Living More Cheaply Has Become a Necessity
I've had a realization this year: nearly everything I do results in consumption (of energy or a physical object), and this costs money. Whether it's running the tap, tearing off a piece of paper towel from the roll, or heating something in the microwave, a thousand daily activities all add up. This may be obvious to some people, but I think most of us live in a busy haze that blinds us to much of our own consumption.
As I write this, we find ourselves in an economic recession. No longer do we have the luxury to waste money thoughtlessly. Living more cheaply involves recognizing the daily waste and eliminating it. Here are ten things I've been doing to save money during a recession.
1. Save Money at the Food Store
Food stores make most of their profit on specialty items: the five dollar jar of fancy pasta sauce, the six dollar bottle of barbeque sauce, the three dollar luxury chocolate bar. Stores make nothing on bulk commodity items, especially when those items are on sale. So when you find a value pack of chicken breast on sale at two dollars per pound, buy it. Freeze what you don't use. Buy the large sack of generic rice. The bag of potatoes. Eggs on sale this week? Buy extra. Eggs stay good weeks beyond their expiration date (more about product dating). It is possible the store will actually lose money on you. And check the Sunday paper for manufacturer coupons. Then search for a store in your area that has double or triple coupon days.
2. Save Money on Heating
As I write this, it is winter time. And if you're like me, you've got some windows or even doors that don't seal quite right. Weather stripping and sealing products can be a big help, but here's what I do in a pinch: take some packing tape--the wide stuff--and tape up the cracks along the windows. Tape is not a good thermal insulator, but it will stop any draft from leaking through when the wind blows. An actual draft of cold air entering the home is huge in terms of heat loss. I've also taped a basement door that I rarely use. No more draft.
3. Save More Money on Heating
By not using it, as much! In the past I kept my house at 72 degrees. Anything less felt cold. This year I keep it at 65, and let me tell you, the body adjusts to it. Make sure you dress appropriately, though. I've tried to go as low as 60 degrees, but this pushes the limit of comfort. Try lowering the thermostat two degrees each week and see what your body will adjust to. If you are reading this in the summertime, try the reverse. 78 degrees can't be that bad, can it?
4. Save Money on Clothes
By not buying them. Seriously! I've made the conscious decision to buy no new clothes this year, as last year's wardrobe still suits me fine. Chasing after fashion is an expensive game. This is a recession, remember?
5. Reduce Consumption Around the House
Firing up the oven? Bake twice as much of whatever you are making, so you get twice the food for the same amount of energy use. And ask yourself, do you really need to reach for that paper plate or paper towel? Could you use less toilet paper? Flush less often? Use the sink more quickly? Shorter showers? Drink more water (cheap) instead of soda, or juice, or alcohol (increasing order of expense)? Wear clothes more between washings? Every little thing costs money, and it adds up.
6. Save Money on Gas
Read my article on saving money on driving. But in particular, minimize driving when you can. Combine trips. Shop close to home. See if you can work from home, if your line of work allows it. I've managed to drastically cut down on my driving, and it saves both gas money and wear and tear on the vehicle. Also, shop online. Look for free shipping. Amazon.com has free shipping on thousands of items.
7. Save Money on Lighting
First, try to let in as much natural light as possible to avoid turning on lights. Second, rely on high efficiency bulbs when you can. Third, only light the space you are presently occupying. Be diligent about it. Fourth, avoid turning on lights for brief periods. For instance if you can use the bathroom without turning on the light, do that. Frequent, brief use of lights cuts short the life of the bulbs.
8. Avoid Waste
Instead of throwing something away, ask yourself if you can get further use out of it. This even applies to something as simple as a paper plate or piece of aluminum foil. Uneaten food? Save it for tomorrow. And take particular care not to let food go bad before use. Allowing food to spoil can easily cost you hundreds of dollars per year. Also, now is not the time to buy the latest gadget. Does your current cell phone still work? Then you don't need a new one. Same goes for your MP3 player, your television, and your camera. Keep using your stuff until it dies on you.
9. Go on a Diet
No, not one of those diet programs with the special meals and shakes--those are expensive! What I mean is, re-evaluate what you are currently eating. You probably would do well by eating out less. That also means fewer take-outs and fast food stops. And do you really need that specialty coffee? Even when you cook at home, smaller portions may be better for both your wasteline and your wallet. This, of course, varies by individual.
10. Examine Your Recurring Expenses
I'm talking about those charges that show up on your account every month. Investigate whether you are paying too much for cable television or phone service. Search for a cheaper alternative. Do you really use that gym membership or Netflix account? If not, cancel them. When was the last time you comparison-shopped for car insurance? If it's been awhile, maybe you could lower that bill. These recurring costs really eat away at your monthly budget. Dedicate a few hours toward reducing them, and you can save hundreds, even thousands, over the course of a year.
Since becoming recession-minded, I've been astonished at how much we actually consume every hour of every day. I hope the ten tips above help you identify ways to keep more of your money in your own pocket.
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