I have been living below the poverty line for years. I haven’t worked a day job in a very long time. I do work on the internet and make money there but the amount is far less (at this time) than one would make at a 9-5 job. However, I do not live in a tent, I actually live in a nice townhouse with my sister and elderly father. But I must admit that we don’t buy new stuff all the time, we recycle everything, we are not consumed with having the “next big thing” and use “cheezy old stuff” as much as possible, stuff everyone else throws out but works fine.
There is a sanity in what most Americans consider crazy. The idea that we must have shiny, new and expensive is a really bad idea that has driven our culture to the edge of sustainability. And why are you driving yourself to an early grave chasing more and more money when what you already have can save you lots of money and, better yet, what your foolish neighbor tosses out can benefit your life for free! In fact, I know several people who make their entire living on what other folks throw out. And, no, I don’t spend hours every day refinishing, reburshing or repairing… I am not any more handy than you.
So how do we live in a nice home and manage to feed ourselves every month? For one thing, there are a huge number of things you can do every day to save money and retain a pleasant lifestyle that allows for free time and fun. You have to learn how to stretch your money and make it work for you every day. This does not only entail budgeting and controlling expenses, it requires a change of mindset. You cannot continue to look at used items, refurbished items, things you can get for free, etc… as junk. All of it is just as useful as new stuff if it works fine. We are a consume and toss society and that is simply not working for us, it’s driving us into the poor house and wrecking the planet, to boot. So perhaps it’s time to reign it in.
If you are ready to give it a try and make the big leap to changing your way of thinking, then here are some suggestions I would like to make. These are some things that you can slowly integrate into your lifestyle to start loosening that stranglehold that material consumption has got you into. So take a deep breath and relax. It’s time to live for more than just money.
Save Huge Money on Food
Buy raw, fresh ingredients instead of packaged foods. This saves huge on food bills, helps the family get healthier and lessens the load on the planet at the same time. If you don’t know how to cook, buy a good cookbook and start.
Buy in bulk from local stores or place big orders from online or mail order sources. If you are a small family and have no need for large amounts, team up with friends and form a “buying club” where you all buy basics and split them up. Buying in bulk saves lots of money.
Try eating less red meat and animal products. Products that are vegetable based are cheaper and better for you. Also, beef production is a huge burden on the environment, so you’ll be helping on that level, too.
Buy directly from local farmers, look for farm stands, community supported agriculture programs and farmers markets. In that vein, buy fruits and veggies when in season, rather than prepackaged and frozen or canned. You can buy large amounts when they are in season and freeze them yourself or can them (if you are into canning).
Watch your food inventory. Don’t let unused food get tossed out. Freeze leftovers or make soups or casseroles (again, you need that cookbook!). We keep food as long as possible and what isn’t eaten by us is fed to the pets (the Hamster eats really well!) And when it’s past that point, it goes in the compost, which saves on other expenses and helps the garden grow healthy vegetables, which saves us money again. And, finally, watch out for overeating. Eating when you’re not hungry just forces the purchase of more food… and look what it does to your waistline.
Saving Money on Shelter
If you are a small family or a single person or couple, consider housesitting over long periods. It’s amazing the nice homes you can end up living in, sometimes for many months. Most of them are furnished with everything, even down to the sheets and spoons. You trade living there for watching the place. Most homes are up for sale, held by banks, someone’s vacation home, a business holding or other unoccupied, casually used residences. I personally have a freind that is doing this and living in lovely homes year round.
If you are of the mind to be helpful to others, and are a single person or small family, consider a live in care position. These jobs are not always just for nurses or CNAs. In fact, in most cases, it only requires making meals, taking pets for walks, cleaning up, and other menial chores involving personal care. Often the resident is paralyzed, sick, in a wheelchair, suffering from demential or mental disorders and needs loving, compassionate help from someone else.
You can consider building your own pad, from scratch, using natural, inexpensive and simple materials. You can save big time by foraging or salvaging materials for your new home. Shop around for someone who’s renovating a house and might let you cart away old materials. Never buy new, always check the yellow pages for used building materials. Online, there are great sites like Freecycle or Craigslist where people trade or give away unwanted items.
Build with natural materials found on-site. If you have wood, the equipment to mill it yourself is relatively inexpensive, compared to buying lumber. You can always resell the sawmill after you’re done with it. Building with stone or straw bales and using clay for plasters are other relatively inexpensive natural building options.
And remember to never skimp on insulation or good windows. Build your home tight enough, and it will cost much less to heat. You may even be able to get away with a woodstove or other supplemental heating and avoid the cost of buying and running a central heating system.
Finally, a great option for singles or older couples is to become long term caretakers. There are wealthy people who own several residences and require live in help on their unoccupied properties. Check out the “caretakers gazette” for listings for this kind of employment.
Save Big on Utilities
Run the air conditioning at the highest comfort level, which is often around 78-79 degrees. Keep the heat, as well, at the lowest comfort level, which fluctuates throughout the winter as the temps rise and fall. Clean the filter often, as often as every month and never less often than every three months. Also, close off unused rooms to save on both heat and air conditioning.
Be efficient with your appliances. Have a big baking night when you’re going to use the oven. Make up lots of food, box it and store it or freeze it for eating through the week. Get a woodstoveand let it be your dryer and water heater. If this is not feasible, consider small space heaters and use them room to room as needed. Turn water heaters to the lowest comfort level, which is usually just above body temperature, around 100 degrees. Turn it off when not in use and set up a “shower and wash night” where everyone uses the showers and washing machines.
Also, avoid using the washing machine and dryer as much as possible. Handwash what you can and hang dry everything that isn’t needed immediately. Run the dryer on “no heat” or “low heat”. Wash clothes in cold water when possible. Use the energy saver functions on the dishwasher. Run the dishwasher every other night or less often and use all appliances in the evening or very early morning hours, when overall demand is the lowest and the house is cooler.
Take advantage of natural weather patterns to heat and cool your house. In the summer, open the windows at night and close them again by noon. Get a Programmable Thermostatto work with your schedule, having it turn off the cooling system when you leave the house and starting it back up at your return time, preferrably in the evening hours. Buy and use fans as much as possible.
Consider placing your refrigerator and/or freezer(s) in the coldest part of the house so it requires less energy to keep the temperature low. This could be the basement.
Buy energy efficient light bulbs. I have replaced all of our bulbs with CFLs. They cost a little more on the front end but they burn cooler and last longer. Remember to turn off lights when not in use and try to unplug any unused electric items with lights, clocks or timers. The most important being recharging gear for cell phones, power supplies, radios, etal.. They use an amazing amount of power just sitting there. You can plug multiple items into one power strip to make shutting them all off faster.
Save Money on Moving Around
Put together a carpool with friends or co-workers. Some cities maintain online listings to help people connect with other carpoolers. So ask if your city has a carshare program or start one with people you trust. Check local cities for transit systems like buses, rails, trains and subways. We only have one car that none of us currently drives. In fact, my license expired and I did not renew it. We use the buses most of the time and also walk and bike around a lot. It is good for the body and as your lifestyle slows down, you won’t hate it.
If you must drive a car, then consider converting to a diesel car to run on used vegetable oil. You’ll pay once for the conversion or kit, but after that all your fuel can be free. All you have to do is find a restaurant that wants to dispose of their used oil and will let you cart it away. So many people are doing this, it’s amazing and it works really well. Most restaurants have to pay to have the stuff carted off, so you’re saving them money at the same time.
Read my post on hypermiling and implement the tricks to keep your mileage down. Do as many errands as possible with each car trip around town instead of making multiple trips. You’ll save a lot of gas and on car repairs over the long haul.
Saving when Shopping
First rule: don’t go into stores unless you need something. And always carry a shopping list. Remember, stores are designed to get you to buy things you didn’t know you needed. Only buy what is on the list and don’t be seduced. While you’re there, hit as many end-of-season sales as possible, to save on liquidating inventory. But, again, only buy what’s on the list!
Before you make the decision to shop, try borrowing the items you need from family or friends. Check out the websites, Craigslist and Freecycle to find out what people are giving away. Set up or join borrowing co-ops for tools and other large items that are casually used.
Always try to find everything used before you buy new. Visit garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops and charities like the Salvation Army for the items you are looking for. But when you choose to buy new, choose high-quality, durable items. It’s often cheaper to spend more upfront if you won’t have to replace the item in the near future. Consider how long you will need the item and how long it will last. One good peice can last a lifetime and more while replacing junk year after year is pricey and stupid.
Instead of shopping, try foraging and scavenging. Watch the curbs at the end of the semester in a college town or during a change of seasons when people are likely to move. If you live near a high school, try talking to the janitor the last day of school when they’re cleaning out the lockers. During this foreclosure crisis, many people are moving out of their homes and simply leaving their furnishings and other belonging behind. I know several people locally who have benefitted in this way by getting some very nice stuff for free.
Get over the label hangup and the new clothing fetish we are all saddled with. Start buying your clothing and accessories used, you will be amazed at how good this can get! I mean, seriously. When you buy new, you often buy the cheapest junk because it’s all you can afford. When you buy used, you can get super nice quality clothing for far less than you now spend for new duds. In fact, you can get Prada purses and Betsy Johnson dresses online at places like eBay, Kijiji and Craigslist for less than a third of what they originally cost. In this vein, you can also visit consignment shops and thrift stores and search for good used clothing. It’s exciting and fun to find clothes and accessories in used condition that you could never afford new.
You can always throw a clothing exchange party to trade unwanted clothing with friends. Or you can hold a swapmeet and invite women to bring their used stuff to trade. Online there are sites like swapstyle, dignswap, swaptree, clothingswaps, rehashclothes and beyondjane. Even sites like Facebook and Myspace now have swap pages.
Save on Medal Care
While seeking treatment providers, ask a doctor or dentist if they have sliding-scale fees. Look for free or low-cost clinics and/or medical schools for treatment. You can often get free or very inexpensive health treatments at these places. Consider also participating in research projects where you get paid to take medicine for an illness you have been diagnosed with.
Quit smoking! Not only do you save money on the cigarettes, but your health will improve, necessitating less health care in the future.
Go wireless! If you have a laptop or desktop that has wireless capabilities, discontinue your Internet service and utilize a wireless “hotspot” where you can connect to the Internet for free. Even the smallest towns tend to have at least one. My neighbor has been doing this for a long time. He uses a wireless router and everyone in the household (a two sided duplex) has the free use of the internet.
We use the free internet service at the local library. This is great if you only have occassional need for access, but many of the libraries allow you to use the computer as long as you like while there are no people waiting. There are often free computers all day long and I have used them for several hours at a time. Another great use of the local library is video rentals. They have a large selection of popular titles and, best of all, they are free.
If you love the theatre for plays or performances, then consider volunteering to usher. They love volunteers in the local community theatres and you really do nothing but seat people and watch the play. Also check your local papers and community websites for upcoming free events like concerts, festivals and comedians. And always remember that when you are the concert or event, avoid buying anything to eat or drink. Prices on these items are often exorbitant.
Entertain more at home. Have parties. Throw BBQs. And remember to buy the hot dogs and hamburgers in bulk!
But do not torture yourself. If there’s something you really want to do, go ahead and splurge. Just be very choosy about what and when.
Trade babysitting time with other couples and have rotating playgroups with other families. Trade off daycare with other women, rotating the kids on days off from work. And take the kids with you when you can.
During the holidays, draw names for gift giving with groups of family or friends rather than buying a gift for everybody. Better yet, make a deal with the adults to just send cards.. and make your own. Buy consignment and used gifts for babies and small children. They just don’t know the difference and the toy is old news in no time anyways.