Let’s face it, as a nation Americans have gotten used to the good life, consuming more goods and services than any other people anywhere, using excessive amounts of energy, and living wastefully. Now with tough economic times forecast for 2009, it’s time to relearn how to live, and live well, on a budget. Here are 10 tips for saving money and living more frugally, eco-friendly and healthfully.
1) Make your own cheese
Did you know that you can turn one gallon of milk into approximately 1 to 1.5 pounds of cheese? If you’re a big cheese eater like I am, that’s quite a lot of savings. Plus, once you learn this new and interesting skill, you can even make some money on the side by selling your homemade cheese at farmer’s markets and the like. Home cheese making is ready to explode in popularity, especially in these tough times, with one such cheese maker asserting that it is poised to become as popular as home brewing.
2) Consider raising chickens.
Backyard poultry is making a comeback and it’s easy to see why. With a little initial investment to get your chickens set up, you can have free eggs galore and even an occasional chicken dinner for literally pennies. Not only that, but you’ll be able to have peace of mind that your chickens are truly free range and don’t have to suffer under horrible factory farm conditions, as well as knowing exactly what they are being fed and how they are “processed.” Chickens are also cheap to feed as they will eat table scraps and anything in your garden and their manure is top notch for your garden (see number 3) It’s also a great way to teach the kids responsibility and about where their food comes from. Instead of the dog they’ve been begging for, a chicken coop would be more economical!
3) Grow at least some of your food yourself.
This is a great money saver, a great hobby and gives you a great feeling to be able to literally eat the fruits of your labor. In addition, you have total control of the process, no mystery chemicals, no irradiation or genetic engineering, just normal, natural, organic food. My grandmother grows nearly all her food in her backyard, from peaches to cherries to potatoes and string beans, even walnuts, she has so much that she can’t even give it all away and her cellar is full of jams and preserves for winter. You don’t even need a lot of time or space, you can grow food on balconies and decks and in flowerboxes. You’ll also be saving the environment by avoiding the processing, packaging and long distance travel that many of our foodstuffs go through before reaching the table, processes that are not only energy intensive but also leach all the goodness and nutrition out of the foods in the process (not to mention flavor)! Just compare the many ways that canned peaches are wasteful and inferior to fresh ones from your backyard. This one is really a no brainer!
4) Forget the dryer and let your clothes air dry.
This one is pretty simple, buy a rack or hang some string and dry your clothes the old fashioned way. Depending on the time of year or the climate it might take from an hour to a few days for your clothes to dry but trust me it, it will work in even the dampest of regions. I dried my clothes this way the entire 18 months that I lived in damp, rainy Scotland. Hanging clothes outside or near an open window works even faster than indoors because of the air circulation. And if you hang them carefully, they’ll dry without wrinkles! You’ll not only save energy and cut back on those bills, but you’ll also be doing the environment a big favor by cutting back on your energy use. Besides, who needs chemically scented fabric softener when you have real summer breezes and sunshine to do your drying for you?
5) Take advantage of freebies.
This could include a monthly or weekly trip to the local food bank or soup kitchen in order to squeeze some more mileage out of your food budget or asking about end of the day leftovers at various food establishments. When I used to work at a pizza place I was appalled at all the good food going to waste. Frozen pizzas that had been opened but not yet baked by closing time, literally trash bags full of rolls and boxes full of pizza slices were discarded every night! I took as much home as I could carry and distributed it to friends and we still had a freezer full of bread! Asking for leftovers can be hit or miss. Because of legislation that the establishment is responsible if you get sick, some places would rather waste the food than invite a potential lawsuit. However, if you get in good with the people who work there or already know someone, it will make your life a lot easier. Finally, you can try the cutting edge method that is all the rage among hip young people throughout Europe: dumpster diving. Although this may sound revolting to some, it is actually a great way to get free food and free stuff. It is usually a way to avoid responsibility on the part of the establishment. For example, local doughnut shops around my area will fill trash bags with leftover doughnuts and place them in the dumpster right in front of groups of waiting “dumpster divers” rather than handing the bag over to avoid liability. Literally tons and tons of food go to waste due to “baked fresh” policies. You can play your part in reducing that waste and get free food in the process. It’s a win-win situation.
6) Recycle your clothes.
If you’ve got a pair of jeans with a hole in some awkward place (like the crotch), turn those jeans into a skirt. Got a tee-shirt that’s too big for you? Resize it. There are lots of ways that you can get more out of your old clothes and even make them look better in the process! Forget about old timey patches, you can breath new life into hand me down or free tee-shirts (why are free tee-shirts always large?) by making them into halter tops, off shoulder tops and adding all sorts of accents. Check out my favorite craft site (and possibly the best craft site on the web), Oh My Stars Craft for easy as pie tutorials and step by step instructions for all of these and so much more.
7) If you don’t have a car, don’t buy one (and if you do have one consider getting rid of it)!
The savings from not owning a car can be massive. Think not only of the initial car cost, but insurance, taxes and other fees plus gas on top of that. And with gas prices on the rise once more, walking, riding a bicycle or taking a bus are much more economical and environmentally friendly, not to mention healthier! In Europe people walk everywhere, and when I lived in Glasgow, I wouldn’t hesitate to walk twice the distance that I feel that I need to drive now that I’m back home. Yes, of course many of those countries have a much better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists but if more people take to the streets in the US, cities and towns will have no choice but to make their streets safer for non automobile users. If you truly can’t manage without your own car, try to find ways of using it less. You can take your car to work but take the bus when going out on the town, if you need your car for shopping, try riding your bike to work. If you live in the progressive cities of Seattle, Portland or Washington D.C. you can look into their Flexcar programs which allow you to have access to a car without the hassles and costs associated with ownership. Carpooling is another great option and, of course, get out of the habit of “going for a ride” and just cruising around town or going for that “Sunday drive” for no particular reason. It’s much more economical to just take a walk.
8) Save on entertainment.
Invite friends over for card games, fun conversation and some TV, rather than going out to bars and restaurants and you’ll save quite a bit. You can make your own party games or play ones that require little equipment such as charades or “pictionary”. Potluck dinners are also a great way to avoid the pitfalls (both financial and stressful) of hosting a dinner party, while letting you enjoy the company of friends and trying a variety of new foods. If you don’t already have one, get a library card pronto, and borrow books, movies and music rather than buying or renting.
9) Pool skills, knowledge and resources with friends and neighbors.
If you have a useful skill, like car repair (or better yet bicycle repair), offer it to neighbors. You never know what they can offer in return, like letting you borrow their snow blower or even helping paint your house. Rather than each person in a neighborhood having their own lathe, compound miter saw, air compressor, or any other rarely used but expensive tool, consider purchasing these things as a group, or if you already own them, make it known to your neighbors that you wouldn’t mind them using your equipment. They’ll do the same, and in no time your access to a variety of tools will have doubled if not tripled or even quadrupled at no cost whatsoever! The benefits of this type of organization include better relations with your neighbors and gaining new skills. What’s not to love about that?
10) Got a lot of crap? Sell it!
Now, my family is very much about de-cluttering and we hardly have any junk around the house, but if you’re like most people I know, you probably have a treasure trove of stuff all over the place. Now’s the time to get rid of it all and make some money in the process! Lots of people hoard things because they have sentimental meaning, that lamp belonged to great aunt Barbara, and that old coat was given to me on my 18th birthday, etc, etc, what’s important to remember is that it isn’t those objects that hold the meaning but your memory of the person or the event. And your memory will live on far longer than the material object. Try to think in terms of function and use. If you haven’t used something in a year, get rid of it! You obviously don’t need it, and you probably won’t use it again while there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who would find your stuff useful. You can list your stuff on Craigslist for free or pay a small fee and put it up on eBay. I once sold a broken digital camera on eBay for $8! That’s right, it was broken and I clearly stated the fact in the listing. It just goes to show that there are people out there willing to buy just about anything.