Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saving money in a recession

There are all kinds of advice columns on cutting spending on lunches, daily lattes, manicures/facials/spa treatments; saving on your regular expenses like utilities and transportation; what to do when your investments tank (I say "hang in there" and boost my monthly contribution to my retirement savings by 25%); and so on. I haven't found a useful thrift tip in years. Except three. More on that later.

I bring coffee from home in a reusable mug and fill my steel water bottles from the tap. I make my own bread. I bring my breakfast and lunch to work most days, and if I don't it's sort of a treat. My mortgage rate is incredibly low and will be for the next 4.5 years or so. The only way I could save more on electricity is if I unplugged everything. I haven't paid for water since July 2007 since I got the meter installed (though I will probably get a smallish bill in three months).

If I get off my duff this spring I will grow my own tomatoes and peppers from seed and clip fresh herbs from the old barrel, and I already have asparagus, rhubarb, and maybe a few strawberries and gooseberries along with the raspberries and blue grapes. I don't buy meat, eggs, milk, or cheese any more. I will be getting rid of more lawn this year, reducing my need for the (used) electric mower and getting the reel mower out more.

I haven't bought any clothes in about a year (except for fresh socks) or footwear (OK, a pair of Blundstones last November), and all the business-casual work clothes I got at the thrift store in the last few years are holding up. I get my hair done two or three times a year at the local beauty college for about $18 CA, which includes wash, cut, and blow-dry AND a tip to the student. (In the last four or five years I've had exactly ONE cut that wasn't absolutely perfect and low-maintenance. And I LIKE my grey hair).

I don't travel. I get a discount transit pass ($100 per month unlimited travel, and a 15% tax credit every year), and I hardly ever drive anywhere. I get "free" groceries from loyalty cards every few months (last fall I got $184 worth of staples and fresh food for about $48 using coupons and loyalty rewards). And while I hardly ever (well, never) use my fitness club membership it's only about $15 a month.

Finally, I got sick of buying a non-recyclable disposable lighter every few weeks (and tossing it in the garbage) and splurged on a steel Zippo. I supposed I could spend less on red wine, but then I wouldn't be as happy. (I've made my own a few times, and I just drank it all.) And how would I build up the Air Miles for groceries if I didn't stop in at the liquor store a couple of times a week?

Which leads into the first real money-saving tip that not many tip-lines mention: Quit Smoking! $8.50 per day = $3102.50 that I could put towards my mortgage or retirement savings or spend on home repairs.

Here's the second: Sell The Car! I insure it for about $100 a month and fill it up about 5 times a year (3 of those fill-ups are at Christmas). Still a considerable amount. But how would I get the garden supplies and large boxes of kitty litter home?

And here's the third that no one's mentioned: Eat. What. You. Buy! I throw out amazing amounts of fresh food because I'm too lazy to cook when I get home. I might as well take it right from the (reusable) shopping bags and put it in the compost.

But DO NOT suggest I surrender any of the cats.

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