January 8th, 2008
Habits of thought that won’t cost you a thing…
My last post offered some Tips for Avoiding Pressure to Shop, mostly in the context of getting out of the usual “girls’ day out” type of expensive, mall-hopping, credit card fueled frenzy that way too many people in the modern world view as entertainment. At least, until the bills come due. Sad statistics demonstrate that if medical costs from an accident or illness in the family don’t lead to bankruptcy, credit card debt will. These are the two biggest contributors to middle class bankruptcies in the U.S. at this time, and as the mortgage crisis becomes ever worse, it’s not going to get any better.
In this post I’m going to offer some ways of thinking that can become habitual without too much trouble, that will help keep you out of debt by not going into debt in the first place. Not everyone can put these to good use, but those who can will find that their shoestring budgets go a lot farther in covering necessities.
• First and foremost, get rid of the credit cards. Even if you just pay the minimum every month, all that covers is interest and fees. Nothing you bought with the cards gets paid for, and your debt never goes down. I know this can be difficult when you receive a dozen “Great Credit Card Offers!” every week in the mail, but you can ignore them if you try. There are no “great credit card offers,” there are just financiers trying to profit from your spending habits. If you can start thinking of them in those terms it’s a lot easier to resist.
And don’t be fooled into believing you HAVE to have a credit card in order to purchase anything on-line. Your debit card from the bank usually comes with a particular card option stamped somewhere that allows you to indicate what kind of card you’re using, even though the transaction works just like regular bank account debit. If you don’t have enough money in your account to buy that nice watch you saw advertised on the Shopping Channel, you shouldn’t be buying it. It’s not that hard to find out what time it is, and most grocery stores sell $5 watches right there in the checkout line anyway. They work fine.
• Another way to save money – while at the same time doing wonders for your family’s nutritional health – is to learn how to cook from scratch. I have a sister who hasn’t had a working stove/oven for the last 15 years, and never bothered to get one because she doesn’t cook and neither does her husband. The family, which includes three children, lives on fast food. Wendy’s gristleburgers, MacDonald’s big macs and Happy Meals, most any highly fattening, nutritionally deficient fast food or processed junk they can buy. Not only is this outrageously expensive, it leads directly to health problems, obesity and chronic depression. For which my sister takes drugs she doesn’t really need. My best advice on this is to sit down and watch – really watch, paying attention – the movie “Supersize Me.” It’ll scare the heck out of you, and maybe scare the junk food out of you too!
It’s just not that hard to heat up some frozen vegetables or open a can of beans, cook up a roast or even try your hand at some cool vegetarian alternatives. Get a few cookbooks at a used book store, read through them, see if there aren’t some recipes that make your mouth water. I’m betting there are, and your family will thank you for it.
• You can also purchase food and home products like toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. in bulk when on sale. Prices are not coming down at the grocery and drug stores any time in the future, as increasing energy costs translate directly into higher prices for everything. If your local store is having a week-long 2-for-1 sale on canned and boxed goods and TP, paper towels, garbage bags, etc., take advantage of it! You’re going to use these items in the course of your daily life regardless. Might as well double up at half the price.
• Another idea if you’ve got the time and energy is to make your own household products and beauty items. These projects can be great fun for families to work on together during at-home weekends, and many who do this find that their products earn serious fans among the extended family visitors and friends who end up using them at your house. Or get them as gifts, since they make such good gifts. There’s some good information and recipes out there, such as Making Your Own Natural Designer Soaps. The web is a very useful tool, with sites devoted exclusively to recipes, projects, crafts and basics that you can make at home for not much money. Do some surfing!
• If you have school age children, get them a nice lunchbox and make their lunches. Not only will their lunch be more nutritious and useful than the junk that passes for food at most school cafeterias, you’ll save a significant amount of money. Buy dried fruit (roll-ups, raisins, mixed fruits, etc.) in bulk, have single-serving zip-locks handy to divvy it up into a week’s worth of lunch. If you make your own real good bread (with a machine or the old fashioned way), it can give peanut butter and jelly a whole new meaning!
I make sourdough bread, which my family thinks is the best bread anywhere. It’s quick because sourdough doesn’t have to be kneaded to death and doesn’t require hours’ worth of rising time. I usually use half unbleached all-purpose and half whole wheat, sometimes adding rye, barley or soy flour plus sunflower seeds, flax seeds, even chopped walnuts to make a slice a meal. A chunk of good cheese and a thermos (or purchase a carton) of milk and a baggie full of celery and carrot sticks makes a highly nutritious lunch that will stick with your child through the rest of the day and maybe even help them do better in school because they’re not falling asleep from sugar-crash during their afternoon classes.
• Home gardening saves a lot on truck vegetables now getting so expensive at the store than many can’t afford them at all any more. Things like bell peppers and tomatoes can be easily grown in containers on a sunny porch. Use a lot of compost in the soil mix (these are heavy feeders) and water them with compost tea regularly. My grandchildren eat raw peppers and tomatoes just like apples, and can never seem to get enough. I do sometimes include apples in their lunches, but if there’s a home grown, super-sweet handful of cherry tomatoes or a fist-sized home grown purple bell pepper they’re thrilled – and the envy of all their friends at school!
There will be more money-saving ideas forthcoming in future posts, and if any of my readers have good ideas please send ‘em in! Putting our heads together can help all of us better weather the coming recession, maybe even help us learn to live on less while enjoying our lives much more. Happy thrifting!