Thursday, June 16, 2011

ProTips: Skimping Without Going Without

Times are hard all over (mostly, and if you are part of the USian 1% that is getting richer, you probably are not reading here). Everyone tries to save money. Here is some (sometimes hard earned) advice for skimping without going without. Feel free to add your tips in the comments!

If your income is desperately low, look for help. There are programs out there specifically designed to help you, including help with heat, electricity, prescription meds and health insurance. Do not be ashamed to make use of the tools available to you. This is their purpose! If you are doing okay, donate some money, resources, or effort to the same.

Now on to the tips. Your mileage may vary. Pick what works for you and disregard what does not – that is what this is for!

Never go cheap on feminine hygiene products. Never go cheap on diapers. Exception: advice from a trusted source. Not only do you spend more money when you have to go out and get the good stuff due to product failure, but you usually find out via embarrassment and ruined clothes and more expense.

Some generic products are differently packaged products from brand name production lines. Do your research and find where you are spending more for nothing.

Consider growing your own food when and where you can. Even though my garden cost a couple of hundred dollars to put together initially (including fencing – ouch!), we still saved almost $400 dollars in grocery bills that year. With the initial set-up out of the way, we save much more. Try to grow from seeds or the smaller starter plants – these get more expensive the more developed they are when sold. Consider potted plants or Topsy Turvy tomato planters for apartments.

Look into local garden/DIY collectives. Not only can you save time, money, and effort collaborating with nearby folks, but it is good to have connections with people that have the same concerns as you.

Make your own sex toys! Use your common sense, research and think - particularly with insertable toys. Floggers, clamps, paddles, a lot of these can be made on the cheap side, and you can make them exactly the way you want them. DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN BIRTH CONTROL OR SKIMP ON BC. Read review sites like BDSMLab to make sure you are getting what you want for your dollar.

Trade favors with your family and neighbors. Some folks in our neighborhood trade garden goods. Others trade babysitting for lawn care. Find out what other folks need and if they can help with your needs. Make sure everyone feels treated fairly. It is better to agree that a deal cannot be made than to make a bad connection.

Become familiar with Lifehacker, WikiHow, and other DIY (Do It Yourself) sites. Also look into home-brewed shampoos, beauty products, cleaning products. Green environment sites often have cost saving benefits too.

Weigh what you are spending and where you can cut. For example, we thought we could save money by taking our recycling to a drop off point verses paying to have it picked up. This was true until gas prices started to rise. Now the cost of curb pick up seems blissfully cheap compared to taking it ourselves. Plus we no longer have to store it longer than two weeks at a time.

Save up your errands to run all together. Or, alternatively, run them on the way to or from work or school. For one item stops, pass your cash to someone else that is going if they will pick up that one thing for you.

Be careful buying in bulk. Many manufacturers have caught on to the bulk craze and you may not be saving as much as you think. The same is true for some thrift stores. Tip: thrift stores in upscale strip malls are often more expensive than the same store and item in a more economically stressed neighborhood.

Sign up for e-mail lists from your favorite retailers. Decide if handfuls of useless e-mails are worth the occasional one with that can’t-pass-it-up bargain. Your time is valuable; you could be doing something else with it – so choose wisely.

Check out consumer web sites, particularly big ticket items like appliances, vehicles, etc… In a pinch, look at for the product and read the reviews.  Consumer Reports is the gold standard, but is subscription based, with annual and monthly options. There are plenty of free review sites out there. Read the threads, if there is a Stan or sock puppet in there, usually they will get found out.

Look for alternatives that generate equal results. For some pants, blouses and sweaters I will use Dryel, but winter coats and such need to be dry cleaned to keep them in good shape and decrease the chance that they will need to be replaced.

Learn how to mend! Basic sewing kids cost very little, and being able to replace a button, darn a small hole, or repair a loose hem can save you a lot of money, particularly if you are part of a family. (Kids clothes are particularly prone to mending needs.)

Invest in a good stain remover – it is much less expensive than replacing clothes.

Do not throw away the circulars you get in the mail. Sometimes you can find good bargains on big ticket items like HVAC maintenance and roof repair. On the other end of the budget, $1 off of brand name cereal may not seem like a lot, but if you use one every week, that can add up quick. I also advise planning grocery shopping around store sales.

Put some of your saved money away for something fun, even if you feel like you cannot afford it. Even if it is a DVD for the family to enjoy, or dinner out, find something that pays you back in enjoyment for your time and effort. Being “poor” does not equal not having modern human needs. Recreation is a part of sanity maintenance!

Now you can share your favorite tips below!

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