Bloomberg News has announced that the average US family of four will need an extra
$5,200 per year to cover rising expenses due to inflation. Hmmm. How is that going to work out for most folks considering that 64% of Americans, as of early March 2022, are already living paycheck to paycheck? Where are they going to come up with a minimum of an extra $433 each month?
I’m already seeing signs of stress in our part of the country despite living in one of the “better off” regions. People are super cranky at the gas pumps and each day I read ads on craigslist from people trying to find homes for their large breed dogs and other pets. Starving large stray dogs with crazed eyes are popping up in the countryside. Sorry times indeed. However, we are not powerless. We can take action.
This article will cover tips on how to save in both big and little ways. Maybe you, dear reader, are in a secure situation, but perhaps you have family, neighbors, friends, or church family who are in need of some suggestions. This article is certainly not the be-all and end-all of lists, but includes some of the steps that we have ourselves taken recently and the resultant savings. We are acting proactively to decrease our bills. People who are already in financial trouble will have to act quickly and aggressively.
Utilities and Cable
“Can you hear me now?” Well, we’re old so we decided to keep our cheap flip phones and continue monthly service. We did recently cut out cable television. (Shame on us for keeping it so long.) Our savings is $91+ per month. Truth to tell, it will be more soon since it is the time of year when the stinkers increase prices. We cut our natural gas bill by a third by decreasing the thermostat. Even as arthritic old folks, we stopped setting it at 70 during the day and 68 at night. We now live with it at 68 during the day and 62 at night. Extra layers of clothes and bedding make up for the difference. We also are saving on our electricity. We stopped using the dryer for towels, jeans, and other heavy items. Instead, we launder on sunny days (or at least when there is no rain or snow) and dry them outside. That little change results in a savings alone of about $30 per month. Altogether we are saving $200 on the above. Other folks with higher bills may notice larger savings.
To save more, we could also cut home internet, but are not ready to do that yet. Our son, however, has done it. Since he works long hours and is rarely on the internet when he is home, he stopped paying for home internet and instead purchases more data for his cell phone. When he needs to use a laptop, he connects his cell phone to it, using the phone as a wireless hotspot. By increasing his monthly phone bill $40, he was able to eliminate the $90 cost of home internet. That’s a savings of $50 per month. If he needs to download something large, he is still able to use public connections or come to our house. Other families may be able to do something similar, especially for younger and more mobile members.
Those of us who lived during the Carter Presidency are well acquainted with the fuel saving concepts of carpooling, mass transit, combining errands, no engine idling, and a speed limit of 55 mph. This year, however, we have a gas credit card that saves us 5% anytime at *any* filling station in the U.S. We like it! In fact, this month, the card is offering 10% off fuel on Tuesdays at any filling station and 5% the rest of the days. This is the Sam’s Mastercard. Yes, you need to have a Sam’s basic membership ($45) and no, I don’t work for them. The money saved on fuel can be either spent at Sam’s or turned into cash by visiting any Sam’s store. There is a limit of $6,000 spending on fuel with 5% back. (After that, it is 1% back). That is an annual savings of $300+. I like “free money”.
Saving fuel while driving is possible by changing your mindset and focusing on your task. During long distance travel, most vehicles are designed with a cruise control feature to enable a constant speed without watching your gauges. Just like during the Carter era, speed ends up being the sole focus. Driving 55mph may be a reasonable start, but fuel consumption depends heavily on the terrain through which you are driving. There are lots of steep hills where we live, so maintaining a constant speed becomes less important than maintaining a constant RPM. This technique is familiar to truckers who haul heavy loads, and is sometimes called “dragonfly driving.” You “fly” down the hills and “drag” up them, avoiding the brakes almost entirely and pressing the accelerator as little as possible. At 1,500 RPM, the average car may be traveling only 40-45 mph up a steep hill. Downhill, that same RPM will give you 70 mph or more – the speed you need to efficiently climb the next hill. Over time, you average a reasonable travel speed without consuming more fuel when your vehicle increases RPM in an attempt to maintain speed going uphill. Of course, your ability to do this will depend on traffic and the presence of law enforcement, as the downhill portion of dragonfly driving can exceed the speed limit. Law enforcement may not understand your reasoning, and other drivers may find this technique irritating. However, on less-traveled roads this technique can serve you well.
Buy in Bulk
Although we are an older couple, we still benefit from buying in bulk. Now, I’ll admit that can be
difficult for those who are already feeling the “crunch” as bigger bags of flour, sugar, rice, beans, oats
etc cost more initially, but ultimately are less per pound. (Always do the math so that you don’t get ripped off!) Also compare costs between stores such as Sam’s, Walmart, Aldi, salvage stores, etc. Shop where your conscience and your wallet say is best for your household. If pressed for cash, consider splitting the cost of a larger bag with family or friends. That way you still pay less per pound.
Maybe members of church could get together with someone who has a Sam’s membership and buy some bigger bags together there or elsewhere. There is also a company called “Azure Standard” that ships food, grain, organic food, and animal feed to drop off locations each month. If interested, check out their website and prices. Again, I get no kick back and don’t work for them.
Auction sites like eBay can be a surprising source of food ingredients and bulk materials. We use powdered egg whites in our baking in order to avoid salmonella and other food risks in cookie dough, bread, and cake batter. When I noticed prices doubling and tripling, I looked for a bulk source and I found a 50lb container on eBay. That was far more than I needed, but I purchased it and repackaged the powder in 1lb and 8oz quantities. By buying in bulk I was able to get all the egg whites I needed for many years, and reselling the excess at lower-than-retail prices means that I can regain the entire amount of what I spent. I saved around $250.
While many people are used to buying grain and other goods in bulk, I’ve noticed that the majority of people at grocery stores buy meat in regular or small packaging. One good example is hamburger. If you normally buy hamburger in 1 lb or 3 lb quantities, then you are losing a lot of money! Exclusively purchase hamburger in 10 lb rolls and 50 lb lots, and you will be paying 30% to 50% less. Repackage at home in the sizes you desire. If you don’t have a FoodSaver vacuum-packing machine, consider buying one along with several rolls of packaging material. It can make freezing meat and storing dry goods a much simpler task, and if you want to buy in bulk and resell or trade excess, it makes your packaging more appealing to customers and trade partners.
Watch out for deals that aren’t really deals. Stores are still sending out coupons, which is what people primarily think of when the want to save money on purchases. Here’s a recent example in our home: We have store cards for two hardware store chains that give us 5% back on purchases. We do the most business with Store A. Store B sent us an offer of 15% off a purchase of up to $100. Everybody likes 15% off, but reading the fine print and doing math is important. According the coupon, we wouldn’t receive 15% off on top of the 5% off on our card….the 15% remains 15% only, which is really only adding 10% to our usual discount. Since the purchase is limited to $100, that’s a maximum savings of $10. Store B is a few miles away in a different town – an 18-mile round trip that takes over a half-hour. At current gas prices, that trip would cost $3.50 in our pickup truck. Savings is now reduced to $6.50…and we’re not done yet. Store B is in a town with a 0.5% higher sales tax rate. Savings is now reduced to $6. Store B also tends to have slightly higher prices than Store A. So, for a potential savings of $6, we’re using at least 30 minutes (and maybe closer to an hour) of our time with the possibility that Store B may not have what we want or may have higher prices. Ask yourself – with so many things to do and so little time, is that coupon worth the time and potential frustration? Is there another way to save or create value more efficiently with that time?
Avoid Fancy Name Brands and Cuts of Meat
We’ve all heard the famous names for foods and other products. They usually cost more though.
Consider trying the cheaper store brand. Buy a can. Try it. Hard times require us to decrease our
expectations. Buy the cheaper carton of eggs. Purchase the lowest price milk. It will lower the bill at check-out. Don’t buy steak and wonder where the money went. In spite of what doctors and dieticians might say, low-fat products aren’t necessary for healthy living, especially for people who are active. Low-fat products generally have a premium price attached to them, and companies make a greater profit on those products than “regular” products. Don’t be afraid to purchase the 80% lean hamburger instead of the 93% hamburger, for example. Do the math on how much meat vs. fat you are actually getting for what you pay. You can always trim or pour off excess fat and use it as flavoring for something else, or as an additive to pet food.
Decide in advance, how much you can afford to spend. Buy the absolute essentials first, shop the sales, and select less-expensive forms of protein. Be a savvy shopper. Learn to do with less. Also, if you have pets, consider switching to a cheaper brand of dog food for Woofy or cat food for Fluffy. In spite of what your vet might tell you, all the brands of dog food and cat food have essentially the same ingredients…and the less said about those ingredients, the better. As always, bigger bags are usually cheaper by the pound. Just don’t buy so much in advance that it goes rancid before it is finished.
Some people avoid credit cards for various reasons such as the temptation to spend, bad credit, tracking of expenses, etc. For those of us who do choose to use them, they are an additional way to cut costs. Most cards return at least 1% to the customer but some cards return 3% for different categories. Do some looking online if you are interested, but beware of annual fees! Personally, I avoid any that charge annual fees as there are so many available that are free. Also, always, always, pay the bill in full on or before the due date. Interest fees are extremely high and cause serious financial problems for people. Buyer beware!
To avoid missing a payment, I sign up for “auto-pay”. Take note that auto-pay may not kick in immediately. It may take a payment or two before you can rely on it and relax. Also, consider checking your credit card charges every week or so to make sure that your number has not been stolen. It happens folks! Credit card companies do become aware of your usual spending pattern and will contact you if they see something out of the ordinary. This can be a blessing or not. I was emailed once by a concerned credit card company because I had bought a pair of basic shoes at a shoe store. Gasp!!! Yep, that was something I rarely did, …but gee.
I like to consider myself frugal, but have recently made some changes here too. I bought some cheap washcloths and bar mops to use in the place of paper towels. Clean rags are an even more thrifty option. Talented seamstresses can make their own kitchen towels, handkerchiefs, etc from second-hand store sheets, fabrics, etc. Instead of using plastic wrap, I now cover bowls with reusable items including plates, shower caps, left over plastic lids etc. One can make hand soap last longer by reducing its time under the stream of water. Consider buying dish detergent in larger bulk containers and transfer it into smaller sink-size bottles. If you have someone in your household who thinks more soap is better and is
wasteful of the liquid detergent, consider diluting it. (Grin.)
When cooking, make enough to last for more than one dinner. It saves time, effort, and cooking heat.
Left overs are a blessing! My bachelor son even cooks from scratch making a huge pot of soup or stew on Sunday evening to eat during the work week. Don’t know how to cook? Buy or borrow a used cookbook such as Fannie Farmer and start with the basics. BTW, don’t use recipes that call for unusual or expensive ingredients. Use “bare bones” recipes that call for just a few ingredients. Add spices to perk up the taste. When heating the oven, plan on baking or roasting more than one item so as to utilize the hot oven to the max. Turn it off a few minutes before the time is up. When finished, the remaining heat can also help with food drying, the making of croutons or little toasts from stale bread, etc. When cooking on stovetop, use pan lids to help keep the heat in and reduce the electricity or gas consumed.
Many times there is no way to avoid outrageous costs, but sometimes there is. Use generic rather than name brand if available for most everything unless your medical professional advises otherwise. Generic is so very much cheaper. Buy less expensive brands for most over-the-counter remedies too. Use insurance if you have it, if not, look for “Good RX” coupons online and check which pharmacy near you charges least. Another way to economize is to obtain a 90-day prescription through your insurance if it is a medication that you use regularly or frequently. Just ask your prescriber for a 90-day prescription. One credit card that I use also gives 3% back on prescription charges. Also, consider checking online to see if the manufacturer of a particular non-generic offers coupons to assist with paying expenses. This is also true for some veterinary medications. Between comparing prices at retail stores and using a coupon, I decreased my dog’s 12-month pill prescription from $80 to $45 this week.
Tobacco, Alcohol, and “Recreational Drugs”
If you or your loved ones don’t indulge in any of the above, please do not start. If you or they do, try to stop or decrease. It will save lots and lots of money! Emphysema, heart disease, liver failure, brain
atrophy, cancer, accidents—–who needs these hardships?
Junk Food and Luxury Items
Alright, most Americans eat junk food. I’m guilty too. They cost money though, right? Reduce, substitute, discontinue. These are our options. Is there something cheaper that can be substituted? Hmmm, love that name-brand chocolate bar? Consider cutting down the portion size and/or frequency of indulgence. Perhaps instead of buying an expensive chocolate bar, maybe purchase a bag of chocolate chips and have just a few at a time? Instead of buying a bag of potato chips (my how the sacks are shrinking), consider obtaining a bag of unpopped corn to take home. It will be cheaper in the long run and healthier. You get the picture. Kudos to those readers who already live a healthy life without junk food!
A common American luxury item is coffee. Quite frankly, many Americans seem addicted to caffeine. You can learn to live with less of it, or without it entirely. Benjamin Franklin wrote about the purchasing of tea in the Colonies. He reasoned that someone who wanted to reduce consumption could start by changing tea-drinking from 3 times a day to 2 times, and then to one time a day. From there, it could be reduced to 3 or 4 times a week, to once a week, or even not at all. Gradually reducing your use of luxury items reduces the perception that your lifestyle is changing significantly.
Clothing and House Goods
Got old clothes or hand-me-downs? Repair, patch, turn the cuffs, etc. Need something “new”?
Consider visiting garage sales or second-hand stores. Keep in mind that some items are free after the
end of a sale and that second-hand stores often have special discount days. Example: Goodwill places
colored tags on each item. Each Sunday, everything of a certain color is $1. Pretty swell if you aren’t
too picky or if you are lucky. These are also wonderful places to donate to help others. CDs, books,
sheets, furniture, and other items are also available.
Housing is one of the largest expenses, especially for those who pay rent. Unfortunately, rent is money gone forever with nothing permanent in return. I’m already seeing single mothers pleading on our neighborhood blog for assistance in paying rent when other options fall through. When possible, family could give consideration to living under the same roof or perhaps in a used RV in the relative’s yard. Much money can be saved that way. It may require those in financial distress to relocate and find new employment. People without relations or close friends to lean upon might consider paying for a room instead of an entire apartment or going together with another household or two to rent a two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartment together. Sleeping bags, cots, and fold-out couches allow people to live more compactly if the landlord’s rules permit. The bottom line is if you don’t have the money then you
*have* to change the way you live.
Insurance – Don’t Feed the Beast
Most people hate insurance companies. Their rates are predatory, they take advantage of near-monopolies in some areas, and they enjoy a lot of government benefits. Purchasing insurance is a lot like gambling – you are betting that something bad will happen, and the company is betting that it won’t. Like casinos, these companies make money by taking, not paying out. Their beautifully kept, gardened and well-lit office properties are evidence that the “house advantage” is part of their game.
While some insurance may be necessary, many people are significantly over-insured. Keep more of your money and help to starve the beast by reducing your coverage where possible. If you are single or not taking care of children, medical insurance can be significantly reduced. Look at how much you have actually received in medical services in the last five years compared to your insurance premiums. If you are healthy and rarely visit the doctor, you can probably get by with a high-deductible “catastrophic” plan at half to a third of the cost of regular health insurance. This can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. For simple things, avoid doctors and treat yourself. If you need medical assistance, consult a quick clinic first instead of a specialty doctor or going to the hospital. Quick clinic rates are much lower, and frequently payable out of pocket.
Avoid newer cars and especially avoid buying a car with financing. When a vehicle is financed, the lender will often require you to purchase full-coverage car insurance, which can cost four to six times the amount of basic liability insurance. We can’t avoid liability insurance, as it is required in 49 states, but we can limit our costs. Driving older vehicles can often reduce the cost of liability insurance, and having full coverage on a vehicle that is more than 10 years old is pointless – the company will not pay you what that vehicle is worth to you. Ask for “state minimum liability,” as the company is not likely to mention this or offer it to you. Decline other coverages (especially medical, which is often the biggest cost), although with an older vehicle you might consider getting towing coverage for a small fee of $2 to $5 per 6-month period. If you pay more than one $50 towing bill in 5 years, that type of coverage can be a good deal. Pay in 6-month increments, as monthly billing often costs more. Currently, our state minimum liability insurance on two older vehicles costs less than service for a simple prepaid cell phone.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a huge topic, and all of us have helpful ideas. Walk through
your home/apartment/room/RV and think of what you use and how you might further reduce expenses and use less. It is time to cut corners. By being in a more secure situation yourself, you will also more likely be able to help others.
Disclaimer: Always consult a professional for medical or insurance advice.