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by Keith Johnson
Despite the mainline media telling us that the economy is in a robust recovery, middle class Americans are seeing a drop in income and an increase in food prices. I am already seeing the gas prices starting to bounce back after hitting bottom. Gas was down to $2.10 and is back up to $3.05. The cost of ground beef is up 35% over the price four years ago.
Like many households, our budget has been tight; really tight. We have had to make budget cuts and find ways to save a few bucks here and there. I will now share some of the ways we have pinched pennies.
1. Dump the ‘magic box‘: You do not have to literally throw out your television. You could…. However, cable or satellite TV can cost $60-$120 per month! That can be a few bags of groceries. Companies like Netflix offer streaming shows for roughly $8-$10 a month. Digital antennas will get you local network TV and some extra stations for free. My daughter has been introduced to the old classics such as Andy Griffith and WKRP and loves them. There is very little concern that Dick Van Dyke will utter something offensive if I leave the room with the television on. Try that on network TV after 8 p.m.
2. Make laundry soap: You can use the recipe in our previous blog. I have recently discovered an even better recipe! Grate a Fels Naptha soap bar, heat 5 cups of water and add soap. Do not allow this to boil. It will bubble over. Pour 3 gallons of hot water into a 5 gallon bucket and add soap water. Add 1/2 cup of washing soda and allow to dissolve. Add 1 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax. Cover and allow to cool over night. Add 1/2 – 3/4 cup of this soap mixture to a load of laundry. It works out to approximately 4-5 cents per load.
3. Buy in bulk. Clean out a closet or storage cabinet and fill it with food. This is also a great idea in case of an emergency. Also, if you have food stocked up, you can wait until the replacement food is on sale instead of buying at a higher price out of necessity. Buying a larger amount of food may cost more initially. However, if it is items that you use regularly, you can save money by paying attention to sales and coupons. Get with a friend or neighbor to consolidate resources and buy more at lower prices.
4. Can your leftovers: Learn how to can food. Menu items such as spaghetti sauce and chili are perfect for canning! Make sure you follow the recipes and pay attention to temperature and canning times. This is important. Incorrect canning procedures can lead to botulism. One money saving trick we have learned is to avoid boneless, skinless (tasteless!) chicken breasts. Buy a whole chicken. We can eat chicken for dinner, have leftovers for stir fry or tacos, and then boil the carcass for broth. The entire chicken carcass can be brought to a boil and then simmered for a few hours. We add carrots and celery for more nutrients. Do not add garlic or onions. You do not know which recipes in which you will use the broth and the strong flavor of garlic and onions just may overpower the ingredients in the dish you are preparing.
5. Start a budget and stick to it: Before you deposit your paycheck or before it is automatically deposited into your bank, have a destination for it. Unaccounted money will disappear and many times you do not realize where it went. A written budget or an Excel spreadsheet forces you to see the numbers and requires you to allocate money to paying down debts or save for a vacation. Have a plan for any extra money for a pay period. If you plan ahead and see the mortgage is going to be a problem when it is due, you can make a payment on a previous week to ease the pain.
6. Cash is King. Debit cards or paying with your cell phone is very convenient. Too convenient. How many times have you swiped your card, punched in your PIN, shoved the receipt in your pocket and walked out of the store clueless of the amount that you just spent. I have been guilty of this several times. If you pay in cash, it forces you to count the money and physically hand it to another person. This actually does make you a little more conscientious of your spending. Many places of business will accept a lower price if you wave cash in front of them. The only setback to this tip is if you are somebody that has money burn a hole in your pocket. If this is you, only have the allocated money on your person as you are going to the store to spend it. Otherwise, leave it in the bank or at home.
7. Thrift stores, Craigslist, and garage sales: A perfect example is reading glasses. Target and Walmart reading glasses are $10-$20. Goodwill reading glasses are $1.99. Thrift stores and garage sales are also a great place to find books. I have found many great 50 cent books. Do not buy camping clothes new! We have gone to stores during the 50% off sales and stocked up on camping and snow clothes. Outfit the family for $15!
These tips are not a get rich quick scheme and will not double your money. However, every little bit counts and you will be surprised how far a little thrifty planning can get you.