Here's what I know. My parents and my grandparents knew how to pinch a penny when it was needed, and so do I. I stayed home with my kids for 10 years and living on one income had its challenges. I don't think my thrifty skills are enough to make living through the Great Depression painless. Still, maybe you'll find some useful tips in here.
- Break out your slow-cooker, America! You remember, you got one for a wedding gift? Stop bringing home fast food. Just for kicks and giggles, do a little search on a recipe for slow-cooker lasagna. I assemble it the night before and refrigerate, and then plug in my trusty CrockPot in the morning before I leave for work. (I add the water in the morning, FYI.) I come home to a hot, tasty dinner and I didn't have to face the take-out counter. Try it for soup, stew, whatever: there are tons of good slow-cooker recipes out there.
- Pop your own popcorn for your movie nights or a cheap snack anytime. Try sprinkling some parmesan cheese and smoked paprika on your popcorn! Don't cheat and buy a bag of kettle corn (whoever heard of sweet popcorn, anyway???) and don't use the microwave kind. Remember how to pop corn using a big pan and little bit of oil? You probably even have an air popper next to the crockpot. Dust that off, too. And trust me: real melted butter is much better for you than that mysterious butter-like stuff in the microwave popcorn.
- Quit drinking soda. At least make it a treat, instead of your daily fluid intake.
- Wean yourself from convenience foods. Eating more fresh food is not only less expensive, it will help keep your medical bills lower. ;-) Cook from scratch. Come on, team, you can do it!!! You can make your own yogurt for very little money and flavor it however you choose. Make your own bread. Once you can make your own bread, you can make your own pizza, too. How much do you spend on a delivered pizza? My own homemade pizza costs me about $3 for an extra-large, and I never deliver the wrong one. ***And before you start giving me that "I don't have time to cook" business, let me tell you: it doesn't take that much more time!*** The total amount of hands-on time to make a pizza is about 25 minutes. You spend almost that much just listening to Domino's specials before someone answers the phone. Add in the time it takes you to get a consensus from the family about what kind of toppings to get. The part that takes time in a homemade pizza is the rising, which happens whatever I'm doing. It takes planning, not time.
- It's time to face it America. We are a nation of conspicuous consumers. I challenge you (shoot, I challenge ME) to look into your grocery cart next time and look hard. What's in there? Do we need the flavored coffee creamer, the toaster pastries, the single-serving size of whatever, the instant coffee and instant soup and brand-name everything? Get your courage by the hand and put two things back. You won't miss them later, I'm sure. Be a sport now, and put them all the way BACK, not just stuffed in the rack with the National Enquirer by the checkout stand. Spend a little money on some reusable containers, buy things in larger quantities and save the cost of the individual packaging. There are times when choosing a certain brand or a convenience size has its merit, but for everyday face-stuffing, we can do better.
- I don't know if you know this. I didn't know it for many years. You can have meatless meals and not miss the steak. It is possible.
- Learn how to mend clothes. Do you remember the saying, "A stitch in time saves nine."? Better yet if you can learn how to alter clothes or even make them! Seriously, though. Mending your own clothes instead of having it done for you or giving the clothing away will save you mucho denero.
- Wash your clothes in cold water. You won't be able to tell the difference, except in your electric or gas bill. I only use hot if the clothes are stinky. If your washer has a "spin only" feature, spin your washed clothes one more time. That will cut your drying time significantly.
- Look into the mirror and ask yourself a very difficult question: "How many channels do I really NEED?"
- A while back, I posted a list of things I like. Forgive me Olay, but I take those Olay deep-cleansing cloths and cut them in half.
- Quit buying expensive hand creams, though you should always happily accept them as a gift, and use a little plain olive oil instead. It absorbs into your skin very quickly and works wonderfully well.
- Go to the library instead of the DVD rental store. Our library loans DVDs for free and you can keep them for two weeks. Also a much wiser choice than the theater.
- Quit smoking. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stop groaning. You know it costs an arm and a leg......and a lung or two. Stop it!! Do you hear me? Stop it!!!
- How many different household cleaners do you buy? I mainly clean with white vinegar, plain ammonia, or good old Pine-Sol. The vinegar will make your windows and mirrors shine, takes the hard water off the shower doors and leaves no streaks when I clean my laminate floors. The ammonia works well to get the junk off of that stupid smooth-top stove. I wish whoever invented that ridiculous stove had it shoved up their tailpipe, but the ammonia helps. And Pine-sol does almost everything else.
- I like cloth napkins. I have an antique crockery bowl on my table with napkins folded and arranged points-up. It's a pretty centerpiece on the table and so useful. Cloth napkins are greener, of course, classier, and so reusable that they're practically free. I made mine years ago out of fabric I bought for $2 a yard. One yard gives you four generous-sized napkins, and so far I've had over 8 years of use out of them. That's about 2000 uses so far, at $2 a yard for a cost so far of about 1/100th of a penny for FOUR napkins. And there are still many years of use left in them. Just choose colors that can stand the barbeque sauce, brown gravy and pizza sauce.
We have to pay closer attention to our spending, without taking all the fun out of life. Just like diets don't work if they're only about deprivation, budgets don't work if they're all skimp and no spend. We can make better choices, though. And we can find the challenge in saving. Most of all, if we can get back to the basics of running our lives, a more hands-on approach might actually be more satisfying than having everything done for us. We can save money, tread more lightly on the planet and get more satisfaction all at the same time.