Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to survive a recession

I know some of you will argue that we're in a depression, but all the more reason to really look hard at how you are living and figure out how to comfortably ride out the bumps in the road.

You don't have to look too far for help in finding some great ideas on how to save money and stay on a budget. There are numerous websites with all sorts of help on living frugally and getting closer to financial freedom. On top of that, you can look to our grandparents and others who lived through the depression to see what they did.

So, let's address some of the necessities and see where you can get some savings.

Food - This is one area where you can take advantage and save a lot of money. Growing your own fruits and vegetables, eating less (or no) meat, choosing inexpensive, but nutritious, ingredients and making/baking your foods from scratch can help cut your costs considerably.

When you go food shopping, plan out your meals for the week (or more) and stick to your list! If there's an item on sale that you tend to eat a lot of, then it's a good time to stock up, but don't get sucked into buying things you don't use or need, just because it's on sale or you have a coupon.

And, since we are doing the Food Waste Reduction Challenge this month, making sure that no food goes to waste will help out your pocketbook. Cutting back on eating out and eliminating those trips to Starbucks will also save you a bunch of money. It may not seem like much at the time, but those $3 splurges add up.

Do It Yourself - Instead of forking over money to someone else to do big or small jobs around the house, do it yourself. Unless you have health issues that prevent you from physical labor or fine motor skills work, paying someone else to mow your lawn, weed your yard and scrub your toilets doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you can do it yourself.

Don't know how to do a household job? Decide whether or not you can learn to fix that leaky toilet or install new downspouts. Borrow some fix-it-yourself books from the library and teach yourself a few new handy skills to have around the house. If something still seems too complicated, you might be able to exchange services with that handy neighbor of yours: maybe he/she is willing to do a little electrical work in exchange for setting up their computer.

Cut Back on Optional Expenses - Do you really need all those cable channels, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, cell phone services, and the like? Try to cut out what you don't need or can replace online. You can read most newspapers in full online as well as many magazine articles. Same goes for many TV shows. So, perhaps your Internet connection can provide you with your all your media. If you must have a cell phone, think about getting rid of your house line and using your cell phone as your main phone number.

Heating, Cooling and Electrical - I don't need to tell you that Freezing Yer Buns off during the winter and Keeping Yer Cool during the summer can save you a lot of money, particularly when energy costs are rising. Think about investing in or making your own solar cooker to reduce gas and electrical costs associated with cooking. Turn off and unplug things when not in use and line dry your clothes whenever possible.

Buy Nothing - That's right. Limit your spending to only food and absolute necessities. If you do need some new clothes for yourself or for the kids, shop at second-hand or consignment shops. You'll generally find high quality clothing and some housewares for a fraction of the original price. Switch to cloth TP, napkins and the like to cut out paying for paper products. Invest in a DivaCup and/or cloth pads to save hundreds of dollars on your menstrual supplies.

Reconsider your Transportation - Having your own private transportation is costly. Between car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking fees and tolls, getting to and fro can really cost and arm and a leg. While you may not be able to get rid of your vehicle(s) altogether, consider reducing the number you have or using it less often.

Combining trips, carpooling and public transportation are alternatives that many people can live with. If you have the gumption to go for bicycling, walking or pogo-sticking, then by all means, trade out a few trips and save some gas, parking and wear and tear.

Refinance - With mortgage rates at a record low, take advantage and refinance your home loan! (I'll be posting more on this soon.)

Make a Little Extra - Now's a great time to go through your storage and sell those items you never use anymore. Craigslist is a great (and free!) way to sell that gently used sports equipment, old crib and other things collecting dust in your house or garage. It may not make you enough to pay the mortgage, but a little extra money to pay for groceries or invest in a money saving item (like a DivaCup or bus pass) is well worth your time.

Go through all your bills and try to figure out where you can cut back, reduce expenses and save money. Use your savings to pay down consumer debt or reduce the principal on your mortgage. Finally, make a budget and stick to it!

What of the above areas can you work on to save money?


Anonymous said...

It all makes sense except -
POSSIBLY - doing home repairs
yourself - unless you REALLY
know what you're doing. The
previous owner of our house did
it all himself and we've spent
the last 20 years slowly getting
all his mistakes rectified!

Robj98168 said...

These are all great ideas- Growing food can be done at any home- got an apartment and no balcony? try sprouting! Also try buying clothes and household items at thrift stores or yard sales- Much cheaper! Or Join a free cycle group.

Carmen said...

I just want to echo Rob's freecycle idea. What a great community resource! Kids have outgrown their clothes? Offer it up to others. Post a WANTED add for yourself. Saves items from going in the landfill, less new manufacturing = energy savings, builds community, and saves us all money.

red fraggle said...

We do most of this already - no cable, no car, no paid help with small chores. I have started meal planning in the past three weeks and I think it has already saved me a couple hundred dollars - simply because I am not heading to the store anymore picking up implusive things! I stopped going out for coffee a while ago.

Still to do -

1 - My husband won't eat less meat so I have been going veg for the wee one and I during the day. I'm trying to work one veg meal into the dinners for the week.

2- I'm joining a local food co-op for my veggies and fruit - I'm awful about growing them on my balcony and the season is short.

3- Buy more bulk - I bought bulk spices this week and it was sooo much cheaper!

Diva cup here I come..

Anonymous said...

"making/baking your foods from scratch": this is what we do with most cooked meals in my country. we don't use too much convenience food, their price is high, the choice is narrow. but there are a few things that's cheaper to buy ready: most bakery products, bread, croissants, buns, etc. on the other hand, home made bread is much better quality.

healinggreen said...

I've been thinking about refinancing...It's a bit daunting to me though, as this is my first house, for some reason I find the whole thing a little scary. Though I suppose the worst thing that can happen is they say no and I'm out a few hundred dollars for the appraisal. Right? Guess I should research some more...

AFTER I email the FDA about the level of mercury in foods like oatmeal and chocolate syrup, grr...

Ashley // Our Little Apartment said...

This is great!

Last month I did a similar post- from the perspective of a young 20-something who doesn't want expenses to limit my career options.

Namely - I'd rather live simply and do what I love than have a miserable job and buy lots of Starbucks. :)

Farmer's Daughter said...

I've been applying for scholarships for my grad classes. I went to undergrad for free on an academic scholarship, so I have no student loans. I had just been paying for my grad courses since it was part time. I paid for my first masters in full, but now my school will reimburse me partially for my second ms.
My husband and I are thinking about refinancing, but the closing costs may be out of our range as things are really tight right now.
We're also going to challenge our property taxes. Perhaps two years ago, we could have sold our house for their appraised value, but now I don't think we could. And we're paying almost $10,000 in property taxes a year. Thanks a lot, Connecticut!!!

Anonymous said...

I might've already said this, but I recently cancelled my cable service. For the $55/month it cost, I can rent a RedBox DVD for a dollar every night and still save over $20/month. You can probably buy your favorite TV series on DVDs; for example, I recently bought the USA series "Burn Notice, Season 1" on DVDs for like $20 and I watch one episode each night or so ... drag it out over a month - and have to watch "reruns" :-) for free....

Anonymous said...

BTW, on food savings, I've noticed that spices are cheaper in the latino section of my store than the baking aisle. Ditto for lemon juice and dried beans.

Oh, one more thing (particularly for Red Fraggle). One way to reduce meat consumption unnoticably is to slice it thin: a quarter-pound of roast beef sliced thin and piled like messy blankets looks like a lot more than a 4-oz. block of beef. Also, if you place it on top of something else, like potatoes, as opposed to placing it next to the sides. Pay attention to the tricks the restaurants use... Gravies, garnishes, big plates, ... utilize optical illusions....

red fraggle said...

j23 - those are good tips - funny note: I piled meat on rice last night DH said "Mmm.. delicious, but uh , not to be picky but I usually like my rice and meat separate." This was after I asked him what was wrong - as he was looking at the plate oddly.

I love the idea of the think sliced meat - I notice we eat less when it is pounded ( say minute steak. Must get a pounder... but must not spend money.

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Anonymous said...

Red Fraggle - I pound meat with the bottom of my morter.


Maeve said...

eep, this got longer than I thought it would!

People will go kicking and screaming into a lifestyle that requires them to work harder. To live cheaper does mean you have to work harder. It means you have less time for hobbies and "chilling".

The biggest advice I'd give would be to look at it as a challenge to make positive changes for healthier living that is more equitable given the terrible circumstances so many on the planet live in. If you look at it this way, it helps make all the work look more like "fun work".

That said, I'd suggest to only buy what you actually need. And to know that, you have to look at your situation, and write down all the things you buy, the things you have on your 'wish list' (whether written or just in your head), and so on. You have to go over that list and figure out what things on it are actual NEEDS and which are WANTS.

Will you wake up in the morning if you don't have ___ ? Yes? Then it's probably just a "want".

Next, figure out what you can do yourself that you've paid others to do.

You are more than able to clean your home, wash your car, bribe your spouse into trimming the ends of your hair (I'd recommend a simple hair style if you try this one, heh), do your own manicures, etc.

Don't buy clothes that can only be dry cleaned, unless you truly have no choice.

Do you really need a new wardrobe just because a season or a fashion trend has changed?

Consider your beauty routine. If you can 'go natural' you'll save a TON of money. I don't mean 'go stinky and dirty'. But do you need mustache waxing, or hair coloring, or makeup/nail polish, etc?

Review your media subscriptions- newspapers, magazines, internet, cable/satellite tv, online subscriptions, and so forth. What do you actually USE? Cancel the rest.

Be sure to do regular maintenance on the things you own, because keeping things in good shape is more efficient and less costly than repairing things when they break.

If you do not have pets, don't get any unless you absolutely need them for your mental/physical health, or as protection for you or your home. If you have a farm, chances are your 'pets' are already 'working animals' (cats as mousers in the barn, etc). Pets require immunizations, sterilization (unless they are for breeding, which most people should NOT be doing), food & bathroom needs. This is not cheap.

Nurse your babies. Formula is astronomically expensive. All the bottles and sterilizing equipment is not a cheap investment either. In most cases (not all), nursing is also healthier for the infant. Women can pump if they are working outside the home, and often the good equipment can be rented from hospitals. (If someone is dealing with serious depression or other issues, and formula feeds, other women need to be --supportive--, not judgmental, btw. No need to heap more woes on an already struggling woman.)

Skip the boxed and bottled foods if you can (some babies have certain needs, and if you're struggling with colic or oral sensitivity, and such, you just do what you have to in order to get your kid fed).

Cloth diaper if you are able. Don't buy brand new baby clothes. They just end up spitting up on them and staining them anyway.

Look into switching to something like a motorcycle or scooter for commuting, if it's reasonable in your climate (or at least for a big part of the year). Those things get 70+ mpg. So if you can't ditch a vehicle, but don't have public transit, that might be an option.

When replacing things that wear out and break, avoid paper and plastic unless you have no choice. Plastic does have its uses though, such as waterproof storage for things like bulk dry foods, or clothing.

Tip for parents- when going to thrift sales and such, keep an eye out not just for what your children need NOW, but also what they are *going to need*. If you come across some snow boots that are in near-new condition, three sizes too big for your kid, for a really good price, buy them if it is in your budget that day. It's a tip I got from the Tightwad Gazette, and it really has helped us in terms of cost to clothe our kids.

You can use clothes that have been outgrown by all children in the home as a source of fabric for sewing projects. If nothing else, you can cut them into squares and make quilts or picnic blankets. Or if the garments are still in near-new condition, you can put them in a yard sale or pass them on to another family. A lot of times you end up with clothing that is worn, but still has some usable bits.

Parts that are too worn for re-use can be delegated to throw-away clean-up rags.

Re-evaluate NOW your traditions about holiday and birthday celebrations and gift-giving. Declare a home-made Christmas for next winter. Get a hobby to fill your quieter moments with, that takes time, and is pleasurable. Maybe whittling wood into simple fun toys, or puzzles; maybe needlework. Invest in a couple of games that can be played- chess is good, cards are good, games that involve lots of crashing are good (like Jenga) because kids seem to really enjoy those. You can ignore most of the games at the store, because frankly, most of them are really boring. You can even make your own board games.

Open your curtains, turn off your lamps. Don't spray your house full of "air fresheners" or use those plug-in things. Open up your windows instead to air out your house. If you pick a breezy day, it will air out faster.

If you own your property, landscape with edibles. Plant berry bushes, not just foliage bushes. Plant vegetables in with your petunias (eggplants are pretty, as are many other veggies and herbs, and even fruits). Consider the 'cottage garden' or 'knot garden' look for your lawn, in order to get rid of lots of grass yet have something that looks "manicured" in its place. Put a veggie garden out back.

I could probably go on a long time, LOL! Some of that stuff I do better at than others, but the main thing is to just tackle one thing at a time. Otherwise it's really overwhelming, and a person might just "shut down" rather than make some good changes.

Di Hickman said...

By menu planning, watching my food waste, being mindful of portion sizes and growing my own I've saved 25% on my grocery bill! And that's in the first month! Some items I stocked up on and so I should save more this month :)

Gretchen said...

All great ideas. Thanks for the info.

For parents, i would also recommend joining a babysitting co-op. Basically, you babysit each other's kids from time to time. When you watch other people's kids, you earn "points" that can be used for payment when you need other people to watch your kids. It's a great system. And, when you have date night, borrow a movie from the library and pop some popcorn at home. Or have a picnic in the park. Or go snowshoeing. Lots of romantic fun can be had for free!

Anonymous said...

@Healing Green: Get Rich Slowly has had a couple really great posts (including the comments) about the refi process; you might want to check it out.

Re: "do it yourself"--I agree, to a point. Definitely if your financial situation has changed (say, you or your spouse are unexpectedly unemployed), taking on the task of scrubbing your own toilets is no doubt a good idea. But if you're just battening the hatches and you had a well-thought-out reason for hiring someone to scrub your toilets for you (say, I'm tired of fighting with my spouse about this all the time and in the grand scheme of things, paying someone to scrub the toilets for us will do wonders for the longevity of our marriage)... well, in that case, you might want to reconsider. After all, you cutting out the line-item for the toilet scrubber is kinda like your boss cutting out the line-item for your salary. So maybe it would make sense to talk with the toilet scrubber about renegotiating the cost before nixing it all together.

Anonymous said...

Great tips all around. Buying used is an excellent saver. Swapping, too. I recently posted 21 ways to save on food on my blog, so I won't recreate that here. I don't think anyone yet has mentioned a huge one: The library! Don't buy those DVDs of your favorite shows -- check them out. If your local library doesn't have them, see if you can access them via interlibrary loan.

CM said...

I second the library comment!

Audio Books
Warm in winter
Cool in summer
Kids programs
Teens programs
Adult programs

Inter library loans
Outreach delivery services

Internet computers and often free wireless

Checkout their website too, there are often great resources for reference.

TheNormalMiddle said...

cut your own hair. I was scared to death to do this, I guess because all I could see were nasty bowl cuts done at home and that stupid flobee commercial on tv. But once I started, I realized how easy it is and my kids and husband look fine. (no bowl cuts thank you very much!) I still pay someone to cut my hair, but only 2-3 times a year when greatclips has a sale. I don't mind long hair on myself, so no big deal.

I figure it saves us at least $20 a month if not more.

Heather said...

Two thoughts on food:

If you really want to save money, make sure your grocery list is flexible. We write on stuff like '500g red meat' and '2 dinners of cook veg.' and then look at what is at the store when we get there. Red meat might be ground beef or chuck steak or roasting goat or whatever - whatever is cheapest and comes in roughly the size pack we want. Cook veg. will vary depending on season and random specials. We find we spend less this way than if our list was more specific.

And red fraggle, we 'extend' meat when we feed it to my dad (who can't stand vegie meals). So we'll replace around half the meat in the recipe with pulses - lamb/goat we mix with red or brown lentils, beef generally with navy beans but sometimes kidney beans, and navy beans with chicken (although we don't bother so much with chicken). It works well with stew/curry/chilli type dishes where the bits of meat are small or even ground and the pulses mix into the sauce, but not so well for dishes where the chunks of meat are bigger. An excellent book to get you started on this is "More with Less" by Doris Janzen Longacre - a Mennonite classic. But as a general rule, start with half the amount of meat your recipe calls for and replace the other half with around 2/3 the volume of pulses. If you're using lentils, just throw them into the sauce dry and simmer them for 30-ish minutes (which you probably would be doing anyway). For beans you'd have to pre-cook them or buy canned and use equal volumes meat and beans, then add them at the same point in the cooking as the meat.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to at least mitigate the costs of my business and having to purchase a new oven by recently getting a part time job as a civil engineer, my former career.

I make coffee at home. Use clothe wipes and diva cup. Shop and consign clothes at local consignment store. Use the library for bookclub books, even if it means reading them 6 months ahead of schedule. Bought a bus pass. Member of freecycle. Follow Dan around turning off lights. Dialed down cable channels. Eat 2 vegetarian meals a week. Will refinance when rates are mega-low.

All pretty basic and common. That's all for now.

Farmer's Daughter said...

The normal middle- I agree, cutting our own hair has made a huge difference. I quit dying my hair (highlights 3 or 4 times a year at $100 each time, plus the cut) and that's saved a lot of money and chemicals.
I cut my husband's and he cuts mine. Now my brothers want me to cut their hair, too.
And all of these ideas are also better for the environmenta.

Anonymous said...

One thing that I have been doing more of late is questioning all our bills. We were recently charged for a dental procedure because the hygienist misread when it was due; she gave it a year early...and we didn't know enough to question it-until the bill showed up showing that the procedure was denied by insurance.

I went in and reviewed the file, we even looked up what\when the insurance would cover the test.

The dental office has since put a note on our files and the charge (~$80)was taken off of our account.

Stacey said...

I just wrote a similar post on living cheerfully with less. I really enjoy looking for more ways to do this - thanks for sharing your ideas!

Alison Kerr said...

So far I've just not been organized enough to write a menu. What works for me is to have a goal of spending only $1 or less per pound on fruit and veggies. Surprisingly, I've been able to stick to this since the start of the year. My family have been happy that we are now eating more fruit than before. For meat my goal is $3 or less per pound and just 4oz each per person per day. I also bought bulk flour and rice last year and I am trying to buy only one loaf a week; I actually have to cook from scratch because otherwise we will not have something to eat!

Now if I could just meet these budgetary goals and at the same time eat sustainably raised/organic stuff it would be great. The only way I can see to do that is to grow my own, so that is next on my plan.

TDP said...

A few things that I've been doing to save money that haven't been mentioned yet -

*Divide up the wet cat food into small portions from the can and add water to the served portion to make a "gravy." The cat will get the flavor and liquid intake that they need but fewer calories. My cat gets dry food too, and she's pudgy so fewer calories is a Good thing.

*Try doing a day a week or a few days a month of liquids only - juice or water fast. I've recently completed a multi-day cleansing with fruit juice and its amazing how much more energy and optimism I have. My grocery bill reduced considerably too!

Ashley said...

Don't just list your stuff on the CL... Check out craiglist's "Wanted" section to see if anyone is looking for what you already have.


Green Bean said...

I called my cable company last week and they offered to reduce my bill by 15% off the bat. We cut some of our services (I would like to cut the whole thing but my husband won't go for it) and dropped it another 15%. That felt awesome! Couldn't bring myself to nix the landline but we took all services off it and it's not barebones.

We dropped Netflix for the library. You'd be surprised what great movies they have for no or a nominal fee.

Like Rob and Carmen, I'm ALL over freecycle. It has been especially helpful for items needed for my son's school.

Anonymous said...

I've been skimming, so I'm not sure it's been mentioned yet, but try bartering skills. I'm not very skilled with home-improvement stuff, but I might be able to barter a toilet repair for some home-canned tomatoes. My boyfriend just yesterday got paid in cookies for math tutoring :-) (This is his first real tutoring gig, so it's the general understanding that he's being paid in experience and hopefully a glowing recommendation at the end. But hey, bonus cookies!)

Young Snowbird -- where are you living that decent-quality fruit juice is cheaper than regular low-cost food? Or does a juice fast involve less juice than I think it does? That sounds like a recipe for me passing out at work.

Alyclepal said...

We've been focusing on groceries. As a total newbie to coupons I signed up for's $1 try out of their sales lists. We have started a pantry and used this to finish stocking. We are baking our bread and this month will start making yogurt and planning the garden. Since Dec. I've become vegetarian and seen a lot of health benefits like my arthritis "going away" and am eager to expand the garden to go more veggies for storing for the coming year. Today we went to the grocery store for triple coupon day(getting staples, not junk) and spent $45 dollars after they took $37 off the bill. I'm feeling like this all helps with a buffer against these economic times.

Unknown said...

You know what, we do everything we can to cut out energy usage, and you know what happens?
Because everyone is doing this, our electric rates are close to double what they were a year ago! Went up 40%!
So we're not saving money after all!
Our electric company is forcing us to seriously consider going off grid.

Here is what we have done.
We are hunter gatherers/gardeners, so we have two huge freezers that stay outside, and are unplugged for over half the year (we live in Alaska).
We use a french press coffee maker most of the time.
We heat with wood.
No need for AC.
I cook on our woodstove a fair amount.
I hang all our clothes to dry by the stove.
We are very frugal with our lights, and use oil lamps as often as possible.
We eat only Traditional Foods, never anything processed.
If I am ever able to sustain a pregnancy, we will do home births.
This weekend we are putting a timer on our hot water heater. It will only run 2 hours per day. Everyone that tries this, states that wattage drops off significantly.

We do live rurally, so we will always use a vehicle. No bus pass for us :o)

We hope that when we lower our hot water usage, we might see a drop in our bill.
Its at $250 per month right now, and most of that is just additional costs that they add to our bill :o(

Unknown said...

Forgot to add to the above that we use a special energy saver that prevents unused watts from circulating through our house as well. It saves anywhere from 10 to 20% I think....

TDP said...

LimeSarah -
I live in Phoenix Arizona, land of the gazillion citrus trees that are currently ripe for harvesting. Eating local - neighbor's lemon and orange trees in their backyard. That's how I can have lower grocery bills on juice, with better quality.

I also did say WATER fast. If you can't do it, don't do it. Crunchy was asking for suggestions, sheesh.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Here's something to think about when deciding who in the family will do those tasks you might job out - assign tasks based on interest/talent and not necessarily along gender lines. My husband is the KING of cooking with leftovers, we rarely toss any spoiled food away (we are rocking your challenge Crunchy - look out!) so he cooks the majority of our meals. I clean and I do the DIY/Home improvement stuff. I like doing it. And I'm good at it. My Home Improvement 1-2-3 was one of the best housewarming gifts I ever got - great for simple repairs and determining if you need to call in a pro or not.

We also eat meat as a condiment. Think stir fry or Indian food. We rarely do the Big slab of chicken breast+ veg+starch for dinners. That's expensive and the stir fry type food is quicker to make too.

Carole said...

Is there a fabric freshener spray you can use for second hand clothing you have purchased. I have just bought 5 dress jackets from a local store that sells items that have been donated.