14 Mar 101 Ways To Save Money
This post was adapted from the original 1992 Edition of Your Money or Your Life. Not all may be for you, but keep an open mind and give as many as possible a fair try.
Interest Payments and Financial Charges
Cutting down on how much you pay for the privilege of using borrowed money is a cardinal rule of saving money. After all, you’ve already done your time at the office for the privilege of having the money in your pocket. Why pay again, and drag the ball and chain of debt around too, as you hobble down the road of life?
1. Pay off your credit cards.
Credit card companies charge 16 to 20 percent interest on the unpaid balance of your bill. In 1989, the national average interest rate on credit cards was 18.66 percent. (Penalty rate in 2016: 29%) Every $100 of debt cost $18.66 a year in interest. That means that someone in the 28 percent tax bracket had to earn $25.92 before taxes to pay for the privilege of having spent that $100. Clearly, credit cards may be a convenience, but they aren’t a bargain. As you begin to save money, you should look at paying off your most expensive debts first.
2. Eliminate all but one credit card for emergencies and stop paying unnecessary annual fees.
With rare exceptions, each credit card you have costs you annually anywhere from $20 to a whopping $300 for the privilege of using it -even if you do pay off your balance monthly.
3. Pay cash for all purchases, even major ones like your car.
Follow this simple rule and you will eliminate debt from your life. Not only that, but you will be forced to wait to make purchases until you have enough money saved up-and by then you may no longer want the latest gazingus pin. (Travel rewards are now such that paying for your car with an airline card makes lots of sense if you can pay it off within a month.)
4. Pay off your mortgage as quickly as possible.
If you have been extending your payments over the typical 30 years, you may well be spending up to three times the purchase price of your house. That means that if you buy a house for $100,000 with a 30-year mortgage at 9.5 percent you will actually have shelled out over $300,000 by the time you make the last payment. Paying off your mortgage early may be easier than you think. According to one newspaper article, an increase in payments of just 5 percent could cut almost 7 years off a 30-year mortgage. Paying an extra 10 percent would reduce the mortgage to just over 19 years.
5. If your bank account offers free checking or waives the service fee in exchange for maintaining a minimum balance, don’t draw the account below the minimum.
This requires the discipline of keeping your check register up-to-date, but it’s so simple to avoid these unnecessary charges. And keeping your check register up-to-date isn’t such a bad practice anyway.
6. Don’t bounce checks.
(See number 5.) Furthermore, rubber checks waste the life energy of a whole string of other people who then must spend some of their precious time on earth trying to collect from you. There is no better way to demonstrate to the world that you are not a person of integrity than to bounce a check.
7. Assess whether or not you really need that extra car (or two).
You might want to eliminate it and save on gas, oil, maintenance, repairs, parking, insurance, licensing and fines.
Lu Bauer and Steve Brandon had inherited a car from the classic “little old lady who only drove it to church on Sunday.” The body was in perfect condition (a wonder for an area that salts its roads for nearly half the year). The engine was a hummer. They didn’t need the car, but they had it and decided to keep it for a spare. After a year of tracking their expenses, they recognized that just having this beauty up on blocks in their barn was costing hundreds in licensing and insurance. They realized that by selling the extra car now, they could save thousands of dollars by the time they would need a replacement for their current car. In addition, someone else in their rural community could have the pleasure of driving granny’s cream puff.
Steve West was in a similar position. As a home remodeler, he rationalized his two extra vehicles (an old pickup truck and another beater) as useful for hauling tools and materials to his jobs. Since they weren’t worth much on the open market, he’d assumed it was cheaper to keep them. Not true. Doing his Monthly Tabulations showed him the high cost of the convenience of having-and maintaining-these backup vehicles. Between paying for the new transmission, the insurance and licensing and the gallons of gas they guzzled for even short hops, Steve found that for less money he could just rent an extra truck when he needed it. He sold off the two extras-and hasn’t needed to rent yet.
8. Walk to do local errands whenever possible.
How far is too far to walk? Short hops in your car when the engine is cold are a major cause of automotive wear and tear and poor gas mileage. Take a look at the reasons you use your car for errands less than a mile from your home. Convenience? Speed? Safety? And look at what it’s costing you in terms of money and exercise. Try walking instead.
9. Use public transportation.
This is usually very cost-effective, especially if parking is a problem. Remember, the cost of taking your car downtown isn’t just the cost of parking. It also includes the cost of gas and wear and tear on the car. If the IRS computes mileage at 27 cents a mile, shouldn’t you? (53.5 cents in 2017)
10. Keep an auto log.
Keeping a detailed automotive log is an excellent practice and provides a valuable diagnostic tool. This book is a record of everything done to the car along with the date and odometer reading when it was done. Be sure to include the amount of gas at each fill-up, how many miles per gallon you’re getting at each fill-up, quantity of oil put in, tire replacement or rotation, tune-ups, repairs and replacements. (See Figure 6-1 for an example.) Such car records are used by all fleet operators and can save enormous repair bills. Not only will your mechanics appreciate knowing what has been done to your car in the past, but you will have valuable information to keep you on top of your car’s health. For example, a dropoff in miles per gallon can alert you to the need for a tune-up. Parts can be replaced at regular intervals-before they clog, rupture or fail (the same is true with plugs, points, condenser, air and gas filters, PCV valves, oil and oil filter). Finally, people with cars that have run over 100,000 miles all agree on one simple maintenance procedure: frequent oil changes. Robert Sikorsky, author of Drive It Forever, recommends frequent oil changes as the best thing you can do to give your car a long life. Your minimum oil change interval should be the manufacturer’s “severe service” recommendation, and Sikorsky even encourages people to decrease that by 10 percent in the summer and 20 percent in the winter.
11. Learn basic automotive maintenance.
Surely you’ve noticed the two unspoken assumptions about automotive maintenance. One is “If you are a man you naturally and intuitively know how to fix cars.” The other is “If you are a woman you do not and cannot fix your own car.” Both of these promote ignorance. If you think you already know something, there is no room to learn. Many men still strand themselves with an automotive problem they can’t fathom, a tool kit they can’t use (which probably cost them too much) and an impatient mate they can’t confess their ignorance to. Likewise, if you think you don’t-and furthermore, can’t-know something, there is no room to discover the answer. Many women still stand around with a flat tire, waiting for a tow truck or a good Samaritan, when everything they need to do the job is right in the trunk. So find yourself a teacher-and learn. This teacher may be your brother-in-law, who does his own automotive maintenance and can teach you how to change your oil, do a tune-up and change a tire.
Or you may enroll in an adult education class on automotive maintenance. Here you will learn to perform simple, safe procedures under the supervision of a professional in a shop, where mistakes can be both averted and corrected. Here’s some impressive arithmetic for the budding do-it-yourself mechanic to ponder. If a muffler job is going to cost you $65 at a repair shop, you may be able to earn yourself $32.64 per hour by doing it yourself. How? If the muffler and clamps cost $18 at a discount auto parts store, and the job takes you two hours, you are ahead by $47, or the $23.50 per hour the shop would charge you to do the work. But if you are in the 28 percent tax bracket, you would have to earn $65.28 in order to pay the 28 percent income tax and have $47 left after taxes to pay for the muffler installation. That’s another $18.28 down the drain, which increases your “hourly wage” by $9.14 per hour. All told, you’d be earning $32.64 per hour by replacing your own muffler. That’s pretty good money for what some of us might consider an enjoyable, educational and empowering experience. (By the way, at those wages you’d be earning $67,891 a year!)
(Translate this for your current possessions and what you can do to fix them. The deeper truth behind all these examples is that DIY is both empowering and a great way to save money)
12. Shop around for a reliable and reasonable mechanic-before you need one.
Sometimes adult education courses on auto maintenance are offered by local mechanics who are eager to empower their clients to become knowledgeable about their own cars, so this may also handle the challenge of finding a mechanic you can trust. Just as it is wise to select a good doctor before a medical crisis occurs, it is important to select a mechanic before a breakdown. Ask your friends where they take their cars for repairs. When evaluating candidates for the important position of Your Mechanic, there are a number of questions to ask: Is the shop clean? Do you feel you can trust him or her? What is the hourly rate? Is the mechanic certified? Is the work guaranteed? Most mechanics are undoubtedly honest, but there are some who prescribe expensive, unnecessary work that does nothing to fix or improve your car. Overcoming your own ignorance, learning to do your own basic maintenance yourself and selecting a trustworthy mechanic can make a difference of thousands of dollars.
13. Acquire needed auto parts yourself after comparing prices by phone. If needed, have a mechanic install them.
Official factory parts for your car may cost hundreds of dollars more than “after-market” parts that are equally reliable. Often you can get rebuilt parts instead of new ones, and they come with a guarantee that they will last just as long as a new part. Furthermore, padding the price of parts is one place where service stations make a little extra on each job. So do your phone-shopping at auto supply stores with the make, model and year of your car, the part name and, if possible, the part number handy. Don’t forget to bargain-ask if it’s on sale or if they will give you a discount. If you can’t install the part yourself, see if your mechanic would be willing to install it for you and charge you only the cost of his shop time. Some will, some won’t.
14. Do regular maintenance (or have it done) so that breakdowns are less likely.
Regular tune-ups and oil changes add years to your car’s life. Not only will you be replacing parts before they break down, but you’ll have the chance to observe the condition of the whole engine and chassis. Are the belts cracked? Are the hoses getting brittle? Are there obvious leaks anywhere? Is the muffler hanger rusting out? Are the tires wearing unevenly? Cars (like all machines) respond well to this kind of tender loving care, just as you do.
15. Carpool to work.
Some cities have a ride-share program that matches commuters from the same area. Put a notice up on your bulletin board at work or at your local grocery store. Ask your neighbors. A car with five riders costs as much to drive as a car with one rider, but at one-fifth the cost to each person. And congested cities are putting in high occupancy vehicle lanes so that carpoolers can zip by the single occupancy vehicles. (You get bonus points on this one for reducing pollution while reducing your expenses.)
16. Telecommute to work-that is, work at home, hooked to the office via computer, modem, fax, telephone and paycheck.
Formally or informally, many corporations are instituting telecommuting to accommodate working parents who want to be home with their children, people who want to keep their jobs when their mate is transferred and people who want their jobs structured around their lives instead of vice versa. Los Angeles County now has 700 county office staff members working at home, with measurable improvements in productivity. Not only will you save money (and time) on commuting, dry cleaning and eating lunch, but your company may gain a competitive edge by using on-line workers. Inquire at your office. They may even buy you the home-office equipment.
(This idea, novel in 1990, has blossomed to digital nomads and a great deal of outsourcing to lower wage countries – a benefit or a problem depending on whether you are the one hired.)
17. Select your home and job so that they are within walking distance of each other.
Many people have recognized that automobiles are destructive to the environment and are striving to relocate close enough to their jobs to walk to work.
18. Go to a four-day, ten-hour-per-day workweek. This eliminates at least one day a week of commuting. It could also put you on the road before or after rush hour.
19. Bicycle when and where you can.
How far is too far to bicycle? Our hometown, rainy and hilly Seattle, has a dedicated and growing cadre of bicyclists who, with rain-suits and ten-speeds, will tackle any terrain in any weather. There is a nationwide movement to turn “rails to trail,” to convert old railroad rights-of-way into bicycle trails. If your town isn’t bike-friendly, perhaps you’ll be the one to change that. The only fuel cost you’ll have is breakfast.
20. Check out insurance rates for the new car(s) you’re considering buying-some models and makes have higher rates than others and give no better service or mileage.
You’d be surprised at what is considered a sports car by insurance companies (for which they charge a higher premium).
21. Repair and keep an older car rather than buying a new one.
This saves on insurance too.Back in the fifties and sixties it made sense to trade in your car every three years or 50,000 miles. Now it doesn’t. Manufacturers can afford to give seven-year warranties because they know their fuel-injected, electronic-ignition cars will perform superbly for at least that long. The older your car, the lower your insurance rates.
22. Consolidate your errands to reduce the amount you drive.
One trip to the shopping center to buy ten items uses a lot less gas than ten trips for one item each. A shopping list is a great asset in reducing transportation costs. Selecting just one day a week for errands helps focus you on assessing and projecting your needs for the whole week. Consolidating your errands also preserves another vital part of your life energy-your time.
Medical costs are skyrocketing, so staying well is good for your pocketbook as well as your body. Maintaining wellness, rather than waiting to treat illness, can be a major way of eliminating expenses. Healthcare begins at home, and there’s a great deal you can do to avoid getting sick in the first place. Here are some tips.
23. Consider getting major medical insurance with a $1,000 or more deductible.
Norman Cousins said that 85 percent of all illness is self-limiting. Your body, if given rest and good nutrition, is designed to heal itself of most illnesses. Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians. Even when you do need expert attention and must pay those expenses yourself because they are under the deductible, the overall cost is still less than if you were paying the higher premiums for full coverage. Because of consumer resistance to the high price of medical insurance, more and more companies are offering these stripped-down major medical policies. Make sure your provider has an A rating or better with A. M. Best, an organization that rates insurance companies.
This was of course written long before Obamacare, AKA the ACA. Now with Trumpcare, however that turns out, assuring access to the healthcare system in the United States is even more confusing and even less sane. All the more reason to take care of our bodies
24. Comparison-shop for prescription drugs, blood tests, x-rays and other procedures.
Prices vary for all of these. We are often so cowed by the medical institution that we just do as we are told and never question the price. Some clinics and labs even have annual loss leaders, offering low-cost blood tests to attract new patients. Also, keep an eye out for health fairs, where you can get basic blood work and tests done free or at a minimal fee.
25. Many doctors have privileges (can see patients) at several different hospitals-find out which ones your doctor can use and comparison shop for the lowest cost.
You’ll be surprised at how much the daily rates and operating-room costs vary from one hospital to the next. One of the downsides of third-party payments (payments made by your insurance company) for health care is that the consumers themselves are not demanding affordable prices from hospitals.
26. Eat a proper diet.
Preventive maintenance, on the physical level, means listening to and taking good care of your body. Pay attention to your diet and be sure you are getting all the necessary nutrients. The essence of this is listening to what your body runs best on, not rigidly adhering to the latest nutritional theory.
27. Get proper exercise.
You need three kinds of exercise: aerobic, strength-building and stretching. Yoga, jogging, bicycling, swimming and fast walking provide one or more of these types of exercise. There are many books on the market to help you. A word of caution: you don’t have to join a health club or buy expensive equipment to stay healthy-you may end up physically fit but fiscally depleted. Besides, isn’t it ultimately more rewarding to stack your winter firewood and walk to the store than it is to ride a stationary bicycle to nowhere? A recent book, Fitness Without Exercise (Bryant A. Stamford 1990), gives many more examples of the exercise value of everyday activity. One FIer reported that he sold his riding lawn mower and returned to the old push kind, thereby eliminating his costly health club membership and improving his health. Another friend claims that vacuuming is good aerobic exercise, if done with a lot of energy and fancy footwork.
Who needs Nautilus equipment when there’s garbage to take out, leaves to rake and windows to wash? Don’t think of a clogged toilet as a tragedy; think of it as an opportunity to work your pectoral muscles. Picking up children’s toys provides just the kind of bending and stretching you need for warm-ups before you move into an invigorating jog from room to room preventing your preschooler from wreaking havoc with all your knickknacks. If you’re spending life energy (money) on a fitness club, perhaps that’s a signal to look at spending more of your natural life energy (time) on your active chores. Cleaning your own house instead of hiring a house cleaner trims fat from more than just your expenses.
28. Maintain a proper attitude.
The physical side isn’t all of it; the emotional and psychological components of good health are at least as (and possibly more) important. What is your mental diet like? We are learning that unhealthy attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and feelings produce stresses that play a role in causing disease. Ask yourself what benefits you get from being ill. What is your body trying to tell you by being sick? A physician friend recently told us that 75 percent of his patients had no desire to be well, while another doctor considers that a low estimate. Are you willing to be well? Wellness looks at the whole person and at the “dis-ease” in his or her life that is manifested as disease in the body.
29. Reduce stress.
Life isn’t unduly stressful; you may, however, be unduly stressed by life. We are fortunate to live in a land with abundant instructions on how to handle stress so that it doesn’t deplete our bodies. Most stress reduction techniques teach us how to unhook stimulus from automatic response and to reinterpret “stressful” events as “opportunities for growth,” “interesting adventures,” or just “someone else’s problem.” Counting to ten is one such technique, and it often allows a lightning bolt of anger to pass through you without doing any damage. Observe how fear, anxiety, panic, apprehension and excitement course through your body. That’s the mind-body connection in action. So reducing stress might mean taking it a little easier, but it also could mean reframing the events in your life so that they don’t trigger those avalanches of feelings.
30. Stop smoking cigarettes.
(Smoking has lost favor in the last 25 years, but this advice can be applied to any persistent habit – from frappuccinos to Big Macs)
Not only do nonsmokers have fewer health problems, but insurance companies honor that fact with lower rates. In addition, someone who starts working at age twenty with a pack-a-day habit could retire very early on what he or she spends on smoking. Consider this, from a Canadian newspaper:
Higgins started to smoke when she was 15, paying about 50 cents a pack (gone are those days! Quitting smoking is far more lucrative now. Average price in 2017 was just under $6/pack.). She now (age 28) goes through a pack and a half a day at $1.85 Canadian a pack. She has spent about $6,800 so far…[Assuming that the price of a pack of cigarettes continues to increase at the same rate, by age 70, Higgins could be paying $75 for a pack of cigarettes.] If she keeps smoking, she will spend $186,708 by then. If she quits at age 30 and puts the money into a tax shelter…earning 9 percent, she’ll have $1,851,313.
This kind of arithmetic, by the way, can be applied to any unnecessary habit, from alcohol consumption to an addiction to candy bars. Consider this arithmetic of smoking: one man commented one day to a friend that 60 percent of the people he saw on food lines were smoking. “For the price of a package of cigarettes a day,” he boasted, “I could eat very well, at least as far as nutrition is concerned. It’s all a matter of making wise choices.” To which his friend replied, “Show me.” So he did. He decided to eat for a month on a daily budget of $1.45, the cost of a pack of cigarettes at that time. At the end of a month he was healthy, and he had $9.73 in cash plus assorted potatoes, noodles, margarine, eggs, bread and other leftovers.
31. Get proper rest.
Did you calculate lost sleep in the tally of your real hourly wage? Busy Americans may be robbing themselves of up to three hours of needed sleep a night. According to a Reader’s Digest article, people slept nine and a half hours a night before the advent of the electric light bulb; now, if you sleep more than six and a half people think you lack drive or ambition. Sleep deprivation leads to short-term memory loss and reduced ability to make decisions and to concentrate. One in ten traffic accidents is sleep-related, and up to 20 percent of drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Depriving yourself of needed rest is hazardous to your health. And money can’t buy a good night’s sleep. You have to choose it for yourself.
32. If you are over the medically established healthy level for your body type, lose weight.
This also saves money on food, both the costly treats and the expensive diet programs. Now the size of your paycheck has no direct relation to the size of your waist, but it might be useful to have a column in your Monthly Tabulation labeled “Food I eat that my body doesn’t need.” Most doctors agree that being substantially over your medically ideal weight increases your chances of getting sick.
Housing is usually one of the costliest items on your Monthly Tabulation. The rule of thumb for housing used to be that 25 percent of your paycheck should go for rent. Now it’s closer to 33 percent. People complain about mortgage bondage-being tied to a job in order to keep up payments on the house. The “more is better” mentality has us in thrall when it comes to trading up to ever-larger houses. Here are some ways to rethink your housing costs.
33. If you have a vacation home, rent it out when you aren’t using it.
In our ten years of traveling to present our seminars and work on service projects, there were a number of occasions when we needed a home base for several months. We gained firsthand experience of the fact that there are between 1.1 and 1.6 (estimates vary) dwelling units for every family unit in the United States. These are second homes, abandoned homes, summer homes, homes for sale that aren’t selling, homes caught up in divorce and probate battles, etc. Empty, beautiful homes. We’d find owners of the houses we were interested in through the tax assessor’s office or neighbors and ask them if they would consider renting for a few months. We’d offer a large security deposit plus references from prior landlords. Without fail, the owners appreciated the extra income, the protection from vandalism and the spotless condition of their home when we left. Some even invited us back year after year-and reduced the rent to boot. (of course online services like AirBnB, VRBO and a host of others now facilitate such rentals of second homes that sit empty.)
34. Rent houses that aren’t for rent.
This strategy can work for long-term rentals as well. Drive around the neighborhood where you want to live, looking for telltale signs of an empty house: uncut grass, shades drawn or no curtains on the windows, untrimmed bushes, uncollected mail and leaflets. Find the owner through the tax office and inquire. Very often what’s behind the empty house is a death, a divorce or a difficult experience with previous tenants. Your willingness to take good care of the property (as evidenced by an ample security deposit) can actually unburden the owner.
35. Try house-sitting.
Jason Weston and his girlfriend became champion house-sitters on their way to FI. In the process of putting a down arrow on their rent category month after month, they opened their ears and eyes to other solutions. Soon they saw an ad asking for a couple to take care of a man who had cancer in exchange for room (their own cottage) and board. It sounded good, but the reality was even better. The man lived on a beautiful estate with a pool, a hot tub and gardens. Their only tasks were shopping, cooking the evening meal, discussing sports over dinner and cleaning up. Not only did they get the guest cottage and all their food, but he paid them $600 a month as well. They did their job so well that when the man’s cancer disappeared, he invited them to stay on for the next two years. Since then, they’ve been in demand as house-sitters for a whole network of well-to-do people.
There are agencies (and online sites like trustedhousesitters and mindmyhouse) that handle house-sitting positions, but you can also find opportunities yourself through your friends, bulletin boards and the newspaper. Once you prove yourself, people will clamor for your services.
36. Rent out unused space in your home.
How many square feet does your house have? How many square feet do you actually use? Is any of that extra space private and livable?
Penny Yunuba had a new, lucrative job that disagreed with many of her values-and lots of good ideas about what she’d do if she didn’t have to report to work every day. She found herself constantly thinking through alternatives, devising escape routes from the job that was beginning to feel like a prison. The FI course gave her a tunnel out, but it was her own ingenuity that turned on the light at the end of it. She realized that she could move into the basement of her house and rent out her own bedroom, using that rental income to handle her monthly mortgage payments. She did just that and, by implementing a few other creative strategies, managed to leave her job with enough money to live on.
37. Explore living in an intentional community.
Share your life with people who share your values, either all under the same roof or as part of a cohousing cooperative, intentional community, land trust or planned community. While costs vary, the economy of numbers tends to lower everyone’s expenses. (The Fellowship for Intentional Community, https://www.ic.org/, is a great place to start).
38. Move to a less expensive area.
Roger Ringer has a dream. He wants us to re-inhabit the heartland of this country. When he and his wife wanted to move to the country, they found that there was no place like home-the town they’d grown up in. Population: 1,000. Three-bedroom house with a basement: $30,000. Crime: none. Fun: build your own energy-efficient house, grow a garden, play with your kids, enjoy your mate, listen to great music on the stereo, rent an occasional video-just what Roger does. Roger has a vision of young men and women going to the city for five years or so, achieving Financial Independence and then returning to their rural homes with a secure cash flow and a high quality of life.
If your job didn’t keep you locked in the city, you could move somewhere where your dollars go a lot further. Here’s another example, from the Home Price Comparison Index published in 1990 by The Seattle Times: a 2,200-square-foot home with four bedrooms, two and a half baths, family room and two-car garage would cost $9 16,666 in Beverly Hills, California, but only $8 1,666 in Corpus Christi, Texas-and, all things considered, Corpus Christi might be a nicer place to live.
Flexibility also pays for renters. A one-bedroom, one-bath unit (house or apartment) could cost as much as $980 a month in Honolulu or as little as $305 a month in Oklahoma City. Other places to avoid: New York; Boston; San Jose, California; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco. Try instead Colorado Springs, Colorado; Austin or San Antonio, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; or even Tucson, Arizona.
39. Sell your house and live in a motorhome.
Have you ever heard of “snowbirds?” They are retired people who live full-time in their motorhomes. And they are having a ball. After selling a modest home, they can buy a luxury liner on wheels that has all the comforts of home-and then some. They travel with the weather, so heating and cooling issues are never a problem. In cities, they just snuggle up to the house of a friend or family member, plug in their electricity and enjoy all the advantages of a townhouse. With a bit more daring, you can camp off the beaten track on Bureau of Land Management or National Forest land for next to nothing. Strap some photovoltaic panels on the roof and you even have your own electricity. If you’re interested in exploring such a lifestyle, start by reading back issues of Trailer Life magazine. If there are campgrounds near your city, get out your glad hand and go strike up conversations with some “full-timers” (people who live in their motorhomes fulltime). They will be only too glad to show you around their rigs.
40. Buy a piece of land and put a used mobile home on it.
During one of our interviews on a radio call-in talk show a woman called to say that she and her husband had paid cash for a piece of land just forty minutes from Seattle and a used mobile home- $10,000 for both. She couldn’t understand why all the other callers were complaining about paying $1,000 or more a month on their mortgage-didn’t they realize there are cheaper ways to live?
41. Do your own home repairs.
If you own your home, maintenance can put a strain on your savings. With workers costing upwards of $50 an hour, a simple leaky faucet can run up quite a tab. Learning to do it yourself is not as formidable as you might think. Excellent home-repair guides are available (at the library, of course), but there’s another source of education that’s often overlooked: videos. Check your local building supply or hardware store, as well as the library. These videos can be borrowed free of charge, and actually watching another person tackle the job can give you lots of information that even the best-written and -illustrated book can’t convey. (of course all this information is now available for free online via YouTube.)
Sharing was one of our primary strategies for a simpler and less expensive life. Roommates, chores, possessions – we needed much less because each item filled many people’s needs.
Of course, life is more complicated with the protocols of sharing – signing out tools or making sure someone else doesn’t need the car. Sharing was so normal at one time that it didn’t even need explaining, but by the 1990s many people didn’t want to be bothered with cooperative solutions. Since then, “collaborative consumption” and the “sharing economy” have skyrocketed, thanks in part to Facebook Groups like Freecycle or Apps like NextDoor or the homesharing ones mentioned earlier. How much do you imagine you could save by working our sharing arrangements with friends, family and neighbors? You will appear smart, not deprived. Note: if you can believe it, the Internet was an arcane tool of Universities and some advanced populist thinkers when we were writing Your Money or Your Life. Not eveyr mention of prior technologies – photocopying, newsletters, videos, audiocassettes and so forth – will be noted for its antiquity!
Are all of your possessions in use all of the time? Of course not! So what’s wrong with letting others use one of them when you aren’t using it, as long as you get it back in as good shape as when you lent it? If you loosen up just a little on the mentality of “mine,” life can be both cheaper and more fun. You can also barter goods and services with your neighbors instead of paying cash. The following examples are but a fraction of what’s possible.
42. Start a neighborhood tool and skill swap.
Make a list of the tools and skills you have to offer. Add all the other tools and skills that you imagine others in your apartment building or on your block might have. Photocopy the list and give one to each household. (We photocopied. You will probably create an online spreadsheet and share it!) Provide a space after each item where neighbors can indicate whether they have an item and what assurances they might need to be willing to loan it. No block needs more than a few pruners, one extension ladder, several lawn mowers, a couple of power saws, etc. Yet, through lack of communication, most households have one of every item sitting unused 95 percent of the time. And what about skills, or time? Is your neighbor spending her last dollars for round-the-clock aides to care for her bedridden husband while you spend three hours an afternoon watching soap operas? Might it be that the help you need is right next door? You may reap more benefits from such trading and sharing than just a little cash saving.
43. Trade clothes with friends who wear the same size.
What’s old hat (literally) to you may provide a friend with all the newness he or she needs. Unless the two of you work at the same office, who’s going to know where your new outfit really came from?
44. Or trade clothes with yourself in the future.
Instead of rolling over your wardrobe annually and taking the castoffs to the Salvation Army, box everything that you haven’t worn in the last year and put it in storage. Next time you crave something new go to that box instead of the store. You’ll be delighted at the old friends you find there.
45. Swap services-“haircuts for health care.”
Within the boundaries of family we trade services all the time-cooking, cleaning, yard work, washing, dusting, vacuuming, etc. We don’t charge one another for doing our chores. Try broadening your definition of “family” and swapping services with your friends. More formal barter networks are springing up around the country. The Local Economic Trading System (LETS), a computer-mediated barter system created in a community in Canada, has spread across the United States. By providing a service for another LETS member you earn a credit that you can use to pay for a service later. (Other systems like Time Dollars flourish in some communities, and may other local trading systems have sprung up.)
46. Join a babysitting cooperative.
Many parents have banded together with others in their neighborhood to form a baby-sitting cooperative, giving each other free time and flexibility while saving both money and the eternal hassle of finding a reliable sitter who is available when needed.
47. Borrow books and magazines from the library instead of buying them.
The bonus is that, through interlibrary loan programs, your city or county library can get almost any book you request-even if they have to order it from a library halfway across the country.
48. Share magazine subscriptions with a friend.
Double your pleasure and halve the price. Halve the amount of paper in your local landfill as well.
Let your friends and family know what you need. Chances are that someone you know has just what you need gathering dust and rust in the garage or basement. That someone might be happy to loan or even give it to you. So don’t be afraid of asking around. Frugality is making good use of material things, whether they’re yours or someone else’s. For all you know the donor could be relieved to have it out of sight; it might relieve his or her guilt over having bought yet one more gazingus pin.
Ivy Underwood brought her need for a simple sewing machine to her FI support group. It just so happened that Ellen had one she never used. “What do you want for it?” Ivy asked. As it turned out, what Ellen wanted most was to build a friendship with Ivy. She had just gone from an administrative job to self-employment, primarily so that she could have more time to spend with friends. So Ellen asked for four home-cooked meals at Ivy’s-and they’ve become good friends. In the old way of doing things, Ivy would have spent $300 on a sewing machine and Ellen would have missed out on a good friendship. In the new way, everyone wins.
Shopping-Marilynn, the “Urban Tightwad”
Marilynn Bradley, who reached FI after six years as a cook and caterer, gave us her strategies for making every penny count on her groceries. She does the buying for her household of six and keeps the cost per person down to $2 a day. While you may be shopping for only one or two, many of Marilynn’s ideas are adaptable to smaller households. She claims that such careful shopping saves not only money but time. Five minutes per person per day is what her organized trips cost her household.
50. Know your prices.
Take a day to check out all the stores in your neighborhood and record the prices for all the standard items on your grocery list. You can’t recognize a bargain if you don’t compare prices.
51. Make a list and stick to it.
Luckily, Marilynn isn’t an impulse buyer, which is why she does the shopping and not the housemate who doesn’t know what she wants until she sees it. Marilynn has a standard list of household staples that she uses to check supplies and determine what’s needed.
52. Clip coupons.
Coupons save Marilynn up to $40 per month.
53. Do one big shopping every seven to ten days, rather than making several smaller trips.
Even if you have an iron will with regard to impulse shopping, the less exposure to temptation the better. This strategy saves time and gas as well as money.
54. Make up menus ahead of time for the seven to ten days you’re shopping for, basing meals on what foods are on sale.
This saves money not only because you buy what is cheap, but also because you avoid overbuying something that doesn’t get used or under buying something so that you absolutely must do a midweek run to the store.
55. Comparison-shop, using newspaper ads and weekly grocery-store flyers. Marilynn shops at three or four different grocery stores to get the best price on every item.
Since they are all within a couple of miles of her home, it doesn’t take much extra time to stop at all of them in one morning.
56. Buy in bulk staples used frequently such as flour, grains and spices.
Some stores have regular bins for bulk items, but these are not always less expensive. A good special on five-pound bags of store-brand flour could be a better buy.
On some items, Marilynn buys fifty-pound bags wholesale and stores the excess in sealed plastic buckets.
57. Educate yourself as to what foods are in season and therefore cheaper.
If you don’t insist on having grapefruit in the summer and peaches in the winter, you can lower your grocery bill significantly. Remember the law of supply and demand. What is plentiful will be cheaper. What is scarce will be more expensive. Don’t break that law and you won’t end up broke.
58. Buy in larger quantity foods that are on sale-canned goods especially, but also meat if you have freezer space.
By now Marilynn knows how many cans of tuna her household wolfs down in the summer and can take advantage of good sales by buying cartons. There is no law that says you can’t clear out your grocer’s shelves of an item that’s on super-special and roll out with two cases of peanut butter.
59. Be aware of where each grocery store puts out items that are reduced for quick sale.
Many foods that are still wholesome are reduced because they are a day or two past their prime. With an educated eye you can gauge which items are still fresh enough for your purposes.
60. If you have a garden to provide some of your vegetables, be frugal; grow the vegetables which give you the maximum savings for the minimum space and effort.
People garden for a variety of reasons. For example, Lu Bauer and Steve Brandon garden as part of their commitment to live in balance with the earth and use its resources wisely. Everything is organic and fresh, so even if it’s not much cheaper than store-bought that’s OK for them. Thanks to a secondhand freezer they bought for $50, they have homegrown vegetables all year long.
Many city people manage to find enough soil and sunlight to put in a few tomato plants and actually save money over buying them at the store (to say nothing of enjoying better flavor).
61. Be resourceful.
If you should run low on an item before the next scheduled shopping trip, improvise with what’s on hand instead of running out to the store.
As we’ve already mentioned, solving problems by using money often stunts your creativity. Instead of slavishly insisting on certain foods every day of the week, try feeding yourself from what you have right now. Remember that Silly Putty was just a lab error until someone recognized its true stature. Your “Tuna over Toast” might also be a winner.
62. Form a bulk-buying co-op with friends and neighbors.
Even if you don’t live with a group of people, you can buy in bulk by pooling your orders with others. One FIer even saves a little extra by volunteering to pick up the orders and re-sack them for the group.
63. Cut out one (or more) meat meals per week and substitute a bean or pasta dish instead.
Find a few recipes you like that use inexpensive ingredients to good advantage and intersperse them with higher-cost meals on your weekly menu. This has the dual advantage of saving money and making healthful changes in your diet. (There is a global campaign now to reduce the amount of meat people eat per day not only because of health benefits but the environmental cost of large scale animal feedlots and the land clearing to expand beef production in the rainforest. When I shifted to eating primarily locally grown beef and chicken, I discovered that pastured animals cost more to raise. More connected to the life of the animal and to the hard work of those who raise them, I willingly spent more and ate less. This is a third advantage of a diet with less meat. Try Meatless Mondays.)
64. Buy from outdoor markets and local produce stands.
Such stands can save you money by cutting out several middlemen. Did you know that the average food item travels 1,300 miles from where it is grown to where it is consumed? Shipping a truckload of produce across the country costs up to $4,500. You save yourself those shipping costs when you buy locally grown produce. In addition, a dollar spent on local foods circulates in the local economy, generating $1.81 to $2.78 in other business. Furthermore, attendants at such local stands are usually more willing to bargain than are cashiers at supermarkets.
65. Know the character of your local markets and the kind of loss leaders you’ll find at each one.
Some grocery stores specialize in produce, others in meats or dairy products. Others have very low-cost house brands. Some have bakeries that draw people in.
66. Bring your own shopping bags.
Many grocery stores now refund up to a nickel if you BYOB (bring your own bag). One canvas bag that you use for ten years could save you $25. If you buy it at a thrift store for $1, that’s quite a saving.
67. Avoid convenience foods.
Here are some examples from our Frugal Zealots, Amy and Jim Dacyczyn: Their “Tightwad Hot Cocoa Mix” (1/3 cup of dry milk, 1 teaspoon cocoa, 1 teaspoon sugar) costs $.07 a serving versus $.25 a serving for Carnation cocoa mix in packets. Their homemade solar iced tea costs $.20 per gallon versus $1.29per gallon for instant iced tea mix. Soda in 2-liter bottles cost$2.63, versus $4.28 for soda in six-packs, versus $7.64 for soda purchased at a fast-food chain, versus $14.98 for soda purchased at a movie theater. Water, they point out, costs nothing. In a careful and scientific test, Amy and Jim compared microwave popcorn to the generic pop-it-yourself kind. Microwave popcorn averaged $.125 a cup versus $.01 per cup for the generic stuff. Even better, stove-top popping is far faster than microwave popping. Amy, the stove-top popper, won the race by a mile.
As your handling of money gets clearer and your life becomes more satisfying, you will have less of a need to “vacate.” After all, if your life is fulfilling, why would you want to leave it to go sizzle your skin on a beach for a week?
68. Relax closer to home.
You might even enjoy being around the house. The amount of time you work for the privilege of owning or renting it entitles you to relax
and appreciate it for a week. If you need to get away, any change of location might do-3 miles and 300 miles are both “away.” And if you’re going only a few miles away from home you’ll eliminate the stress of packing everything you might need for a week.
Chris N. came to this very conclusion and started vacationing at a beach house less than an hour from her home. Her family is more relaxed than they were on the expensive vacations they used to take to prove they were making it financially.
69. Buy airline tickets well in advance.
If you buy your tickets at least one month before you intend to fly, you can get a better deal. (Of course travel hacking using credit cards that give you air miles – and paying them off monthly – is now somewhere between an art and a science.)
70. Take advantage of the lower prices available when you fly midweek and stay over a weekend.
Different airlines have different policies, but generally you can fly more cheaply if you stay at your destination over a Saturday night.
71. Be your own travel agent.
Don’t assume that your travel agent will get you the best possible deals. You can phone-shop for tickets like anything else, and then buy them through your travel agent, who can get his or her commission and will in turn give you good service in the future. (This is way out of date! Who uses a travel agent anymore with online ticketing?)
72. Take a camping vacation.
Think of it not as a cheap holiday but as a tour of your property. As U.S. citizens, we each “own” three acres of land-our 1/250,000,000th of the total amount of public lands (724,066,171 acres, to be exact). (2018 update: population 325,000,000. Public Lands: 640,000,000 acres so citizens actually own 2 acres, but that’s a lot of space… as long as it isn’t used for military training and operations.) You’d be amazed how relaxing camping can be. You have everything you need with you, making it unnecessary to eat in restaurants and sleep in motels. You’re out in the country where you don’t feel compelled either to see the sights or to take advantage of the resort’s eighteen-hole golf course, Olympic swimming pool, tennis courts, riding stable, shuffleboard and full-dress dinner dances. You can relax. Your beard can grow, your clothes can wrinkle and you don’t have to care. Now that’s a vacation.
73. Try a volunteer vacation that is in alignment with your values and purpose.
Through a variety of organizations, you can travel as a citizen diplomat to countries that have strained relationships with the United States, building friendships that can ease some of the tensions. Global Exchange (2141 Mission Street #202, San Francisco, California 941 10,4 15/255 -7296) has tour groups going to Third World nations to connect with grassroots peace and development projects. Volunteer Vacations by Bill McMillan can offer plenty of leads (see “Resources” at the end of this book). (You really need to research this online; there are so many ways to travel for service now, in a variety of fields.)
YMOYL Note: Rounding the bend to the last 27 ways to save money based on our lifestyle in the 1980s. Here’s a blanket disclaimer: Streaming videos and online dating sites and a strange reluctance to host dinner parties rather than meet at restaurants have rendered some the below quaint, but you can translate for yourself to 2018 opportunities.
Entertaining and Dating
The key to frugal entertaining and dating is to remember why you’re doing it-to enjoy the company of other people. When you come right down to it, beyond a certain level of comfort, money doesn’t make the encounter any more (or less) delightful. And the deepest levels of human connection have nothing to do with anything that money can buy.
74. Have potlucks rather than dinner parties.
Potlucks are the ultimate in ease and egalitarian entertaining. No one feels obligated. No one feels one-upped by the elegance of your entree. There’s always something for every taste and dietary restriction. Often your guests will take back only their serving bowls, leaving the leftovers for your lunches. And you don’t end up with a big dent in your food bill.
75. Invite friends to share a meal, but don’t prepare anything different from your normal fare.
Rice and beans may be old hat to you, but they could be a treat for your guests. Entertaining at home doesn’t have to cost any more than preparing one or two extra servings. Some of our friends have even eaten the same dish every time they’ve come to visit-and still love both it and us.
76. Invite friends to come for dessert and to share a videotape of a movie or documentary that’s meaningful to you. Have a discussion afterward.
This is a social strategy we’ve often used with great success. Friends know they will meet interesting and engaging people at our gatherings, and they often stay late talking with one another. The video provides a takeoff point, the half hour of discussion usually brings some new perspective to light, and the coffee and cake provide refreshment while we talk away into the night.
77. Have a progressive dinner party.
This works well in a neighborhood or a small town but can be adapted for cities and wide open spaces as well. Start at one person’s house with appetizers, go to the next person’s house for soup and keep on moving from house to house for each successive course. It’s like a potluck in that everyone cooks something, but no one household gets stuck with all the cleanup. We have friends who have adapted this game to house and yard work. Two or more friends agree to go to each other’s homes and tackle jobs that are too difficult or boring to do alone. At house A they all clip the hedge, at house B it’s floor scrubbing and at house C it’s taking down the storm windows. Done as a team, these tasks become like a quilting bee. The socializing makes the time and fingers fly.
78. Go to inexpensive matinees for movies when you just can’t wait for them to come out on video.
Going to the movies is often one of the first activities to get eliminated when people wake up to the amount of life energy they are pouring down the gullet of commercial establishments. But that occasional cinematic experience can be great, so find out when the bargain matinees are. For the rest, wait for it to come out on video-and then rent the video on a bargain night, if possible. Even better, invite your friends to come over and see the movie with you. Add a little freshly popped popcorn, and you will have a total cinematic happening in the comfort of your own living room. As an added bonus, you can laugh, cry and make dumb comments as freely as you want.
79. If you’re a theater buff, usher at the local theater.
Call your local theaters and find out what their requirements are. This strategy works equally well for lectures, conferences, workshops and fairs. Volunteer hours can be exchanged for registration fees for almost any event you want to attend. As a volunteer you may even have a richer experience than the paying audience-like meeting the cast or driving the keynote speaker to the airport and getting stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes with a fascinating companion.
80. Borrow CD’s, audiocassettes and videotapes from the library.
You will be amazed at the selection of fascinating titles available. Many people find that they only need to read (or listen to or see) something once to get what they want from it. You can listen to good music, learn a language, educate yourself on a variety of topics, enjoy a movie-all without adding to your clutter or subtracting from your pocketbook.
81. Cut back on dining out until it’s a treat again.
(This advice, however, is perhaps more relevant as fewer and fewer people cook at home and more and more people feel pressed for time. Make this a game. Shave off one meal a month, then two, then three. Blog about it to keep yourself and your friends entertained.)
Restaurant meals are another spending category that FIers question when they see how much of their life energy is being consumed by eating out. That doesn’t mean, however, that they automatically cut out this luxury.
Mary Yew and her family of four live in the country outside of Paonia, Colorado. They own their home, grow their food and spend only about $300 a month. Once a week they all go to town to shop. For lunch they buy themselves a slice of pizza or a bowl of cream of broccoli soup and then kick back in the restaurant chairs while the snow melts off their boots. They plan what they are going to do the rest of the afternoon (go sledding, make chili, do artwork), tell jokes and visit with the people who come in. Pure luxury and total fulfillment- for $20 a month! No way are they going to give that ritual up.
Chris N. concluded that her family of four gets value from dining out, not because the food is anything special but because they get uninterrupted family time. At home, at least one person (usually Chris) is constantly popping up and down to serve and clear. But this quality time doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. They choose to go to inexpensive restaurants to enjoy the luxury of being together over a nourishing meal.
Diane Grosch, our ex-yuppie, went on a restaurant fast for a month (during which time she learned a lot about cooking). At the end of the month she and her boyfriend took $1 5 and walked to the local Denny’s. It was a very special treat, but Diane didn’t even feel inclined to go out again for another month. “The true value,” she realized, “was in what I brought to the experience, not how much I paid for a meal or how fancy the restaurant was.”
82. Write letters instead of making long-distance phone calls.
If your beloved (girlfriend, grandmother, ex-teacher) lives outside your local calling zone, any conversation beyond hello and good-bye will cost more than writing a letter. In addition, you may be able to say in a letter what you wouldn’t dare say on the phone or in person. And your letter may well be cherished and saved for many years. (OK, send emails, texts, videos, photos… so many ways to be in touch now.)
83. And remember, the nicest part of dating doesn’t cost money!
84. Develop hobbies that are truly cost-effective in eliminating spending.
One thing that people do when they’re trying to cut expenses is look for things they can make themselves rather than buy-the do-it yourself syndrome. Many arts, crafts and do-it-yourself projects just aren’t cost-effective. For example, ten hours spent making a table lamp on a wood-turning lathe might be fun and the lamp might be beautiful and functional, but the expenditure of life energy cannot be justified as “saving money.” A lamp bought at a garage sale for $2 is more cost-effective than the ten hours spent making one. (This is not to imply that such an activity may not have other rewards more important to you than cost-effectiveness, such as artistic expression, satisfaction in creation, and other intangibles. That’s what Lu Bauer and Steve Brandon concluded about their organic vegetable garden. They just changed the category name from Food to Hobby.)
85. Select hobbies that don’t require you to travel long distances.
If your goal is to master fear, you can do that just as well at the neighborhood martial arts school as you can white-water rafting in Central Asia. If it’s mountain climbing you enjoy, try conquering all the peaks within a day’s drive before going to Nepal (unless, of course, you live in the Midwest, in which case you may need to drive a bit farther). Ask yourself: What are some ways to have an adventure, build my skills and challenge my courage and ingenuity that exist right where I live?
86. Select hobbies that you don’t have to buy equipment to enjoy.
We all know the equipment freaks. When they take up golf, they get the best clubs made before ever getting on the green. When they take up photography, they acquire a whole suitcase of camera bodies, lenses, filters and tripods before ever taking a picture. Even the simple commitment to jogging provides the occasion for an investment of several hundred dollars in running shoes, tank tops, tights, sweatshirts, headbands, wristwatches that take your pulse and, of course, a Walkman (an audio-cassette player, replaced by IPods). We approach hobbies the other way around. First, if we must buy expensive equipment to ante up in the game, we pass it by. For the rest, we buy only what we need for the level we are at. When our skill outgrows our equipment, we will carefully and appropriately upgrade.
87. Make a hobby out of service, or make service your hobby.
Gathering with others involved in activities that contribute to the welfare of others is itself entertaining, whether the activity is an informational or planning meeting, an envelope-stuffing session, a stint in the local food co-op or a visit to a children’s home. Some people have found a way for their sport to support their values. Runners now run for everything from ending world hunger to curing cancer. If baking is your hobby, there are always bake sales for worthy causes. Sport shoppers are even turning their skills to finding bargains on household items for halfway houses and shelters for the homeless. If you love doing something, you’ll get a special kick out of doing it for love.
88. Select or alter hobbies to eliminate membership fees for expensive clubs, spas, etc.
As we mentioned earlier, mowing the lawn with a push mower, parking your car at the far end of the parking lot, walking to your errands, bicycling to work and climbing stairs instead of using the elevator are great ways to eliminate membership fees to fitness clubs. Housework itself can be a workout.
Why do we feel we have to insure every aspect of our lives for millions of dollars? What are we so afraid of? One male FIer concluded that many men are afraid they won’t measure up as competent providers, and they paper over this insecurity with insurance policies. If I can’t provide what’s really needed, I can at least provide insurance so that the need can be met. Denial is expensive in more ways than one.
89. Does the current blue-book value or condition of your car warrant the comprehensive and collision insurance you are carrying?
Marilynn Bradley, while doing famously on shopping, went on automatic when it came to her auto insurance. Two years into Financial Independence she had her car sideswiped by another driver. Except for a crumpled (but still functional) door, the car was in fine condition, but her insurance company declared it “totaled” and paid her $1,000. All well and good, but Marilynn failed to drop her comprehensive and collision insurance, which brought her annual fee above $500. She didn’t even catch the irony of this action until doing her year-end accounts-two years later. When she dropped the unnecessary comprehensive and collision, her annual rate fell below $300.
Are you doing a Marilynn?
90. Are you insuring heirlooms that you would never replace even if they were stolen?
Kees and Helen Kolf paused in doing their Monthly Tabulations and evaluations when they got to homeowner insurance. They were paying $6 a month to insure some heirloom jewelry from Helen’s grandmother. Applying FI thinking, they realized that they would never be able to replace these priceless treasures. They wouldn’t even want to. What made them special was the connection with their past. So what was the $6 a month for? Consolation money? Kees, with his penchant for figuring things out, calculated how much principal would be required to yield $6 a month in interest by the time they planned to be financially independent (May 1993). The figure ($1,000) was so convincing that they dropped the insurance.
91. If your wife has her own career, do you need as much life insurance as your father carried?
Take some time to ponder your life-insurance situation. How much of it is reasonable protection for your family so that they can pay for your burial, pay off your debts and have enough to provide for their needs-and how much is to pave over uncomfortable feelings of fear, grief and loss of control? Are there better ways to deal with those feelings than costly insurance policies, ways that could both deepen your relationships and boost your self-esteem?
The estimated cost of raising an urban child to the age of eighteen in the United States was over $100,000 in 1986 (now over $250,000,000). Are kids today really black holes-bottomless pits of needs, wants and desires-or can the costs of parenting be contained? If you decide you can afford the luxury of having children, here are some tips from FIers for containing the costs:
92. Substitute creativity for money in planning for birthday parties and Halloween costumes.
Amy and Jim Dacyczyn, the famous tightwads from Maine, managed to save money on his income from the Navy, even with six children. Amy, claiming that “tightwaddery without creativity is deprivation,” has done imaginative things, like converting the inside of their barn to a pirate ship for their son’s birthday using old white sheets, a tug-of-war rope, removable sides from a utility trailer and old wooden crates-all stuff they had lying around. For Halloween, another child dressed up as a spaceman with a costume made out of a cardboard carton decorated with some hardware and gauges salvaged from the dump. (He won first prize.) In her essay on creativity Amy goes on to say, “When there is a lack of resourcefulness, inventiveness and innovation, thrift means doing without. When creativity combines with thrift you may be doing without money, but you are not doing without.”
93. Give kids an allowance and allow them to choose how they spend it.
Many FIers have reported that as soon as their kids realized they would have to spend their own money for the stuff they wanted, they got very frugal-and entrepreneurial.
94. Curb your own spending and your kids will follow suit. It may take a while, but if your values change your children will follow along.
As soon as Kate and Ned Norris, a lawyer and his wife, stopped buying expensive clothes from mail-order recreational outfitters, their six-year-old daughter stopped insisting on Osh-Kosh overalls. When Kate started shopping in thrift stores, her daughter began to enjoy wearing used clothes (which she would never do before). When Laura was nine she started baby-sitting in the neighborhood. While gift money from the grandparents gets spent, all of Laura’s earnings get saved in her “FI jar.”
95. If the child doesn’t have an allowance and asks for something, suggest that you talk about it again in a few days.
Most passing fancies are just that-they pass. If desire for an item comes up again, another strategy is to tell the child to choose one of the two or three things he or she has recently asked for. When it comes to spending, he who hesitates saves. (As a matter of fact, this is a good strategy for parents and other adults as well. A cooling-off period works wonders when you’re in hot pursuit of things you don’t need.)
96. Rethink a high-cost college education.
Here’s a big one. Our educational system, particularly college, has become as unsustainable and overpriced as high-tech medicine. Let’s consider some alternatives to paying up to $100,000 per teenager for a college education.
Kees and Helen Kolff struggled with the issue of tuition for their two high-schoolers. Kees’ parents had paid for his college education and medical school. Surely, he thought, he had to do the same. Then he asked all of his guests at a dinner party whether their parents had paid for their education. More than half had worked their way through school. He then asked who believed that he or she had benefited significantly from college education. The ones who had paid for it themselves were the ones who most valued their education. Stunned, he asked his best friend from college what he was going to do for his children. He was not planning to pay all of his kids’ higher education costs. Weighing all the factors, Kees and Helen decided to offer each child a fived amount for college. They could go to an Ivy League school and spend it in two and a half years or they could go to a state university for six years. The choice was theirs.
Ted and Martha Pasternak have thought a lot about their son’s future. Even though Willie is only three, they’ve bought bonds to provide for everything from braces to his first car. They aren’t saving for a private university, however. They achieved Financial Independence right before their son was born, and parenting Willie is a priority for both of them. “We aren’t going back to work to pay for his education. We are his education. If we’re doing our job right now, he won’t need Harvard to be a success in the world. We don’t want Willie to turn to us when he’s eighteen and tell us he doesn’t want to go to college and he sure would have liked to have had his parents around when he was growing up.” Ted and Martha are being Willie’s education instead of buying it.
Perhaps when Willie gets to be eighteen he’ll be like the young man in the following story:
When Tim Moore graduated from high school he decided to spend some time in the “School of Life,” since he found he learned more in less time when he did his own projects. So instead of studying mechanical engineering he learned to be a mechanic, saving his money for several years. By day he rebuilt engines; at night and on the weekends he built a custom sports car from the chassis up. He sold the car when it was finished and had enough money to pay for two years at college. With a winning combination of passion and maturity, he’s now building a prototype electric car at a university lab and plans to become an urban transportation expert. His life experience will surely enhance his educational experience to make him a skillful advocate for intelligent solutions to the urban plagues of smog and gridlock.
For many people giving presents is an important way to express love. You can cut back on the cost of gifts without cutting back on the love. One FIer reports that as a househusband he tends to want to give homemade gifts, while his wife, a businesswoman, likes to express her love through buying things. This is where Question 3 from Step 4 helps to reveal hidden options. If you didn’t have to work for a living would you give different (and less expensive) gifts?
97. Promise children one, or at most three, toys at Christmas and have them select the ones they want.
More than that is more than enough. This has been Amy and Jim Dacyczyn’s strategy ever since they observed the Fulfillment Curve at work on Christmas Day. The first one, two or three presents were greeted with squeals of ecstasy, but from then on it was downhill. Instead of being able to play with what they had, the kids felt compelled
to keep opening all their gifts. By the end they were tired and cranky and nothing suited them.
98. Buy gifts at garage sales and save them for the right occasion.
Where do you think all the stuff at garage sales comes from, anyway? It’s gifts people got and never used! Just keep them moving on.
99. Give services (like a massage, babysitting, a personal concert or hedge-clipping) instead of an object.
Wouldn’t you rather have a massage or a foot rub than an electric cocktail mixer? Isn’t a week off from washing dishes an ace in the hole you’ll thoroughly enjoy cashing in at just the right time?
100. Make an agreement with friends and family not to exchange presents for Christmas or birthdays.
The Christmas season has become the buying season in North America, the time retailers count on for the lion’s share of their annual business. There’s no reason that celebrating the birth of Jesus or the birth of someone you love has to be the occasion for spending money. Part of gift-giving is social expectation. You can change that with a simple, honest conversation.
101. If you’re “crafty,” you can make simple and unique gifts.
One avid mountaineer considers her camera essential climbing equipment. Once she reaches the summit and has her fill of contemplating the view, she takes successive photos of all 360 degrees of grandeur. Once the pictures are developed she artfully combines them into a single long panoramic montage and gives these as gifts. Total cost: under $10. Total value: priceless.
There you are: 101 proven ways to save money. There are plenty more. In fact, one category that’s missing will yield a wealth of saving for you and for the planet: look for ways to reduce your consumption of resources. As the environmentalists say, “recycle, reduce, restore, reuse, repair.” (As a matter of fact, any word that starts with re has a ring of frugality. Use it again, Sam. “Double your pleasure” is high-frugal thinking!)