6 March 2008

The Down to Earth readers' guide to cutting back

I knew the comments we'd get for the previous post would be wonderful. They're much too good to be left in the comments, so I'm making a post of them. Thank you for your helpful advice, ladies.

Kathy wrote:
We have the smallest house at the moment and although we are starting to build a house soon even then it will be smaller it will be easy to clean and the kids will continue to share a room. We are a family and we don't need to be separated from our kids and each other. With grocery shopping the best thing I've found to keep on budget is take cash, every sunday night I put my weekly budget amount in a bag and I carry it with me daily, all food/grocery expenses must come out of that envelope. We make it a challenge to have left over money at the end of the week that we can put into our change money box.

Coleen wrote:
I find it's not so much what I do but more what I don't do. Like, I don't go to the mall, fabric store or grocery store, that way I don't spend money on silly things. I do go to the stores w/a list and try, very hard, to follow that list. I make a general menu for the month so that I don't stop on the way home and do take out for dinner. I don't buy my lunch at work but bring it from home. You get the idea.

Virginia wrote:
I stopped buying newspapers and magazines (especially quilting one's). Books also dropped off the shopping list. As I gave up more 'stuff' it became easier to do. I then started to prune the grocery shopping to only buy exactly what was needed for the week, no more 'I may use this'. I stockpile dry goods and tins when on special. I have surprised myself by slowly making progress on reducing expenditure and our debt. If I can do it then anyone can, goodness knows I spent a fortune in the past with nothing to show for it. If your serious about being debt free and living an authentic simple life, start small and STOP spending.

Lilymarlene wrote:
Here in the UK we are already paying the equivalent of A$2.40 per litre for the diesel we need...with no sign of it dropping back to the price it was 6 months ago, when it increased by 10%-ish. Making economies is a constant exercise; a challenge, but I relish it like you do.
Melissa wrote:
I have only just started cutting back. Right now, to see what I have left over at the end of the month, I have stopped 'waiting' to pay bills at the last minute. The last few weeks I have been paying bills right as they came in the post. Oh that is an eye opener. Even if it takes most of mine or Andrews pay at one time, it is helping me to budget better. I have no choice this way. Even today I had the urge to just go shopping after work. I drove straight home and it was like going through an addiction withdrawl. Reading your post helps to realise why I am doing this. So thank you!
Lorisdoris wrote:
On the subject of books, we do use the library extensively. We not only borrow from them, we buy too! Once a year our library hosts a used book fair as a fundraiser. Patrons donate books for the fair all year long. The fair runs three days. On the first day an admission is charged. Also, books are priced higher on the first two days, although still far cheaper than new. It is on the third day we really see the savings - that is fill a bag for $4 day. I have found wonderful books there even on day three. Some of the books are older, but many are brand new. Also, many of the books I am looking for which relate to simple living, are not the books most sought out by others. We usually set a budget and then go and have fun, bringing home enough to last us for the year and some change as well. I am sure other libraries do similar fairs. It pays to check.
Kate wrote:
My local library also stocks cds and dvds. It's certainly worth a look before hiring a movie commercially or buying a cd.Colleen you get more than three litres in a gallon, so US fuel prices are still very cheap compared to the rest of the world. There's a reason Europeans have designed all those small fuel efficient cars!As for saving money, turn things off. All those electrical things on standby add up for no return. It really annoys me that they're designed that way.
Robbie wrote:
What I have found helps with our budget is to pre-pay our bills as much as possible. I have estimated what we spend each week on electricity, telephone, car rego, insurance etc and I pay that amount directly into the accounts over the internet (no postage, no cheque fees etc) then we know what we have left is realy ours to spend (or save!). Books are the one thing I do miss buying... the library has only so many and I often have had to request them to buy certain books which I have found they will do but you wait and wait.
Marlina wrote:
My husband and I live with our 6 children in a 3 bedroom manufactured home in a park with other similar homes. We were planning on moving soon, but as we have been working on the house, God has been working on my heart to be content where I am. I also want to honor my husband, by not getting a larger mortgage! He works fulltime and has a handyman service he runs in the evenings after work. (Weekends off, yay!)I have been the one desiring a little more space for the family, and a yard to plant a BIG garden, while my husband has been quite content here. Over the years we have also had family members in with us at different times: a grandpa (invalid), a grandma (nursed her back to being on her own), and a sister moving back to the area after a divorce. So, needless to say, our home felt even smaller, and I ended up with a not so great attitude! Well, I can now gladly say that my heart is changing, for the better. It's helped so much reading your blog, you are just such an encouragement to me to do better! I got the book Square Foot Gardening, and the kids and I are planning our small area garden as part of our school work. We have 3 chickens who are faithful at laying eggs for us. We also got the Dave Ramsey book and workbook (used, for a great deal!) and are on our way to paying off the rest of our small debt, and hopefully having our humble little home paid off within two years!
Marilyn wrote:
When DH and I married 32 years ago we lived with his parents for four years so we could save to buy a home. When all our friends were going out and spending money, we saved. We bought an old house that needed renovating and furnished with mostly second hand give aways, until we could afford to upgrade (always as cheaply as possible). We saved like mad to do the renovations (both of us worked) but the temptation to pay off the mortgage instead was too great to resist.Then when the children arrived we ended up spending money on their education, and having no loans meant I could be a stay at home mum (just my personal choice.)If you have children you can be run off your feet working outside the home or in it. My girls were only allowed one extra curricular activity each so we didn't spend our lives frantically driving everywhere. They had time to play, inventing their own games. They didn't suffer as far as I can see. I felt my decisions led me to have the best life I could have had.I have a friend who spent her earlier years travelling the world. She started her married life with nothing monetary behind her and struggled terribly at times financially. She envied me at times but I reminded her that she's seen and done things I never will. In the end it doesn't matter what position you're in, it only matters that that you decide to make the right choices for yourself here and now and don't live with regrets.But living beyond your means means that others are making your decisions for you. Something inside your head is telling you to have this or do that. Why? It's interesting to ask ourselves why we let advertising or keeping up with "the Joneses'" influence us. What is the personal pay off for buying stuff? Being "spread too thin" timewise can easily lead to buying ready made expensive things. Is it really all worth it? Slowing down and discarding a lot of superfluous things that society kept insisting I needed (to be happy or successful!) is the most wonderfully freeing feeling. If you put restrictions on spending because you NEED to you're sure to feel deprived. Looking at why you do something and deciding to make a good decision for yourself is always more empowering, even if you have to "swim against the tide" of those around you to do it.
Kristina wrote:
We are facing major problems with the worldwide economy and we all must be prepared and willing to make changes in order to survive! You are absolutely right in saying everyone needs to get their debt paid off as soon as possible. Do whatever you can to get it paid off! We are farmers and have been hit so hard by the fuel prices and costs of fertilizers that we are making drastic changes. First, we got rid of the "Everything" package on our satellite television. We now only get the network channels and about 20 others. This saved us $70/month. We could have got rid of it altogether but being out in the boonies we can't get local tv and we do like watching the news and weather and educational shows. Secondly, we have gone to just cell phones and got rid of our landline phone. This has saved us about $80/month. I cook only from scratch according to what we have on hand in our pantry and freezer. We are trying to limit the amount of time and money spent in the grocery store. I had so much food stocked in our freezer and pantry I didn't even know I had some of that food in there! I cleaned them out and organized them and that has helped tremendously -- knowing what I have on hand! Organization around the home with your menus, bills, clothing, chores, etc. is absolutely 100% necessary. You have to know where you stand with everything and keep thinking of ways to make it better. We are applying every spare dime to pay down our debts which are many unfortunately. Medical expenses cannot be helped when treatment is needed. But we are working hard and our 2 children are great sports with these changes we've made. We plan to grow a huge garden this summer and preserve/freeze/store as much as we possible can.
Lucy wrote:
Here are some of the key ways we've saved money:1. With a young baby, I am always doing washing, and making my own washing powder (to your recipe) has saved me quite a lot.2. I particularly enjoy reading craft books and here in Birmingham UK, we can reserve books online for free, have them delivered to our local library and even get sent a free text message to tell us when it is ready for collection. Doing this I get the pick of all the books, even ones that are recently published! 3. I always have a list of everything in my freezer and cupboards - from these I create a weekly menu plan and shopping list.4. If you are like us you will need small change regularly (for car parking, bus etc). We keep a jar of small change which we can dip into instead of going to a cash machine, having to buy something we don't need in order to get change and then flitting away the rest. It sounds obvious but it has really stopped us wasting money on nothing much.I look forward to hearing more ideas from future posts and comments.
Kim wrote:
I so agree with you about this post. I am so happy in my little house..my little PAID off house!I can't believe how much money I saved when I cut out the junk. Sodas, chips..it was amazing. I now cook 99% of our meals from scratch. My food budget by myself used to be $400, now it is $160 for the 2 of us. We eat a lot of good stuff too, like roast and seafood but nothing is wasted and it's all REAL food you know?
anonymous wrote:
We do many things to cut back and save money. But, I think the one that helps me the most is keeping a cheerful attitude about it. I am more than happy to tell anyone how little I spent on something if they ask, and many people at home and at work have come to know me as a frugal shopper. Many now ask for tips, which I think is a lot of fun. It's like my own small anti-consumerist movement. :)Otherwise, we do things like: buy furniture used, careful meal planning & use up all food, resell items on ebay that were purchased for cheap, and give ourselves some financial wiggle room every so often. We do not have a strict budget - my spending is pretty much a habit at this point, and I don't chastise myself if we go over budget here or there because overall we are putting away money every month.
Lyn wrote:
My dh and I are presently living on $1,700 K (U.S.) per month. It has not been easy, but it has been possible, and with God's help, we are making it. My husband lost about $1K in income within the last few months. That in itself was hard, as we were paying down our debts as quickly as possible. Since we've lost any extra, we basically removed everything unnecessary from the budget. It was a real help that we were not living like the "Joneses" to begin with. I think that mindset of trying to keep up with others only hurts people.For us, prayer, hard work & determination has been key. Learning to live simply and with gratefulness for all we have is so beneficial. We also try to make do as much as possible with what we already have.Even with such budget cuts, we plan to be out of debt soon and will be able to put more towards savings and other goals.It is not always easy, but I do believe it is possible for some out there as well.Tips: Live in a smaller, inexpensive home if possible. Less to clean, take care of & maintain, as well as heat/cool. (I live in a mobile home.)Spend money on necessities as much as possible, but do keep a small allowance for you & your spouse. It helps keep the sanity. :) Stay away from stores - this will literally save you more than you can imagine. If you don't need anything, don't go shopping. Become a blackbelt frugal person - knowledge is power!

Tracy wrote:

If only they taught these kinds of things in schools today!!!We learned the value of living simply and frugally when my dh started his own business. We had 3 months wages in the bank and stretched it out to 6 months. The fact that our Family Tax Benefit payments went up was a big help in making that happen.We never lived a lavish lifestyle, but we made changes that meant we lived an incredibly simple life:* use cash only. Take out only what you have planned & budgeted for and when it's gone you say no.* make a menu plan and a shopping list. If it's not on the list don't buy it. * only shop once a week.* cook everything you can from scratch.* learn to enjoy some vegetarian meals. Just 2 meat-free dinners a week saves us substantially. To start off with we did 50/50. We've now developed quite a collection of meals we really love.Some of our changes are also in our thinking. We no longer buy now and think about how to pay off the CC later. There is a lot to be said for the feeling of satisfaction of saving up FIRST! We now really enjoy a night in the company of friends over a simple home cooked meal. If we are the visitors I truly and completely enjoy the meal and the fact that I didn't have to cook it. And in return I never ask my guests to bring something with them unless it's truly a spur of the last moment kind of thing (like 5pm and I've already started cooking & discover dh has invited someone over!!!!).With a bit of planning it's amazing how much one can avoid spending!

Marg wrote:

What a timely comment Rhonda and what marvellous contributions from everyone. There are a basic lessons to be learned from reading all these - having realistic and achievable goals and learning where your priorities lie.We have no debt - Like everyone else, we went through that period of conspicuous consumption and we paid through the nose for it with the interest we paid. Once you are rid of that debt you are in command of your life.Home for us when we started out was a small 2 bedroom home which we added to in later years as needs demanded. 46 years later we are back to having a smallish 2 bedroom home - with no additions envisaged!We shop fortnightly and stockpile and we find this suits our country lifestyle beautifully. Another thing we have found worthwhile is to use EFTPOS when we shop. Not only does it mean we are not carrying large amounts of money, it also means we are withdrawing only what we need to cover our purchases - with no excess...and it is amazing how much money you can waste if you think it is left over. The big BUT with this is, you must stick religiously to your shopping list -with no impulse buying.

Kate in NY wrote:

I have just recently realized, after years of both unsuccessful dieting AND unsuccessful budgeting, that the two are very, very closely related. In the past, I've often wondered why I haven't lost weight when I've been "so good," and yet I've failed to take into account the handful of chips here and the chocolate bar there. It's often been the same with money - I've wondered why we have incurred so much debt when we are living relatively frugally, certainly far more simply than our neighbors - but I still stop in for a latte when I feel like it or buy a new book from Amazon or whatever. Now I am losing weight AND actually sticking to a budget for the first time in literally years of trying - mostly because I am taking stock of EVERYTHING that goes into my mouth or out of my wallet. I know some people can make huge changes slowly, in moderation, but for me, the cold turkey, 100% committed approach seems to work better. For right now, I need to be a little obsessive - complacency just seems to set me back. I'm glad I've discovered the connection between these two areas of life that have eluded me - it feels so good to be disciplined - much better than a brand new book or a chocolate bar would!

Jess wrote:

Cash seems to be a lot harder for me to part with than using my debit or credit cards, so I allot myself a specific amount of cash per week to spend on miscellaneous things and once it is gone it's gone. I find I horde it because it is makes spending more tangible. I honestly think that a lot of the reason Americans are falling father and farther into debt is because spending is just swiping a card - the money no longer has any tangible value and there haven't been any tangible negative consequences for racking up debt. We live in a large house, more space than we need and I struggle with that. But I am proud to say that we do not have any debt on credit cards, no car payments, etc. and we live well within our means. I know I can cut back more and become more resourceful. My biggest waste is food and I struggle with meal planning. I have a young toddler and a one month old baby and at the end of the day sometimes I am happy to just throw together peanut butter toast and a simple salad. I know I can get a better system in place and I'm working on it.

Hannah wrote:

I try to live simply and unlike some lucky people am just starting out in the world of home ownership, currently have an offer on a house and praying it will be accepted. I do not buy novels, I don't even really like to be given them, as I find it had to read any but the most interesting more than once as I remember the storylines too well. I borrow from the library and only buy a book if it is a reference book I envisage using multiple times. I don't do a weekly shop. As I only feed myself and cook a large meal twice or three times a week, saving leftovers, I find that if I go to the shops I buy things, even when I have a list. So, I avoid the shops and only go when I actually need something.I buy most of my clothes from op shops, and try and make some of my clothes (hoping to do this more and more)I try and not carry cash, as I will go to the op shop. If I find something I want I have to want it enough to go to the atm and get money out.I don't eat out or get coffee unless I am doing it with someone else. Take lunch to work, and make espresso coffee on a small machine in the office.By doing this I have been able to save even when I was studying full time and living on youth allowance (student support from the govt in Australia) When I finished uni and began working I made the decision to not increase my expenditure by any significant amount, and on average, would live on approximately 30-40% of my income which is not significantly large and this includes my giving to church and sponsor children.

anonymous wrote: (I agree wholeheartedly with you anon. We do this too - cutting back on this and that - Rhonda)

This may sound silly, but I have learned that I cook way too much food at any one time. For example, cutting back on using two cans of beans for one recipe and instead only using one has helped our budget a bit.... we don't notice a difference and we toss less....

Cheri wrote:

When my DH and I were married 34 years ago, we both worked full time. We lived off of his income and saved all of mine. That way, when it was time to buy our first home and start a family, we had a sizeable downpayment accummulated and were accustomed to living on one income.I have been able to be a SAHM ever since and homeschool our three boys (now all grown men!).I have never regretted our thrifty ways!

Craftycherry wrote:

Now both my littlies are at school i am free to do things that really save money until a part time job comes along. I believe children should be at home with their Mamas and I managed to do this although i was a terrible budgeter.I look back now and think how did we manage ...the waste!!! One thing i am doing and I have and will be blogging about is sewing my childrens clothing. It saves heaps although people are so negative. Cheaper from the Warehouse.They say(Wrong!!) Who has the time. (I do!!). Im NOT a good sewer but even I have managed. I also sew Sanitary pads (Dont say yuk just go to Hillybilly housewife for the pattern) Napkins instead of paper towels, quilts from scraps and remnants, aprons, gifts, curtains etc etc. My children feel really great wearing their original clothing, I feel proud and my pocket smiles at me. Yes there are dozens of others things but I just wanted to put some input in for this lost art.

Jenny wrote:

The best advice I have is to really think about how YOU want to live YOUR life and then make your priority list from that.We wanted a home of our home with a decent size garden and close to family if possible. This meant we had to move interstate and choose quite a modest house. We have a 2 1/2 bedroom house on 1/3 acre for our family of 5.We wanted our children to be brought up by their parents and have a close relationship with their extended family. So whether we have both worked part time or one worked fulltime and the other stayed home our children have been with their parents and at times had their grandmother step in when necessary.This means we have lived on a minimal income for most of our married life but we have always been well fed, we enjoy a close relationship with our children and we are without debt.We have sacrificed material wealth, job advancement and myriad possessions but really that's no sacrifice at all.When you see something that you think you must have, think about the consequences to your family and to the planet and then it's a lot easier to make a proper decision rather than just react.When we were first married, buying a home and having our first child Australia was having the "recession we had to have" and interest rates were going through the roof. Our mortgage payment took half our monthly income and to stick to our priorities we had to learn how to make our own washing detergent, budget our money, and make presents rather than buy etc.It was a great adventure and taught me so much. I have always cooked from scratch, made my own clothes and knitted and mended and so on. Our house is purposely close to shops and public transport and my husband has always preferred to ride his bike and these habits have kept our expenses reasonably low. We own and use a car but we also walk a lot and use buses and bikes.During the brief time when I worked part time and my husband worked full time ( three years) we did our best to save my wage so that we didn't get used to two incomes and so I think we avoided the trap that would have eventually made us materially wealthy but time poor.I really believe you have to have a philosophy to live by that feels right for your family, that gives you a solid foundation for every decision you make and then you don't have to agonise over a thousand different things, you just know what is right for you and the community and planet and you certainly don't need some advertising agency to help you live your life.



  1. I'll have my VISA paid off in 5 more pay periods -- after that I'm moving on to my smallest student loan, and hope to have that paid off by the end of 2008 if not before. I had a discussion with someone about how ridiculous the interest rates are on student loans and it was a real eye opener as to how much i was 'really' paying towards the principle of my loan these last few years and how much was really going towards interest. It's highway robbery what the student loans charge!

    I figure I'll start with the small bills first and work my way up the chain. And as bills get paid, I'll put more towards my RRSP (registered retirement savings plan , similar to 401K in the US, not sure what the Aussie equivalent is)

    I admit, I do buy books, though mostly bargain table or used books. And yes, I do buy them through the library, they have a 'book mine' that you can go digging around in (a play on all the mining we have in Northern Ontario).

    I shopping the bargain racks for clothes -- last time I went was in the summer and it was with some cat sitting money I had earned. I will probably go again this Spring to find a new pair of shoes. It's been 3 years since I've bought spring dress shoes -- not talking sandals here, actual ladies shoes. As a walker, I tend to wear my shoes out -- in fact I'll have to see if I can find a shoemaker and get my winter boots resoled. Would rather pay the money to get them fix than replace my winter boots which for all other reasons, are perfectly fine.

    I bring my own lunch to work -- though there are the days when I struggle with that. But one day at a time, eh?

    One thing that I have changed this year is using an electronic spreadsheet. I have 1 column that indicates my income (which can fluctuate as I count any tax credits or money that happens to come into my possession for that pay period), 1 column with all possible expenditures, from the usual bills at the top to the odd expenditures, i.e. church retreats, hair cuts, Christmas gifts towards the end. I then have another column that indicates my 'budgeted expenditures' (i.e. how much do I expect to spend this pay period towards these bills), then a fourth column that indicates how much I actually spent towards these bills.

    Funny how when you actually see these in black and white that you realize you need to make changes, or that you are capable of making said changes.

    good luck!

  2. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful post!
    It was so encouraging and inspiring and I learned a few things too!
    What a blessing your blog is!

  3. What an inspiration to read all these comments!

    I lived the life of rabid consumption for many years, but after illness forced me to bankruptcy I had to change my attitude. Having decided that I wouldn’t buy any new clothes for a year, it became natural and easy to include other spends, pre-loved books etc; I’m happy that I’m recycling and also spending so much less.

    I have less income and yet more spare cash now than ever before in my life because I finally learned to budget and to ‘save first, spend after’ – now why did it take me over 50 years to learn those simple lessons?


  4. I'm envious of your $300,000 mortgages - around here a house costs no less than $700,000 and that's a 50 year old nothin' special house, too.

    Still, we're saving like mad so we can own some land and build a SMALL house (so agree with what you said about kids sharing rooms, etc). Living frugal, doing all the things people have said.

    There is such peace to being in control of your finances, and such satisfaction in watching your savings grow!

  5. I didn't word it quite correctly but just wanted to note that my dh has lost $1K in "monthly" income since the last few months. Basically we are living on 1/3+ less than what we were living on.

    I am finding that although it is challenging, it has forced us to really see what is important. Not that we had a lot of padding before, but things like cable, eating out often, new clothes, vacations, etc. are not on our list.

    And although I really enjoy new books as many of the posters here do too, I rarely buy a new book now. I am actually saving the small amount of change I do have to put towards cashing in at the Coinstar machine, and hope to get an Amazon certificate down the road. Slow and steady saving makes you think about what you really want.

    Even though we are living tightly, I am appreciative for what we do have and know it is more than many in this world. I try to look at "making do" in a more creative light, as a positive challenge and that really helps. Amy D speaks of this in her book, "The Complete Tightwad Gazette". Best book out there I feel for frugal living.

  6. We are currently building a new house, and while it would have been easy to go for bigger, better, more, we've kept the house very modest (about 115 square metres), and this will be plenty of room for our little family of 3. It will be 3br, and we'll only have one bathroom that we will all share. My one indulgence is a seperate living room that will be DD's schoolroom/playroom (we homeschool)

    I'm am currently working out a budget, as the loan begins to go up, and am finding that buying our fruit and veg each week from the markets not only saves us money, but means we actually have more fruit and veg! Making everything from scratch saves too, as does shopping at a smaller supermarket rather than going into the shopping centre where there are other things to tempt me.

    My one weakness is the second hand shops, but I'm going to limit that to a set amount included in the budget from now on. It is saving us money, in that I buy second hand clothes to make into clothes for DD, and things for around the house.

    For books, we've just joined the local library, and they have some great educational equiptment too. I also try to make it to the lifeline bookfest each year, and get some great books very cheaply. We only get videos on cheap Tuesday at the video store, where every video is $1, and we make sure we return them on time!


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