The trigger for this latest bender is the end of our busy season. Sales at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival weren’t as high as we'd hoped (the weather wasn’t cooperative) and since we depend on those sales to get us through the winter, we’ll be tightening our collective belts for the next several months. This is nothing unusual; it’s happened before.
Over the years of self-employment, we were forced into becoming students of thrift. When we started our home woodcraft business nineteen years ago, we had no choice: we could either be thrifty and work at home, or we could spend money and find a 9-to-5 job. We chose to be thrifty. We've remained so ever since.
Recently I came across a frugality-related blog with an entry dating to 2006 in which the blogger listed 25 ways she saves money. She then linked to other bloggers who formed their own lists as well. It was wonderful to read through dozens of frugal lists. Frustratingly I didn’t save the link and can’t find it again, but I thought it might be interesting to recreate that concept.
Below are 25 ways we save money (well okay, the list came out to more than 25, and I’ll probably add to it as I think of more things, but you get the picture). Since we're rural, not everything we do will apply to everyone, but these are some of the ways we stay thrifty.
• We buy staples in bulk, usually from a wholesale grocery store but sometimes from Costco. This includes things like sugar, brown sugar, beans, rice, brown rice, flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, etc. I buy tea in bulk (Uptontea.com) as well as coffee beans (in large amounts at Costco, where I also get them ground). Other things we buy in bulk include over-the-counter medicines (aspirin, ibuprofen, allergy pills, etc.), dog food, toilet paper, even dish towels (a bale of 60 “shop rags” at Costco will last me through several years of hard use in the kitchen).
• We don’t use a clothes dryer. Years ago when we lived in Oregon and our girls were babies, Don installed a clothesline for me and I was astounded by how much money it saved on our electric bill. During appropriate weather, I dried everything on that clothesline, including cloth diapers. When we moved to Idaho, he installed a clothesline and I used it until it broke. Then my dear husband made me a hanging clothes rack which suspends from the upstairs ceiling, and it works so well that I never bothered asking if he could re-install an outdoor clothesline. Line-drying our clothes has literally cut our propane usage in half.
• We use as few disposables as possible. When we became preppers, we quickly realized that we were too dependent on disposable items – paper towels, Kleenex, feminine hygiene, disposable razors, paper plates, etc. We began phasing most disposables out of our lives. The above-mentioned shop rags have largely replaced paper towels. The girls and I use Enola Gay’s washable feminine hygiene products. We use cloth napkins and never buy paper plates or plastic cutlery. I use aluminum foil sparingly, and re-use it whenever possible. I have never bought plastic wrap; instead we use plastic containers with fitting lids, or those “shower cap” gizmos that fit over anything.
• When we choose to indulge ourselves, we keep the indulgence as low-cost as possible. For example, I enjoy a glass of wine in the evenings. But I’ll buy wine in five-liter boxes rather than expensive bottles.
• Our entertainment is home-focused. This isn’t hard to do, since the nearest movie theater or coffee house is an hour’s drive away. This means we rent movies, or read books, or go for walks, or visit neighbors, or otherwise come up with low-cost methods to keep ourselves entertained.
• Public transportation isn’t an option where we live, but working from home allows us to eliminate a commute. We combine trips to the city with other errands, and we map out our routes to make travel efficient and use less gas.
• We’re not married to labels. We buy generic or second-hand whenever possible. The few “name brand” items we’re devoted to are usually because it was originally the cheapest option and we’ve just gotten used to using that brand (such as Suave shampoo).
• We don’t watch TV. We don’t get reception and don’t want to pay for any of the expensive options to bring that trash into our house. This also serves to cut down on commercials and the lust for junk that commercials cleverly inspire (especially in children).
• I use our Crockpot (slow cooker) and bread machine constantly. Crockpots are the world’s greatest invention for busy people. If you throw the ingredients in for a stew or soup or roast before you go to work, your meal is finished by the time you get home. And I’ve hardly bought a loaf of bread in the last fifteen years thanks to my hard-working bread machine. Crockpots and bread machines can be bought for pennies on the dollar in thrift stores.
• We don’t have smart phones and we keep our cell phone plan (and usage) to a bare-bones minimum (none of us are fond of talking on the phone anyway). This way we can take advantage of the cheapest cell phone packages since we don’t want any of the extra bells and whistles. A couple years ago, we canceled our long-distance coverage for our house phone, so we can only make local calls from our landline.
• We keep our electricity usage low. We’re fortunate enough to live in a climate where we don’t have to use air conditioning in the summer, and since we use a wood stove exclusively in the winter, we don’t have heating or cooling bills. We’ve switched to CFLs in certain light fixtures (namely, lamps which are unlikely to get knocked over) which helps reduce our kilowatts. Our electricity bill averages $45/month to run a farm, woodshop, and home. (A little higher in the winter since we use a stock tank heater so the cattle can drink ice-free water; and a little lower in the summer when the days are longer.)
• I try to keep staples on hand for making our favorite meals, and try to cook from scratch whenever possible. We also make nearly all our baked goods: bread, English muffins, biscuits, cookies, etc.
• We’re a low-maintenance family. The girls and I don’t cut our hair (or if we do, we do it ourselves). I trim Don’s hair every couple of months, but since I’m admittedly bad at this, he goes in for a proper haircut about twice a year. We don’t buy clothes that require dry-cleaning. We don’t dress fashionably or go to salons or get our nails done or other unnecessary stuff (we live on a farm, remember!).
• We drink mostly water – and I don't mean bottled water. Soda is a rarity (though Don does enjoy diet Coke sometimes, blech). So is juice. We drink tap water, or milk. Fortunately our water is delicious, but if it wasn’t, we’d get one of those sink filters in order to avoid buying water.
• We have cheap friends, and I mean this as the highest compliment. Our friends don’t delight in shopping or otherwise spending money. Instead they enjoy the same home-centered things we do: a cozy cup of tea, a nice walk, a potluck dinner. Having cheap friends helps a lot.
• We buy used. It would never, ever dawn on us to buy a new car (even if we could afford it). Nearly everything we buy (except socks and underwear) comes from thrift stores. God bless thrift stores, they’re wonderful.
• Don is remarkably “handy.” When necessary, he can turn his hand to plumbing, wiring, repairs, construction, etc. It’s astounding how much money this saves us.
• Along the lines of being handy, we have tools to do necessary jobs. For example, our bathtub is highly susceptible to clogging, no matter how diligently we empty the hair trap over the drain. So we have a “snake” which can unclog a drain plug up to 25 feet down a pipe. Don has lots of tools like this and – even better – he know how to use them.
• I’ve rediscovered some of the domestic arts that save us a lot of money, such as canning, gardening, cooking from scratch, baking, etc. If I sewed, we could save even more. We try to avoid hobbies or pastimes that cost money.
•We heavily use our local library. Unfortunately this small rural facility is extremely limited in what it stocks (it has no magazines and only a couple dozen movies, for example), but we can always request books of interest. If nothing else, this allows us to “test drive” a book and see if it’s a worthwhile volume to purchase. (Ahem. Books are our weakness.)
• Our mortgage is low. When we were house-hunting in 2003, we knew we couldn’t saddle ourselves with a mortgage higher than we could afford. For Pete’s sake, we make our living selling crafts – because of the constant possibility that our business could experience a downturn, the last thing we needed was a high mortgage. It took us three years of diligent searching across four states to find property cheap enough that also fit our requirements – land for cattle and a garden, woods for firewood, an outbuilding (for use as a workshop as well as a barn), and a fixer-upper home. This careful shopping allowed us to keep our mortgage payments (including insurance) under $700/month. By keeping our credit rating high (paying our bills on time, minimal debt, etc.), we were able to qualify for a low fixed-interest rate.
• We use leftovers. Leftovers are some of our favorite meals. Often I’ll cook way more than we can eat in one meal solely to have leftovers for the next few days. If you don’t like using leftovers by themselves as a meal, consider combining them into soups, “leftover pie,” quiches, stir-fries, stews, etc.
• As self-employed entrepreneurs, we were priced out of conventional health insurance. We had little choice but to give it up. Even the highest-deductible catastrophic insurance was costing us a bloody fortune – nearly $10,000/year – and when we received notice that our premiums were increasing yet further, we simply couldn’t afford it. Since we’re blessed with good health, we dropped the insurance and instead got Aflac coverage for hospital, cancer, and accidents for about $150/month. We also took some of the money we were pouring down the rat-hole of useless health insurance and started our own medical emergency fund.
• We have a hot-water-on-demand propane water heater. We can’t take any credit for this since it was in the house when we bought it, but oh my goodness we love it. We have endless hot water when we need it, and we aren’t wasting propane or electricity by keeping a huge water tank hot all the time. Great money saver.
• Our appliances are the most basic we can find. Our refrigerator is small and doesn’t dispense ice or water. Our washing machine is very plain. We have no dishwasher. Our range is unsophisticated and inexpensive.
• We don’t upgrade. We use our items until they break beyond repair or are worn out. This includes computers, telephones, clothing, footwear, tools, etc.
• An idea I got years ago from The Tightwad Gazette is to keep a price book. This allows me to cross-compare prices of items across different stores. At this point I pretty much have things memorized so I don’t use one any more, but I remember an interesting incident that happened when Older Daughter was a baby. Our finances were so tight that disposable diapers were out of the question, though I did keep a few on hand for traveling. Another new mother tried to tell me she couldn’t afford a washing machine, which is why she used disposable diapers. I whipped out my price book in which I had recorded the cost of disposable diapers across numerous regional stores and convinced her that if she used cloth diapers, she could purchase a washer and dryer within a couple months. (I don’t know if the argument worked.)
• We keep our vices to a minimum. While we indulge in an occasional beer or glass of wine, we don’t gamble, use drugs, smoke, recreationally shop, etc.
Anyway, these are some of the ideas that came to mind on how we save money. I’ll add more as they come to me.
And here’s what I’d like to do: If you keep a blog or website, write your own list of money-saving tips, post it on your blog (cross-referencing this blog post as well), and send me the link. I’ll put up a post linking everyone else’s tips. That way we can generate a huge amount of cross-traffic AND get a lot of spiffy new ideas by reading everyone else's money-saving tips into the bargain!
Frugality Tips from Other Bloggers