Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Advice for economic troubles

The subject of debt has been all over the news lately. Personal debt, national debt, student loan debt, credit card debt, car loan debt, mortgage debt ... the list goes on and on. Then, of course, there's rising food prices, rising interest rates, rising home costs, rising rents, rising energy costs, rising everything.

In this economy, it's an extremely thin line between solvency and insolvency, between a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and homelessness. That thin line is getting scarily close for a lot of people, a frightening number of whom are living paycheck to paycheck.

A good friend admitted rising costs are hitting her family hard. "We figured that due to increases in everything, we have a shortfall each month of at least $2,000," she said. She says they'll be okay, but it's scary. They're ramping up some side gigs to get by.

We're also facing the potential loss of one of our income streams. This plays into one of my dark fears: Debt. Debt terrifies me, absolutely terrifies me. We spent many years in the hole when our girls were younger, and I never ever ever ever want to go back there. Accordingly, faced with a potential reduction in income, we're taking the usual steps we've taken during past times of economic hiccups: Decreasing our spending, boosting our other economic irons in the fire, tightening our belts. We've been through this before. We're black belts in frugality. We'll be okay.

But I thought this might be a good time to open up comments and encourage people to give their advice for handling tough economic times. While financial advice cannot be one-size-fits-all guidance, there are some universal principles everyone should consider. In addition to the usual suggestions of paying down debt and building up an emergency fund (excellent ideas but hard to do), here are some ideas:

• Get lean. Stop spending on anything except necessities. No dining out, no ordering in. Plug the financial leaks.

• Develop side gigs. Multiple income streams are safer than a solitary income stream.

• Start a written budget. It's important to know how much you're bringing in and how much is going out. Only by having it in black and white can you fully assess your financial situation and take the next step.

• Don't take your job for granted. Things can change in the amount of time it takes your boss to hand you a pink slip. Pretend you're about to lose your job and behave accordingly.

• Sell some things. We just had a humongous yard sale. So can you. Obviously any money you bring in should either go toward paying down debt or building up an emergency fund.

Please chime in with your own experience and advice on how to prepare for economic troubles. You never know who might benefit.


  1. Patrice, side gig or second job, even if part time. We went through the job loss earlier this year and while I was able to find one relatively quickly, it was enough less that the second part time job I got as a back up is one I intend to keep as long as I can.

    Also seconding the review of spending. And checking it again and again and again.

  2. This year I lost sixty pounds and my husband lost thirty. We gave up sugar and processed foods. The price of good healthy food is stunning but the sheer volume is way down so in the end we are saving money that way. We don’t go out to eat at all because most of it isn’t good for us and doesn’t taste good anymore. Also ilosing weight has cut our doctor bills down considerably because I am off all my medications. I have chronic illnesses but have still been able to cut the meds and visits. In addition, because we are wanting to stay busy and active, we are getting more projects done plus we aren’t as tired. We just hauled in a huge potato crop, following Patrice’s bag method, that will help with food for months. These are all small things but they add up in money saved.

    1. Well done sister! So many of society's problems would be solved if more would copy your solution. Economical, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
      You truly are what you eat - and if you eat like a big fat pig, well...

    2. Sugar is not "bad" for you unless you have the gentic disease diabetes. Potatoes are actually a very good food, however 100% of the carbohydrates in potatoes are converted to sugar before it is absorbed into the blood stream. Yes exactly the same sugar that you assume is harmful to you. I will say again that potatoes are a very good food, lots of vitamins and minerals and protein. But the point is that your body changes all the carbohydrates to sugars and that is what your body runs on. Every bit of energy you use is sugar, keeping warm is sugar. You cannot live without sugar.

    3. I should have stated that we gave up all additional sugar in our diets. I figured most people would assume that is what I meant. My A1C went from 5.9 on metformin to 5.4 on no medication. For me additional sugar was addictive and I am better able to manage and maintain my life without it. I still eat potatoes and fruit and anything else that is in its natural form. I think most people understood that was my meaning.

    4. I assumed that the poster was talking about "white" sugar that is added to food, as in candy, sweets, ketchup, what have you. I can only congratulate the poster for going through with this major change; having "weaned" myself off "white" sugar a few years ago I know it can't have been easy for them. Congrats!

    5. I see no problem with "weaning" yourself from "white" sugar or white flour or potatoes or french fries or whatever. I am only pointing out that all carbohydrates you consume are converted to sugar in your body and it doesn't matter if it is "natural" or "white" it all enters your blood stream as sugar which your body desperately needs to survive. I "weaned" myself off salads. Some people "wean" themselves of bread. But just know these things are personal decisions not medical advice.

  3. I still think your gift for photography has money making potential. Maybe something inspirational, or devotional . Like a book of devotions.

    1. YES! I would love a calendar with twelve of your glorious nature images! Maybe purchase images to download and take to local print shop?

    2. I agree with this!!

    3. I buy calendars with beautiful views and scriptures below or in a good place within the photos. And more than once I've framed them to decorate an area and taught a sister to do the same. Began this practice with a calendar on fruits of the spirit. Oops! Forgot about the beautiful dance calendar from college days !
      It also works with famous quotes.

    4. I was thinking of your photos as well. You could make prints out of them. I don't go to Etsy, but that might be an option. You have so many beautiful photos of nature and animals. I think even photos of your cows might sell.
      Debbie in MA

  4. Take control of your money, and not just in your head. Years ago I discovered YNAB (You Need A Budget), a computer based budgeting app, that literally changed my life. The basic premise is that you only budget money that you have in hand, not what you expect to receive. You give every dollar a job as soon as you receive it, and then follow your plan. It is a paid app, and not for everyone, but it is so important to have your plan in writing. The very first thing you must do is to track your spending down to the penny. Once you know where your money is really going, it is much easier to set priorities and stick with them. Budgeting is seen as miserable and restrictive, but if done right it is actually freeing because you know your necessities are covered and you are making informed choices where to spend your discretionary funds.

  5. You covered well the basics of active frugality and side gigs. My only suggestion is DO IT NOW. Waiting until like your friend is saying "We'll be alright" gives you far less wiggle room and options then starting NOW.

    Yes, Yesterday would have been better but..

    Also look at side gigs with extra benefits. Some grocery stores give employees a 10% discount on food bought there. Walmart does that and that extra nontaxable benefit can add up.

    More Do it yourself vs whipping out the credit card, point and grunt I've seen over the last few years.

    I'm not the most handy but I do my own generator oil changes and minor repairs and painting around the home. Replaced my electric ovens burner myself was 29 dollars vs several hundred to call in a technician.

    Amazing how a small repair and paint can keep a house in better shape over the years.

    Also don't mistake cheaper vs VALUE. A series of self-destructing cheap pants vs a well-made pair you can repair (You DO KNOW how to use needle and thread YES?) is in the long run a bargain.

  6. Come to God. He provides very well to those who love truth and are willing to abandon incorrect traditions.

  7. -Make do with what you have on hand.
    -Don't waste food; reinvent leftovers.
    -"Spend" every dollar on paper each month ending with a zero balance.
    -Use envelope cash system - it's easier to tell your children you can't buy something if our envelope is empty.
    -Be aware of financial times, but don't dwell on doom and gloom news.
    -Trust in God's provision (this is number one).
    -Don't buy processed fake foods.

  8. I work in the food bank operated by my church. We have many nutrient rich products that many do not know how to utilize for their family. I have started taking these products home and making samples along with the recipe to DIY. I have been amazed at the success of this effort and rewarded by the acceptance of new food possibilities. So my suggestion is to look at ways to replace meat as the main source of protein in your family’s diets. Also using recipes containing smaller amounts of meat along with other nutrients; like soups, stews, casseroles and egg dishes.

    1. What a wonderful idea and service! I've often thought that "Food Stamps" should come with cooking lessons so that those who get help would be taught skills to make the most of the help.

  9. --From the start of my working career, I goaled myself to only spend 70% of my take home pay. I chose that percentage because it represents the amount I would receive in unemployment income should I lose my job.

    --When i started my career with a state government agency, I signed up for the optional deferred compensation plan. I had the option to deduct a percentage of my salary or an actual dollar amount. i chose the percentage so that any future pay raises would automatically increase the amount of money saved.

    --I came out of school with a lot of debt. About half of the debt was from stupid lifestyle choices I made at the time. I paid off every cent but was determined to stay out of debt. The only exception was mortgage debt on a residence. And the few times I've purchased vehicles, i took out debt but paid it off within 18months.

    --Keep up with maintenance on everything.

    --I don't go out to eat or to buy coffee. I pack snacks and a thermos.

    --I learned to cook. And I build my pantry shopping sales. When I can't shop sales, I use the store 5% off loyalty coupon to purchase items rarely on sale. I then make up my menu or cook from what's in my pantry. In other words, I don't make the meal plan first and then shop.

    SJ now in California

    1. "In other words, I don't make the meal plan first and then shop." Yes! Yes! Yes! For those of us who can/freeze/preserve a lot of food over the summer, especially, this has been key for me. Too often I find myself spending money on a food that I want or I have put together a menu for guests without first consulting the freezer or root cellar. When I am intentional about prepping meals from what we already have on hand, we are able to save a lot of money and waste far less - even if the meal sometimes is a little, ahem, non-typical, lol.

  10. I need a new refrigerator. When the old one died a decade ago, I thought it was too big and that downsizing was a good idea. At that time cheap eats were at work so I wasn't buying many groceries. Forgetting the space used for seeds, OTC meds for me, pet and people prescription meds, jars for flour and meal, and more. Downsizing the fridge was a mistake. It's still running, but who knows what the future holds for refrigeration.
    The heat this summer ruined my water glassed eggs in the coolest part of my house. I think those eggs would be fine through the winter for eggs laid now, but not for the spring and summer bounty. I think water glassed eggs would work OK in a fridge longer (a year)and that it would be abetter solution than buying and installing an ac for cooling 1 room well.
    Also, I like to keep crunchy fresh veggies for salads andstir frys. Have found these work well in vinegar solutions and don't spoil as soon. If they get pickled in the fridge without processing it doesn't hurt the salads or stir frys. I actually want to expand this practice.
    Also oils do better in the fridge. And powdered milk once opened. And more.
    So I'm thinking an extra refrigerator would be a good, compact, medium term cold storage unit.

    1. Hi, curious about your waterglassed eggs that went bad. How hot did it get where you had them stored? I just waterglassed for the first time a month ago and would like to make sure mine stay good. Thanks for a reply if you see this!

    2. I don't really know how hot it got. There's an ac for the kitchen/living area. We went several weeks that it was very hot. The outside temp was 106 in the shade as the sun was going down one day, and that seemed like the worst day. Don't
      know what the high was that day. I wasn't using the kitchen for cooking at all over the summer, but still the ac struggled. I'm sure indoor temps were low 90's. Right when the temps started going down, the eggs went murky. All of them. They were on the floor where it's cooler.
      Anyway, if I do this again without cold storage, it'll be after summer's heat has passed, like now or a little later, and I'll use them up before hot weather comes around again. Maybe that is what most people do anyway.

  11. Among other things, we buy meat only when it's on sale. When it is, we load up. We portion it out and vacuum-seal it with our Foodsaver. Vacuum-sealed meat will last a LONG TIME in the freezer.

    Nix the junk food, fast food, and, if you're one of those, "gourmet" coffee. It amazes me how many people complain about the cost of living, and yet still buy $6.00 coffee and hit the McD's every work day!

    Be a "Utility Nazi." GET ON your family... and YOURSELF... when things are left turned on, water is left running, and the thermostat's too far one way or the other.

    High electric bill? Get yourself a "Kill-A-Watt." About $20.00 on Amazon. It'll tell you just how much power your stuff is using. You would be surprised at how much some innocuous items in your house draw! Ferrinstance; I had an outlet strip under my desk with a digital readout for amperage. With nothing plugged into it, that thing was drawing 27 watts, 24/7. in Kilowatt/hours, it was using more electricity in a day than a dorm refrigerator!!! I was also thinking of using those bulb socket screw-in "dusk-to-dawn" switches on the outside lights. I found out those things draw something like 39 watts just running themselves, whether the lights were on or off! The bulbs they would've controlled only draw around ten, and only at night! Uh... No.

    Hit the yard and estate sales. The aforementioned Kill-A-Watt device and the Foodsaver? I got them both at yard sales for pennies on the dollar. I am noticing something unsettling in this respect; people are having yard sales with very little to sell. They're running out of stuff to sell... and time... My suspicion is that I'll soon be seeing people selling the tools of their trades, as their jobs fall prey to the cost cutting measures of others. This happened in '08. If you DO have something to sell and WANT to sell it, do it now. Having something of value to sell and no one with the cash to buy it renders it essentially worthless.

    ...You can't go on living like things haven't changed when indeed they have...

    ...Ditto on staying close to God...

  12. I only run the dehydrator when it's cold out because it puts out a lot of heat. In winter the mud room is closed off and stays unheated so it stays really cool, sometimes cold. I put storage shelves in there and it's a good place for potatoes and other root veggies, and all sorts of other things. So although it's not good for long term storage, it'll keep a lot of produce through the winter. I also keep some plants in there.
    If some things are moved out I can add more shelving for starting veggies so that will be a cold weather anytime job this winter.
    I like the idea of things doing double duty. One thing I want to move to is grow lights instead of regular lamp lights. Unfortunately most lamps throw light up instead of down on plants, but there are all kinds of grow bulbs. I think herbs would grow well with this if I can find some cheap gooseneck lamp(s).

  13. we bought LED flood lights daylight not soft. These mimic sunlight and the plants grow well under them. After a few years we also added some grow flood lights also LED. I tried store bought grow lights this past season and did not like the results, things grew but were very thin and straggly. So I told hubby what I want and he is going to make me another DIY Grow light. I usually screw a 4x4 piece of plywood into the window sill and add legs to it. This is under a DIY grow light and the plants start great. It was only when I got 100 strawberry bare roots last March that I had problems with space, plus I started my plants way to early last year for some reason. This year 6-8 weeks before transplanting, that is it. Plus I am putting some of my plants such as eggplant and some peppers in 5 gallon grow bags since then I can start them earlier and have them growing in the heat of the house since they are heat lovers and we do not get really warm temps until mid July. Each year we try something new, this year it was a bunch of new things. 5 Gallon bags for sweet potatoes (alright but not really worth the time and trouble when we are not heavy sweet eaters.), terraced part of the garden, put down 1/2 inch hardware cloth with 2 layers of weed barrier on it then put on 100 gallon bags. Zucchini, cucs and swiss chard grew in them and did well. I again over watered things so we will go to every 3 days like hubby wants. He did say for the first week we can do daily after transplant and all. Plus we do know that some crops need the daily or at least every other day. I am going to try changing up the garden design to have all that take the same kind of watering together so that the timers will take care of things since my memory is not what is used to be. God Bless all!

  14. In March we started something new, not buying from the grocery stores most items. We still buy milk, sugar, flour, salt, spices I can't grow and butter. We have stopped buying all veggies, fruits (except apples which we buy on sale and dehydrate). We bought 1/2 cow from a friend and had it butchered and will be butchering chickens we raised ourselves this week. This has helped us a lot in grocery bills. We stopped all processed foods over a decade ago when I was diagnoses with migraines and it turned out preservatives were a main trigger. So we can, dehydrate, and freeze what we can grow and get locally. Most importantly though we have learned to trust that God will provide. The garden this year was remarkable except for broccoli, it didn't do well, out of 21 seeds we got 2 plants. Then we realized we don't eat a lot of broccoli, mostly soups and stew and casseroles, so then we realized we didn't need 21 plants and that 2 were just enough. So smaller garden next year. We are putting one of them to bed for the year to rotate the fallowing of them. It is a learning curve for sure but we will get to where God wants us to be.

  15. We make and can a lot of tomato sauce from the tomatoes we grow. Rather than boiling down the sauce on the gas stove during the summer, I freeze our tomatoes on large sheets, put them into freezer bags and store them in the freezer until the middle of winter then I thaw them, run them through the squeezo and let the sauce boil down on our wood stove. That way we're not heating our kitchen in the middle of the summer, we're saving on gas for the stove and using an appliance we're already using to heat our house (the wood stove) to boil down the sauce.
    This might not work for everyone but it's served us well for years now.