Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How To Live Poor

1) Let yourself feel hungry. 
This is something I learned from Weight Watchers years ago. Not only will allowing yourself to feel hungry potentially help you lose weight, it will save you money! In fact, eating foods that naturally help to suppress appetite will help you save money because you will eat less and, in turn, buy less. Apples, which are high in fiber, for example, or drinking tea. Tea is both an appetite suppressant and high in antioxidants that will help keep you healthy, and every American knows that not seeking medical help is a great way to save money.

2) Unplug your microwave.
And don't stop at the microwave. Unplug every electrical appliance that isn't currently in use. Our television is plugged into a power strip that can be turned off with the push of a button. Even better, the entire entertainment system is hooked up to a wall switch that cuts off everything's supply to power when in the off position. Believe it or not, this saves you money. Your microwave is sitting there all day waiting to be used. That means it is on 24/7 draining power and your pocket book. Same with your television. And stereo. And toaster. And coffee pot. And computer. Everything that is plugged into a power socket is using power even when you aren't using them. Taken individually, this isn't a lot, but when you combine them all together, it is costing you money that you could be saving simply by pulling the plug or turning off the switch. Even if it saves you only $10 a month, it's worth it. For me, $10 is 1/3 of a tank of gas, or two new pairs of pants from Goodwill. 

When we moved into this apartment, we were told to expect our energy bill to be $200 a month for the two of us to live here. Rarely do we pay more than $50. The average couple in an apartment is basically pissing away $150 per month that could be much better spent.

3) Milk leftovers.
If you are lucky enough to be treated to a night out at a restaurant, never leave without a doggy bag. Even if you haven't eaten all day and are certain you can eat your entire plate, don't do it. Divide your plate in half and eat only the one half. Take the other half home for lunch the next day. If you're still hungry, fill up on free refills of the beverage of your choice. Try iced tea since, as I mentioned above, it is full of antioxidants and will suppress your appetite. Even water will fill you up if you drink enough of it, and few of us really do drink enough water. (This one is probably the hardest for me to work at.)

4) Buy from produce stands and farmers markets.
$1 per eggplant at the produce stand versus $1.99 per pound of eggplant at Meijer. Trust me, that eggplant I bought was more than 1 lb. I saved money. Again, buying fresh local produce is better for your health, the local economy, blah blah blah, but it is also cheaper for the consumer

If you really and truly don't have access to a farmers market or produce stand (and I bet you do), there are discount grocery stores like Aldi and Trader Joe's. Also, never buy name brand products unless you are 100% sure that the coupon you clipped out of the paper is cheaper than the store brand. I used to bring coupons with me to Meijer all the time, but when I compared the prices of the name brand items to the Meijer brand, I discovered that in almost every case, the Meijer brand product was cheaper even with my coupon. 

Meijer also has this new thing that is pretty fantastic called Meijer Basics. Meijer Basics products come in plain white packaging with the red Meijer logo. That's basically it. No frills, no special packaging whatsoever. And the best part, most Basic products are $1 each. Possibly better, now that I think about it, is that when you look at the ingredients list, a lot of the crap has been cut out, leaving just the bare essentials to make the product, which means a little bit healthier. Who needs to pay for MSG when you can leave that shit out and save some cash. It is only being sold for $1, so any place they can cut corners, I am sure they will. (Click here for a review of Meijer Basic paper towels and toilet tissues.) The one place this doesn't work out for me is in cereal. Meijer Basics cereal is $1 and comes in a small box. For $1.99, I can buy the regular Meijer brand cereal and get more ounces of cereal, so I splurge because it lasts longer.

5) Stop using shampoo.
I don't mean that you should stop cleaning your hair. (Though, honestly, you could do that, too, and be perfectly fine once the detox is over.) I mean, truly, that you should stop using shampoo. I am extremely frugal with just about everything, so I only went through a bottle of shampoo about once a year, but I know women who insist they need to buy a new bottle of shampoo every few weeks. This is insanity. When they say you only need a quarter sized dollop of shampoo to get your hair clean, they aren't joking! The more you pour on and lather up, the better you may feel psychologically, but it isn't doing anything for your hair. You're only wasting money. (Click here for other hair care myths.) And you don't need shampoo at all to keep your hair healthy and looking clean. 

I use a couple teaspoons of baking soda mixed with about 1 cup of water once or twice a week in the shower. (The rest of the time I just thoroughly rinse my hair without using anything.) A box of baking soda is one of the cheapest things you can buy and lasts quite a while. Apple cider vinegar makes a great conditioner. At the moment I use some leftover conditioner that I found when I moved last spring, but only once or twice a week, so this bottle is probably going to last me until 2015. My hair has never been stronger, felt softer, nor had as much body. I am always getting compliments on my hair, and one woman exclaimed that I should never use shampoo again if my hair was going to look this good. The one catch is I can't dye my hair anymore because the baking soda will take the color right out, but the object here is to save money, so I haven't been dying my hair anyway to cut out that expense. And it turns out my hair has become this rich shade of strawberry blond that it never was before. Maybe because the baking soda has stripped away all the crud I've put on my hair over the years? I'll probably never know.

It also helps to stop buying liquid hand soap. Bar soap is cheaper, lasts longer, and works just as well. Plus you can buy a cute little soap dish to keep it in.

6) Never buy anything new & learn to sew.
I have two televisions, and one is a big widescreen thing hooked up to a surround system. I didn't pay for either of them. They were all, even the surround system, hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. If you are ever in the market for a new gadget, ask around. Somewhat you know with better access to money may be in the same market and willing to help you out. (I got a complete dining set this way, too, and a vacuum and microwave.) If that doesn't work, check thrift stores or re-use centers. People give away the most surprising items. Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center has all kinds of things for a home. If I were refurbishing a house, this would be my first stop. 

Like I said before, $10 will get me 2 pairs of pants at Goodwill, and the quality isn't much worse than if I went to Meijer and bought new pants for $16 or $20 per pair. The fabric in the thighs wears out in a couple of months no matter where I buy them, and I have to either turn around and buy new pants, or sew on patches, which is what I usually do. JoAnn's sells scraps of fabric for around $1, so that is what I first used to sew patches that would reinforce my jeans and cover up the holes. Eventually I got a pair that just wasn't salvageable anymore, so now I cut squares from that to patch up the other pairs. Sewing patches to the inside of my jeans that wear through between the thighs has drastically lengthened the life of my pants. 

I have two cats, and one of them is not very good about hiding his claws, so I get holes poked in my shirts a lot. There isn't much hope for that, so I just find a thread that best matches the color of the shirt and sew the hole shut. People don't notice because they don't have their faces pressed against my abdomen, and I get a lot more time out of my shirts that way. Sometimes this happens with pants and skirts, too, and though it makes me sad, it isn't the end of the world as long as I have a needle and thread.

7) Stop using laundry detergent.
I read in an issue of Consumer Reports a few years ago that people use far too much laundry detergent to the detriment of their clothes. Using too much soap can fade colors and make clothes look dingy, so kind of the opposite of what we're trying to achieve by washing our clothes with laundry detergent. It can also irritate skin and sinuses with leftover residue. This article on TLC's website recommends immediately cutting your detergent use in half, if not more. The Consumer Reports article I read went so far as to say that using detergent has no affect on our clothing whatsoever, minus making it smell like the detergent. The reporter experimented with washing clothes in a machine without detergent and discovered that laundry was just as clean and fresh smelling as if soap had been used, the clothes just smelled like water rather than perfume. If you still want that artificial smell, use dryer sheets. Meijer probably sells them for $1. My clothes tend to still smell like detergent, however faintly, because I use a public washing machine and "benefit" from my neighbors' overuse of soap. You can also make your own detergent. Try Tipnut for 10 homemade laundry detergent recipes


8) Combine errands & don't deviate
I basically don't leave my apartment if I am not working that day. That means an entire day of not using gas in my car. Instead, I use that time to get things done around the house, like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, organizing the library, writing blogs... You get the idea. On days that I do work, I look at what errands I need to run - buy cat litter, deposit paychecks, get gas, etc - and work my errands into my route to and from my jobs, deviating from my route as little as humanly possible. Most people assume that gas stations right off the highway are the most expensive, and in many cases, this is true. Not always. I use GasBuddy to check all of the gas stations along my drive to work and make a stop at the cheapest one. Usually it's one of the out-of-the-way Speedways that you can't actually see from the highway, but are just a quick jaunt away. 

When I do find that it is most prudent to leave my apartment on a day off, I think about all the other things I could do in that trip. If I honestly can't think of any other reason to go out than to accomplish just one thing, I tend to scrap the idea and stay home instead. If I lived closer to town and not in the middle of farm country, I'd be more likely to walk to my destinations, but everything is just too far away, and there is no public transportation. 

I am also really lucky that I have a boyfriend who is less cost-conscious and takes me along to places. He is the primary driver in this relationship because he just has more money. If you have friends that shop at the same places you do and don't live too far away, you might try asking them the next time they go to the store if it would be possible to swing by and grab you first. You could make a social event out of it!

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