Str-r-r-r-etch that Dollar!

More for your money

Let’s face it, only a very select group of people can walk into a store and buy whatever they like without glancing at the price tag.  I’m not in that group.

I quit my job shortly after having the Munchkin, and we’ve been living in Frugal City ever since.  Yes, my husband makes a good salary, otherwise my quitting would never have even been feasible.  But, some months we have cut corners and then cut those corners to make sure we get through and keep our “safety net” intact.  Birthdays come up, car insurance is due, property taxes, there is always some payment lurking in our mailbox, it seems.

We gave up the daily newspaper (as hard as that was) and stuck to online news, we don’t have cable television, we have only one cell phone, we tried not to eat out very often, we are regular patrons of our local library, and I think new clothes didn’t find their way into my closet for a couple of years.  These are just a few of the things we did to stay solvent, and I would do them all over again if I had to.

Everyone who buys groceries knows that food is up.  Gasoline is up.  Heating costs are up.  And housing values are down.  Help!

So I thought I might ask our superfantastic readers what they do for their families when they are on a budget.  Do you sew/knit your own clothes? Make homemade birthday cards instead of buying them? Give up vacations or forgo the new car?

Do tell us!  Just be sure and keep it legal, ok? 

23 Responses to “Str-r-r-r-etch that Dollar!”

  1. Awesome Mom February 12, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    We got to thrift stores or snag hand me downs for clothing. Buy in bulk so that you can have extra food around in case something comes up. Cloth diapering can save you money, although there are so many cute diapers out there you can end up spending more if you are not careful. I started knitting again so I could make my own wool covers and not have to pay an arm and a leg to buy them.

  2. Jennie February 12, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    Four little letters…E*B*A*Y If you are careful, not an addictive personality (sigh), you can pick up some lovely things very reasonably. Just don’t ignore the cost of shipping.

  3. mamafitz February 12, 2008 at 3:16 pm #

    i sew clothes (and knit), but honestly, that doesn’t save money. we buy in bulk, i plan meals, we don’t eat out much (but we do eat out. you need a treat once in a while). lots of cooking from scratch. i nurse the babies and cloth diaper. i try not to drive much, combine trips when i can. we have always made homemade birthday cards (and even wrapping paper). we love the library too. we ask grandparents to pay for classes for the kids or museum memberships instead of ‘stuff’.

  4. mrsdarwin February 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm #

    Unless you’re a couture-level seamstress, I don’t think it saves any money to make your own clothes, because fabric is so expensive. I like to shop at Goodwill or consignment stores. The prices are low enough that I feel more comfortable trying a slightly different style than I’d normally wear. When I have to pay full price for clothes I usually find myself buying the same v-neck in six safe colors — which an online quiz once informed me was the sign of a full-blown fashion crisis.

    We’re planting a vegetable garden this year. If the seedlings survive the tender ministrations of the offspring here, our food budget for the summer should decrease.

  5. Leah February 12, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    There’s a lot you can do for budgeting, but think about how much time you’re spending clipping coupons and searching for things cheaper on ebay and thrift stores? How much is your time worth? If you spend that time working, you may end up with more money in the long run.

  6. Twistie February 12, 2008 at 6:01 pm #

    I cook in and shop at the local Mexican grocery. The produce and meats are higher quality than the local Safeway and range from half to one tenth the price. I also go to the farmer’s market every couple of weeks to get the freshest possible produce at a good price.

    Mr. Twistie goes to the flea market every week, and has gotten some amazing deals there. On sunday he came home with a dozen CDs, and DVDs of two John Pertwee Dr. Who adventures. He’d spent something like fifteen dollars, all told. Sometimes he comes back with much more practical things for next to nothing, too. Clothes, small pieces of furniture, musical instruments…he’s found all sorts of great stuff.

    Oh, and the chandelier in our dining room – one of my favorite things in the entire house – was something my husband found by the side of the road with a sign on it saying it was free. It didn’t even need any repair work. I will never ignore something just because it’s free. We’re also big on repairing, remaking, and making do with what we’ve got.

    I absolutely hear you about the newspaper. It hurt to drop the subscription when we went through a particularly rough monetary patch.

  7. Krista February 12, 2008 at 6:27 pm #

    Dollar stores! When my kids want to spend their allowances, or just for general thing. I try to know the prices of smaller items (if I can buy it for $.89 at the grocery, I don’t want to spend $1 on it at Dollar Tree). It is a wonderful source for birthday cards and wrapping supplies, as well as decorative items.

  8. raincoaster February 12, 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    One of the suburbs out here has a Freebie Day every six months, where all teh furniture and stuff you don’t want is set by the side of the road and people drive around and take what they want. Very good for bookshelves.

    My best advice (and I have a great deal of experience at poverty) is to cook from scratch. Anything in a package costs more than it’s worth. And use the heck out of the library, which also gets the daily papers, if they’re not online.

  9. raincoaster February 12, 2008 at 10:45 pm #

    Uh, car? Vacations? We have different concepts of poverty. Living downtown may mean less square footage, but it also means I can walk to everything I need if I set aside enough time. The crofter whose son and boar featured so prominently in the Friday Caption Contest a few weeks ago has a marvelous blog about living off the land as economically and ecologically as possible. I highly recommend it (even though, as I said, I live downtown).
    http://stonehead.wordpress.com/

  10. Eilish February 13, 2008 at 3:22 am #

    Hand-me-downs, baby! HMDs rule for kids clothes, especially if you have a boy who mostly wears jeans and t shirts. HMDs also are great for toys. Check with your girlfriends who have older kids for out grown toys as well as clothes.

    Always make shopping lists and stick to them.
    Take up camping as a past time for inexpensive vacations, (we just had a weekend at the beach for about $40.00 plus food).
    Cook at home using whole, seasonal foods (usually cheapest).
    My dad always said, “The cheapest ____ is usually the one you already own.” (car, house, wardrobe, etc.)

  11. Seana February 13, 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    Menu planning! I make sure that I make a menu for the week and then buy what I need for the planned meals. That keeps the extra spending down and it buys back time that I don’t have to go to the store every other day.

  12. Mr. Henry February 13, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    Raincoaster catches the urban vibe, Mr. Henry’s mantra: Walk everywhere. Cook your own food. Read books from the library. And yes, Glinda, get the news online.

    As for going out to eat or spending a weekend in the country, just be an amusing conversationalist and don’t be shy to accept invitations from friends more fortunate than you.

  13. Glinda February 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    These are fabulous!

    Thanks everyone, I’m betting this is giving people some new things to think about.

    @Leah- I understand the time is money principle you are talking about, but I believe that cutting coupons is one of the best ways to save money, as long as you are buying what you need, not just what the coupon is good for. And to say that working more would get you more money, that’s assuming people get an hourly wage and overtime, right?

    As for craftiness and sewing, I am one of the least crafty people on the planet, I think.

    And urban vibe? Haaaa! I live in the land of uber-suburbia!

  14. PaperPusher February 14, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    I appreciate this post, thank you. It’s not something people talk about very much. I work full time, but our finances are still very tight because I took a HUGE paycut to get out of law firm life for something much more structured and less stressful so I can be home more for my 9 month old. However, this coincided with having my now 9 month old, which means hemorraging money out the wazoo. Anyway, enough about me. Here are my additions: eBay for sure! Also, Trader Joe’s, if you’ve got one close by. I find their prices much more reasonable than a lot of other places, especially when it comes to organic food items.

  15. Phyllis February 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    My husband and I both work full time and we still do all of those things. Remember my fellow parents – college tuition is increasing at twice the rate of inflation. And I have to say, not having cable TV is a blessing.

    Like that old Yankee saying goes: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do – or do without”.

  16. Phyllis February 14, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    Oh – here’s another – it’s much better to know people with swimming pools, boats and vacation homes than it is to actually own them yourself.

  17. Zaftig February 17, 2008 at 1:44 am #

    Store brand, store brand,store brand. Target store brand groceries are excellent quality and cheap – relatively, at least.

  18. agirl February 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm #

    And remember – the public library has, not just books, but also DVDs and CDs you can borrow. And unless it is something (new) for which there is high demand, you can usually renew, for free.

    Many public libraries also have programs for kids, including storytime for little kids. All free.

    Netflix is cheap but free is even better than cheap!

    Signed, Librarian from a Public Library

    P.S. There are a bunch of “frugal” this and “frugal” that websites out there, with lots more great ideas for saving $$. All just a Google search away!

  19. again February 17, 2008 at 11:33 pm #

    I love it – I think the drive to save money is something genetic (runs in my family), but also obviously the drive has increased range when you’re in straits. Most of my very favorite suggestions are already here, but I have just a bit [N.B.: this became comical when I read my whole finished submission] to add. First, I don’t buy food for my “menu” – I buy things I know I will use (i.e. chicken, ground beef, roast, pork loin) that are inexpensive but nice when they are on a great sale (1/2 their usual price or less). They go straight into the freezer and then when I need dinner, I get to explore the freezer. I don’t buy fresh vegetables much because I’m so busy they may spoil before I can fix them. Also, they’re often expensive. I swear by frozen packages of vegetables – they taste fresh and the cutting and everything are done for you (I work), and they last practically forever. Also, they’re often cheaper than fresh! Example: my local grocery store (Kroger) has 16 oz. packages of sliced tricolor pepper and onion mix on sale every week for $1. For fresh peppers (with seeds and stems to be removed, and to get three colors I’d have to buy more and I wouldn’t use them), I’d pay at least $2.99 a pound.

    I agree with ebay but after getting burned several times recently I will say that you should NEVER BUY CLOTHES FOR ANYONE ELSE on ebay. Ouch. For clothing expenses when you’re just going to have to spend some money (i.e., for my job, I have to wear a suit; for presents) I swear by Marshall’s and TJMaxx (the clearance racks of course). Ditto for shoes. Also for shoes: gotham city online and grapevinehill (ebay sellers) if you must have semi-designer shoes but have 1/4 the money needed. I try to get nice suits – name-brand in the $300 range – and I don’t pay more than $60. That’s still money but a huge savings. Oh, I hear the DC area has something even better than TJMaxx/Marshall’s called Ross’s.

    More on food: learn to make your own bread; it’s way cheaper and tastes better. Buy whole hams and turkey breasts and beef roasts on sale and roast them and slice them for sandwiches (saves 50% on deli meat). Buy brick cheese and slice it yourself. Obviously, stockpile tomato sauce and pasta when they go on sale. If you have friends who will socially pressure you to eat out when you’d rather not (i.e. brunch after Sunday Mass, I’ve always found), invest the energy in keeping your house presentable and bacon and eggs and muffin fixings stocked and invite them over. (You’ll spend less feeding everybody than you would going out, and they may take your good example and invite you.) Learn to cook rice and potatoes if you don’t already. Wine is cheaper to buy in the store than in a restaurant, if you must have it. Treats of all kinds (hummus? H’ors d’ouvres?) are cheaper to make yourself. Almost any kind of decadent confection is cheaper AND better at home. Nobody will complain about it as a hostess gift when it’s yummy and homemade, even if it isn’t booze! When getting together with groups of friends, do dinners pot luck. Instead of having people over to DINNER, have them over to barbeque in the summer. The fixings are less expensive, other people will bring everything but the main course, and everyone enjoys it. Create social occasions around things everyone wants to do but that are free and eat chips and soda, rather than going “out.” (I.e. watching sporting events, political debates if you’re so minded, playing board games, etc.) If your budget is a bit looser and you’re looking for other entertainment, become a follower of community theater (tickets only a few dollars and probably more fun that the productions of professionals). Cheaper still at your local college or university. Move into an area that’s wired for internet so you don’t have to pay for your own. (Impractical, I know.) Look for the things you don’t REALLY need if you can get them for free – a community pool, a gym at your apartment complex, an open-to-the-public track at your local high school. Then, you can learn to rely heavily on that instead of adopting a “necessity” like a gym membership. Go hiking at public parks with your kids. Go to the beach. For exercise, go running outside (who wants to run on a treadmill anyway???). To tone your arms, do flys with Ragu spaghetti sauce jars!

    When you want to update your wardrobe, do a clothing swap with all your similarly situated girlfriends. Everyone will be happy with the “new” things and it’s free. If you’ve a group of girlfriends in the area (I know I’m sorely neglecting the men), which is likely if you’re in the suburbs, create a complicated system of accounting whereby you babysit for others for free and earn credits that you can spend for a sitter of your own. (I know people who successfully did this.) With these same gals, arrange to cook (inexpensive) meals for a few days for new mothers so they can feed their families without them having to eat out. If there are people you’d just love to get presents, offer to do things you know they really need (babysitting, i.e.).

    As many of the above, I swear by thrift stores – if I have need for “retail therapy” (!) or an afternoon shopping with friends or if I just need new jeans (I may only buy work clothes really new) I got to the local Salvation Army, which is tons of fun. All my furniture is hand-me-downs, and when I next need to “upgrade” the furniture, it will absolutely be from Craig’s List. (My car will also need replacing and it will of COURSE be used and I will buy it from Craig’s List or a private seller advertising online, not under any circumstances a used car lot.) All kitchen implements should be bought at thrift stores, as should new winter coats (provided that you’re interested in “long” coats – wool, fur, leather, or trenches. For the sporty type, buy at discounters’ – i.e. TJMaxx – in January).

    The only tip I use that I haven’t seen yet is that I cut my own hair. If you have very long or very short hair, it’s quite easy. (Cutting shoulder-length hair would require the assistance of a patient friend.) If you don’t work in an office, a few small errors on your first try would probably be survivable, I think.

    Holidays: if you have lots of people to buy Christmas presents for, create your whole list and start looking November 1 at the latest. If you can’t afford that (and Christmas presents even for the “obligatory” people at a firm per-person budget will absolutely bankrupt a normal person. When did this happen???), another suggestion: learn to make artisan chocolates. Many areas offer classes, but you can learn all you need from recipes in the Joy of Cooking or online. Figure say four kinds that you want, buy all the ingredients on sale, make a large batch, make your own presentation materials out of craft supplies, and give each person a small set, beautifully presented. You’ll cut around 75% per person out of the present budget and it will still look lovely. If you wait for the right week around Thanksgiving each year, you can literally get a turkey for free with your grocery purchase. (If your family really likes turkey, get two in this manner and freeze the other for when they’ve forgotten about the first, or for Christmas.) If you have to buy Christmas cards, buy them the week after Christmas cards. If you’d like to make them, make them. If you can see your way clear, don’t send Christmas cards until your budget changes – send them electronically. (You can create something really unique and you only have to make one.)

    Wedding presents are a bit of a thorn in the side for the budget. If possible, avoid being friends with young single people at all. (I jest.) My solution has been to collect Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupons (they send me one a month but they honor them beyond the expiration date) and buy presents there with the coupons. If the couple is registered there, it’s easy. If they’re registered elsewhere, see if there’s a name-brand item that might be sold at BBB as well and buy it there. Or look on Amazon. If they registered only at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, well, sometimes I feel a bit touchy about that. Unless you (or their friends generally) are of more liberal means, this always strikes me as rather graceless (but what do I know?). If you can’t afford anything on the registry that is not a single fork or the like, buy them something they would have registered for if only they’d thought of it (a pretty vase, a picture frame in the style of those they did register for, a kitchen gadget which you have discovered and swear by). Either their other acquaintance are all affluent and will buy the registry out, or nobody can afford it and they will be justly repaid for being inconsiderate to their guests. You are not required to sacrifice your groceries for the month for someone else’s occasion and it is NOT good breeding to imply the contrary. If you are invited to a wedding that will OBVIOUSLY be so expensive as to demand a present you could not afford, I personally think it would be better to find a polite reason to decline. (I know there are various social conclusions on this point.) Throw bridal and baby showers in your own home. If another lady asks you to help with a shower and she is hosting, make much of the food (including the cake), and take chores off her hands, rather than springing for something that needs to be bought ready-made. Research inexpensive or free shower games (which are plentiful) and do not buy them. For showers when the mother doesn’t have a lot of money, go in with other guests on something pricey that she really needs. Don’t bother (singly or in a group) buying something pricey that she does NOT need.

  20. Never teh Bride February 18, 2008 at 12:41 pm #

    My frugal mantra at this point in my life is “don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely need.” When we do need something we try to buy something that will last some time or something that comes with a goodly warranty!

    Not having TV helps quite a bit as we’re not exposed to the barrage of adverts telling us we need to do, buy, watch, or eat this or that particular thing. Dining out is limited to special occasions, and I buy flour and sugar in bulk so I can make breads and cakes and things like that for The Beard. Like Phyllis, we tend to “use it up, wear it out, make it do – or do without.”

  21. Lisa February 19, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    So many great ideas here – thanks for the post and for all the comments!

    Another way to save $ on food is to shop at the farmer’s market. We have a couple of indoor farmer’s markets that have stalls for local produce, meat, poultry and eggs that are cheaper and higher quality than the grocery store. If you have space for a chest freezer, then you can buy bushels of tomatoes, peppers, and berries and peaches in the summer and cook with them all winter.

    I found a couple of years ago that when I cancelled all of our catalogues – which takes a quite a bit of time and effort – I was less tempted to buy things I didn’t need. As a plus, we get less mail and have to recycle less paper.

  22. La BellaDonna February 20, 2008 at 5:05 pm #

    When I moved, and had to deal with some Remarkably Rude People when trying to determine what it would take to make my TV shows appear on my television, I was so annoyed I didn’t pick anyserver. I have closely examined my budget, and I’m not going to, either.

    I will be doing a mighty load of catalog cancelling, as well. I’m a long-time thrifter, and even if I do order out once in a while, 1 pizza = one week’s worth of food (dinner and breakfast). And I am a long-time proponent of the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do – or do without.” I’ve “done without” for many decades, and I’m not dead yet!

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