It is both sad and telling that there is no word in the English language for living at the peak of the Fulfillment Curve, always having plenty but never being burdened with excess. The word would need to evoke the careful stewarding of tangible resources (time, money, material possessions) coupled with the joyful expansion of spiritual resources (creativity, intelligence, love). Unfortunately, you can’t say, “I’m enoughing,” or “I’m choosing a life of enoughness,” to explain that mixture of affluence and thrift that comes from following the steps of this program. The word “frugality” used to serve that function, but in the latter half of the twentieth century frugality has gotten a bad reputation.
How did frugality lose favor among Americans? It is, after all, a perennial ideal and a cornerstone of the American character. Both Socrates and Plato praised the “golden mean.” Both the Old Testament (“Give me neither poverty nor wealth, but only enough”) and the teachings of Jesus (“Ye cannot serve both God and money”) extol the value of material simplicity in enriching the life of the spirit. In American history well-known individuals (Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost) as well as groups (Amish, Quakers, Hutterites, Mennonites) have carried forward the virtue of thrift-both out of respect for the earth and out of a thirst for a touch of heaven. And the challenges of building our nation required frugality of most of our citizens. Indeed, the wealth we enjoy today is the result of centuries of frugality. As we said earlier, the “more is better” consumer culture is a Johnny-come-lately on the American scene. Our bedrock is frugality, and it’s high time we made friends with the word-and the practice.
Let’s explore this word “frugality” to see if we can’t redeem it as the key to fulfillment in the nineties.
THE PLEASURES OF FRUGALITY
We looked up “frugal” in a 1986 Merriam-Webster dictionary and found “characterized by or reflecting economy in the expenditure of resources.” That sounds about right-a serviceable, practical and fairly colorless word. None of the elegance or grace of the “enoughness” that FIers experience. But when we dig deeper, the dictionary tells us that “frugal” shares a Latin root with frug (meaning virtue), frux (meaning fruit or value) and frui (meaning to enjoy or have the use of). Now we’re talking. Frugality is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of.
That’s very interesting. In fact, it’s more than interesting. It’s transforming. Frugality means we are to enjoy what we have. If you have ten dresses but still feel you have nothing to wear, you are probably a spendthrift. But if you have ten dresses and have enjoyed wearing all of them for years, you are frugal. Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them. Your success at being frugal is measured not by your penny-pinching but by your degree of enjoyment of the material world.
Enjoyment of the material world? Isn’t that hedonism? While both have to do with enjoying what you have, frugality and hedonism are opposite responses to the material world. Hedonism revels in the pleasures of the senses and implies excessive consumption of the material world and a continual search for more. Frugal people, however, get value from everything-a dandelion or a bouquet of roses, a single strawberry or a gourmet meal. A hedonist might consume the juice of five oranges as a prelude to a pancake breakfast. A frugal person, on the other hand, might relish eating a single orange, enjoying the color and texture of the whole fruit, the smell and the light spray that comes s you begin to peel it, the translucence of each section, the flood of flavor that pours out as a section bursts over the tongue . . . and the thrift of saving the peels for baking.
To be frugal means to have a high joy-to-stuff ratio. If you get one unit of joy for each material possession, that’s frugal. But if you need ten possessions to even begin registering on the joy meter, you’re missing the point of being alive.
There’s a word in Spanish that encompasses all this: aprovechar. It means to use something wisely-be it old zippers from worn-out clothing or a sunny day at the beach. It’s getting full value from life, enjoying all the good that each moment and each thing has to offer. You can “aprovechar” a simple meal, a flat of overripe strawberries or a cruise in the Bahamas. There’s nothing miserly about aprovechar; it’s a succulent word, full of sunlight and flavor. If only “frugal” were so sweet.
The “more is better and it’s never enough” mentality in North America fails the frugality test not solely because of the excess, but because of the lack of enjoyment of what we already have. Indeed, North Americans have been called materialists, but that’s a misnomer. All too often it’s not material things we enjoy as much as what these things symbolize: conquest, status, success, achievement, a sense of worth and even favor in the eyes of the Creator. Once we’ve acquired the dream house, the status car or the perfect mate, we rarely stop to enjoy them thoroughly. Instead, we’re off and running after the next coveted acquisition.
Another lesson we can derive from the dictionary definition of “frugal” is the recognition that we don’t need to possess a thing to enjoy it-we merely need to use it. If we are enjoying an item, whether or not we own it, we’re being frugal. For many of life’s pleasures it may be far better to “use” something than to “possess” it (and pay in time and energy for the upkeep). So often we have been like feudal lords, gathering as many possessions as possible from far and wide and bringing them inside the walls of our castle. If we want something (or wanted it in the past, or imagine we might want it in the future), we think we must bring it inside the boundaries of the world called “mine.” What we fail to recognize is that what is outside the walls of “mine” doesn’t belong to the enemy; it belongs to “the rest of us.” And if what lies outside our walls is not “them” but “us,” we can afford to loosen our grip a bit on our possessions. We can gingerly open the doors of our fortress and allow goods (material and spiritual) to flow into and out of our boundaries.
Frugality, then, is also learning to share, to see the world as “ours” rather than as “theirs” and “mine.” And, while not explicit in the word, being frugal and being happy with having enough mean that more will be available for others. Learning to equitably share the resources of the earth is at the top of the global agenda, and some creative frugality in North America could go a long way toward promoting that balance.
Frugality is balance. Frugality is the Greek notion of the golden mean. Frugality is being efficient in harvesting happiness from the world you live in. Frugality is right-use (which sounds, appropriately, like “righteous”)-the wise stewarding of money, time, energy, space and possessions. Goldilocks expressed it well when she declared the porridge “not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” Frugality is something like that-not too much, not too little, but just right. Nothing is wasted. Or left unused. It’s a clean machine. Sleek. Perfect. Simple yet elegant. It’s that magic word-enough. The peak of the Fulfillment Curve. The jumping-off point for a life of being fulfilled, learning and contributing to the welfare of the planet.
“Frugal, man.” That’s the cool, groovy way to say “far out” in the nineties. Surfers will talk about frugal waves. Teenage girls will talk about frugal dudes. Designers will talk about frugal fashions. Mark our words!
Keep this in mind as we explore ways to save money. We aren’t talking about being cheap, making do or being a skinflint or a tightwad. We’re talking about creative frugality, a way of life in which you get the maximum fulfillment for each unit of life energy spent.
In fact, now that you know that money is your life energy, it seems foolish to consider wasting it on stuff you don’t enjoy and never use. Recalling the arithmetic we did in Chapter 2, you’ll remember that if you are 40 years old, actuarial tables indicate that you have just 329,601 hours of life energy in your bank. That may seem like a lot now, but those hours will feel very precious at the end of your life. Spend them well now and you won’t have regrets later.
In the end, this creative frugality is an expression of self-esteem. It honors the life energy you invest in your material possessions. Saving those minutes and hours of life energy through careful consuming is the ultimate in self-respect.
Step 6: Valuing Your Life Energy-Minimizing Spending This step is about the intelligent use of your life energy (money) and the conscious lowering or eliminating of expenses.
We have arranged the following hints and tips in several lists, all of them based on decades of experience with living frugally. We’ll also include some of the tips that Amy and Jim Dacyczyn share so generously in their newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette (subtitled “Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle”), which we mentioned in Chapter 4.
Consider the lists that follow as a menu of options. Explore the ones that intrigue or inspire you and leave the rest. There’s something for everyone here-but not everything will be for you. It might be instructive, though, to ask yourself why you are discarding some ideas and adopting others. You may encounter some childhood programming, some cultural myths and even some revealing information about your values. Remember, these ideas are opportunities, not should’s. Frugality is about enjoyment, not penny-pinching! Happy saving-or should we say happy frugaling …
ONE SURE WAY TO SAVE MONEY
Stop trying to impress other people
Other people are probably so busy trying to impress you that they will, at best, not notice your efforts. At worst, they will resent you for one-upping them.
When Thorstein Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899, he didn’t make a big splash, but the term he coined, “conspicuous consumption,” has made it into the heart of our culture. In the foreword to Veblen’s book social commentator and writer Stuart Chase summarized his thesis this way:
People above the line of base subsistence, in this age and all earlier ages, do not use the surplus, which society has given them, primarily for useful purposes. They do not seek to expand their own lives, to live more wisely, intelligently, understandingly, but to impress other people with the fact that they have a surplus …spending money, time and effort quite uselessly in the pleasurable business of inflating the ego.
But just because conspicuous consumption is a cross-cultural and historic aberration of the human species doesn’t mean that you have to fall prey to it. If you stop trying to impress other people you will save thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars. (And think how impressed people will be with how much you’ve saved!)
TEN SURE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY:
1. Don’t go shopping.
If you don’t go shopping, you won’t spend money. Of course, if you really need something from the store, go and buy it. But don’t just go shopping. According to Carolyn Wesson, author of Women Who Shop Too Much, “59 million persons in the U.S. are addicted to shopping or to spending.” About 53 percent of groceries and 47 percent of hardware-store purchases are “spur of the moment.” When 34,300 mall shoppers across the country were asked the primary reason for their visit, only 25 percent said they had come in pursuit of a specific item. About 70 percent of all adults visit a regional mall weekly. The number of U.S. shopping centers has grown from 2,000 in 1957 to more than 30,000 today, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. The number of shopping malls recently surpassed the number of high schools in the United States.
Indeed, shopping is one of our favorite national pastimes. More than the simple act of acquiring needed goods and services, shopping attempts to fill (but obviously fails, since we have to shop so often) myriad needs: for socializing and time structuring, for a reward after a job well done, for an antidepressant, for esteem-boosting, self-assertion, status and nurturing. A Martian anthropologist might conclude that the mall is our place of worship, and shopping the central ritual of communion with our deity. Lewis Lapham observes, “We express our longing for the ineffable in the wolfishness of our appetite. . . . The feasts of consumption thus become rituals of communion.” Consumption seems to be our favorite high, our nationally sanctioned addiction, the all-American form of substance abuse.
So don’t go shopping. And while you’re at it, stay away from advertising that whets your appetite for stuff you don’t want. And for pity’s sake don’t tune in to the Home Shopping Network. You may be saving more than money. You may be saving your sanity, not to speak of your soul.
2. Live within your means.
This notion is so outmoded that some readers might not even know what it signifies. To live within your means is to buy only what you can prudently afford, to avoid debt unless you have an assurance that you will be able to pay it promptly and always to have something put away for a rainy day. It was quite a fashionable way to live one short generation ago, before we started living beyond our means. There are two sides to the coin of living beyond your means. The shiny side is that you can have everything you want right now. The tarnished side is that you will pay for it with your life. Buying on time, from cars to houses to vacations, often results in paying three times the purchase price. Is going to Hawaii for two weeks this year worth working perhaps four additional months next year to pay it off? This doesn’t mean you have to cut up all your credit cards-you just have to avoid using them.
Living within your means suggests that you wait until you have the money before you buy something. This gives you the benefit of avoiding interest charges. It also gives you a waiting period during which you may well discover that you don’t want some of those things after all. He who hesitates saves money. The bright side of living within your means is that you will use and enjoy what you have and harvest a full measure of fulfillment from it, whether it’s your old car, your old coat or your old house. It also means that you can weather the economic bad times when they come-which they will. Alfred Malabre, economics editor of The Wall Street Journal, published a book in 1987 whose title says it all: Beyond Our Means: How America’s Long Years of Debt, Deficits and Reckless Borrowing Now Threaten to Overwhelm Us. In it he says:
In brief, the jig is about up and, for all the accumulated wisdom of all the eminent economists of the various schools, painless extrication from our predicament just isn’t going to be possible. Now that’s a pitch for living within your means if there ever was one!
3. Take care of what you have.
There is one thing we all have that we want to last a long time: our bodies. Simple attention to the proven preventive practices will save you lots of money. Brushing your teeth, for example, could save thousands in dental bills. And eating what you know agrees with your body (judging by your energy, not by your taste buds) may save you thousands in expensive procedures, not to speak of your life.
Extend this principle to all your possessions. Regular oil changes are known to extend the life of your car. Cleaning your tools extends their life. (How many hair dryers and vacuum cleaners have choked on hair balls?) Dusting your refrigerator coils saves energy and could save your refrigerator. One big difference between living beings and machines is that machines are not self-healing. If you ignore a headache it will probably go away. If you ignore a funny noise in your engine you could throw a rod, burn out a water pump or otherwise incur major (and costly) damage.
Many of us have lived with excess for so many years that it no longer occurs to us to maintain what we have. “There’s always more where that came from,” we tell ourselves. But more costs money. And more may not, in the long run, be available.
4. Wear it out.
What’s the last item you actually wore out? Americans discard 1,455 pounds of garbage every year (here is one area where we’re still the world’s leader), and much of that was probably still perfectly usable. Synthetic fibers are extremely durable. It’s hard to actually wear out clothing these days. If it weren’t for the fashion industry (and boredom) we could all enjoy the same basic wardrobe for many years. Survey your possessions. Are you simply upgrading or duplicating last year’s electronic equipment, furniture, kitchenware, carpeting and linens, or are you truly wearing them out? Think how much money you would save if you simply decided to use things even 20 percent longer. If you usually replace your towels every two years, try replacing them every two and a half years. If you trade in your car every three years, try extending that to four. If you buy a new coat every other winter, see whether every third winter would do just as well. And when you’re about to buy something, ask yourself, “Do I already have one of these that is in perfectly usable condition?”
Another way to save money is to ask, before trashing something, whether there might be another way to use part or all of it. Old letters become scrap paper. A chipped cup becomes a pencil holder. A broken toaster oven becomes an assortment of screws, plus an electrical cord, Nichrome wire, a small metal tray and a heat-resistant handle. Old furniture can provide the wood for your next carpentry job. The frugality experts from the 1930s (and before) always kept a pile of wood scraps and assorted junk out back and had a knack for cobbling together what was needed out of available materials. All it takes is the recognition that everything is useful and the creativity to see what those uses might be. Then instead of buying something you can ask yourself, “Do I already have this item in some other form? If so, what would it take to make it serve my current needs?”
A word of caution to the already frugal. Using something until you wear it out does not mean using it until it wears you out. If you must continually fiddle with a lamp to make it work and you’ve already tried repairing it, it may not be worth your life energy to coax it along for another year. If your car is taking you for a ride, costing more hours in tinkering (or more money in repairs) than it’s giving you in service, do buy a newer one. If your knee joints are suffering from running shoes that have lost their bounce, it would be cheaper to buy a new pair (on sale) than to have knee surgery.
5. Do it yourself.
Can you tune your car? Fix a plumbing leak? Do your taxes? Make your own gifts? Rewire a toaster? Change the tire on your bicycle? Bake a cake from scratch? Build a bookshelf? Repair your roof? Clean your chimney? Sew a dress? Cut your family’s hair? Form your own nonprofit corporation? It used to be that we learned basic life skills from our parents in the process of growing up. Then the Industrial Revolution put our parents in factories and, after the passing of child labor and mandatory public education laws, put us in schools. Next our grandparents were put in rest homes, removing the people who traditionally taught life skills to the children while the parents worked. Eventually home economics and shop classes had to be incorporated in the curriculum as supplements to the ever-decreasing shll-nourishment we got at home. By the 1970s it was no longer fashionable for mothers to stay at home with their children. By the 1980s many couples assumed it wasn’t even possible, economically, for mothers to stay home with their children. Is it any wonder that the only way we know how to take care of ourselves in the 1990s is to be consumers of goods and services provided by others? To reverse that trend, just ask yourself, when you’re about to hire an expert: “Can I do this myself? What would it take to learn how? Would it be a useful skill to know?”
Basic living and survival skills can be learned through adult education classes, extension agents, summer rural residential programs and, last but not least, books. Every breakdown can be used as an opportunity for learning and empowerment. What you can’t do, or choose not to do, you can hire others to do, and tag along for the ride. Every bit of your energy invested in solving these breakdowns not only teaches you something you need to know for the next time but helps prevent mistakes and reduces the bill. One FIer tells the story of how her heating system failed one winter. Three companies sent out repair people to assess the problem and make a bid. Each one told her with absolute certainty what the problem was. Unfortunately, each told her a different story. So she cracked the books, meditated on the Rube Goldberg maze of pipes, came to an educated guess and chose the company that came closest to her analysis, thus saving herself hundreds of dollars of unnecessary and possibly destructive work. By staying with the repairman and observing his work she also was able to avert a few more expensive mistakes and to save (expensive) time by doing some of the simpler tasks. A typical working couple might have paid ten times what she did to have the job done and then felt fortunate to have two paychecks “since the cost of living in the modern world is so high.”
6. Anticipate your needs.
Forethought in purchasing can bring tremendous savings. With enough lead time you will inevitably see the items you need go on sale by the time you need them-at 20 to 50 percent under the usual price. Keep current on catalogs and sale flyers of national and local catalog merchandisers. Read the sale ads in the Sunday paper. Be aware of seasonal bargains such as January and August “white sales,” holiday sales (such as Memorial Day and Labor Day) and year-end clearance sales.
By simply observing the poor condition of your car’s left rear tire while it still has some life left, you can anticipate a need. By simply being aware of this need you will naturally notice the phenomenal tire sale that will appear in the sports section of your Sunday newspaper three weeks from now-and you’ll know it’s a phenomenal sale because you have been watching prices.
In the shorter term, shopping at the corner convenience store can be expensive. Anticipating your needs-that you’ll be wanting evening snacks, that you’ll run out of milk midweek or that there’s some taping you want to do and you’re all out of blank cassettes-can eliminate running out to the corner store to pick up these items. Instead you can purchase them during your supermarket shopping or on a run to the discount store. This can result in significant savings. Refer to the sample Daily Money Log in Step 2 (page 72) and note the price differential in blank cassettes bought at the convenience store on Friday versus those bought on Saturday at a discount store.
Anticipating your needs also eliminates one of the biggest threats to your frugality: impulse buying. If you haven’t anticipated needing something when you leave your house at 3:05, chances are you don’t need it at 3:10 when you’re standing at the gazingus-pin counter at the corner store. We’re not saying you should only buy things that are on your premeditated shopping list (although that isn’t such a bad idea for compulsive shoppers); we are saying that you must be scrupulously honest when you’re out and about. Saying, “I anticipate needing this,” as you’re drooling over a left-handed veeblefitzer or cashmere sweater is not the same as having already anticipated needing one and recognizing that this particular one is a bargain. Remember the corollary to Parkinson’s Law (“The work expands to fit the time allowed for its completion”): “Needs expand to encompass whatever you want to buy on impulse.”
7. Research value, quality, durability and multiple use.
Research your purchases. Consumer Reports and other publications give excellent evaluations and comparisons of almost everything you might buy-and they can be fun just to read. Decide what features are most important to you. Don’t just be a bargain junkie and automatically buy the cheapest item available. Durability might be critical for something you plan to use daily for twenty years. One obvious way of saving money is to spend less on each item you buy, but it’s equally true that spending $40 on a tool that lasts ten years instead of buying a $30 one that will need to be replaced in five years will save you $20 in the long run. Multiple use is also a factor. Buying one item for $10 that will serve the purpose of four different $5 items will net you a savings of $10. One heavy-duty kitchen pot can (and perhaps should) replace half a dozen specialty appliances like a rice cooker, a popcorn popper, a Crockpot, a deep-fat fryer, a paella pan and a spaghetti cooker. So, if you really expect to be using an item, buying for durability and for multiple purposes can be a good savings technique. But if you’ll be using the item only occasionally you may not want to spend the extra dollars on a high-quality product. Knowing what your needs are and knowing the whole range of what is available will allow you to choose the right item.
Besides reading consumer magazines, you can evaluate quality by developing a sharp eye and carefully examining what you are buying. Are the seams in a piece of clothing ample? Are the edges finished? Is the fabric durable? Is it washable or will you be paying dry-cleaning bills to keep it clean? Are the screws holding the appliance together sturdy enough for the job? Is the material strong or flimsy? Is the furniture nailed, stapled or screwed? Here is where you will become an expert materialist-knowing materials so well that you can read the probable longevity of an item the way a forester can read the age and history of a fallen tree. This is the opposite of crass materialism. This is as much honoring the wonder of creation as standing in a redwood grove. Everything you purchase has its origin in the earth. Everything. Knowing the wear patterns of aluminum versus stainless steel is honoring the earth every bit as much as lobbying for stronger environmental protection laws.
8. Get it for less.
There are numerous ways to bargain-hunt. Here are few:
1. Mail-order discounters: When you know exactly what you want, including make and model, you can cut out the middleman and order through discount catalogs. Discounts in film and photographic equipment, in computers and associated paraphernalia, in tapes and in stereo and video equipment are huge; see ads in photography, computer and stereo magazines. Get specialized discounters’ catalogs; these are available not only for photography, computer, audio and video supplies but also for tools, automobile parts and equipment, sporting goods and much more. Besides being money-savers, catalogs are a great education in conscious consuming. Ponder those enigmatic left-handed veeblefitzers. What are they for? Why are they in the doohickey section? Were there veeblefitzers in last year’s catalog or is this a technological breakthrough? Will one veeblefitzer save me the headache of replacing those @#!$@!!*%$!!! framus-pinders every year? We are catalogreading addicts-everything from J. C. Penney to J. C. Whitney-and we would have to say that we have acquired more of a general education from this activity than from our years in college.
2. Discount chain stores: Just because you buy something at “the best store in town” doesn’t mean it’s of any better quality than the same item bought at a discount chain store. The discounters and warehouse stores carry many high-quality, name-brand products at a discount, but you have to know your prices. So even if you prefer to browse at a high-priced emporium because you trust their buyers to select only the best equipment, do your buying at a discount chain store. One word of warning, however: just because the stereo you want is available at Hany’s Low-Cost Cash-and-carry doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. Harry’s price may indeed be cheaper, if he is passing on his low overhead to you, or if the item is overstocked, discontinued or being used as a loss leader (an item priced at or below cost to lure you into the store for a buying binge). But on the other hand, it may not. Know your prices. How can you know when and where to buy what? See number 3 below.
3. Comparison-shop by phone: Where do you shop and how did you choose it? Is it where you’ve always shopped? At the mall closest to your home? Where your friends shop? Where advertising or status-seeking has told you is the only place to shop? We shop via the telephone. Once we know what we want, we phone around for the best price. The more educated you are about the product and the more specific you can be about the exact make or model you want, the more successful your bargain-hunting will be. You will be amazed at the range of prices quoted for the same item. If you prefer doing business with a particular store or supplier, phone-shop for the best price and then ask your favorite vendor if he or she can match it. In 1984, after much research, we decided we wanted a Toyota Tercel with four-wheel drive. We then called every dealership within 100 miles-and shaved $4,000 (33 percent) off the highest bid by purchasing a demonstrator (a deluxe model with everything but air-conditioning) that had 3,600 miles on it. Seven years and 100,000 miles later, nothing has gone wrong.
4. Bargain: You can ask for discounts for paying cash. You can ask for discounts for less-than-perfect items. You can ask for the sale price even if the sale begins tomorrow or ended yesterday. You can ask for further discounts on items already marked down. You can ask for discounts if you buy a number of items at the same time. You can ask for discounts anywhere, anytime. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Haggling is a time-honored tradition. The list price of any consumer item is usually inflated. As soon as you hear the words, “The list price is …you should say, “Yes, but what is your price?” According to Jim Dacyczyn you should be able to shave 24 percent off the sticker price for a car, but this strategy applies to more than houses, cars and other major purchases. You have nothing to lose by asking for a discount at any store-from your local hardware store to a clothing emporium. A case in point was our recent outing to buy new running shoes. A $60 (list price) pair was sitting on the manager’s special rack with no price. They fit perfectly. We asked a salesman what they would cost. “$24.99,” he replied. “Would you take $19.99?” we asked. Surveying what he had left, he said, “Eighteen dollars.” We could have pointed out that haggling etiquette suggests that his counteroffer be higher, not lower, than ours. But we were astute enough just to shut our mouths, open our wallet and take advantage of a great bargain. A reporter for The Wall Street Journal, researching an article on the increase in haggling precipitated by the 1990-9 1 recession, tried bargaining in his New York neighborhood. From hardware stores to antique boutiques to major retail department stores, the majority of retailers were willing to shave substantial amounts off the asking price. So bargain. What have you got to lose?
9. Buy it used.
Reexamine your attitudes about buying used items. If you are a thrift-store or garage-sale addict, look at whether you are really saving money or whether you are buying items that you don’t need just because they’re “such a bargain.” But if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a musty Salvation Army thrift store, look around your town: thrift stores have become fashionable emporiums. Even Newsweek says so. In “I Can Get It for You Resale” the magazine declared that “Secondhand shopping is chic as well as thrifty. . . . The change reflects the new national Zeitgeist…Quality and value are more important than flash and cash.” Clothing, kitchenware, furniture, drapes-all can be found in thrift stores, and you may be surprised at the high quality of many of them. As a matter of fact, donating brand-new items to thrift stores is one way that shopaholics justify excess purchases. If you just can’t bring yourself to shop at thrift stores, consider consignment shops. The prices are higher, but the quality is consistently higher as well. In our experience, thrift stores are best for clothing but garage sales are cheaper (and more reliable) for appliances, furniture and household items. If you’re an early bird (arriving before the sellers have even had their morning coffee) you can often find exceptional buys. On the other hand, the later in the day you go to a garage sale, the more eager the people will be to get rid of the stuff for a song. “Swap meets” and “flea markets” are two names for the same event-weekend open-air bazaars where you’ll find merchants of every stripe displaying their wares: shrewd hucksters, collectors of every kind and families hoping to unload their excess before moving across country. Just as when you shop at discounters, you have to know your prices. There are some clever nomads working the flea-market circuit who will sell you tools, imported peasant clothing, crystals and other items for more than you’d pay at the shopping mall.
10. Follow the nine steps of this program.
The steps of this program have been successfully followed by thousands of people. These people have found that doing all the steps leads to a transformed experience of money and the material world. All the steps matter. They synergize to spur you on. If you find your pace slackening, check to see if you’ve skipped a step (thinking, perhaps, that it doesn’t apply to you)-and if you have, go back and do it. Your speed and clarity will pick up again, guaranteed. You don’t have to believe that the steps will work. It’s okay to do them mechanically. But do them-and you will surely save more than money.
101 SURE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
Here are more specific money-saving strategies. Again, not all may be for you, but keep an open mind and give as many as possible a fair try. You have nothing to lose but the balance on your monthly credit card bill.
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. 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.
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 offthe 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?
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!)
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.
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 rainsuits 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. Health care 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.
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 down sides 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, 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.
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. 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 most costly 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.
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 and Nedra Weston, whom you met in Chapter 2, 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 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 following resources should help you decide whether this option is for you:
Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson, Builders of the Dawn Intentional Communities: A Guide to Cooperative Living
Kathyrn McCamant and Charles Dunett, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves
“Living Together,” Issue #29, In Context journal, Bainbridge Island, Washington
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 motor home.
Have you ever heard of “snowbirds?” They are retired people who live full-time in their motor homes. 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 town house. 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 life-style, 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 motor homes 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.
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. 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.
46. Join a baby-sitting 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.
49. Network. 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 frequently used staples 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 100 pounds off2our or 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.
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. Vacations
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 Northrup 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.
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.
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). 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 Earthwatch (680 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02272, 617/926-8532) you can volunteer around the globe on environmental research projects. 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).
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.
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 Northrup 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.
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-ityourself 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. 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. Many cities stage “Give Peace a Dance” events where dancers raise money for peace work. 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. 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, baby-sitting, 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!)
SAVE MONEY, SAVE THE PLANET?
These hints and tips will help you to save your life energy-adding money to your bank account and years to your life. The next bit of good news is that this process benefits our planet as well. Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia (a future fantasy in which Northern California, Oregon and Washington secede from the union to form an ecologically sound society), observes that your health, your pocketbook and the environment have a mutually enhancing relationship. If you do something good for one, it’s almost always good for the other two. If you walk or bicycle to work to reduce your contribution to greenhouse gases you are also saving money and getting great exercise at the same time. If you compost your kitchen scraps to improve your soil (the environment) you are also improving the quality of your vegetables (your health)-and saving money on your garbage bill. Saving money may well save your life and save the earth at the same time. It isn’t just an odd coincidence that saving money and saving the planet are connected. In fact, in some sense your money is the planet. Here’s how.
Money is a lien on earth’s resources. Every time we spend money on anything, we are consuming not only the metal, plastic, wood or other material in the item itself, but also all the resources it took to extract these from the earth, transport them to the manufacturer, process them, assemble the product, ship it to the retailer and bring it from the store to your home. All of that activity and cost is somehow included in the $9.99 you spend for a new toaster. Then there are the environmental costs that aren’t included in the price, what economists call externalities: the pollution and waste we pay for in other ways-in lung disease, cancer, respiratory problems, desertification, flooding, etc. What it boils down to is that every time we spend money we are voting on the kind of planet we want to leave to future generations. Money is a lien on the life energy of the planet. We call this the “Pogonomics Principle”-economics from cartoon character Pogo’s point of view. Pogo’s contribution to Earth Day 1970, as you may remember, was the observation that “we have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s no mystery that the planet is polluted. We did it through our demand for more, better and different stuff. Think about it. Prostitution
would be the world’s loneliest profession without demand. The Medellin Cartel would be a 4-H club without demand. OPEC would be a solar energy and desalinization consortium without our demand. Like facing any truth, accepting the fact that our demand is a cause of many problems can give us great power. It is empowering to know that the major driving force behind our planetary plight is not the military-industrial complex or the federal budget or defense spending -things we usually feel powerless to do anything about. Rather it is our patterns of consumption here in North America, our demand. And that is something that we can do something about-and benefit ourselves in the process. Creative frugality is a double win-for our wallets and for our world.
The Three Questions Revisited
As we saw in the Fulfillment Curve, fulfillment by its very definition is a function of knowing when you have enough. The three questions from Chapter 4 can be asked in a different way with the planet in mind. The questions to ask are:
Am I likely to get fulfillment from this money spent in proportion to the resources that it represents? Is this purchase in alignment with the values that we all hold in common-the desire to survive and to thrive? What would spending in this category look like if I were working for the well-being of the whole world, instead of for my individual survival?
Remember, asking these questions will not deprive you of things that really bring you fulfillment. They will simply open up new opportunities for saving money and achieving clarity in your relationship with money.
An Example of Pogonomic Thinking
Joe Dominguez was the computer manager for a medical research study that was seeking to model how top-notch research could be done without asking for funding and with minimal cash outlay. As the statistical phase of the study began, with hundreds of print runs of statistics and graphics being called for, it became apparent that printer ribbons were going to be a major item. The first run alone used up one entire ribbon. Joe did some number crunching and found that, at $9.25 per ribbon, this expense would run up the costs of the project significantly. And then he remembered a small classified ad in a computer magazine for a ribbon-inking machine (whatever that was). He bought the machine for $60 and a pint of special ink for $18, and from a discount computer supplier he ordered 12 ribbons for $8 each, taking a chance that this investment would, over time, result in substantial savings. Inking machine $ 60.00 1 pint ink 18.00 12 ribbons 96.00 TOTAL investment $174.00
In the year after those purchases, Joe re-inked each of the thirteen ribbons seven times.
13 X 7 X $8= $728.00
Re-inking costs – 174.00
TOTAL savings in l year $554.00
1-year return on investment: 318%
This strategy saved the project hundreds of dollars-and had interesting implications for the earth. Think of the millions of offices that discard a printer ribbon after one use. Compute the landfill that these plastic cartridges filled with nylon ribbon require. Compute the petroleum used in the manufacture of the plastic. And, to top it all, note this fact, found in The Wall Street Journal:
Nylon Production Named as a Source of Nitrous Oxide Scientists identified nylon production plants as sources of gases believed to be depleting atmospheric ozone and contributing to global warming.
Saving Money While You’re Saving the Earth
The point of all this is not to send you off into the desert to eat berries and wear fig leaves. It is especially important to remember the mantra: No shame, no blame. We were all born into a world where consuming
our way to happiness seemed both natural and benign. The kinds of changes we may all need to make to keep the environment viable will require some deliberate and courageous modifications of our current habits. But why wait for the year 2000? Avoid the millennia1 rush and start to live with these questions now. You will see many places where you can choose a nonpolluting pleasure and have twice the fulfillment-once for you and once for the planet. Indeed, enjoying nature and feeling your vital connection to the earth, the source of all life, is one of the greatest pleasures there is. At the cellular level there isn’t much difference between you and a tree. Experiencing that kinship without consuming it is as much a part of an earth-friendly life-style as composting your vegetable scraps and yard waste.
If you want to find out how to save money while saving the earth, many fine books are available. The most popular one at the moment is SO Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth-but many books exist that can help you reevaluate your personal life-style choices in light of our current understanding about human impact on the ecosystem. If your library doesn’t have the one you want, request that they buy it so that others can use it as well. That alone would be an earth friendly act.
The key is remembering that anything you buy and don’t use, anything you throw away, anything you consume and don’t enjoy is money down the drain, wasting your life energy and wasting the finite resources of the planet. Any waste of your life energy means more hours lost to the rat race, “making a dying.” If you have no time in your life to enjoy the fruits of your labor, perhaps what you need isn’t another time management course but rather a refresher in frugality. Frugality is the user-friendly and earth-friendly life-style.
Don’t stop here in your search for ultimate frugality, the most refined and advanced life-style the planet has ever seen. Read on.
After a year of keeping your Monthly Tabulations, you will have approximately 1,001 (more or less) single entries under your 15 to 30 spending categories. Chances are very good that you could be spending
less on every purchase-from apples to zinnias-with no reduction in the quality of product or the quality of your life. It’s the attitude of honoring your life energy that will show you the way, not following someone else’s recipe for a frugal life. You will be as excited about the savings you discover as we have been about re-inking printer ribbons or furnishing our home from garage sales and giveaways. The empowerment comes from your cleverness and your creativity in finding your strategies for frugality. That’s why we call it creative frugality. So here’s a blank slate. Write your own 1,001 tips for living on less and loving it.
1,000,001 SURE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
Watch your thoughts. Anyone who practices meditation knows that our gray matter is like a frenetic monkey, churning out a steady stream of unrelated thoughts at the rate of at least one a second. In just 11.6 days you’ll have 1,000,001 thoughts-and most of them will have something to do with desires. I want this. I don’t want that. I like this. I don’t like that. The Buddha said that desire is the source of all suffering. It is also the source of all shopping. By being conscious of your next 1,000,001 desires, you’ll have 1,000,001 opportunities to not spend money on something that won’t bring you fulfillment. Advertising doesn’t make you buy stuff. Other people’s expectations don’t make you buy stuff. Television doesn’t make you buy stuff. Your thoughts make you buy stuff. Watch those suckers. They’re dangerous to your pocketbook-and to a lot more.
Remember, frugality isn’t about being a cheapskate or a penny pincher. It’s about honoring and valuing your most precious resource -your life energy. Shopping smart, saving money, following the adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” isn’t about deprivation; it’s about loving yourself and your life so much that you wouldn’t think of wasting a second. It is also, as we have seen, about loving the planet so much that you want to take good care of it. And finally, it’s about loving future generations so much that you want to leave this earth in better shape than you found it.
When we talk about preservation of the environment, it is related to many other things. Ultimately the decision must come from the human heart, so I think the key point is to have a genuine sense of universal responsibility. -the Dalai Lama
CHECKLIST: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEND
1. Don’t shop.
2. Live within your means.
3. Take care of what you have.
4. Wear it out.
5. Do it yourself.
6. Anticipate your needs.
7. Research value, quality, durability, and multiple use.
8. Get it for less.
9. Buy used.
10. Follow the steps of this program.
SUMMARY OF STEP 6
Lower your total monthly expenses by valuing your life energy and increasing your consciousness in spending. Learn to choose quality of life over standard of living. Be frugal; it’s cool.