The news is full of stories about people who are struggling financially. Some aren’t able to cover their expenses based on their income while others can manage but would like to build up their savings or need to pay off loans or credit card debt.
In all of these cases the answer involves creating a budget and sticking to it. The more stringently you budget, the more money you’ll have to take care of the necessities, be it household expenses, paying off debt or building up savings.
How can you live well on a shoestring budget?
- Consider a vegan/vegetarian diet. You can eat more easily and more cheaply when you base your diet on grains and legumes. Try to buy those grains and legumes in bulk which will cost less than buying them in packages.
- Buy your produce at a Farmers Market. Go at the end of the day when they’re packing up and negotiate. Ask them if they’d be willing to sell any of the leftover produce at a reduced rate. Most will.
- Compare the prices of pre-packaged everything (fresh produce, seeds, nuts, spices, grains and legumes, etc) to bulk and then make your purchases. It’s often cheaper to buy in bulk but not always – some items are actually cheaper when they are packages. In the case of greens, you want to stay away from pre-cut and pre-packaged salad items because those items, when pre-cut and pre-packaged, are more likely to contain bacteria.
- Start a garden. You can grow many of your own greens, herbs and – if you have the room – other produce for much less than the purchase price.
- Buy sale items in bulk. You can stock up on staples such as oils, nuts, canned products, pastas, etc when they’re on sale and store them for months, saving large chunks of money.
- Use a lot of potatoes. Russet potatoes are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium and they’re versatile, filling and inexpensive. You can mash them, bake them, stuff them, slice and roast them, hash them or do many other things to them.
- Use canned fish. Canned tuna and salmon are full of omega-3 fats, which help lower triglycerides and blood pressure to keep your heart healthy. They’re usually cheaper than the fresh alternative and cost much less. Look up recipes to keep things interesting – there are hundreds of interesting recipes for canned fish on the Internet.
- Use frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and then frozen to seal in their nutrients so they’re very nutritious. They generally don’t have added sodium like canned vegetables and they’re relatively inexpensive, especially when you compare them with their “fresh” counterparts out of season.
Saving on utilities is much more than “turn off the light!”. You can save on your electric bill and on other utilities in a number of ways.
- Put dryer balls in the dryer. Dryer balls can be used to decrease drying time which also helps you save on your clothes’ wear and tear. You may not need to use fabric softener when you use wool balls which can save you more money. Better still, air dry your clothes to save even more money.
- Replace your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs. They’re cheaper and last longer than the old incandescent bulbs.
- Use cold water to wash your clothes. Almost all of your dirty clothes can be fully laundered using cold water.
- Keep your thermostat on a moderate heat. Over-heating or over-cooling pushes your electric bill skyward so keep it at a moderate temperature and you’ll see the difference. This includes your hot water heater which doesn’t need to be set to boiling – 120 degrees is plenty to ensure that everyone gets a hot shower.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. You don’t need to go out and exchange all of your appliances immediately. But as your appliances break, replace them with energy efficient versions. The initial price of these energy-savers may be more, meaning that your initial expenditure will be more. But in the long run, you’ll save much more than you spend.
- Check and see if your utility company has “duel time” rates. If it does, run appliances at night whenever possible. That means that, while you’re sleeping, your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer can be completing their loads. “Duel Time” means that the rates for electricity used will be cheaper for night-time use than for day-time use. If your electric company has “flat rates” it doesn’t matter when you use the electricity because there’s no savings for nighttime use.
- Check for air leaks. If air is escaping through faulty doors or windows or even from cracks in the walls, you’re losing your heating and cooling. If you can’t replace faulty doors and windows, cover drafty windows with plastic in the winter and install weather stripping around the doors. Spray foam around the windows and install insulation pads for the electrical outlets to decrease energy costs.
- Install ceiling fans to cool the house in the summer and circulate the heat in the winter. You’ll be able to reduce the temperature on your thermostat for savings on your furnace and air conditioning units
- Purchase low flow shower heads and taps. These devices push out less water and also conserves the water that runs in the shower while you wait for the water to warm up.
Being on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy entertainment, even entertainment that involves payments. It does, however, mean that you limit your paid-entertainment and look for other alternatives to fill in.
- Drop your gym membership and exercise on your own. Let’s be honest….you probably don’t use your gym membership that much anyway – most people don’t. Take walks, get an exercise tape, get together with a group of friends….there are many ways to exercise without paying a fortune to use expensive equipment.
- Get rid of your cable TV bill and sign up for an Internet streaming service such as Tivo, Hulu or Netflix. The Internet services are cheaper and you can find more viewing options. If you REALLY like your cable, consider getting rid of the Premium membership and opting for a regular membership.
- Trade off nights out with friends and save on babysitting costs.
- Organize pot-lucks with friends and save on restaurant expenses.
Use the money that you save wisely!