I have been
barely surviving living frugally for nearly all of my life, although I have been taking this to the extreme these past five years. But now that many of you are also having to either cut back on your living expenses, due to unemployment, underemployment or fear that you will become un(der)employed soon, I no longer feel I have to be so secretive about my own lifestyle, so I thought I’d share some of my own tried-and-true strategies for basic survival skills with you.
Life style changes:
- avoid window shopping — and stores in general. If you can’t see a large variety of cool gadgets and clothes, then you won’t want to buy them.
- avoid online and spontaneous purchases by not carrying your credit card with you to places where you have internet access.
- get rid of your clutter! Sell it or give it away to someone who needs it more than you do. By getting rid of it, you’ll feel better about living in a small space.
- learn to enjoy walking again. It’s a great way to get into shape, to save gas and to get to know your city and your neighbors.
- give up your vices, like smoking, recreational drugs, alcohol and gambling (yes, even lotto — you know you’re not going to win, so why bother?). Fortunately, the only vice I have is alcohol, which I rarely indulge in these days.
- I love coffee, but it is terribly expensive to purchase a cup of java at a coffee shop. Instead, as a treat, I (or my readers) buy expensive coffees, have them coarse-round and then I brew myself a cup or two at home using my coffee press.
- rely only on one cell phone that has only the most basic of plans (no text messaging, internet or other bells and whistles) and get rid of any other phones that you have, including your “land line”. The best aspect of cell phones, in my opinion, is that long distance calls cost the same as local calls.
- get rid of cable TV, or better yet, get rid of the TV itself. (I have never owned a TV and never will — I go to a pub to watch TV when I really want to watch something special, like the presidential debates).
- if you already have wireless internet, offer to split the monthly costs with a next-door neighbor (if you live in an apartment) by either paying half the bill or bartering goods or services for half the bill. If you don’t have wireless internet access, like me, use the free wifi provided by a local library.
- electricity use can be reduced by turning off lights when a room is not in use; replacing your light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs; reducing the thermostat to 68 degrees — or cooler — and wearing a sweater or sweats; turning the heat off when you are out during the day; unplugging appliances that are not in use (many appliances draw power when not in use); and making sure you know what you want before opening the refrigerator or freezer.
- pay all your bills online as soon as you receive them — this way, you will never pay late fees, you’ll save money on envelopes and stamps, and you can make sure the money is transferred from your bank account to the billing company’s account on the due date, and not one day earlier (or later)!
- most important, I do almost all of my shopping for food and cleaning supplies at my local 99-cent store, and I completely avoid convenience stores and the large “box stores.”
- make a shopping list before going to the store and then only purchase what is on that list (always make sure that toilet paper is on your list).
- choose one day per week (or one day every two weeks) to do your shopping and stick with it!
- keep a careful watch over the prices of items as they are rung up — I always catch the cashier trying to overcharge me for items that are on sale!
- purchase dry foods that you use often in large quantities to save money — but only if you use them often and can store them without attracting mice! For example, I purchase oatmeal in quantity and store it in resealable plastic containers.
- purchase foods from the bulk section instead of as prepackaged items.
- reduce your dependence upon convenience foods (for example, the only convenience food I purchase are canned vegetarian soups. Further, I only purchase them when they are on sale).
- avoid purchasing junk foods, like chips, crackers, candy, ice cream, cookies and soft drinks.
- eat less meat or give it up altogether (I eat meat only on special occasions).
- eat leftovers and do not waste “spare” pieces of food — learn how to prepare the food items that you have on hand.
- refill your used plastic water bottles with tap water instead of purchasing a fresh bottle every day.
- substitute store-brands and generics for name-brands for items such as spices, cereals, vitamins and over-the-counter medications.
- purchase fresh produce from the “overripe” bins and use it immediately. I do this for my companion parrots and they are able to enjoy a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables nearly every day as a result.
- learn how to cook using a microwave instead of a stove/oven.
- remember that your freezer is your friend.
- when I lived in Seattle, I baked all my own bread, cookies, pies and cakes. If I still lived there, I would also be making my own yogurt and brewing my own beer. Of course, I live in a tiny apartment in NYC and do not use a stove/oven, so none of these things are possible now, so I just do without all of these items.
- learn how to repair your own clothing, and then schedule time each week to actually DO IT (replace buttons, hem pants, fix holes. When I owned a sewing machine, I also sewed my own clothing).
- purchase undergarments only when they are on sale, and purchase outer clothing from thrift shops (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) and used clothing stores.
- have a minimalist wardrobe that is centered around one or two colors that go together well. My basic wardrobe, for example, consists of one pair of shoes, jeans and a variety of t-shirts and polo shirts that are either black, dark blue or dark green. Personality is added by wearing a colorful neckscarf.
- clothes washers and dryers (especially those monstrous commercial machines that most NYCers are stuck with) damage your clothing, so help prolong the life of your clothes by hanging them to dry instead of throwing them into a clothes dryer. For example, I hang my clothes in the shower and they are dry in less than 24 hours.
- I do not have a car, and even when I lived in Seattle, I did not own a car. Instead, I relied on riding my bike, walking and public transit to get around. I rented a Zip car when I needed to make long trips or carry a lot of heavy items.
- if you use public transit daily, then purchase weekly or monthly public transit cards instead of per-ride cards because they are accompanied by big price savings.
- check out DVDs from the library instead of renting or purchasing them, and especially instead of watching movies on the “big screen”. Purchase only those DVDs that you especially enjoy watching over and over (and over) again (you know, like the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings DVDs).
- check out books from the library, or purchase them used instead of new. Or do as I do: write book reviews for magazines or your blog in exchange for free books. (NOTE: not everyone wants to, or can, do this).
- listen to the radio to keep up with news of the world instead of watching TV. I recommend listening to National Public Radio (NPR), which also airs BBC News for an hour each morning.
- stop eating at restaurants altogether, or if you must eat out, purchase an appetizer instead of a full meal.
- learn how to repair holes in your walls, floors and next to pipes (especially those ubiquitous mouse-holes!), fix plumbing problems, and paint rooms yourself.
- if you have space, consider getting a roommate to share your rent expenses.
There are plenty other ways to survive a financial crisis, so I invite you to share your own suggestions here for how you are doing this. My suggestions are specific to my own situation, and to the situation that might be experienced by a New Yorker, but you probably have a variety of suggestions that are suited to your own situation, or that I haven’t thought of.