The other day I wrote about how we have just 77 bucks for gas and groceries (and spending in general) for the next two weeks.  A big part of that is because we had the unusual expense of Rose’s choir tuition, a couple hundred bucks for the year of choir (a bargain in kids’ activities, really).  We actually have a little money in savings, and even some more in the checkbook, but all that is untouchable except in an emergency!  I can make do on that 77 dollars because of a few tricks I’ve learned on how to stretch a dollar, so I’m really not worrying about it.  Well, maybe we worried a little when the final tally came in, but not much.

In the not-too-distant past, when we had a shortfall like that, we would’ve made up the difference with a credit card, “just until the next paycheck comes in and we’ll pay it back”.  Well, when the next paycheck comes in, invariably there are a million other things to spend that money on and the credit card bill hasn’t arrived yet, etc. etc. and eventually you’re up to your eyeballs in credit card debt just because of a few large and lots of little “oh this doesn’t count” purchases.

Been there.  Done that.  Much of my “adult” life.  And we’ve got to change our ways!  Is it really worth taking out a mini loan and paying big interest to that huge bank just to have that meal at Taco John’s?  Or those school supplies which are “on-sale-now-and-won’t-be-in-two-weeks” when I actually have the cash?  (Could you hear me hyper-ventilating with fear there in those quotation marks?  Our consumer culture loves to have us quaking in our boots about sales, “buy now!”, “get it today!”, “prices will NEVER BE THIS LOW AGAIN”!)  And you start shaking and think, I’d better get these notebooks now while they’re only 10.cents.each!!!

Oh my gosh, have I fallen for that one.  I was RAISED to fall for that.  Weren’t we all?  Those of us in our pre-teens, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s seem to have been, at least.  At least since the 1940s.  Since TV, maybe even before.

George and I are really trying hard to stop it, though.  He has a better background than me, having been raised frugally, but one can’t say he’s been the perfect “Frugal Freddie” either (I made that up).  Both of us really know how to stretch a buck, though, when needed.

Some helps I have found are, first, Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.  I read this early in our marriage, when we were trying to merge two people with huge school debt (mine) into one income (his).  What I got out of Amy’s books wasn’t so much about how to use juice can lids in 101 different ways, or what to do with old tinfoil, but more a philosophy of thinking.  A philosophy I’ve only been sometimes good at, because sometimes you just gotta rebel and spend some money, eh?  She calls that “spendthrift” thinking, of course…But the main thing that won’t leave my mind from The Tightwad Gazette’s pages is the questioning of each purchase, “is the value of this item to me worth the effort it took to earn the money for it?”  I try to teach my kids to ask the same question.  Do you love it?  How much does it cost you in time to earn/get that money?  Fortunately, I think my kids are really good at it!  Hopefully better than their parents…

Some online sites I’ve found very helpful are:

Hillbilly Housewife–I actually took the time and ink to print out her entire $45 a week meal plan (though those recipes were priced just a few years ago in 2006, in 2009 the same items cost $70 a week–there’s some major inflation for you and no wonder we all feel strapped!) and all the recipes for that menu.  I love her Rock Bottom Salmon Patties, even more than my old Salmon Patty recipe (the most searched for post on my old blog, The Zahn Zone, by the way).  Hillbilly Housewife has lots of good recipes and ideas for feeding the family on a low budget.  For us, of course, having a pantry stocked with good foods purchased on sale, and gardening, has made a big difference in our budget.

Frugal Girls! and Money Saving Mom have been helpful for some “fun” freebies and coupon deals that I otherwise wouldn’t know about.  For example, through them, I heard about and signed up on the Noodles and Company website and got a free birthday meal and a BOGO coupon for another meal, which allowed for some fun lunches out I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I also love Brenda’s pantry posts at her blog, Coffee Tea Books and Me.  Brenda and her husband live on disability and occasional jobs, and she’s very forthright with how they do it and still have a bit for those “simple pleasures” in life, such as coffee, tea and books (the very same “simple pleasures” that I will spend my last dime on!).  She has many links to her pantry-stocking posts, and other frugal living sites, on the side of her blog.

And lastly, I got most of my stocking the pantry motivation from Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book.  There are reasons other than saving money to have a full pantry, and if you want more information on that do some searching through her excellent blog.

I also like to decorate my house on the cheap, as you know from my kitchen post.  And in thinking about how I’ve learned to do that, I have to say most of it comes out of my own imagination.  I do search for bargains in fabric, or at garage sales, but a lot of it comes down to imagination.  I get a big rush from making something look nice for very little money.  Whereas some people paint, or play music, or scrapbook, making my home look pretty (with as little sewing as I can get by with!) is my “art form”.

Fortunately, I have a husband who’s a willing participant in my art form.  He can take a piece of old ping pong table plywood from one neighbor, some oak 1×2″s from someone’s scrap pile, bead-board we got through freecycle, and some free paint from the county hazardous waste site, and transform it into the back porch window-seat-with-cubbies of my dreams…You’ll see photos of that hopefully after this weekend!  Having a handy husband is essential to my decorating “cents”, though I suppose I could learn to do that stuff myself.  Nah, I’d just do more garage sale shopping and make do with what I found.

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Do without.

~old New England saying

I love that one!

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