Quick Basics for Those Learning to Live Poor
Things aren't going well. There have been- economic difficulties (I'm poor. I'm a poor person.). Over the years, you learn things (not fun things) to make ends meet. If you find yourself in the same situation, I hope that you can learn from my experience in some way. These items may seem random (because they are), but I've tried to limit myself to advice that can be as close to universal as possible.
Learn the cheapest places to buy things
I'm the type of shopper that automatically memorizes prices on products I buy often and automatically calculates per pound unit pricing in my head, but that isn't practical for everyone. For those looking to buy everything in one place, Wal Mart is the best bet. However, someone living in an urban area with a large number of retailers in the immediate vicinity can be more selective and use retailers that undersell Wal Mart in specific product lines.
-HBA and over the counter medicine are cheapest at Family Dollar. The package sizes are smaller at the Dollar Tree; the unit pricing is lower at Family Dollar.
-Cleaning supplies and kitchen needs actually are cheapest at The Dollar Tree.
-Wal Mart is the cheapest place to buy hardware and automotive needs, although their selection of both can be limited.
-For someone as poor as I am, respectable clothing can usually be found at Goodwill or The Salvation Army. If new clothing is a priority, there's Wal Mart and K Mart.
-Assuming there are no reservations about generic products, food is generally cheapest at Aldi, but even they can be undersold by traditional grocery stores on items that routinely go on buy one get one sales as well as on meats that are weekly specials. Aldi does have their own weekly meat sales, and there are actually times when their products are still less expensive than buy one get one free name brand products at other grocers, so for one stop grocery shopping that is the place to go. For a family, bulk sale price clubs like Sam's or BJ's can be worth the investment, but that does require making purchases in large quantities.
-Couponing does work, but product choices are dictated by the market, and that can result in unwanted or unneeded purchases. It's also incredibly time consuming, and often results in horrifying transactions for already stressed out cashiers.
Never buy single servings of anything
It's always cheaper to buy in bulk. It's a cliche that's almost always true. There are limits, of course; it's rarely a good idea to buy more of something than will actually be used. More importantly, it costs an incredible amount of money to buy single servings of drinks, snacks, and just about anything else instead of full size packages. To use a simplified example, it's fairly common for employers to have soda machines in their employee break areas, and it's common for those drinks to be $1 each. In that case, purchasing a soda each day with lunch will cost $260 a year. Buying soda by the case and on sale should cost, at most, 33 cents per can. That's a waste of $153.34 per year (not accounting for sales tax) just for a soda at lunch. If you're carnivorous, the same idea can also be applied; instead of buying lunch meat, which comes with a high price per pound, buy fresh meat (which is also healthier) in bulk when it's on sale. Butchering the meat at home and freezing it in two to three day portions (contrary to what several fast food restaurants claim, freezing will not adversely affect meat- particularly if the freezer temperature is kept on a milder setting) will save several dollars per pound. Cookies, candy bars, breakfast cereal, motor oil- the same thing is true for all of them: never buy single servings.
Speaking of sodas...
Knock it off with the sodas
There are numerous health reasons to do this; soda provides either empty calories or a chemical (aspartame) that is very unhealthy, it's potentially dehydrating and at the same time causes water retention, and it is the most likely cause of tooth decay. To the point of this article, however, is the fact that there is a (relatively) free liquid dispensed by faucets, and that liquid is a natural energizer that doesn't stain your teeth. After what happened in Flint, Michigan, using a filter is advisable, but even then it is going to be significantly less expensive to drink tap water than to buy soda or bottled water.
Prepare your own meals
I eat for less than $4.50 per day on average, and I have a healthy and filling diet. However, regularly dining at restaurants would at least triple that amount. To be clear, this doesn’t include heating frozen dinners in the microwave; that is another example of buying individual servings, so the unit pricing still isn’t great, and for the most part those meals also happen to not be very good for you. The most common sources of protein-- beef, chicken, pork, eggs, peanuts, and beans (oats and pasta also have surprising amounts of protein)-- are almost always available at affordable prices and can often be found on sale, and the same can be said for seasonal produce. Packing a sandwich for lunch and learning to make a few simple meals at home can go a long way to stretching a tight budget, and you will essentially be paying yourself to prepare your meals.
Cut the cord - and when you do, be efficient with your use of online subscription services
Cable and satellite charges are out of control, and it's really a luxury item anyway. Switching to online subscription services should result in savings of $50 or more per month. However, if those subscriptions aren't managed closely, the change won't save very much at all. Netflix ($9 or $13 per month), Hulu ($6 or $12), HBO Now ($15), Amazon Prime Video ($9), Sling TV ($25), and Disney+ ($7) are all monthly services that, unlike cable, have no charges for connection or disconnection. If a service isn't being used, it should be canceled at the end of the month. Because most of us are binge watchers, there's probably no reason to carry more than one at a time. Carrying the six most prominent services would cost over $70 per month, which completely defeats the purpose of cord cutting from an economic perspective.
-Sling TV, the most expensive of the services, is most useful to sports fans because of ESPN, TBS, and TNT. However, if all of the sports a subscriber follows are out of season, there is little reason to carry that service.
-Keep in mind that, depending on geographic location, broadcast networks are free with an antenna. Online, there's also TubiTV, Crackle, IMDB TV, The Roku Channel, and multiple other streaming services available for free, and recent episodes of most current network television shows are available on the network's home page or app for free with a one day or one week delay. There are multiple other streaming services worth trying as well, and all offer free trials of one week to one month.
Use you blinds to help regulate the temperature of your home
It seems like a small thing, but sunlight makes a huge difference in the temperature of a home. If the sun is shining at all during the winter, the blinds should be open, and they should always be closed at night if the temperature is below, say, 40 degrees. In the summer, the blinds should always be closed when the sun is shining. Also, when you close the blinds, they need to be turned up instead of down (ie if the sun were shining there shouldn't be slivers of light on the floor); that's particularly important at night during the winter because of the cold air coming off the window that will flow down into the home if there is no deterrent. I have all of 3 windows in my one bedroom apartment and, with temperature and sunlight being the same, this makes a 10 degree difference in the temperature of my home. I live in an area where highs in the 40's and 50's and lows in the 20's are common, and I've barely had to turn on my heat this winter. My electric bill is consistently in the low $40's.
Ride that horse until it's dead
Hold onto your car (and everything else that is still able to perform it's central function adequately) for as long as possible. Car insurance and property taxes decrease substantially over time; as long as the cost of repairs are less than the amount new car payments would require, keeping an older, fully paid car is significantly more economical that buying the newest model (this applies to everything else as well, including technology). Unfortunately, this isn't really feasible advice for many of the cars made in the last few years; much of the new technology that has been installed is designed to make it so that only the manufacturer (and their dealerships) will be able to make most repairs, and once a car's warranty expires those repairs become ridiculously expensive. That makes older model cars that much more valuable, and should also be taken into account before deciding to buy a new car. Overall, if it's not broke, don't try to replace it.
Whenever possible, don't pay interest
Interest is simply extra money being paid for an item. Rent to own purchases are looked down upon as something only people that are bad with money do, but paying interest is almost exactly the same thing; the interest is a fee that is paid until the item is actually paid for. It's virtually unavoidable with homes, but for everything else, even cars for the most committed, it is tremendously economical to save up to purchase a product instead of buying on credit.
Don't keep up with the Joneses
This is one of the hardest things about being poor, but technology, fashion, cars, and everything else are far more expensive when they're first introduced than they will be a year or two later. Believe it or not, you're not less valuable as a human being if you don't have the newest thing, and you're life isn't going to be instantly, substantially more enjoyable with a slight upgrade of your cell phone.