Earlier this month Mighty Bargain Hunter asked, are money-saving tips unhelpful to people who need them?. I think it depends on the tips. I know that when I was at my poorest economically speaking, “bring your lunch to work” was laughable as a way to save money. (Bringing my lunch would have been a lot MORE expensive than the crackers and water I was eating – the cheapest thing on the menu at the cafeteria where I worked.)
So, in honor of that post, here are some of the extreme things I’ve done in the past to cut costs:
Groceries for $10 per week: a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, 16 oz. of spaghetti noodles, 1 jar of sauce, as many Top Ramen-like noodles for a dollar as possible (the off-brands were cheaper), 1 bag of generic cereal, and rice or beans. If you’ve got enough rice or beans from the previous week, get the fruit that’s on sale. (Usually bananas.) If toilet paper is needed that week, skip the cereal. (This was groceries for two people – breakfast & dinners.)
Speaking of toilet paper, use the restrooms at work or in stores to save money on paper goods.
Use cloth napkins, and try not to make a mess so you don’t have to wash them as often. Or, just make a mess and go wash up afterward so you don’t have to use them at all.
Spend as little time as possible at home during the summer months (when electric bills are extremely high here) so that you can leave the AC set to 90 when you’re not home. (Setting is much hotter than that gets too expensive to cool it down.) Set it to 85 when you ARE home.
Do only large loads of laundry, after you’ve worn everything 3-4 times (or more, if they still seem clean) first. Don’t bother separating coloreds & lights unless you can get full loads, because it’s a waste of money for the extra loads. Use 1/3 the amount of suggested detergent.
Grow your hair longer, and do trims at home with a pair of scissors. (I couldn’t afford one of those electric trimmers.)
If there are fruit trees nearby, ask the owners if you can pick some of the fruit. Around here, at any rate, people are happy to see it not go to waste, and you need this if you’re eating the way I was on the $10/week.
Try to work at least part-time at a restaurant that offers 1 free meal per day. Get something with meat in it, ideally in a size large enough to take home leftovers. If you can’t do this, splurge on the 39 cent hamburgers at Burger King once a week. (Maybe they’re 49 cents now?)
Ask for a raise after you’ve been at a job for 6 months or more. Every little bit helps. Be sure your boss knows you’re interested in being promoted.
Ride the bus (using your ideally free or subsidized bus pass) or get a ride to work from someone who lives near you with a car. Offer to pay for a share of the gas if you possibly can, but hope that they say no.
Check vending machines for quarters. (When I did this regularly there were also payphones around to check.)
Check the ground for money people may have dropped. Prime places are around the counters in front of cash registers (right by the kickplate) and store parking lots.
Wear hand-me-downs, or if you can’t find someone who wants to get rid of clothes, check Goodwill.
Buy black ‘dress’ shoes from Payless if you need dress shoes, and white fake-Keds from Target otherwise. Wait for them to be on sale first. (You should be able to get them for under $7, sometimes $3.)
Tape the soles of your dress shoes back on for a while when they wear out. (Glue doesn’t work all that well.) Use white shoe polish to make the fake Keds look a little better after a few months. Wear thick socks to help keep your feet warm when it’s cold out (especially if your shoes have holes).
If you know people that are better off than you, try to visit around dinnertime and hope they ask you to stay.
Hope you don’t get sick.
Avoid credit like the plague if there’s any way you possibly can.
Work on saving a dollar a week, because things WILL get better eventually. (I won’t say how many times I withdrew that dollar, but I did eventually manage to save.)
Let’s hope this hasn’t depressed anyone. I still do a few of these things even now, because in some cases doing otherwise seems wasteful, and in others, I guess it just got to be a habit.