Living Within Your Means

I like to save money, and I’m pretty proud of how good I am at it.I live cheaply, so that I can live richly. I save money for the things that are really important to me (like visiting friends and family, and buying hand made gifts on holidays), and then pinch pennies everywhere else. It’s not only a choice, it’s kind of a necessity. I’m a grad student, working part time, with a hefty amount of college debt waiting for me. Saving money sounds like a good idea, but living within your means can be challenging and time consuming. Here’s how I do it!

1. Wash your clothes in cold water. It uses less energy since the water heater isn’t on. It’s also gentler on fabrics, so clothes last longer and are less likely to shrink.

2. Turn the lights of when when leaving a room. Duh. Seems like a no-brainer, but I know people who don’t do this.

3. Shop at discount grocery stores, like Aldi’s, whenever possible. It’s a great place to buy basic things like flour, spices, eggs, milk, and canned goods. Cinnamon is cinnamon. It doesn’t matter where you buy it, so why not save a few bucks? Things might taste a little different until you get used to them, but different doesn’t mean bad!

4. Turn your heat down and put some clothes on. Even lowering your thermostat by 2 or 3 degrees saves money. Seriously. Just wear a sweater.

5. Get a clothes line or clothes rack for drying your laundry. Just like cold water washing, it’s better for your wallet and your clothing.

6. Take the time to shop at thrift stores. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I can’t stress it enough! I got a really nice pair of Columbia winter boots at a thrift store for $15, that don’t look as if they’ve ever been worn. They would have cost me close to $100 to buy new. Ad got a great pair of Merrell hiking shoes at a thrift store for $14, that also seem almost new. He would have paid over $100 if he bought them new. $45 Lands End sweater? $7 at the thrift store, with the tags still on. Sure it’s a bit time consuming, and maybe the thought of digging through used stuff makes you a little squeamish, but I promise you that no one has ever died from it.

7. Save your holey undies! They make awesome rags, along with holey socks, and raggedy towels or wash clothes. No need to spend money on paper towels again. Another change that is better for the environment and your wallet.

8. 8. Get yourself some cloth napkins. Buy em once, and never buy em again. Wash them with your regular loads of laundry, and it doesn’t even make any extra work. When they get too old to use…. see number 7! Again, better for the environment. Are you seeing a theme here?

9. Stop throwing food away. I know you do it, because every body does. You pay for food and then you throw half of it away. How dumb is that?! Don’t believe me? Check out this short article. Simply put, eat your leftovers. My friend Lindsey is the Queen of reworking her leftovers into something new, fresh, and exciting. She also happens to be an advocate for the many uses of holey socks. Check out her website for practical and tasty ways to turn your leftovers into new meals. You’ll save yourself money and you’ll reduce the amount of garbage that you send to land fills. (Remember to compost when you can!)

10. Christmas shop all year long. Ad’s not a fan of this particular technique but I swear by it. When you wait until November or December to start buying Christmas gifts for people, you’re feeling the pressure to find the perfect thing fast. When you see it, you’re going to buy it, weather or not it’s on sale or within your budget. Keeping your eyes open for gifts throughout the entire year means that you can watch for things to come on sale and you can plan to make more affordable purchases.

11. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Another no brain-er, but clearly we all struggle with this. I got my first credit card about 6 months ago, and I hate it. The temptation to spend money that I don’t actually have suddenly became huge. If having good credit built up wasn’t so important, I would cut my credit card up right now. Use your credit card only when you need to. When you have that shiny little piece of plastic in your hand, it’s hard to remember that you’re spending money you might not actually have.

12. Make things! This one is obviously a favorite of mine. I try to hand make a lot of the gifts that I give to people. It usually saves money, and it means a lot to whomever receives it. You can take it a step farther and make your own household cleaning products. Always less expensive, and always better for the environment.

13. Spend money on experiences, not things. $50 on a new pair of jeans is going to feel really exciting for about 2 minutes. $50 spent on a night out with friends or a concert by your favorite band is going to keep you content and satisfied for much longer, which means you might spend less in the future. When you’re spending money, make sure you’re spending it on something that counts!

14. Accept free things. Another one that seems incredibly obvious, but some people feel funny doing this. I feel just fine about it. In fact, I love it. My couch was free. My dresser was free. A lot of my books were free. My deck table was free. I have a huge selection of cloth napkins – also free. Those were actually pulled from a pile that was waiting for trash collection…with the Pier 1 tags still attached! That was a good day. Some of my herb seeds were free. I still have some hungarian wax peppers in the freezer that I got for free last summer.

15. Plan meals in advance. This is probably the most time consuming suggestion on the list, and I admit that I don’t always follow through with it. But when I do, I really notice the savings. I try to plan out meals a week at a time and only buy the food that I need to make those meals. If I only buy exactly what I need, then nothing goes to waste and I spend less money on junk food and desserts.

Living within your means feels good. It’s responsible, it’s sustainable, it’s challenging, and it’s an art. What are your ideas for living on the cheap?

7 thoughts on “Living Within Your Means

  1. I’d agree with you on almost all – I was raised this way and have always lived like this, and more, (e.g. hang your laundry out to dry, plan ahead to combine errands – don’t make a car trip for just one purpose, and so forth). But where I will definitely differ with you is that no, cinnamon is not cinnamon. Try a side-by-side taste test if you ever get a chance. Then do a little research and you’ll find out the chemical constituents of certain kinds differ and can have medical effects and side effects. Then think about the consequences of exploitive trading and realize that organic and fair trade matter, a whole lot. So in short, food is not the place to cut corners, for yourself or for your fellow man. Eat less, maybe, and for sure, as you suggest, stop wasting, but do know your food options and do exercise them, even if that means paying more per pound for something you’ll enjoy more or will be better for your health, or better for the planet – much the same as your example re the $50 spent on jeans vs on a memorable night out.

    • Good points Laurie! If only discount spices tasted as good as the high end stuff 🙂 I look forward to the day I can buy all of my food organic! Right now I’ve got to pick and choose. I do grow my own veggies…shoulda put that on the list.

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