A Simple Solution? Not Exactly

Most of the time, the concepts of simple living and frugal living are complementary. Simple living usually involves downsizing, decluttering, even working less and living on less money. All of that fits in with a frugal lifestyle.

But some people are a little confused on the concept. Take the editor of the “HomeStyle” section of a local newspaper. She recently wrote a column about simple solutions that save time. One of her solutions:

Pre-sort laundry: Well, I finally did it—I purchased a plethora of laundry hampers that say “lights” and “darks” so everyone in the family can help sort the laundry as we go. So far, it’s the best $80 I’ve spent in a long time.

Whoa, $80? If she had to spend money, couldn’t she just have bought white, beige and black laundry baskets and told everyone to put their whites in the white one, their darks in the black one and their light colors in the beige one?

Better yet, why spend money at all? Can’t you just put signs on the hampers you already have? Write the word on a piece of duct tape if you have to.

I can think of all sorts of uses for $80, and none of them involve labeled laundry hampers. That kind of waste has nothing to do with simple or frugal living.

Recycling Thrift-Store Finds Into Braided Rugs

I think handmade household items are going to make a comeback, and that’s good. Making things not only saves money, but in most cases you can make something of higher quality than what you’d find in the store.

Case in point: we have a very sturdy round braided rug made for us in the early 1980s by my grandmother. It’s still in great shape. Gram used to go to thrift stores and buy wool or polyester coats, pants and skirts that she could cut up into strips. Then she’d braid the strips and sew them in a circle. Most of the household items we bought in the 1980s have long since fallen apart, but not Gram’s rug.

Here’s an interesting article that explains how to make braided rugs. This would be a great creative project for older kids and teens, or for adults who’d rather not buy a Chinese-made rug that’s going to come apart in a few years.

What to Do When The Economy Stinks….

The bad news about the economic instability of our economy as well as those of other countries continues. Scary stuff, and it can make you feel pretty helpless. But there are things you can do.

First off, stop spending money on things you don’t absolutely need and try to save money wherever you can. I know many people believe that in times like these, you should spend today’s dollars because they’ll be worth less tomorrow. Beans! There’s nothing like the feeling of having money set aside for a rainy day.

Here are a few ways to save right now:

Pay for necessities with cash and put the change in a jar.
Take the amount you save by using coupons and put that in a jar.
Brown-bag it and put the money you would have spent for drive-up fast food in a jar.
Skip the Starbucks and put that money in a jar.

Pretty soon you should have a nice, full jar. Now, start with a new jar. In the past, I would have suggested you take that full jar to the bank and deposit it. But I’m thinking it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand at home. There are some shaky banks out there (check yours here), and it sure wouldn’t hurt to keep some of your money nearby….like in your house.

Today at the grocery I made a major killing. I spent $25 and my receipt showed I saved $28. Of course, that’s money saved off of full price, which I almost never pay. But it’s still savings. Shopping the sales combined with using coupons is always wise.

Buying in quantity when on sale is another no-brainer. I now have three 32-oz. jars of Miracle Whip Light in the house. At 99 cents each, they were a great deal. They’ll keep for a while, so I don’t mind having a few extra. I use them for homemade potato, tuna or egg salads, which are far cheaper homemade than what they cost at the grocery store deli counter.

Homemade….that’s another thing you can do in these unstable times. Make your own meals! You pay so much more for take-out, and plenty just for prepared foods and mixes. Case in point: the guy ahead of me in line at the grocery was buying a dinky container of seafood salad (surimi and pasta with dressing). The little one-pound container had a deli label on it that said $5.94. Good grief! You can easily make a huge batch of that stuff for less than $5, especially when you’ve got the items waiting for you in your pantry and fridge since you bought them on sale. A box of pasta for 69 cents, some ranch dressing mixed with mayo (maybe $1 worth) and a package of Crab Delights on sale for $1.50 (and even cheaper if you buy the store brand), plus a little diced celery….what does that total, maybe $3.50? And you’ll have enough to feed eight people.

Yet another thing you can do to save money: Don’t put anything on your credit card unless you can absolutely, definitely pay it off at the end of the month (credit card interest is a tax on spendthrifts!) Why even bother buying things on sale if you’re going to put that 14-25% tax on it? Ditto for buying furniture on time….no payments until 2010! Big deal…that’s how they rope you in, and later on you learn the interest has been piling up all that time, waiting for that first payment two years down the road. Don’t do it! If you must have furniture, if it’s a real need (not a want!), buy it used. Better yet, put out the word among family and friends that you need a new table or sofa, and maybe you’ll get a freebie. This is no time to be dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on new stuff.

If you’re like me and you live a no debt/cash only lifestyle, be patient. Before long, overextended people will put their plasma tv’s and leather sofas on Craig’s List for next to nothing, because it’s going to be the only way they can raise cash. Their credit is tapped out and they need some money. The signs are already there. I’ve been looking at fifth wheel RV’s and there are some great deals out there!

Those are just a few areas where you can save money. There are many more. Go to the library and find yourself some books on saving money. If nothing else, use interlibrary loan to snag some of the classics written during the recession of the early 1980s, or one of Amy Dacyczyn’s books of the 90s (they all have “Tightwad Gazette” in their titles.)*

The more techniques you learn for saving money, the more empowered you’ll be, and the bad financial news we’re hearing on a daily basis these days won’t be quite so scary. This is not the time to sit in the corner and whimper. It’s time to take action!

* In case your library can’t get them for you, here’s Amy’s wonderful book plus some more that will help you:


Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Our public library has a table where people can share magazines. I love this! It’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll find. I also like leaving my own magazines there instead of throwing them in the recycling bin for the garbage man.

This week I found the September issue of Good Housekeeping. Years ago, I subscribed to GH, but over the years its editorial mix changed to more of a celebrity/decorating/beauty type of magazine, and I stopped getting it.

But this issue had a few useful things in it, including a time vs. money list of grocery store purchases. Some examples weren’t that impressive. For instance, if you make your own ground beef patties instead of buying them preshaped, you’ll save 13 cents per patty (92 cents vs. $1.05 each). Using dried beans instead of canned beans will save you just 15 cents per serving (10 cents vs. 25 cents). Shredding your own mozzarella only saves 8 cents per serving.

But most of the examples made it clear that you can save a decent amount of money by shunning convenience (all price examples are per serving):

Romaine (head) vs. precut Romaine: 25 cents vs. 97 cents

Whole carrots vs. preshredded carrots: 25 cents vs. 48 cents

Baking potatoes vs. frozen steak fries: 20 cents vs. 43 cents

Jello cooked pudding mix vs. Jello refrigerated pudding: 20 cents vs. 62 cents

Celery (in a bunch) vs. precut celery sticks: 29 cents vs. 62 cents

Fresh green beans vs. fresh green beans in a microwave/steam-in bag: 37 cents vs. $1.33

My personal favorite is the brown rice example:

Raw brown rice (cooks in 30-40 minutes) vs. precooked brown rice in microwaveable pouch: 19 cents vs. $1.10.

And that’s per serving, so for a family of four that’s a savings of $3.64, just on rice!

(Here’s another article from Good Housekeeping about saving money when grocery shopping.)

Homemaking = Savings

Sometimes I hear from people who would homeschool if they didn’t have to work full-time. This post is written especially for them. 

We bought our first house when we weren’t much more than newlyweds. We were the only people in the real estate office when we made our offer. The reason nobody but Tim and I were buying houses is that the prime rate was in the double digits. But we didn’t know any better, which is how we ended up with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 13½%.

But it all worked out, because we only paid $65,000 for the house. A few years later, rates dropped and we refinanced for 10½%. Our house payment dropped $250 per month, and we used the difference to buy a new car. (Nowadays, rates are only around 6%, but houses cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you can’t change that amount by refinancing.) So despite our ignorance, things worked out very well for us. We sold that house seven years later for almost twice what we paid for it, and came out with a chunk of change that we put on the next house. We prepaid on the mortgages of both houses, which is how we ended up completely debt-free before we were 45.

But I digress. Back when we applied for that 13½% mortgage, I was appalled to learn that my income could not be counted on our mortgage application. At that time, loan companies only counted the husband’s income, figuring the wife would eventually quit work to have children, because that’s how most families did it back then. Nevertheless, I was insulted. Why, I had a degree. I had a good job. How old-fashioned to leave out my income!

I’m a little smarter now. Looking back, I can see that once mortgage companies started looking at both husbands’ and wives’ incomes when determining whether to approve a mortgage loan, home prices began to skyrocket. Eventually, prices got so high that most couples, and particularly first-time homebuyers, could not afford to buy a house with only one income. This contributed to the deterioration of family life, for sure, but it also made life more financially difficult for those who didn’t make above average incomes.

That second income, while increasingly necessary, has a very high opportunity cost, because it means there’s no one home to run the household. Now, I’m not saying all women should go back home. But having one person home, male or female, to run the household makes for a much more livable home while easing financial pressures.

How can this be if the family has lost one of its incomes? Well, home-cooking means better nutrition for less money. Cleaning the house means saves the cost of paying someone else to do it. Doing the laundry at home saves on dry-cleaning costs. The stay-at-home person can shop for the best deals on food and supplies, saving money on a regular basis. That person can also do yardwork, thus saving on lawn crew costs. The person staying home does all these things, thus saving money, plus that person saves even more money by not having the expense of a work wardrobe, lunches out, or paying taxes on their income. (The second income often increases the family’s taxes substantially).

These advantages become even more obvious once children come along. The stay-at-home parent saves the family the hefty cost of daycare. Kids raised at home instead of the daycare center pick up fewer bugs, keeping medical bills at a minimum. Since there’s a parent at home during the day doing household chores, the working parent has time in the evenings to enjoy the children instead of trying to do all the chores the couple who both work find when they come home in the evenings.

I’m reinventing the wheel here, because there’s a great book that explains all these advantages of having one family member stay at home. It’s called Two Incomes and Still Broke?: It’s Not How Much You Make, but How Much You Keep by Linda Kelley. Another interesting book on this topic is Shattering the Two-Income Income Myth: Daily Secrets for Living Well on One Income by Andy Dappen. Here’s a calculator adapted from Dappen’s book that will help you see how your family would fare by giving up that second income.