Isn't it annoying how the phrase "in this economy" now seems to infiltrate every other sentence? One thing I've observed over the past year of financial hysteria is that we Americans usually seem to view spending in terms of black and white. There has been no middle ground. In good times, people were spending $200 on blue jeans, eating out every night and borrowing against their house so they could buy an even bigger house that they then had to furnish, heat and maintain. Now, newspapers and TV shows run stories on saving money ad nauseum. Some of the tips so basic ["Don't eat out every night, buy generics, pay off your credit card bills"] that I wonder just which planet I'm living on.
I'm not gloating, but I have always been a saver– a by-product of being raised by two parents who grew up during the throes of the Great Depression. If you save and live within your means during both the good and bad times, then chances are, you'll be less likely to ride a financial rollercoaster. Since you will have stockpiled your resources at the lowest possible prices [and in turn, socked away all the money you saved] you'll feel a sense of financial stability, even "in this economy." As a special added bonus, things that are good for your wallet are usually also good for Mama Nature.
But Rome was built – or refinanced – in a day. To get you started, here are 5 ideas you can consider this month to start thinking more frugally and creatively. The point is to tailor these kinds of tactics to fit your own lives, and then take them to the next level.
1. Make your own cleaning products. Use a sprinkle of baking soda instead of abrasive cleaners. Use vinegar, lemon and elbow grease instead of other more expensive and toxic household cleaners. Most homemade cleaning products are naturally vegan and biodegradable.
Baking soda: $1 for a 1-pound box
Soft Scrub: $5.50 for a 24-oz bottle
2. Buy in bulk. This does not mean you have to buy 25 pounds of dried beans or 5 quarts of maple syrup. Bulk is a relative term; it simply means buying the largest size you can afford, store and use by the expiration date. Generally speaking, the larger the size, the cheaper the price.
Single-serve, 8 ounce soy milk: $1.75
Half-gallon (32 oz) , generic organic soy milk: $3
3. Trash pick. Yes, trash pick. I am proud to say that my apartment is graced with the following trash-picked items, to name just a few: wicker dining room chairs, several antique etchings, large cement gargoyle which everyone compliments me on.
2 dining room chairs from Pottery Barn: $320
2 perfectly fine trash-picked dining room chairs: Free!
4. Reinvent your own trash. Don't throw away that plastic mesh onion bag. Scrunch it up, secure it with a rubber band and voilà: you have a new pan scourer. Look at all your trash with a creative eye and see if you can resurrect it. [I read this hint years ago in Amy Daczycyn's The Tightwad Gazette and am still inspired by the possibilities.]
Store-bought scour pad: $2
Homemade onion bag scour pad: Free with purchase of onions!
5. Go shopping in your friends' closets. Let's face it; we all get tired of our clothes and shoes. When this inevitable symptom of living in a material world kicks in, it's time to host a clothes swap dinner, otherwise known as a Posh Nosh. Invite about 10 friends over and ask everyone to bring a pot luck dish and at least 20 items they no longer want. These can include clothes, jewelry, shoes, handbags, outerwear, etc. [Please leave the undies at home.] Arrange all the items on the floor in three piles: small, medium and large. Then take turns foraging for "new" duds. You can then donate any unwanted items to charity. This same concept can be applied to any number of items: tools, CDs, non-perishable food, housewares, memorabilia, etc.
New coat: About $150
Swapped coat: Free!
Savings: $150 or more