Monday, June 16, 2008

10 Basic Ways I Save Money...

First, I'll admit there are two big areas of practical daily life that are important to me, so I'll happily tighten the budget in other areas to make room to enjoy these. Books and food.

Mike used to tease me by quoting those famous words of Erasmus: "When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Then he'd add that Susan's quote is: "When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left, I buy more books." :-)

Whether or not that is true, it is true that I learned to cut a lot of corners in the budget to make room for the things that matter most to me. What's surprising, though, is that cutting those corners didn't create any kind of hardship. I think all of the ways I learned to save money were positive for many reasons.

Saving money so that we can buy good food is not all about living an epicurean life! It's about eating nutritionally and well-- enjoying food in the state, and of the quality, that God meant for us to eat it. It's knowing that food is a gift from God-- a blessing, and one to be enjoyed. In being frugal or saving money, some important motives are to pay our bills, to take care of our families, to bless others, and, very importantly, to give to those who are in need. It's not to live selfishly. Enjoying good food, within limits, should not be considered irresponsible or excessive.

I hope I didn't set the bar of expectations high for what I'm going to say about food on a budget because the things I have to share might surprise you with their simplicity. You may think, "Well that was obvious!" I'm simply going to share a few basic thoughts and ideas from my own real life-- nothing earth-shattering or novel, really, because I am not Amy D. (the Tightwad Gazette woman whose last name I am not going to try to spell by heart!). If you want to learn to be heroically frugal and thrifty, you can check her books out of the library or read one of many blogs that could help cut a zillion little corners, cutting pennies and dollars here and there (they make my head spin just reading about them, even though I think they can be of great benefit).

Instead of being specifically practical, like how to best use coupons, or other little tricks and tips, I'm making a list that is geared more to overall lifestyle choices. I am easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by too many ideas, so the ideas I pursue need to be basic and simple. Common sense. So, this week, I'm going to make five lists of 10 things-- saving money in general, saving money on good food, making cooking more enjoyable or appealing, foods I splurge on, and some specific food/eating ideas or thoughts. I'll post one list each day. That way, this will be quick and easy, and I can post other things, too, because I do have a life outside the kitchen! :-)

So, here are ten things I've done. Some of this might be undesirable to you. You'll have to figure out where it makes sense for you to simplify or scale back. And I hope you'll feel free to make comments to add your own ideas and thoughts. That could be extremely beneficial to all of us.

1. I make my own all-natural cleaning supplies. This saves a ton of money! In Karen Logan's humorous and helpful book, Clean House, Clean Planet, she does price comparisons between her homemade cleaning recipes and an average priced store-bought version of that item. Many times, the homemade recipe costs mere pennies to make, while the store-bought version might cost around $3. Add this up over time, and the savings is significant. Plus, making your own cleaners is good for personal health and the environment!

2. I keep a basic, simple wardrobe. Very. I do need to spruce up my wardrobe-- I don't think I can be accused of being a clothes horse! My daughter, Melissa, is an amazing shopper. She plans ahead, knows what she needs, knows how to shop sales, avoids extreme trendiness, and has great patience and self-restraint. She can tell me ahead of time which things will probably go on clearance and for how much. She buys very nice things from Anthropologie and other stores, never for anything close to full price. Melissa doesn't have a loaded closet. She has a basic wardrobe made up of some really cute, quality things, and she's bought them for very little money.

3. I plan ahead and consolidate trips to town. If I know I need to go to town on Tuesday, I do all of my errands on that day. When my CSA pickup got scheduled on Tuesdays, I also scheduled my raw milk pickup for that day. And I go to the bank, shop, visit the library, drop by to see my grandsons (and daughter!), etc. I stay home a lot. Fewer times in the store translates to less spending.

4. When I'm in town, I never buy coffee drinks (or any other kind of drink) or treats. I used to stop by a coffee shop occasionally and buy a mocha or cappuccino, but I started thinking about how much it costs, and how it adds up over the course of a month or year. The cost can be significant, depending on how often you buy a coffee drink, and I decided that I'd much rather spend my money on something else. I have morning coffee most days anyway. And I buy coffee in shops when we're on vacation. That's enough.

5. We don't eat out. No fast food, no matter how harried we feel at the end of our time in town! We plan our restaurant visits, and it's a very rare thing. When we do eat at a restaurant, we want it to be of stellar quality-- a special place-- so we eat out just a few times a year, mostly when we're on trips. And we do our research to find some of the best places to eat in a particular area.

6. I don't go shopping for fun. Or I should say that I very rarely do. I avoid malls. I avoid stores that tempt me to buy things I don't need. I try really hard to check my impulses when I'm tempted to buy something. I need to think about it, so I try to put some time and space between that item and me. That gives me time to come to my senses and realize that I probably don't need, or even want, it! Exceptions to this are a once a week stop at Goodwill, and occasionally I'll want to visit an antique store or a new or used bookstore. There are reasons for the exceptions, and I'll probably get to that in a post down the road sometime... maybe. :-)

7. I try to buy mostly used books. If I know I want a book, I'll often keep looking at used sellers online until I can find a really inexpensive version of the book in like-new condition or new with a remainder mark. I cannot tell you how many $35 books (in impeccable condition) I've bought for well under $10 doing this. When the kids were young, I bought almost all of our books used because it was the only way we could afford to buy them. We visited used bookstores and library book sales all the time. And we had fun! Now I'm buying more new books at Amazon, Alibris, or in bookstores, but I still try to find good, inexpensive copies first. And, increasingly, I'm trying to give more thought to whether or not I really want to buy a certain book. (Remember, books are one of my top priorities-- you may not have an issue with this.)

8. I no longer buy paper towels (except in some rare cases, and when I do, they last a long time), saran wrap, ziplock bags, napkins, etc. When my children were young, I never bought these things, either, because they were easy to drop off the grocery list (saved loads of money over time), and I found ways to do without them. In recent years, I added them to the grocery list because I could afford them, but not long ago I began to look into doing without them again. This time the reasons weren't budgetary, but it will definitely save me money. I simply wanted to avoid plastic and to reduce waste. So I started buying the old flat-lidded pyrex containers for refrigerator storage (I find them at Goodwill for $1 or $2). My daughter made me some cloth napkins for Christmas (really cute, fun, colorful ones). I use cloth rags for everything. I use unbleached parchment paper to wrap cheeses for refrigeration and to wrap sandwiches and other food items when we want to keep them for a while. I just bought some unbleached waxed paper bags, too, that were made to replace baggies. A nice side-benefit of doing all of this is that the aesthetics of it is much more pleasing!

9. We've always kept entertainment and activities simple. What's important for children? Do they really need to take that class or activity? Would it be better to spend time in unstructured play? Could they have friends over or get together somewhere for play? A friend and I used to meet, with our kids, at the beach or a lake or park or somewhere free (including our own homes). We'd visit, the kids would play, and we'd eat a simple lunch we'd brought from home. Families can also go to the beach or lake together, play games, have a special movie night, go to Grandma's or to a friend's for a visit, camp out in the yard, go exploring, stargaze on a blanket in the back yard. The free stuff is the fun stuff, and it makes the best memories.

10. I live a pretty low-tech life, and I think this saves quite a lot of money. I keep electronics to a minimum, so there are no big entertainment centers here with the latest state of the art stuff. We don't watch TV (no cable or hookup here, but we do have a TV we use for a DVD monitor on rare occasions). I don't buy any gadgets at all. I think, compared to most people, I could be called a real minimalist when it comes to technology. Even my alarm clock is an old-fashioned thing that's not digital! I do have a computer, obviously and a simple Bose radio/CD player, but I rarely buy a CD. Most of the time, it's silent in our house (as far as noise that comes from technology), and I like that. :-)

Okay, that was long! Did I say this was going to be "quick"?! What about you? Any thoughts or tips or lifestyle things you've done that have saved you money?