Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trimming the Fat

For years now, I have loved the challenge of living simply. Part of that is about simplifying extraneous activities that don't give life meaning, but there's a definite financial part to it as well. Now, I'm not a coupon-clipping expert (although I have been learning), nor do I scoff at the occasional splurge, like eating out or buying an extra clothing item here and there. But all in all, Ben and I live with a minimum of dispensable income, and have learned a few tricks along the way. So, given the fact that economic indicators don't seem particularly optimistic, in no particular order, here are the top ten ways I can think of in this moment that we trim the fat:

1. Make a menu for the week, and shop specifically for that menu. It's amazing how much food is saved by more or less sticking with a menu for the week rather than impulsively buying.

2. Make as many "processed foods" as possible at home. Currently for us, this means making our own bread, desserts, cereal (which is currently just raw oats, raisins, and honey), and snacks. In the past this has entailed making yogurt, granola, and "lunch meat" by roasting large meat that we bought on the cheap.

3. Buy the off brand when available. This is especially useful when we do buy processed foods (Cheerios for the baby), cleaning products, and baking goods. It is not uncommon for the off brand to be a third the price of the brand name!

4. Share a costco membership and use with discretion. We have found that the items that it is worth it for us to buy at costco are brown sugar, flour, oats, diapers, apple juice, coffee, cheese sticks, dogfood. Depending on what you use, this might vary. But as Ben is currently reminding me, don't succumb to the temptation of buying the "nicer stuff" at Costco, because you will end up spending more than you would at a regular grocery store, despite the bulk savings. Also, don't get anything that will spoil before you are able to use it.

5. Determine a set amount for groceries, "extra expenditures" like eating out, etc. PER WEEK and stick to it. Making sure that you hold yourself accountable week by week ensures that you don't go too crazy at any point in time.

6. Shop online for big ticket items. is where Ben gets his artsy-fartsy glasses, and they have held up for over 6 months, are trendy, and are just as great as his last pair of glasses. The only difference is that he paid $12 for this pair, and $250 (including insurance help) for the last pair. Similiarly, we bought an awesome fireplace set (screen, tools, everything) for under $50 including shipping, and would have paid over $200 at any retailer. Amazon and craigslist are especially great for this, as is (according to Ben).

7. Establish a social tradition of entertaining at home. One thing that More With Less, that amazing cookbook that every aspiring simple lifer should own, has taught me, is that "entertaining" can be as simple as having friends over for a pot of soup and some fresh bread.

8. Do as many things as you can yourself, especially around the house. Since we've been here, with the help of neighbors and family, Ben has done some major work around the house, including fixing our plumbing, installing recessed lighting, installing a new screen door, and installing a door between our kitchen and basement (thanks Robbie! We could never have done this one without you!). These were all fun "projects" for Ben, but saved us a ton of money in labor costs. Likewise, most things, from painting the house to painting your nails, have a potential for money saved.

9. Establish a babysitter co-op with area families. The way this works is each mother/father agrees to watch other families' kids in exchange for them returning the favor. Most people even get fancy and have points systems. Since my mom lives so close by and loves to watch Zosia, we don't do this formally, but my neighbor Annie and I have definitely watched on another kids a couple of times, and it totally beats hiring a sitter.

10. Don't buy stuff. This was Ben's tongue-in-cheek idea for a tip since I promised ten and only have nine (he's reading the paper in the chair next to me), but I actually sort of agree with it. In particular, try to take advantage of networks of friends and family to exchange things that you might need. Clothing swaps are awesome, as are hand me downs, especially when it comes to children's clothing. When you do buy stuff, yardsales and flee markets are an amazing first stop.

These are just the things that pop into mind today. I would love to hear how others save money or live simply on a day-to-day basis. There was a time when I hoped to become crafty and sew all my own stuff, but I think that the world is a better place since I'm no longer trying. Anyone have success with this? Or other ways of trimming the fat?


One and Doll said...

Join Freecycle. . . an online community in each city. . . people post things they have and will give away for free. Others post things they want. . . Again all free.

We got a GREAT mattress pad (we just washed it and inspected carefully) for . . . free!

Adele Paz Collins said...

I've heard about that, but never joined. Excellent tip!