Driving into my neighborhood yesterday, I noticed that the gasoline my car uses had taken a slight price dip to $3.79 per gallon. I made a mental note to top off the tank a bit later. Well, severe weather arrived, I parked the car in the garage and promptly forgot to top off the tank. This morning, I noticed that the price had zipped up to $3.99 per gallon. I need to drive out of town to a funeral tomorrow, so I’ll have to pay the higher price.
While petroleum companies ratchet their prices into the stratosphere, most of us don’t have the option of raising our incomes to compensate for the ever increasing costs of fuel, food, housing, medical care and other necessities. In fact, real income for the vast majority of Americans has been dropping the past couple of decades or so. Many of us have much less or no income each year. I’ve been placed into that last category.
I’ve never enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, but I’ve never had to set up housekeeping beneath a bridge either. I’ve been able to travel abroad a few times on a shoestring. So I figure I’ve been pretty lucky. When I was downsized a couple of years ago, the adjustment was somewhat painless.
A few years earlier, I paid off my car loan six months ahead of time. I continued to put that same amount into a savings account each month to serve as an emergency fund. I figured that if I lost my job, I could live on that for awhile. If I kept the job, the money would make a fine down payment on a replacement car. I still have the same car. I’m still living on my emergency funds. I have yet to tap into my unemployment insurance. If we can keep the GOP from trashing that, I’ll have a little more wiggle room to keep the wolf away from my door.
The way I’ve been able to get by is to enhance my already frugal spending habits. I will pass along some of mine to you. If you could be so kind as to use the comments box, you could pass along some of yours to me and other readers of bluejayblog. There are many ways to slash the cost of living and actually live better and happier. They include:
Watch your housing costs. In most cases, housing gulps down a large share of our liquid cash. Long ago, I weighed the advantages and disadvantages of owning vs. renting a house. In my individual case, I determined that the costs of a mortgage, closing costs, taxes, maintenance and ability to liquidate the property were very expensive and troublesome. Renting means, no mortgage, realty fees, maintenance is low, taxes are included in the rent and I wouldn’t need to worry about liquidating the property. All I need to do is to liquidate my personal property, and I am theoretically free to move anywhere. Since I’ve lived in the same house for over a quarter century, I’ve grandfathered a reasonable monthly rent.
Closely monitor and budget your transportation means. In Nebraska, a motor vehicle is a must have. I don’t like to be spendy regarding upkeep and operating costs. My prior car was a real money hog, so I wanted something nice but exceedingly easy on the pocketbook. I scoured the Internet car ratings, spent time going through ink and paper magazines like “Consumer’s Report” then selected the exact vehicle to fit my qualifications. I negotiated a decent price then eventually paid off the loan early. I recieved a tidy refund cheque from the bank after sending in my final payment, too. So far, so good for many years!
Prepare and eat meals at home. I’m often shocked to find out what my friends and acquaintances spend on food. Some even buy a bowl of oatmeal at the local burger joint for about what I spend on an entire box of the stuff at the supermarket. Go figure. As a vegetarian living in “the beef state”, I long ago got into the habit of home cooking. I like to know exactly what is in my dinner. The time needed to prepare and clean up is comparable to time spent waiting and waiting and waiting in a restaurant. You get to eat in the comfort of your own home off of real plates, drinking out of nice glassware. Portion size is customized. No worry about doggie bags, leftovers go right into the fridge for handy snacking later. Plus, no driving and parking hassles. If you still like to tip the cook and you’re at my house, feel free to do so.
Heating and air conditioning costs can be moderated the old fashioned way by making sure you have plenty of insulation in your walls. A simple way to save energy is to draw blinds and curtains. Open sunny windows’ coverings in the winter, draw them closed in the summer. I use a portable fan or two year around to circulate air to enhance A/C or to bounce warmer ceiling air lower into the room. Ceiling fans can do the same thing if your rooms have them. Furthermore, I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of lighting. The only applications that I use conventional incandescent bulbs are where there are dimmer switches and where there are space restrictions in small ceiling fixtures. Otherwise, I use CFLs, the spiral shaped florescent bulbs. For accent lighting, I’ve converted to LEDs purchased on sale.
For entertainment and some telecommunications savings, I use my library card. The card is free for the asking and practically everything in the building costs me nada. Reading has always been a joy of mine. If you like audiobooks or movies, borrow them (and return them on time). Our library has wireless Internet access. So I’m able to stock up on podcasts and certain videos and such when I bring my laptop to the library. Otherwise, a low/no income person like me can save by remaining on dial-up Internet. I have a land line for regular phone and web use. As for a mobile phone, I carry a basic LG flip phone. I purchase time as needed from Tracfone. There are more than sufficient services for my needs.
If you just sit still for awhile, I’m sure you can come up with many more ways to save some serious dollars. A few pennies here and there are OK, but I think a person will stick with measures and techniques that save tens of dollars at a time. Don’t forget to share your ideas.
The Blue Jay of Happiness saves money by sleeping outdoors.