Best Frugality Tips?

I'm going to be buried under my book for the next few days as the Adapting-In-Place book finally goes to my editor, but I did want to respond to this email, or rather, get my readers to respond. Gwen writes:

"I just lost my job, and after a lot of late nights and panicked budget making, we think we can get along on just my husband's income, but it will be very tough and there will be no money at all for extras of any kind. We've always used our discretionary income to support things we care about - in the last few years this was local farmers and craftspeople, and making ethical choices when we shopped. Now I feel like I don't have the luxury anymore - I know a lot of things that I can do to save money will be environmentally sound as well - turning down the heat, cutting back on the lights, buying more used items, but I hate to go back to choosing the supermarket for food and Toys R'Us for gifts because they are cheaper, but they often are. Do you have any suggestions for frugal sustainable shopping?"

This is a great and timely question, and I do have answers, but unfortunately, I'm head down in the last bit of my book and don't have time to respond right now. Thus, I pass it on to you, my readers. How do you balance the need to save money with making good and ethical consumer choices that support things that are important to you? What do you suggest to Gwen?

Thanks everyone!


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I guess the specifics will be local, but how much do you buy bulk? That's the biggest change I have made in the past few years and it saves £ - because the supermarkets charge a crazy amount for just a few veg at a time. It won't be the same as supermarket eating, but it will be tasty, nutritious, and you get to support your local producers at the same time as eating cheaper, which is a win all round.
Do you have sacks of beans and grains at your house already? I got my last sack of beans for ~£38 for 25 kg, which is £ 1.52 kg or approx 10 p per 60 g (dry) serving. In the supermarket it can cost 60 p for 500 g of beans, rather than 32 p a kg.
Do you get sacks of winter veg, the kind of stuff you can keep at home? Example: I can get a sack of onions (10 kg) for about £4, which is cheaper than buying a few at the supermarket where they are often several times as much, up to 10 p each. Potatoes, beets, apples will store somewhere cool, and pumpkin-type squashes in some out-of the way corner indoors.
If you are able to run a fridge, find the people who grow winter veggies and buy them in bulk - fill a shelf of the fridge with leeks and you'll have a tasty treat for weeks: leek and potato soup is amazing hot lunch that will be in demand around the neighbourhood, and a dish of sweated leek with (soaked, cooked) beans, flavoured up with a bit of creamed coconut, ginger and pepper ought to come up no more than 37 p a portion even with a bit of bouillon and the spices.
Buckwheat pancakes are great if that grows near you, and shouldn't be more than ~14 p a head, mix the flour with an egg and some water, leave to stand, makes amazing wraps for lunches with some of a leftover bean thing.
Porridge is a winner (think you in the USA call this 'oatmeal' which is something slightly different in the UK), especially if you have managed to find some seasonal fruit, or even with some sultanas or raisins. You can get bags of whole oats from farmers, feed merchants etc - ask if it's suitable for human consumption. You might be able to get it as low as 2 p for a 40 g (dry) portion - cook the oats up in water the night before, leave in plenty of water, boil up again in the morning.
Cabbage, carrot, and onion gives you a coleslaw raw or a stirfry if cooked. I think if you can tackle as much as possible by buying a sensible quantity in bulk, then you don't need to skimp on the bits and pieces that help make it tasty - salt, pepper, chillies, ginger, tamari, miso - whatever works for you. Some of this kind of thing can also be bought in bulk and shared or preserved - chutneys etc, so it lasts round the year. A big bag of something can be a few quid up front, so split the cost with another family if it's hard to raise it up front. Best wishes with it. Spread the word, we can eat more nutritious tasty food, cheaper, and build up our local food system at the same time.
Oh, and can you work out how to produce something from home as well? Even something small can work well - growing greens in boxes on a sunny windowsill works here, and we have 6 rescue hens in the back garden (& their eggs work out much cheaper than the supermarkets') - so we have stuff to share with others as well.

Although you may not be able to find the types of toys you can order thru catalogues at a thrift store, you can find many toys, games, and good books for great prices, and since they are used already- much better than shopping at toysrus.

As far as food choices go- you may be able to get deals from local farmers on bulk purchases of items like root veggies and apples that will store well(if it's fall where you are now) right now. Also- if you usually buy meat in small quantities, now may be the time to buy in a larger amount (although it will be more $ at first, getting a bulk amount from a local farmer, or splitting a half cow with a friends can get you a better price than weekly purchases at the farmers market or organic grocery).

Gift giving can be homemade items like "free back rub" passes, small homemade toys, foods like zuchini bread, etc.

Cutting back on eating meat and buying more grains or root veggies (do you have a local co-op that sells bulk grain items) can also help the pocketbook and still be environmentally friendly. Lentils, dry beans, etc

Buying yours and children's clothes at places like salvation army, used kids clothes stores, and thrift shops also helps with small and large purchases (thinking winter coats and boots here). Or garage sales: most of my kids clothes and toys until they were 8-9 came only from garage sales and hand me downs.

Speaking of hand me downs- many moms swap hand me downs or organize a group wide clothes swap instead of buying new. our homeschool groups swaps clothes, toys, and books on a "free" table at our weekly meetings, but our church has organized a once or twice a year clothing swap.

good luck!

We have been tightening our budget substantially over the past couple of years. I am very much into local foods, local products, handmade everything. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a lot more expensive. Some things that I have done are to pretty much eliminate meat from our diet. We only would buy local organic, and since I can't afford it now, we replace it with beans and lentils. I make all of our baked goods as well. Bread is a whole lot cheaper (and tastier) homemade, and it also helps to heat up your house if you are dialing back on the heat (which we are). We are members of a winter and summer CSA. The winter CSA is especially important for us as we don't know/have the space to store the winter veg that we can in Maine. It is a large cost up front, but ends up only costing us $18/week for 20 weeks, which is way less than what I would spend at the farmers' market for good quality vegetables.

We also have gone down to one car, which may not be a possibility for you, but since I stay at home with my kids it makes sense for us. We sold one of our cars, increased the deductible on the other car insurance and also our home owners insurance.

For entertainment we rent movies from the library, and occasionally rent from redbox for $1/night. I also stopped buying books (hard for me) and instead put together my large reading list and request all of the books through inter-library loan at our local library (which includes books from every library in the state of Maine).

It isn't easy to cut back, but we make it work. Spend more dinners by candlelight, cancel the cable, read together, play more board games, and eat a lot of soup and homemade bread :-) Hope this helps!

You might have a friend, neighbor or relative nearby that you can do bulk shopping with. Often, you can find deals if you buy in bulk or buy online -- but it's hard to have that cash up front. If say, three households buy 100 lbs. of oats, that's a little more doable than you buying it all on your own.

I realize that local farmers are important to you as well, so perhaps you could discuss with those farmers any foodstuffs that you could buy in bulk from them, or perhaps have a smaller CSA box. Or, perhaps offer to do more work to help out -- I don't know if getting out to a farm is an option for you, nor if you are currently in a condition to do manual labor, but it might be worth pursuing.

And to bring back the neighborhood option -- try to arrange soup nights (where everyone brings something like stone soup) or a potluck night where everyone brings something small, and you can eat more variety than you expected. I find that being cheap is incredibly difficult alone, but is manageable with friends.

Good luck!

Do not go shopping. Go necessity buying and pack your own food for lunch. For every one new item brought back to the house, two old items must be eliminated.

I love these sorts of posts that throw down the frugality gauntlet to readers. We're facing a similar situation next year, with my husband's job likely disappearing. It's lovely that your reader has been putting money towards local farms and ethical consumption. The challenge will be how to hold on to as much of that as possible, while on a tighter budget.

My recommendation is to get to know a few of those local farmers you've supported in the past - as well as you possibly can. Once you have an acquaintance bordering on friendship, see if you can barter for some of their goods. Farmers are very busy people, and they too could use some help to make mealtimes more streamlined. I've been able to barter chicken and lamb stock for the bones needed to prepare it. My farming friend gives me bones, I make and can stock, and we each get to keep half the results. She'll also give me pork jowls that her customers pay for with the half or whole hogs they buy, but don't want. I cure them and make guanciale. She doesn't even want half the cured jowls back anymore. Sometimes other farmers have simply given me the weird bits, like tongue or organs. In this way I get to eat pasture raised meats for next to no money at all. And eating the weird bits is ethical and respectful of the animal! I also melt down the pork trimmings and use pork fat instead of butter for frying my breakfast egg. Butter I have to pay for, whereas the pork fat is free. Our diet has changed too, so that we stretch even this small amount of meat pretty far. If you have other skills, offer to barter them with any farmers you run across. I've never once been refused when suggesting a barter with farmers. Can you bake bread, make nice lacto-fermented vegetables, tomato sauce, hearty soups? Those could all be barterable. And even if you can't barter them, they're useful frugal skills!

We have been broke for years, due to my husband being disabled. One way I cut down on the food budget is buy locally grown, organic staples (brains, beans, honey, oil, raisins ) in bulk at a local food coop. They don't have a store. Instead, you order on line and then go to someone's house to pick everything up on a set day. I am able to buy locally grown, grass fed beef through them for a lot less than at the store. And I purchase things like "Meaty" beef bones for soup. At the time, it seems like a lot. But compared to buying in small amounts, this is much cheaper.

Luckily, we have an independent grocery chain "Hen House" that specializes in locally grown, organic food. Shockingly, the local grass-fed organic meat is often the same or cheaper than the factory farmed meat right next to it.

I garden a lot, and I prefer the Food Not Lawns method, which is pretty cheap to do. I also space things farther apart and stick to disease and drought-resistant varieties so that I don't have to water as much (if at all) or spray.

I bake our bread and am learning to make a lot of my own dairy products. That can cut down on costs too.

I know how that goes with not buying the books. I'm in the same boat.

Good luck. I sure hope things get better for you soon.

If you have the tools and are willing to acquire (or already have) the skills, make stuff yourself. Not just baked goods, but other things as well.

For instance, I make my own Christmas cards, and have done so for years. If you have a simple art program on your computer (I have Adobe Illustrator because I sometimes use it at work, but there are cheaper if less powerful options out there), you can throw in a few pictures and a greeting and have something personalized and made to your specification for a fraction of what Apple et al. charge to use their templates (and comparable to what it would cost if you buy the generic cheap Christmas cards from a store).

There are other possibilities, too. Knit your own mittens and scarves. Make simple toys out of wood (there are a few people here in northern New England who do this for a living). If you had the foresight to keep an old sewing machine around, you can even do some simple practical clothing (I remember when there were stores that sold patterns for making clothes--are they still around?). Et cetera.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Dec 2011 #permalink

I agree with everything Heather has said, and would add that it is important to know how to cook from scratch. As you will hopefully be buying whole foods in bulk, it can get boring pretty quickly if you only know how to prepare rice and beans a couple of ways. A good whole foods cookbook is a good investment.

As for Christmas, try to avoid the hype. It can help to talk with your family and set a price limit on buying presents, or do stocking stuffers only. With little kids this is easy, with teens not so much. Take care.

What they said above!

Stretching left-overs into new meals is something we work on. We pay a lot for local, pasture-raised meat, but on the other hand, a little of that goes a long way. I'll take a pound of that over 10 pounds of crap from the supermarket any day.

Everyone likes cash, but you can always ask local producers if they'd take labor or anything else in trade for at least partial payment for things. I know some CSA's do that, though I think fewer than years ago.

Not so very long ago, no one expected to get a paycheck that could pay for all of life's necessities. But people cobbled things together. We'll most of us be there sooner or later, I think.

I sell grass-fed beef locally and can usually help a regular customer a bit if they run into trouble. Most farmers are on a small profit edge and have their own families to feed, but it wouldn't hurt to explain the situation and ask for a discount, if they can afford it, on any big yields or unsold produce. Also, I would gladly trade goods for a few days or a weekend off. if you could "farm watch" a farm/ranch weekend in exchange for produce, eggs, etc. the time off for a farmer/rancher could be very valuable for some. Plus the kids should love it.

Cook from basic ingredients. Grow what you can. Buy staples in bulk. Make your own prepared foods. Look for sales on items that grow out of your food shed (coconut milk for curries, for example.) Shop at ethnic markets. Glean, gather, recycle, u-pick, make your own jam. Thrift stores are better than Toys R Us, etc. Craigslist, freeccycle, ebay, look for it used. Give back what you can and share. In giving and sharing, you will quickly find out who gets it. Some will take your jar of jam, smile politely in confusion, and you will never hear from them again. Some will call you next summer and ask if you want the extra plums on their tree. Volunteer. Get to know people outside of your social circle. See if you can find the egg underground. Consider your hobbies and whether any of them are a source of trade goods. Make your own stuff, if you can. Make friends with a dumpster diver. Keep a list on you, specific as to sizes and colors if need be, and stop at garage sales.

And have fun, you are about to meet the new economy head on.

Libraries are a tremendous resource with books, magazines, CDs (music, educational, computer programs, games), DVDs, computers, WiFi connections.

Also look up nearby state and Forest Service facilities. Pack a lunch and taking the kids on a hike can be fun and educational. Most are free or ask a nominal fee. In my area there are several nice parks with trails both long and short enough for an afternoon with kids and they ask for $2 per car.

Check on-line for tours and groups. Several of them in this area have camping for a small fee. A tarp and home-made ground cloths and sleeping bags and it can be quite an adventure. Even cheap food tastes good outdoors. Even lousy weather has an up side. Nothing like cold and wet to make you appreciate warm and dry at home.

A neighbor takes her kids to all the forest Service sponsored groups. The kids love helping to maintain the trails and plant trees. She jokes that she can't get her kids to help with yard work but hand them a weed beater and show them a plot of an invasive species of plant and they chop and gather like nobodies business. Her fourteen yo son is handier than most full-grown men with a machete, bow-saw or axe.

Second the canceling the cable suggestion!

Also the suggestion of checking out DVD/VHS from your local library. These are checked out like books at my library (no charge) so I haven't rented a movie in years! Also, if you read alot, inter-library loans can expand your reach. Local library's can have other programs and what not going on, so show your local library some love!

If you have a university nearby, you may be able to get a community card with them, though there is usually a charge for that. Expands your reading and viewing options tho.

If you can, what about bike commuting/running errands? Depends on your climate somewhat, but I have bike commuted all winter in both Colorado and Nevada with only missing a few bad weather days. YMMV of course.

Also, don't forget public transportation. Some area's do have good public trans and they can save some $ if used carefully. I personally feel that knowing how to use public trans is an important skill; one I've used both locally and when traveling to cut costs. Many public trans have their schedules on the web.

Good luck!

If you do not yet know how, learn to sew. We got a cheap sewing machine and I re-learned sewing two winters ago. My daughter needed clothes, and we did not have much money. There is a discount fabric store near us, and I can confidently say that I can make better clothes than I can find in Goodwill.

Mitten/hat sets are always appreciated as gifts, especially for kids. Homemade foods are also nice gifts. I hope so! Jelly and breads are a big part of our gifts for folks this year.

Buy bulk, can, and learn to pick your own. We have not bought jelly in two years. Plenty of grapes, apples, and raspberries out and about. If you are so inclined, let it be known you like venison and other wild game; often an avid hunter will have more meat than they can use and will be happy to share.

By ChrisBear (not verified) on 01 Dec 2011 #permalink

Libraries are a tremendous resource with books, magazines, CDs (music, educational, computer programs, games), DVDs, computers, WiFi connections.

Also look up nearby state and Forest Service facilities. Pack a lunch and taking the kids on a hike can be fun and educational. Most are free or ask a nominal fee. In my area there are several nice parks with trails both long and short enough for an afternoon with kids and they ask for $2 per car.

Check on-line for tours and groups. Several of them in this area have camping for a small fee. A tarp and home-made ground cloths and sleeping bags and it can be quite an adventure. Even cheap food tastes good outdoors. Even lousy weather has an up side. Nothing like cold and wet to make you appreciate warm and dry at home.

A neighbor takes her kids to all the forest Service sponsored groups. The kids love helping to maintain the trails and plant trees. She jokes that she can't get her kids to help with yard work but hand them a weed beater and show them a plot of an invasive species of plant and they chop and gather like nobodies business. Her fourteen yo son is handier than most full-grown men with a machete, bow-saw or axe.

You could freeze and can vegetables and fruits when they are in season, just as at least my parents did. (Need to observe proper procedures). In particular next summer watch when things are in good supply buy extra and can things like green beans, tomatoes, beets etc, In addition if you have freezer space you could freeze stuff as well. Now of course this does depend if you live in a drought zone where everything including the grass has died off or not. (Central Texas, I expect the peach crop this spring to be nonexistant, and how many trees survive is a good question).

Lowering the thermostat by just two degrees (from 60 to 58) will save ~10% in your heating bill. Where I am (Needham, MA), it goes from 4852 degree days at 60 to 4392 at 58.

It's probably late in the year for this just now, but depending where you live maybe not (and there's always next year).

Those farmers you were supporting at the market etc. almost certainly have stuff they cannot sell because it is 'imperfect'. Talk to them directly and say you really want to support local agriculture but are in a tough spot and you'd be interested in anything they might otherwise be unable to sell if they can price it where you can afford it.

Check with your local butcher, if you have one, about picking up bones and trim to make soup stock - they have to dispose of it all anyway, mine happily gives me leftovers for my dogs to chew on (and I sometimes pull the largest chunks of fat out of the bag and render them for lard/tallow).

Ask at the grocery store or the local coffee shop what they do with the unsold baked stuff - they probably "have" to throw it out, but sometimes, if they know you might come around, they'll throw it out very *carefully*, so that you can just take it. Our grocery store has a shelf of slightly older baked stuff that is always at 50% off.

Buy flour in bulk (check your yellow pages and see if you have a mill locally, or a 'bakery supply store' - I was able to pay cash at the local supply store and get Alberta flour for half what I'd pay at the grocery store, even though I'm not a business). Make your own biscuits instead of buying bread: biscuits are quick and very easy, and if the butcher gives you fat and you can render the lard for free, they are even cheaper! You can roll out the biscuit dough and stuff the inside with jam or leftover veggies & spices and pinch the tops together to make dumpling things that you bake and serve for snacks or lunches-to-go. My kids love those with jam in them.

If you haven't got a crock pot already go to the thrift store and buy one - you need one. You can make great meals really cheaply - costs less to power a crock pot with electricity than to keep a burner or the oven going in most cases (unless you have a wood stove, then get in the habit of cooking whenever it's going).

If you have picky eaters in your house who are going to be disconcerted by a change in foodstuffs, invest in a food mill - they are between $30 and $60 but VERY worth it especially if you are working with 'less than beautiful' or unfamiliar foods. Put your veggies in the crock pot (potatoes, squash of any kind, tomatoes, carrots, the leftovers from Thursday night) along with any leftover meat you might have (meat is totally optional) and let it cook down. When it's soft, put it through the food mill and voila, you have "cream of something" soup - my family will turn up their noses at ANY soup with celery in it, but not if I mill it first. :) You can make applesauce (which you can cook down into apple butter to make 'jam' for toast and sandwiches) and apples are almost always cheaply found.

Figure out how to avoid food waste - leftovers of soup A can become the start of soup B, or perhaps add a few potatoes to thicken it enough to form the bottom of a casserole (put a thick mush of any kind of veggie - lots of potato ideally - in the bottom of a pie dish, cover with cheese and scrambled eggs, or with biscuit dough mixed thinner than usual, and bake) ...

Potatoes seem to be the key in my world. If we have potatoes, we can stretch any meal a long, long way. Come to think of it, our local potato growers organization used to have a thing where on Tuesdays you could buy a 50 lb bag for some ridiculous price (like $8) ... maybe you have something like that in your area, too?

Learning to eat meals that don't look like the 'kind you used to have' seems to be a big part of the change - lots and lots of soup-and-biscuits, casserole-with-pickles, breakfast-things-at-suppertime ... those are all way cheaper than steak and potatoes type meals.

The More With Less cookbook and any good vegetarian cookbook will give you lots of ideas, too.

If you live somewhere rural, and you are a meat eater committed to NOT eating factory farmed animals, you can almost always find free or very cheap live livestock and poultry-- animals that are too old or the wrong sex or for some other reason are unsaleable. You can even often find organic animals like this. If you are enterprising, you can slaughter them yourself, or you can pay someone to do it for you. Animals that we Americans consider too old to eat, in other cultures are considered the best to eat (Coq a Vin for example). Its all about learning how to cook them. We are having to cut way back on food expenses this year and this is the only way I can afford meat for our family. Also, alot of meat producers consider things like liver and kidneys and turkey necks to be practically worthless-- you can find them for free or very cheap, and again, learn how to cook them.

As for crafts & toys & clothes-- it takes a little practice, but you can just train yourself not to buy stuff like that. If you think really deeply about every item before you buy it-- "will owning this item make me (or my children) happier? How long before it ends up as just another item taking up space? Could I make something just as nice or almost as nice? etc. look up zero waste home blog for good ideas. The choice doesn't have to be locally produced or Walmart-- it can still be locally produced but just cut way way back on # of items bought.

Go to the library and get a copy of The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. You'll find zillions of tips to cut your costs so you can continue to buy good quality foods.

"It isn't easy to cut back, but we make it work. Spend more dinners by candlelight, cancel the cable, read together, play more board games, and eat a lot of soup and homemade bread :-)"

Go outside on a clear night, look up at the skies. Even if you're in a city center, you can look at the planets. Get a cheap telescope (or borrow one) and look at Juputer and Saturn. Go on holiday to the nearby countryside and do the same there.

The added advantage to a holiday near home is that when you've had enough, you can go back home, no problem.

I find that generally it's the bigger things in the budget where tough decisions need to be made. If there's an extra car or a boat, sell it. If the mortgage is eating too much of the budget, sell it (if possible.) Take in a boarder (if possible.) Check insurance policies for savings - it's amazing the difference in prices between companies. Craigslist is a great way to sell stuff you're not using and before the holidays is a perfect time to get your highest prices. The big expenses are where most of the money goes and if they are reined it, there is often money for better quality food.

Gardening year round and starting a good pantry/root cellar will really help your budget. When we lived in New England we sprouted and grew some lettuce under lights indoors, so we had greens all year.

We have some local historical preservation museums (that are free!) and I go there once in a while. Somehow seeing how people in the 19th century lived gives me ideas and a sense of history. People weren't always such consumers as we are today. It's nice to tie into that. We also try to learn new skills that will (at some point) save us money or can be bartered.

My last piece of advice is to turn saving money into a game rather than a chore. Otherwise you will start to feel sorry for yourself (at least I do.) But since my husband and I cheer each other on and congratulate ourselves when we figure out a more cost saving plan, we are getting just as much satisfaction out of saving money as we used to get out of spending it. Good luck!

No-one's mentioned 'freecycle' yet, so I don't know if you have it where you are... but where we live (North London, UK) there is a really active 'freecycle' network. People have something they don't want, they 'offer' it on freecycle. People want something they don't have, they 'want' it on freecycle and people who have it can pass it on. We have passed on perfectly good (even new) but surplus stuff, and received great things too. The rule is that it's all free.

Check it out here:

Might even include things which can be given as gifts.

My comment, left yesterday, seems to have disappeared into the aether. Basically, I recommend that you try to barter with some of those local, ethical farmers that you've been patronizing up until now. In my experience, farmers are busy people and quite receptive to barter. If you can bake bread, turn some bones into canned stock, or vegetables into prepared soups or lacto-fermented preserves, then you probably have bartering opportunities. This could allow you to continue to eat high quality meats in moderation for little to no expense. The fact that you've been a customer of these farms for some time should make it easy to take the acquaintance-customer relationship towards something that more closely resembles a friendship, which makes bartering easier.

We have found a garden to be the best cost savings in our food budget hands down. We buy bulk staples like rice and beans and supplement them with our homegrown produce. That frees up enough cash that we can afford to buy local vegetables to round out our veggie needs. We've cut back dramatically on the meat and milk we use which has freed up enough cash that we can afford real cheeses to have in small amounts with each meal. We feel better and the food we're eating is delicious and good for us.

Adding Chickens to our garden has made a big difference too. From 9 chickens, we're getting about 40 eggs/week. They cost us less than store bought and provide tons of entertainment for the whole family (we have 2 kids). They aren't hard to keep either.

Mostly, just keep your chin up and keep going. If you can't do everything, then do what you can. If you can't afford everything from local producers, buy what you can. We're all just doing our best and that is the best we can do.

By FarmerAmber (not verified) on 02 Dec 2011 #permalink

I have long advocated looking to older folks in your area for guidance. Many of them either have lived through periods of "austerity" in the past- or are still living there. And they know how to do it.

Years ago, I called for the creation of an "Urban Foxfire Book" kind of thing. It would be immensely valuable to all of us.

Maybe you could find an elderly neighbor- who could use a few hours of help from you, once or twice a week? Then, as an old friend of mine put it, "You just put your nickel in, and listen." Good things can happen in a lot of directions.

All of the above, plus:

I have been shopping more at the small, family owned ethnic food stores in my area. There is an Indian store in particular where I can get bulk spices, lentils, rice, whole wheat flour, teas, and many other items at a better quality and much cheaper than the grocery store. The shop owner is very friendly and will gladly answer questions, translate packaging, and even gives out recipes! And they have this wonderful, semi-local (Georgia, I'm in Florida) glycerin soap there for $1 a bar!

I also go to the day-old bread store (old habits are hard to break). I can get $4 bread from their clearance rack for 69 cents a loaf, which immediately goes into my freezer when I get home. I always have Texas Toast for garlic bread, an assortment of rolls and buns, both white and wheat bread, and then there's my husband's shelf of "snacky-cakes." I practiced baking bread last winter and I'm getting better at it, but it's difficult to devote that much time to baking bread while working 2 jobs (especially since it is so cheap!)

A word about these little stores-once you become a "regular" there, the shop owners are more likely to offer you free items that would otherwise go to waste (this goes for thrift stores, too). I scored 4lbs of turnip greens for free at my local meat market because the bags got wet and they weren't going to make it another night in the cooler (and then I taught myself how to cook turnip greens lol). The bread store is always offering me stuff, too. I walked out of there the other day with 5 bags of food for $7. Big grocery stores usually won't give ANYTHING away for free. They'd rather put it in the dumpster and lock it so no one can go freegan-ing.

If you must have something sweet to drink, make iced tea. You can control the amount of sugar in it (and gradually reduce it) and it is way cheaper than sodas or juice drinks. But my dentist recommends sipping water throughout the day and only drinking other beverages with meals.

I also started making my own laundry soap a few months ago, and stopped using fabric softener. That may not sound like much, but it has really saved me quite a bit. Borax, washing soda and castile soap is so much less expensive, and for what I used to spend on one bottle of perfumed, dyed liquid laundry detergent, I have refilled the bottle 7 times.

In addition, I have stopped buying expensive cleaning products that give me a sinus headache, and instead I have been cleaning with white vinegar (kills mold & mildew, removes limescale, replaces glass and surface cleaners, if you soak an orange peel in it for a week first it deodorizes and cuts grease better), baking soda (replaces metal polishes and comet), and soap bar ends (I toss some in the crock I keep my toilet bowl brush in-as long as you swish the brush in the bowl every other day, you don't need harsh chemicals-safer for pets and kids, too). Your hands and sinuses will thank you.

Use dishcloths instead of disposable sponges and microfiber towels instead of paper towels. Buy a reusable coffee filter. Use plastic grocery bags to line your small trash cans (we all forget our reusable bags sometimes!)

Keep reading the blogs of like-minded women. I have learned a lot from Sharon, Kathy (Just In Case Book), Deanna(Crunchy Chicken), Kris (Adventures of a Thrifty Momma on a Trailer Park Homestead) Green Phone Booth and all of the ladies over at Not Dabbling in Normal.

Apologies, some of the numbers in my comment #1 are crooked! Too little sleep lately. But my point is check the numbers - sometimes you can get much cheaper than supermarkets by looking into what you can use from bulk purchases.

get rid of your tv and all cell phones.

if any household car isn't paid off sell it, that is if you can get enough money from the sale to pay off the loan. buy a cheap, reliable car with cash from craigs list.

start volunteering at farms.

remember cheap food = higher medical bills.

Good comments everyone. To add a couple tips, ask at your local market to take the bones and scraps of meats "for your dogs" if you need an excuse. These scraps can make a great meaty broth that can replace meat in your diet. slow cook the bones with a dolop of vinegar or wine to help extract the minerals from the bone. At the same time, you can ask to take the older, discarded or damaged vegetables "for your worm bin". The outer leaves of cabbages, fruit with spots, or sometimes a whole case of something that got banged around in the truck. Much of this can be eaten by people, or at least a stew made of it by cutting out the bad spot. If you have the courage, try dumpster diving. Keep a chicken or two in a large bird cage or rabbit hutch, even in the house is OK if you keep it very clean. The chickens will eat the items above that you can't, and give you eggs in return.
Cancel internet service and use the library's computers. Go TV free. All that technology, like text messaging and new cell phones can double your utility bills.
Look into inexpensive living arrangements, like tumbleweed houses. Just start to think differently. Assume you'll never get that job back, assume you'll take a 50% pay cut in the future, and act accordingly.

If you have a community college in your area, take a look at their website -- there may be interesting free events, lectures, or workshops that cost little or nothing to attend. Your community college library may also provide free borrowing privileges for non-students who reside locally.

Kill the TV is always sound advice but News and PBS are still good in small doses and a few guilty pleasures can be worthwhile if they don't cost too much.

The good news is that digital TV makes a good number of channels available and reliable over the air, with a antenna. Some of my neighbors spend better than $100 a month on cable TV. For the price of two months spending I was able to erect a pole, set up a fairly large antenna with rotator, and get a digital converter box. No subscription necessary. If I was sixty miles south or east I could get the same reception with nothing but a set of glorified rabbit ears.

Better than two years in I watch all the shows I care about, mostly PBS but oldies and MASH also, and have saved better than $2000 compared to my neighbors. The cable company can eat worms.

i am learning so much from what everyone has written above!
from your email, i can't tell how far north you are, or if you have gardening space available, so my money-saving ideas may not apply for you. if you do garden, and if you are around zone 6 or 7 or closer to the equator, then i think a great bang for the buck is some row cover fabric for your garden. around here i can keep some arugula, maybe radishes, sometimes lettuces and spinach, carrots, going all winter. even if the lettuces freeze up, they grow from the crown super early in the spring (and then go to seed, but give you great early spring eating first). scallions are happy uncovered all winter here, even in snow, and i can usually keep some bok choi or swiss chard or something similar going. if i am making some dough for bread or pizza, or a soup with noodles, i always have something fresh and green to go with/in/on it. the only problem is getting out to pick it when there is still daylight! i've been out in the snow with a headlamp on, looking for the green part of dinnner.

i bought a giant roll of row cover two years ago, since i use it so often for so many things. if you garden and would like to have some, email me! i will be glad to mail you a piece or several as big as you like! it weighs practically nothing.
i also have gradually started saving seed from as many garden plants as feasible (not the cucurbits yet, e.g.), which saves TONS of money on seed ordering each year. i would be happy to share some seed with you as well.

i wish you the best of luck during these hard financial times!

Google "hypermile" to learn tips to save gas mileage like braking less and checking your tire pressure. Higher speeds are terrible for gas mileage. I avoid the highway whenever possible and allow myself extra time to use the slow lane when I have to use them. Things like passing and lane changing really use up gas. Also google "get more gas at the pump". It's important to learn the right way to pump to get the best value, like fueling up in the morning before higher temps increase the gas vapor. Pump your gas at the slowest setting! Takes more time but you actually get more gas. Also, try to fill up when the tank is not more than half empty. Lastly, make sure to check for lowest gas price in your area before heading to the pump. Good luck.

By midwestmom (not verified) on 03 Dec 2011 #permalink

Those of you with school aged children: Look into 4-H.

Where I live, 4-H activities are inexpensive, often free, and teach children practical hands on skills such as sewing, gardening, cooking...

My son particularly benefited from the oral presentation skills developed by 4-H. Not only did he have a chance to give back (teaching things like soldering and fly tying to younger children), he also received a college scholarship from the organization.

I would also like to add the comment that our culture so often focuses on quantity and not quality but so often a small amount of a better quality product goes much farther. Take cheese. I'd rather have a small quantity of good cheese over a hunk of the tasteless stuff that groceries market as "cheese".

On a similar note, local produce may cost more than that from the Box-o-rama store, but fruits and the veg from the grocery simply do not last as long as the local. Less waste!

By Java Jane (not verified) on 04 Dec 2011 #permalink

all the comments i have read are good advice...we run a small CSA...our take is that our customers support us thru hard times, and then reap the rewards....and I think for us, at least the reverse is true. I'm pretty sure nobody starts a CSA with $signs in their eyes - "lets get rich, hon" (LOL)
I'm willing to bet that the farmer's market stalls you do business with don't want you to go back to supermarket shopping either...we are real people, and just as an example, after a long day in the garden/dairy, do i want to turn 'out in the knee's jeans' into hip cut-off's....errr nope. Trade with you? Hell Yeah! If you have bought more than a couple of times, just speak out... Say " I don't want to return to supermarket shopping but I don't have the $'S, and have in mind the skills you can offer (or the grunt sweat you are willing to offer - ie I'm a computer programmer, but I can wield a spade and dig a hundred foot row!) Sharon has said it and it is true...this is not a game for the get rich quick.. or slow! LOL. Its about believing in local food, and making enough to get by....Talk to them!! Odds are they will come up with something that keeps you eating/buying local. and works for them...just don't expect a free ride!

So much has been said already...tons of great ideas.
I agree with getting a copy of the Tightwad Gazette and Reading Rhonda's blog. Both have helped me enormously.My advice - read anything and everything you can get your hands on about frugality and simple living. There are many levels of frugality and you need to determine what best suits your situation.

Talk to people and solicit feedback like you are now. Go to garden web and check the forums for your area. People love to share knowledge! Many people are more than willing to teach you what you need to know if you are a willing student.

I know you are concerned about organic local food and it's cost. You can save in other areas to help offset the expense.
We do not use our dryer. We have 2 drying racks in a spare room and use them year round. Full disclaimer- we live in Florida. What can you stop using or even sell?
Second hand is your friend for furniture,toys, books clothing and definitely small appliances. If it is inexpensive crap either secondhand or new it is still cheaply made crap.
If you do absolutely need something that is unavailable second hand do your research and buy the highest quality you can afford on sale. Buy to last.
Do not give up! Good Luck!

If you can get lard or any kind of fat cheap or free from your farmer friends, and have a big kettle over a wood fire, you can make lye soap with commercial lye or with wood ashes. My mother used to do this regularly. She said lye soap was very gentle and the best soap there was.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 05 Dec 2011 #permalink

People believe that buying fruits and vegetable (or things like jam, pickles, etc) including organic, in a farmer's market is more expensive. Not always. If you go to a large market when the fee the farmer's pay for a booth for one day can be $100 or more, yes you are probably right, but if you chose a small one instead (ours charges $3.00 for two days, mostly to pay for the ad in the local paper) you can probably get the produce for a lot less than the local chain store. If you grow a few vegetables or fruits of your own, you can join, sell the excess and most likely trade with other "farmers" and pay zero or get a discount.

I am not a good crafter and by the time I buy/scrounge materials,and put in the time, the end result is usually disappointing. However, I scout out bargains by always scouring stores for unexpected deals. My family always has a great Xmas for a minimal outlay because I am on the lookout for needed items in unexpected places - this week I scored a "popcorn set" for $2 - certainly not worth the original $10 asking price, but a cute stocking stuffer for my two newly independent sons. I buy designer bread for 75 cents a loaf at a central bakery, find overstock fruit and veg at my local market, and sometimes find bargains at the farmers market. To save gas, look for stores in clusters that merit a look-see. Also, a cookbook is your friend when cooking from scratch - just follow the directions and learn how to improvise ingredients. This was a great post and we all have picked up a few tips along the way!

In my area the farmer's market is the most expensive place to buy produce. Volunteering at a CSA, and growing my own, is the least expensive.

But what really works best for me was to check out tiny farm stands at individual farms. Buying seconds or full bushels of produce has been wonderful, even thru' this years droughty summer. From pick your own blueberries, to sweet corn, to peaches and tomatoes - the produce was amazing and affordable.

We also moved to a less expensive house, but the expense of moving - even tho' we did most of it ourselves with only one day of day laborers at one end and buff farm kids homeschoolers umloading at the other helping with the heaviest stuff - is taking us 18 months break even on.

I love reading all of the frugal tips. Downsizing to a smaller house, heating with a woodstove, getting out of debt, owning only one car, making homemade gifts (since you now have extra time, this one's easy)and food growing are all excellent ways to live WELL on less. Subscribe to free, online, thrifty type newsletters to keep those tips coming. But barter is an often overlooked way to obtain goods and services you can't 'afford', imo. Beekeepers often need help this time of year with cleaning up equipment (a lot of grunt work) and will trade their honey for the help. If you and hubby need haircuts, try to find one of those places where the hairdresser works out of her home, and offer babysitting, yard work or whatever for hair cuts. You get the idea. If you have nothing tangible to trade, your sewing or canning skills can go a long way towards payment for the tangibles you do need. (although I'd say those skills are as tangible as say, honey or beans) good luck! PS A positive mindset is probably the most important asset to own btw. Sounds like you've already got that!

By Sam Jones (not verified) on 14 Jan 2012 #permalink