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Time To Tighten Our Belts: How To Cut Costs In Daily Life



My grandfather and I spoke for a long time Wednesday about the current financial crisis. As a former banker, he’s seen it coming for more than a year and can’t understand why the banks took so long to react. And he told me, “this happens with every generation of new CEOs,” once every 20 years or so, they get too greedy and they fall.

My grandfather, who has watched the economy ebb and flow for a century, is now is wondering if this will be as bad as the Great Depression, or if they have caught it early enough and it will be more like the 70s. Either way, we’re not out of this recession and probably won’t be for a while. While I’m not an alarmist who sees the sky falling at every moment, I do see a grey sky ahead and it would behoove us all to tighten our belts a bit.

Make sure you learn all you can about your savings and investments. Read about the FDIC and what is really insured, and also make sure you are banking with an FDIC-insured bank. Pay down your debts as quickly as you can, so that you are not over-extended as we go into harder times. And if you are lucky to have more than others, give what you can and do what you can to help those in need.

I know from reading the comments about affluence, that some of you are hurting now. As Rhonda Jean says, it’s time for us all to go into squirrel mode. Now is a good time to do with what we have, and buy as little as possible.

How To Cut Costs In Our Daily Lives:

I encourage you to first take a look at your bills from last month. What were your highest monthly costs? Was it electricity? Water? Cable? Whatever it was, you should work on that first. Then, here are some things to think about:

1. Cut the cable television. Whoa, you say. But don’t stop reading. You can do it. I haven’t had cable television in six years. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I work in the film and television industry! How do I keep up with what’s going on? Well, the internet helps a lot. I also check out movies at the library (you can reserve them online and wait until you receive an email that they’re ready for you), rent dvds at the local video store (it’s so great to watch a television series all the way through without commercials!), when there’s something we really want to watch we just get together at a friend’s house, but mostly we read and we talk instead.

Don’t worry about your kids making the transition – they’ll handle it. The library is full of good books, and you can even read a book out loud together as a family. Our family used to take turns each reading a chapter of the book – a great bonding experience. You can also play good old fashioned board games, which can be loads of fun – pick up a few at a local thrift store or garage sale (or your parents’ basement).

2. Reduce your electric usage. As you cut your cable, you can turn off our television: the biggest energy guzzler in the house. As your incandescent bulbs wear out, replace them with CFLs – they are more expensive up front, but they will last many months longer and will save you a lot of money in electricity. Turn off lights unless you are in the room. Minimize your A/C or heater usage as much as you can – turn the A/C up a few degrees, turn the heater down a few degrees. Use a laptop rather than a desktop computer, if you can. Plus turn off the computer when you’re not using it. Turn down your hot water heater to 120F. And spend less time in the shower, which uses a lot of electricity (or gas) to heat the water.

3. Reduce trips in the car. Now is a good time to finally learn that public transportation system, or really carpool with your coworker who lives nearby. You don’t need to keep your kids from after-school activities, just arrange with other parents to carpool. Or even arrange an after-school bus – check into it with your school and find out who to call. Consolidate your errands for the week to one or two days when you’re already going out. And if you live within a mile or two, think about walking or biking instead.

4. Replace junk food with good food. For some reason, when we have to cut costs often the first thing we do is stop buying good food. Does that make sense, when this is the stuff that nurtures our bodies and helps our children grow up strong and healthy? Cut out the soda and alcoholic beverages and drink water instead, but don’t stop buying fresh fruit and vegetables as these are important.

Forgo eating out for a simple, home cooked meal instead. Bring your lunch to work and school rather than eating out. Rather than buying granola bars and other processed foods, make them from scratch – you might find it’s a lot easier than you think. Plus it’s a great after-school project for the kids to help make. And by all means, grow a fall and winter garden, or help a friend grow theirs in exchange for some of the goods.

If you’re really hurting economically and just can’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables, don’t be afraid to visit the local food bank. That’s what it’s there for.

5. Hang in there and reach out to others. In many other parts of the world, it is normal and customary to help one another when times are tougher. If you are lucky to be doing well, invite some friends over for dinner, or do something else to help (gently and respectfully, of course, as it is tough to ask for and accept help). If you’re not doing so well, don’t be shy about accepting a kind hand. Barter! My juicy backyard plums for your 6x hand-me-downs, for example. Now is the best time to start building your community by just living and being local, through and through. Together we are stronger.


Organize Fish


What Are Your Thoughts?


Does this current bank/insurance/whatever’s next crisis scare you? What else can we all be doing (or not doing) to keep ourselves, our families, and our neighbors safe? How are you feeling, how are you coping?

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18 comments to Time To Tighten Our Belts: How To Cut Costs In Daily Life

  • I saw this coming, too – my plan is to have all my debts paid off by next summer. I’m almost done with credit card debt and have $30K in student loans remaining. I sold my car in July and I’ve never had cable. :)

  • What an interesting and timely post. My husband and I graduated from college into the last recession, and it took years to get our feet under us. Now our kids are experiencing the same thing, so I think your grandfather is right about the 20 year cycle. We are all pretty debt free except my poor daughter, who just graduated with college loans due to start hitting her in December, and no “real” job yet (just working two part-time ones). So she’s stuck living with the parents now, which is not her wish, but a necessity never the less.

    Your list of belt-tightening ideas is great! It’s possible to live on so much less than most of us actually do. And, in tough times, you don’t have to feel alone when you do cut back, because everybody is in the same situation. I think we’ll get through this. We just have to be willing to put some plans on the back burner for a while until things get better.

  • Excellent advice! Also take a look at your phone plan and see if you could get by on a simpler one. We’re doing fine with a basic landline long-distance plan and a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone for emergencies.

    I’ve never had cable :-) I actually don’t have TV reception at all now. I never had time in college and I got out of the habit, so now the TV is just for watching movies and my boyfriend’s video games. No commercials, no celebrity news, no temptation to turn on the thing just because I’m bored (turning on the internet when bored is a whole ‘nother matter….)

  • Adrienne

    If you’re not willing to cut the cable TV, you may be able to downgrade your plan to a cheaper one.

  • Di

    We got rid of our cable back in December as we figured we were only WATCHING 2 programs a week for $70 a month. SO not worth it. Many programs are available online now on the channels website, just have to wait till the next day. I honestly think it’s the best thing we ever did.
    If you actually LOOK at the amount of programs you sit and watch is it really worth it?
    Most families just have the tv on as background noise. We read more, we research and are more informed. And the best part? No ads!

  • I don’t have cable. I keep my tv turned off at the power strip when not in use. Thermostat isn’t programmable, but it gets adjusted before going out, and I use several fans on me when I need to cool off quickly. (I’m in Phoenix, so heat is an issue!) In March of this year I wanted to keep my communication expenses low, so I cancelled my landline and instead used the money for basic internet access. I use Skype for long distance and local calls out, and use a pay as you go cell phone for quick calls, voicemail, and texting. For calling those who are long distance, we first send a few texts back and forth to schedule a voice call via Skype. Texting costs less than voice calls for me! Also will soon investigate instant messaging and Facebook for group chats with friends far away.

    I’ve drastically reduced my grocery bill by buying only what I can eat during the week, and cutting out some foods altogether – like bread. Since I am feeding only me, if I overbuy veggies and fruits they go bad before I get to them, so emphasis is on meal planning now. Also, I buy very little meat. Of the meat I do buy, it gets cut up into portions and frozen immediately. A half pound of chicken breast gets sliced up into stir fry strips or cubes. Since a nutritional serving is supposed to be 2- 4 oz., I can get two to four servings from a half pound. Meat is to be used as a garnish only! I’ve embraced beans, legumes, and curry! – Lentil soup with curry, oh, my, heavenly! – I’ve discovered an Indian grocery down the street from me that sells big bags of dried beans for way less than at the local grocery chains. Their rice is cheaper too. Since they are so close, I can walk there and not use gasoline! I buy green tea and herbal teas and make ice tea instead of buying/drinking sodas. I buy no snack items, and only occasionally will make cookies or rice cripsy bars.

    Next up, bike riding, walking and taking public transportation. My new job offers half price monthly bus cards, and is less than 2 miles from home.

    I am nervous about the economy and have been watching the signs of upcoming change for several years now. I find the most important thing to do to survive future economic turbulence is to remove your ego from the equation. Wealth or lack of it has nothing to do with who you are or your value as a human being. Things and stuff might make life more comfortable, but it is not YOU.

  • Melinda!

    Congratulations on this new blog!

    I just wanted to say thank you for commenting on my blog a while back! I didn’t even notice until a few seconds ago. I’m still trying to get the hang of this whole medium, so sorry for not getting back to you sooner!


  • I’m not too worried to be honest. In the wake of 9/11 I have become desensitized to words like CRISIS. Maybe it is a crisis, who knows? Either way I think reduction should be the rule anyway for those of us who care about environmental sustainability.

    In addition to these suggestions I would add things like; buy in bulk, garden as much as possible and use the envelope method to keep track of expenditures.

    The envelope method?

    Here’s how we do it around my place. We salvage one envelope for each of the major monthly expenditures in our life. We include one for groceries, pets, gas, and miscellaneous.

    Each is filled with an amount of cash that is deemed acceptable for our family to spend in one month. We keep track of spending by saving receipts and when the cash is gone it’s gone. Only an emergency could get us to part from the plan.

    No more credit cards, no more debit cards. Cash only. It’s hard to argue with the obvious. When you want to buy a coffee and there aren’t enough one dollar bills in the misc. envelope….well there it is. No coffee.

  • Nice post, Melinda. Like Julie, we use the envelope method. It’s a great help. We also tracked our money to see where we were spending. To do this, take a small notebook with you and write down everything you spend – everything from the weekly groceries and mortgage to an apple. Over the course of a week, you’ll start seeing patterns emerging, over a month you’ll see what isn’t essential and can be cut down or out. It’s a very simple but effective way to get a accurate handle on what you’re spending.

  • It’s nice to see the reminders of how we can help ourselves rather than just be scared by the news that’s out there. I think looking at the things we can take control over helps a lot.

    Not to jump on the bandwagon :) but life without cable TV really isn’t the end of the world. Of course, that’s easy for me to say ’cause I’d rather read.

    What I’ve given up over the last year has been buying new books and magazines. Mostly I go to the library. I’ve also been buying more of my clothing used (especially jeans). What I need to give up now are treats from the bakery….

    The biggest help to my budget, though, was selling the car. It is a change of lifestyle, and it does make somethings harder, but it’s been so worth it.

  • [...] you’re looking for ideas, you can try making some of the changes we discussed in yesterday’s post and the wonderful comments. Not only will those changes help your pocketbook, but they will also [...]

  • I’m sorry it has taken so long to get back to you all – phew, it has been an eventful week! Thank you for your wonderful responses!

    jennconspiracy, Wonderful! Congratulations on having a grand plan to pay off your debt, for selling your car, and for staying away from cable. I think we’re working toward the car aspect… we’ve been thinking about it for a while. Any words of wisdom regarding how you went about getting rid of your car?

    joyce, Interesting to hear you found my grandfather’s words to be true from your experience. It’s really important to have family to rely upon when you are trying to get back on your feet onto stable ground. Your daughter is lucky to have you. : ) I love this: “in tough times, you don’t have to feel alone” – important words to remember.

    Sarah, Very good point – the phone plan is a big one. Matt and I finally found that we can get by without a land line, and just have a combined “family plan” for our cellular phones. I had the land line for a fax and emergency line, but I found a copy place around the corner where I can receive faxes for a small fee.

    No commercials – yes, a very important aspect of not watching tv! But LOL, the internet does take a lot of time. I’d argue, thought, that you are free to chose where you find information and how long you stay at each site, much more than the television. That is better. But still, don’t be afraid to shut off the internet and cuddle up with a good book sometimes!

    Adrienne, good point.

    Di, Thanks for sharing your experience with this! Matt and I often remember how lucky we are not to have a television. We’re certainly closer because of it. And an important point: we are also more informed about what is going on in the world.

    young snowbird, You have several great ideas here – thanks for your comment. Eliminating the land line, reducing phone service to the basic package (and importantly, sticking to it so that you don’t face per minute charges), and even going with a pay-per-use phone are all good ideas. I haven’t had experiences with Skype, but certainly email and IM are good alternatives as well.

    Meal planning. Great idea. Reducing meat and snacks are important.

    “Wealth or lack of it has nothing to do with who you are or your value as a human being. Things and stuff might make life more comfortable, but it is not YOU.” I wholeheartedly agree.

    Michael, Good to hear from you!

    Julie, It is true, most of these ideas are important parts of living sustainably (living sustainability to me includes economic sustainability). I wonder if we should think of it as redirection versus reduction, as redirection feels more positive. ; ) Just now thought of that while reading your comment…

    Thank you for outlining the envelope method – I’ve read Rhonda Jean’s thoughts about it, too, and I think it’s a great idea.

    Rhonda Jean, Tracking your money – ah, very important step! Thank you for your wonderful instructions.

    Deb G, I’m glad to hear you say that. I have tried to make this site about finding solutions rather than becoming paralyzed by all that is going on. A bandwagon full of people without cable tv and loving it – not a bad bandwagon to be jumping on!

    I have also been going to the library more than the bookstore lately, and I feel really good about it. And used clothing – great idea. Treats from the bakery… LOL. If you make yourself bake them in your own kitchen, you can control all the bad ingredients. Just a thought. ; )

    Selling the car. Wow. Two of you. Do you have any words of wisdom about that? How did you do it, what has your experience been? I’d be so interested to hear. We’re going in that direction, but we’re not there yet.

  • [...] in our own lives. For instance, we can do this with our family budgets. Julie and Rhonda Jean both wrote the other day about the envelope system. The idea is that you map out your budget in detail – what debts would you like to pay off by when? [...]

  • My mother grew up during the depression. She would tell me stories on how horrible it was. But, one thing that did come out of this experience was that she taught me how to save on food. Frist, buy in bulk. This will save you tons of money. I will go purchase chicken legs and thighs, you know the ones that are in the bag. I buy about 7 of them. Purchase a vacume packer and put only what your family will eat in the bags. Make sure they are air tight. Do the same with pork and ground meat. You will be surprised on how long this will last!

    Coupon shop. If I do not have a coupon for it, I do not buy it! See if your grocerer will double or tripple the coupons. I do know Kroger does along with some other stores. And don’t forget to use your Kroger plus card or what card is represented at your store.

    Cook from Scratch. I mean it! In my home, I do not have cake mixes, hamburger helpers or any of those high priced (fix it quick) stuff. Besides, they are loaded in sodium. I make my own bread, pasta, cakes and pies. You will be so surprised on how much healther, better tasting and economical it is. Plus, it’s better for your family. My daughter who is nine years old already knows how to cook.

    We are headed straight for hard times. It will get bad and I mean bad. I live in a large city and thousands upon thousands are loosing their jobs. It’s horrible. But, there are ways you can save up for this economic depression or recession.

    I would love your comments on this.


  • Karen, Thank you for your lovely comment. Wonderful things to keep in mind. Buying in bulk and cooking from scratch are very important, for our health and our budgets. Coupons, grocery cards, and sales also – we definitely take advantage of them.

    We don’t eat meat, but we do preserve some seasonal fruits and vegetables through canning and freezing. However, most often we eat seasonally and locally, which cuts costs and supports our local community. It also reduces packaging, electricity, and storage.

    It is wonderful that your daughter knows how to cook at a young age – so many of us never learned that, or have forgotten to teach that to our children. It’s time to slow down and make that time to cook and eat good, whole foods. I agree completely.

    I will be writing more about how to cut costs in the coming days, as I agree that we will all need to tighten our belts for many months ahead.

  • [...] now the economy isn’t doing well and we’re trying to tighten our belts a bit. My favorite online store stopped selling my favorite shampoo and I’m trying to buy [...]

  • Somehow, these cuts on expenses, on the long run will improve health!

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