During the Great Depression, frugality was considered a virtue and the phrase “Use it up, Wear it out and Make it do” was the guiding principal in most households.
Times were tough, which meant that everything from bits of strings to worn-out clothing was saved and re-purposed in some other manner. Not only that, but every last bit of food from a can or bottle was swished out with a bit of water and used to flavor a soup or stew. Printed chicken feed sacks became skirts and flour sacks became underwear. Nothing was wasted.
These days, most of us are too young to have lived through the Great Depression and yet, because we know that a second Great Depression could happen at any time, we strive to learn from the old ways and to embrace the time-honored frugal ways that were a way of life for our parents and grandparents.
As much as I would like to say that money does not matter, in the here and now, money is the currency of trade. It is required to buy food, put clothes on our backs, and to pay for the shelter of our homes. Plus, the last time I checked, you also need money to pay taxes (whether you get good value from those taxes or not).
I have written often about family preparedness as a lifestyle, as well as some of the choices you can make to ensure that you and your loved ones live a good long time in good health and within a safe environment. From time to time I throw in an occasional essay or rant, too – after all, we all need to get the angst off our chests once in a while.
But back to money matters.
Today I offer up a dozen old fashioned tips for conserving your hard earned cash so that you have a little extra left over for those extra preps as well as a few lifestyle treats that we all need every once in a while.
FRUGAL IS NOT A DIRTY WORD
1. If you already have it, use it
Think about it. Over the years you have accumulated lots of stuff. Some of it may be a bit shop-worn and out of style, but the stuff is still serviceable. If it still works, use it.
Don’t give in to the bombardment of ads encouraging you to go out and purchase the latest model or the next best thing. If money is burning a hole in your pocket, use it for something you truly need – not something you merely want.
2. Shop for a bargain and get it cheaper
Research all of your major purchases and some of the minor ones, too. Check out the online reviews and also the recommendations of friends so that you can be an informed consumer. Ask the clerks at the store when the item of interest will go on sale. Believe it or not, you will sometimes be offered a discount on the spot. It happens.
3. Used can be just as good as new
Another area where you can save really big bucks is on clothing. Ebay is a gold mine for name-brand clothing that is often new. Evening gowns, tuxedos, wedding wear and other dress-up items are especially cheap on eBay. On the other hand, be wary of used electronics since there is no substitute for hands-on testing prior your purchase.
4. Learn to cook
Restaurant meals can be a rat hole for cash. So is your local, specialty coffee shop. That is not to say that you should avoid eating and drinking out completely, but make those occasions a special treat rather than something you do because you are too tired or too lazy to cook.
Can’t cook? Get yourself a basic cookbook and call a friend over to help get you started. Once you start eating home-cooked food, you will be hooked on how delicious those vegetables and salads taste. Oh, and don’t forget about cakes and cookies. Homemade is always better than store bought. Remember grandma’s fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies?
5. Become a fix-it guru
Before sending that broken appliance to the garbage heap and replacing it with something new, try to fix it yourself. There are many web sites (www.fixya.com, www.instructables.com) that offer lots of how-to’s for fixing everything from your Maglite to your laser printer to your espresso machine.
In addition, you can find service manuals for many products online at the manufacturer’s web site. And, lastly, try calling the customer service number. Many times the company will guide you through troubleshooting steps or even send you free parts. I have found that this works especially well with plumbing issues.
6. Make if yourself
You do not need a PhD in home economics or engineering to make your own cleaning supplies, build your own compost bin or construct a set of bookshelves. Using inexpensive supplies and some basic tools, you can create all sort of things.
The Instructables website mentioned above as well as YouTube are a haven for the both the novice and the not-so-notice do-it-yourselfer. Just be forewarned. Once you go to either site to look for something, you may find yourself browsing – and learning – for hours on end. It’s actually fun!
7. Move fashion to the bottom of the list
Choose function over fashion. This is difficult, I know. But think about the item you intend to purchase and how it is going to be used. A fancy Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer may look great on your counter – gorgeous actually – but if you only cook the basics and don’t bake, a $15 hand mixer may be all that you need.
8. Do it yourself
Mow your own lawn, clean your own house, give yourself a manicure, wash your own dog. Now if you truly hate to do something, don’t do it if you can afford to hire it out. Or better yet, trade a chore you detest with a chore that someone else dislikes. You both get the job done without spending a dime.
Life is too short to be miserable. But for the most part, with a bit of time management, there are lots of things you can do yourself with just bit of effort. Not paying for services that you can perform yourself is a great way to save a lot of money.
9. Take advantage of freebies
Use public beaches, parks and trail systems for recreational activities. Use your public library. Go online and download geographically specific recreational guides and even preparedness manuals from your state and county web sites. None of these are technically free because your taxes have paid for them, but they are free in the sense you have no additional out-of-pocket costs.
Speaking of libraries, have you checked yours out lately? Most libraries now have a robust collection of eBooks, audio books, audio book players, music CDs, DVDs and more. If you don’t have a library with downloadable materials, they are many that will let you purchase an annual out-of-area card for as little as $15 per year.
10. Get out of debt
This is obvious. Sure, you may have a mortgage payment and possibly a car payment. But credit card debt? I hope not, but if you happen to be saddled with credit card debt, come up with a one- or two-year plan to pay of the debt. Just be sure that you also toss all of your credit cards into a drawer, never to see daylight again unless there is a dire emergency.
The old mantra “use your credit card . . . it is the same as cash” simply does not work any more. It never actually did.
Go back over the tips listed above. Use what you have. Fix it if it is broken. Choose function over fashion. Now put that credit card back in your wallet! Better yet, hide it in the back of your dresser drawer.
Your car has a mechanical breakdown and there is no other way to get to work or to town so you have to have it fixed. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cookie jar full of dollar bills so that you can pay for the repairs? In the old days, this was called a rainy day fund. These days, it is called an emergency fund.
Much like prepping, this is one thing you can do using baby steps. How about one meal a week of beans, rice, and a nice chunk of healthy bread (that you have made yourself)? This type of meal is extremely economical and you can put the money you save into your emergency fund. You will be surprised at how quickly $5 dollars a week adds up.
Equally important is that no matter what your age, by saving a small amount each week, you are building a lifetime habit – one that will serve you well for many years to come and hopefully one that you will pass on to your children.
12. Save for the special things in life
Now we get to the nitty gritty. Reward yourself for being a both smart and frugal. Come up with an occasional treat. Perhaps it is a shiny new pocket knife. Or perhaps a special meal out and movie. Or perhaps it is a weekend away at the ocean. For some, the special treat may be something a simple as a bouquet of flowers.
Life would be very boring if you did not reach out and do something extraordinary once in awhile. Go ahead. You have earned it.
THE FINAL WORD
Being frugal is not being cheap. And frugal is definitely not chintzy. Quite the contrary. Being frugal means that you have made a lifestyle choice to spend your money on the things you need, no more and no less. And with the extra, you have chosen to splurge and celebrate your frugal, thrifty and sustainable habits by doing something special and joyful.
So my recommendation? Go ahead and use it up, wear it out and make it do. And if you can not do that, do without.
Read other articles by Gaye Levy here.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!