you get home.
Grocery stores in particular are actually arranged in such a way to make the consumer walk past all kinds of tempting goodies while making their way to popular, quick stop foods, such as milk, eggs, and bread. Ever wonder why those items people need so often are usually placed at the back of the store? That’s why. The more people see, the more people buy. They may have stopped in to quickly grab a jug of milk, but my goodness! Those cakes look so yummy!
Be sure to check out the upper and lower shelves while shopping. It’s common knowledge that products at eye level are more easily viewed by customers and may be more readily picked from the shelves. Could it be the less expensive goods are on the bottom? Or perhaps they are at the top where they are difficult to reach. Companies actually compete for the better placement of their products which demonstrates that it does matter.
Convenience foods are hard on the budget. We don’t buy them. In our house we get the basics and some of them are flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, a large bag of yeast, (much cheaper in the long run than small packets of yeast if you do a lot of baking) powdered milk, (again, less expensive than milk in liquid form) eggs, shortening, cooking oil, and the most inexpensive meats, fruits, and vegetables we can find. We also keep rice, Ramen Noodles, macaroni, and spaghetti in the pantry. People at the check out have often told us they couldn’t believe how much food we’d purchased for so little money.
No convenience foods means cooking, but there are methods to make things easier on yourself if need be. Learn to cook oven meals that require less supervision. For example, chicken, whole potatoes, and a covered baking dish of vegetables may all be put in the oven at 350 degrees, and the timer is your dinner bell an hour later.
Also, don’t overlook the pressure cooker. My parents used one regularly. A pan of whole potatoes were ready to eat in 10 minutes cooking time, for example. Then there are crock pots and microwave ovens, both great time savers.
Don’t forget the bread machine! My husband did the math and found we could bake a pound and a half loaf of bread for 25 cents while it was costing us about a dollar per loaf for the cheapest store brand of the same weight. It only takes a few minutes to dump in the ingredients and turn it on. Even more savings were made on special varieties such as raisin bread.
When shopping for groceries, check to see how much you are paying per pound on everything you purchase be it a box of cereal, a can of peaches, or a loaf of bread, and choose the least expensive per weight. I’ve known people who only looked at the total price, and while their $4.00 package of meat seemed innocuous since, after all, it was only a few dollars, had they checked, they would’ve found it contained less than a pound! That same $4.00 may well have bought two or three pounds of less expensive meat, and perhaps more.
Some people believe in clipping coupons. My husband and I gathered up a nice collection and went to the store. What did we find? The coupons were for name brand items, and the generic store brands, which we normally use, were still less expensive than the others, coupons and all. In most cases, we couldn’t see where the coupons would save us anything.
Do your math and decide if buying in bulk will save you money. When our children were home, I baked all our bread, and we found it cheaper to buy flour 100 pounds at a time. Do plan, though, as it won’t pay to buy in bulk if you aren’t able to store the food properly and use it before it spoils.
Don’t waste food. About once a week I would make Mustgo! The recipe is easy. Just go to the refrigerator and pull out the odds and ends saying this must go, that must go, and make the different leftover meats and veggies into a soup or stew. We rarely threw anything away.
If you’re lucky to have a green thumb, the time, and space outside, don’t overlook gardening! Our family always had a big garden every year, thanks to my dad who was a carpenter by trade. He’d come home from his job and work in the garden each evening during spring and summer. I kept up his tradition for many years after I married, and it helped stretch our food bill, to say nothing about the other benefits of fresh, organically grown vegetables.
Now we’ll move out of the kitchen to the other areas of the house. Turn off all lights that are not being used in order to save electricity. That same rule applies to televisions, radios, and so forth. The old saying of “use what you need, but need what you use” applies here. Also, there are now energy efficient light bulbs, and appliances. Invest in them when you can.
Wash laundry in cool or cold water if you can, and only full loads when possible. It costs as much to run the washer for a few things as it does to run it for many.
Line dry laundry. We’ve done without a clothes dryer for many more years than we’ve had one, and even now that one is finally available to us, we still use the clothesline during better weather. Sunshine and fresh air are free. Electricity is not.
Much of our clothing comes from thrift stores! By being selective, it’s possible to end up with a very nice wardrobe for a small fraction of the cost one would pay at other stores. For example, we bought the most beautiful black, velvet coat in like new condition for our teenaged daughter for only $15! We also found beautiful, formal dresses for her there at the same price. Our son’s tuxedo came from a thrift store also. It cost only $25 and was in perfect condition. He wore it to school dances and his wedding, so we again saved money.
The same rule applies to furniture! Visit the better thrift stores. Being patient and selective is key. Be sure to turn that rocker recliner up so you can peek underneath it to see if it’s broken, or if it is sturdily built. We have purchased comfortable chairs for between $25 and $60 which only needed minor repairs, and they are serving us well. They undoubtedly would’ve cost hundreds of dollars new.
To work or not to work – that is the question. If you are a parent of young children, and have the option of working outside the home, or staying home with them, look closely at the economics. Some people gave me a hard time because I hadn’t gone out and joined the work force alongside my husband, but by the time I paid for child care and income taxes, most of my earnings would’ve been gone. It was more economically feasible for me to raise our own children, and save my husband’s earnings by cooking, sewing, gardening, and so forth. It was also a benefit to the kids as I was there to teach them to read, write, and do math before entering school.
If you opt to stay home with your children, you might find ways to earn extra money as I did. I received income from babysitting, and I also sold hand crocheted and knitted scarves and sweaters. Between those earnings, what I was saving by being home, and the hours of quality time with my children, it was definitely best that I not work elsewhere.
As to family fun and entertainment, there are low cost options there, too. Many fun hours were spent with the kids while bike riding, playing Frizbee, sitting at the table together playing board games and cards, doing inexpensive crafts, and so on.
It was also enjoyable to go to the park. A picnic lunch is easy to prepare and one has to eat no matter where they are, so the only extra cost is the effort and perhaps a little gasoline to get there. As for the kids and me, we rode our bikes. It was a cost free outing, and it also provided the side benefit of helping us remain physically fit.
We also took advantage of the library. Why buy books to clutter up the house when you can read them for free? If you’re compelled to add to your personal library, then visit the local thrift shop, or used book store. Oftentimes, the latter will trade books with you. If you have a few that you’re willing to give up, they may be traded in for something else, so be sure to ask the proprietor about it. Otherwise, book prices are still usually less there than anywhere else.
You might ask, do these things really help? The proof is in the bank! Back when our three children were with us, we were making house payments of over $820 per month, and since we were in Alaska, our winter power bill was $300, and in summer it was $70. We also had to pay a trash and water bill of $33 per month – more if we wasted water – and a similar sized phone bill. Needless to say, we made few long distance calls. During this time, my husband’s base pay was $1,500 per month before deductions. Sometimes he received a bit of overtime, but it was nothing we could count on.
The bottom line? We still saved, and saved well! When we moved to our present location, we paid cash for the small house we’re living in, cash for the land next door since our youngest son wanted to live here, and cash to do the same for our daughter.
Then later, my husband decided to become a nurse. We paid cash for the necessary two years of schooling, and lived off our savings during them, remaining quite financially solvent.
We have since paid cash for a $3,000, 60 inch, Hitachi flat screen television, three used cars, and more, saving thousands of dollars of interest since no loans were involved. Best of all, we are now enjoying a debt free lifestyle!
So does frugality pay? I would say so, wouldn’t you? With these simple, basic steps, you, too, may find it possible to save.