Just about everyone I know is concerned about the current economic crisis and they're looking for ways to cut corners and save a little money. This is one area in which I have a lot of experience, having been raised in a household that depended solely on a teacher's income, and then raising two children of my own as a single mother on a tight budget. I've found ways to furnish my home, dress fashionably, and live lavishly, all for literally cents on the dollar. So in this article, I thought I might share some words of frugal advice for those of you who are feeling the crunch too.
First, let's get you into the right state of mind. Being thrifty doesn't equate to being cheap. Having a great sense of style is important and you don't have to give that up in order to live a frugal lifestyle. So repeat after me, “I don't have to pay the retail price for ANYTHING.” Believe that! Go ahead and say it a couple times until it sinks in because once you grasp the concept, you too can be liberated from the consumerist mindset that causes you to rush out and buy crap you don't really need. There are many, many ways to avoid paying full price for everything from furniture to groceries so let's start with the basics, shall we?
1. Coupons — They can be found in the Sunday paper, fliers, in-store ads, and online. Sometimes you can sign up to receive weekly or monthly newsletters from your favorite stores (like Borders and JoAnn's) who regularly send coupons via email and snail mail. The trick is to keep from collecting coupons for products you don't normally use, or for services you don't really need. I used to belong to a coupon circle where the participants exchanged their unused coupons weekly. Some chains offer membership cards that provide additional discounts when swiped at checkout.
2. Sales — Every store I've ever been to has them, and since I'm rarely loyal to particular brands (with the exception of Jif peanut butter), I hardly ever pay full price for food because I buy what's on sale that week. Check out the day-old bakery racks and examine merchandise on the clearance shelves, BUT don't be tempted into buying questionable produce, or needless junk just because it's discounted. Sometimes you can find items that have small imperfections or slight damage that can be fixed or covered up inexpensively for a fraction of what it would normally cost.
3. Buy in bulk — My family will always need things like toilet paper, soap, and garbage bags so I try to buy them in bulk when they go on sale.
4. Comparison shop — If you have your heart set on something rather expensive, like a new appliance or video game, visit a few stores first to find the “going rate” and then look up the model number online. Consider the price of shipping and/or delivery before deciding where to make the purchase. If it's not a necessity, and the item is not in high demand, wait a couple weeks to see if the item gets marked down. Note: don't forget to visit the wholesale and closeout stores!
5. Buy used — This one is my favorite way to save money because I don't have an issue buying previously owned items (as long as they are in like-new condition) so this one warrants a few bullet points.
- Shop for refurbished electronics, appliances, and computer components online.
- Go Goodwill hunting. Because I have a lust for couture, and a good eye, I have saved hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and my kids and I are always dressed in brand-name clothes. Just make sure to examine things closely before purchasing.
- Craigslist, auctions, flea markets, pawn shops and rummage sales are also great places to find incredible deals on used stuff. Don't be afraid to bargain if you think the seller is asking too much. Usually, they are unaware of the actual value – but you'll know because you'll have done your homework in advance. Try your best to be fair and equitable. Be skeptical if a deal sounds too good to be true.
6. Community — Utilize your local resources and get involved in the community. Our local library has a yearly book sale, and because we make a donation every year, we get invited to the preview sale a day before it is open to the public, which means we get first dibs. At the end of the 3 day sale, folks can buy a grocery sack full of books for only $4! Get involved with local park revitalization efforts or start a gardening circle to get free plants, seeds and clippings. Take part in community service auctions and craft fairs where you can barter goods and services. Being active in your community is a great way to network, make new friends, exchange knowledge, and work together for the greater good!
7. Reuse and recycle — As an artist, I'm often inspired while standing in front of the garbage can, asking myself if what I'm holding in my hand could be used for another purpose. Plastic plates and lids get reused as pallets for painting projects. I upcycle unwanted clothing to make stuffed animals. I use old phone books to press flowers. Frayed and dingy towels provide protective layers between picture frames when I'm packing for an art fair. And if I don't have a use for it, I give it to someone who does, for example, I know an artist who is always thankful to receive magazines and newspapers. I know another crafty woman who makes mosaics out of broken dishes. I really hate resigning plastic, paper and glass to the trash bin, and ultimately, a landfill.
8. Repair it — Because we didn't have the money to replace things when I was growing up, my mom taught me how to mend a seam, sew a button, dye a faded shirt, paint a dresser, and restore, refinish, or jury-rig just about anything and everything. These are important lessons I'm passing on to my kids as well.
9. Research — Free advice is literally everywhere… on the Internet, on TV, in books and magazines, and in great abundance in the minds of our beloved grandmothers. Did you know that hairspray removes ink stains? Did you know that you can clean just about anything with vinegar or a little baking soda? We'd wasted a lot of money over the years on chemicals, poisons and traps in an attempt to get rid of ants until I read a tip online about spreading used coffee grounds around the foundation of our house. We haven't seen a single ant since and it cost us NOTHING. By the way, Heloise is the bees knees!
10. DIY — This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the last two. Everything can be done cheaper if you take the time to do it yourself, from house and car repairs to cooking and cleaning. Before you begin, make sure you have the know-how and the right tools for the job. You can always borrow or rent the proper tools, and if you don't have the knowledge, it's never too late to educate yourself. Michael and I have saved a lot of money over the years by checking out automotive, gardening, and other instructional books from the library. We've even taken free classes on how to install our own bathroom tile. The important thing is to acknowledge your limits. Let's face it, there are some things that are better left to the professionals… like snaking your sewer lines or installing roof shingles.
In closing, here are a few more quick tips. Find ways to conserve energy… every little bit helps. If an article of clothing doesn't fit, don't buy it with the intention of losing weight or having it altered. Chances are, you won't and it will sit in your closet wasting space. Think twice before buying used shoes. Don't pay for software if you can get the job done with free or open source software. Think creatively — why buy 2 buttons at the fabric store for $2 – 5 when you can buy a dress with 10 similar buttons for the same price at Goodwill? I like Goodwill because they provide job opportunities and training for people with disabilities and disadvantages, but I advise against the patronage of places like the Salvation Army unless you're comfortable with contributing to the indoctrination of the unfortunate individuals who turn to them in times of need. I also advise against shopping at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club for a number of reasons regardless of how cheaply they sell their merchandise. (link)
And finally, GIVE BACK. Since you'll be saving all that money, you can afford to donate your unwanted items to Goodwill or your local Freecycle group. You could also donate money or food to local charities and non-profit organizations. If you really don't have the money to spare, you could always lend your time, expertise or services to those in need.