Tips for dads on frugal living, economizing, and maximizing income.
These days, at least in our house, things are tight. That doesn’t mean we can’t do stuff, and it certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun anymore. There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending a lot, and there are even more ways to stretch the bucks you’ve got so that you can enjoy life all the more.
Point number one is that if you’re out of a job the world doesn’t have to end. The most obvious way to stretch your income is to simply add to it. A traditional job is not the only way to earn money, even if it’s just a little bit. You can reach the entire world from your desktop these days. You can even do what I’m doing right here: posting articles online. I earn a pittance right now, but I’m working toward making that more substantial. As it stands, I can occasionally indulge myself in my addiction: old books; which cost a coupla bucks on Amazon, plus shipping.
How about the most efficient way to use the money we do have? There are a lot of ways to do that. When it comes to stretching dollars, there are two things to remember:
- Spend less.
- Use less.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s simple. If you have less leverage, financially, to buy the things you might not be able to afford anymore, you have to make some changes if you don’t want your quality of life to suffer.
First, spend less. How do we do that in my house? At first, at least in my case, it took some swallowing of the pride in a few areas. We’ve always been proud shoppers of the lower-cost stores like Wal Mart because, quite frankly, it’s just plain stupid to pay twice or three times as much for the same things somewhere else. Am I right? Of course I am; even my wife would tell you that. So when it comes to using less money, you’ve got to find somewhere cheaper to buy the stuff you need in order to get by, even if that means getting a little uncomfortable and stepping out of the normal routine. It was difficult for me to buy clothes from a thrift shop at first, but once I tried it I became addicted to three dollar jeans. What can I say.
In that regard, you’ll want to give up things like brand loyalty. I had always bought the same exact brand of toilet paper, for instance, on sale or not. When I realized I could save as much as three dollars per package if I tried whatever was on sale in a given week, I changed brands. Turns out I like the cheaper stuff better, go figure. And just as an additional thought here, you can skip the facial tissue as a way to save even more. Making things perform double duty is a great way to both spend and use less. My grandmother used to wash her used aluminum foil and zip top baggies. I’m not suggesting you have to do this to be frugal, but if you want to, knock yourself out. But as long as we’re talking about giving up brand loyalty, you know you really should be buying generic, don’t you? You’ll save tons, and most of the time you get the exact same product as the name brand, but for far cheaper.
What about coupons, you say. The more the merrier. There are all kinds of Web sites dedicated to how to strategically use them, double them, triple them, yada yada. I do occasionally use them. I have not yet made the time to sit down and clip them, organize them, take them to the store, and then be “that guy” who has the have a manager come over to the checkstand five times in the course of buying all my stuff. Forgive me, but I just can’t yet.
Some more ideas on spending less: Change your own oil. Trade in old clothes at a consignment shop before buying new clothes. Always take advantage of sales, especially with clothing, and take the time to hit up the thrift stores. Craiglist. Garage sales. Buy used instead of new, and this includes everything from houses to cars to clothes to furniture. If you can make it yourself, try it—you never know, it could be fun. If you need something and can borrow it or barter for it, by all means do so. My brother and I have an arrangement whereby I use his lawnmower and he uses my trimmer once a week. We just make sure to top off the fuel tanks when we’re done.
Now, on to using less. This may be painful for some, but we have gotten used to it. We don’t have TV. I know, it’s totally crazy. But before you mock me, try to deny that our quality of life is actually better now that we’re not plagued by those SURPRISE! Commercials for sex pills or horror movies that cause a general state of emergency as we scramble for the remote to shield our children. Seriously, why do they have to do that crap? Yeah, we took advantage of the switch to digital broadcast to wean ourselves from the boob tube. It’s not that we no longer watch it—we watch plenty of movies, commercial free, and free overall to boot, by getting DVDs from our local library. The kids love them, and while we’re at the library we can check out what summer community programs are going on and even (gasp!) get some books. To read. Like, hardcopy, on paper. Amazing the fun that can be had for free. But that is just one way to use less. What are you paying for your TV subscriptions? Did you know that all that stuff can be accessed over the Web too? Did you know that if you watch TV shows on Hulu that there are far less commercials? Oh, yeah—you probably have one of those fancy DVRs. Well, good for you. We’re still rockin’ the 27” boat anchor tube TV. That’s how we roll.
Other ways to use less? I’ve covered some of them: make things do double duty, like using printer paper twice (it does have two sides) for non-essential printouts. Save your leftovers and create new meals from them. Old bananas, for instance, can be peeled, sliced, and frozen and used in smoothies. They’re really good. Limit your trips in the car by combining strategic errands, saving gas. This saves time, too. I found out the other day that dishwasher soap can be used in lieu of laundry soap in an emergency. You can share your toothbrushes and hold off on changing diapers until the very last possible minute. Nah, I’m teasing here, but somebody will try it.
The point of all this is that being broke doesn’t have to be miserable. There’s lots of fun to be had at the city park instead of the water park, and you’re going to save half your kid’s college savings by doing that kind of thing. Bike rides, hitting up the cheapo movie theater, going to museums on promotional days—you get the picture. It’s so easy you’ll wonder why you ever did it any differently. And, dare I say it, it can also be fun. So get out there and live life, intrepid ones! Go forth and frugalize.