How to Live on a Dime Rather Than a Dollar
Times Are Tough
You've all read tips on how to save money, but whether you're at the bottom of the barrel about to run out of those unemployment benefits, or you're just trying to live frugally (a euphemism for "you're cheap"), here are some desperation measures that could help keep you off the streets.
The New Mindset: Frugal Is In
It's the decade of a new mindset, and you are in good company. No more keeping up with the Joneses. No more out-spending your friends. In fact, there are plenty of people sneering at over-spenders these days. I'm hearing a lot more bragging about hot deals rather than how much my girlfriend spent on her Chanel bag. A few years back, when gas prices went through the roof, I started feeling guilty, slunk down in my seat, and wore big sunglasses when I drove my SUV around town.
It's time to reset your thinking. Simplicity is spiritual (not religious). Cast off the trappings and find a more meaningful life. It's the cool thing to do. Remember, the fewer keys you have on your key ring, the fewer responsibilities you have. This is your chance to reinvent your life—it's an exciting time.
Things to Re-Evaluate
- Government Stuff
1. Housing: From Beautiful to Cute
Instead of those who admire your elite address, the height of your ceilings, and your brand name decor, embrace the new concept of having friends over who say things like, "How cute is that!" or "Did you make that yourself?"
I know that changing your frame of mind and the security you feel in having "stuff" takes time, but start to think about these possible changes:
- Downsize—everyone's doing it.
- Take on a roommate—this is ultra-common these days.
- Become a roommate—this is surprisingly unburdening: no more worrying about utility costs, wireless bills, lawn or any other kind of maintenance, etc. It's very freeing.
- Become a live-in assistant/nanny/care-giver—if you're that kind of person (and you know if you are or are not), consider taking a free room and board offer in exchange for some kind of work. I recently saw an ad on Care.com for a sitter for one toddler two full days per week. In exchange, the "nanny" got free room and board, a small stipend, and use of a car.
Think about moving to a more urban area and selling your car. I know this is an amazing concept to many people, but what about all those New Yorkers who get around without their own vehicles? Take a good look at how much you spend on transportation each year (although this varies by state). Examine the costs associated with the following:
- Car payments (plus interest, which is money down the toilet)
- Property tax
- Emissions tests
- State safety tests
- Driver's license
My total was about $12,000/yr. Now that's a chunk of change. Simply not having to stand in line at the overheated DMV is worth about anything, in my opinion. So, I moved to an urban area in a safe part of the country where I mastered the bus route, bought a used bike on Craigslist, and walk a lot (by the way, I've lost 45 lbs.)
When my friends stare at me when I tell them I sold my car (for a good bit of money, I might add), I tell them that I really want to reduce my carbon footprint (it makes me feel somewhat righteous). Plus, I can always rent a car on the cheap if I want to take a road trip.
Now, I've always considered myself to be somewhat of a supermarket snob (I love Wegmans and Harris Teeter), and I'm really not willing to compromise on quality, but have you ever shopped in a Walmart Supercenter? I swear, I cut my grocery bill in half. When I looked at my first receipt, I thought the cashier had made a mistake—the total was oh so low. I left hurriedly before she found out that she had undercharged me (just kidding).
Quit buying new clothes. Seriously, you don't really need them. Shopping is just an addiction—get over it. Start returning things, and you'll soon realize the futility of the whole world of consumerism. Do I really need it? Can I live without it? Of course, you can.
If you get desperate, trade with your friends or check out the better thrift stores (known by word-of-mouth). I recently bought a gorgeous Talbot's pencil skirt suit for $18 at The Village in Virginia (I was able to fit in it due to selling my car! If I go for a job interview in this suit, I'll take the bus, not my bike).
There are two ways to look at this:
- When I was an overly wrought parent at the time of my company's big layoff, the strangest thing happened. After filling out the next year's FAFSA, my student daughter started getting wads of free money, including all kinds of grants, both federal and state. She kept getting lumps of money direct deposited into her checking account—enough to cover her off-campus housing and tuition. Apparently, if you're poor, you get a free education. She was getting paid for me being out of work. Amazing. This reinforces my belief that no one can use the excuse that they can't afford to go to college.
- At any age, if you need a college education (in my mind, everyone does) or want to further your education and are currently fund-challenged, why not go to school until the economy evens out. Oftentimes, the grants and various low-rate federal loans can get you through, plus you'll be a hot commodity once you graduate.
I added this category because it is my current fun project. I sold most of my stuff (Craigslist) so that I could afford to move, and now I am starting all over. But, what began with disbelief and utter fear has turned into fun. I have a chance to completely redecorate my new apartment with colors I never had the courage to use before (like yellow). And, part of the challenge is doing it on the super-cheap. It's like setting up the big Barbie house when my daughter was younger—all the fun for me was in the set-up. (I might have to move when I'm finished.) But, I love combing websites (my current fav is YoungHouseLove.com) for brave new ideas.
7. Government Stuff
I made the mistake of waiting too long to file for unemployment benefits, thinking (1) that I'd find a new job right away, and (2) that I didn't want to be a drain on taxpayers. But, what I learned is that my past employers had actually funded my unemployment insurance account, not the taxpayers in general.
So, bite the bullet and look into the following:
- Unemployment benefits
- Food stamps (on what looks like a credit card—no one will know)
- TANF (temp assistance for families out of work)
- Medicaid—you've gotta have some kind of insurance, but if all else fails, hospitals have to treat you whether or not you have insurance.
- And more . . . the internet is your friend—research, research, research
Embrace Your New Life
You're like a kid again. Everything's new and up for discovery. Your creativity is newly challenged. Life is no longer boring. The path you take is up to you.
P.S. Share your money-saving tips in the comment section below.