Whether it’s during the year when the paycheck isn’t quite what you need or during the summer if you get paid on a 9 or 10 month calendar, it’s useful to have some ways to stretch the paycheck. Here are a few things we’ve done:
Reduce the disposable Products in the Kitchen: Paper products are convenient, but they just get thrown away. Trade paper plates for glass or plastic (as a bonus, using my son’s small plastic plates help with portion control). Replace paper napkins with cloth. While you can get special “un-papertowels” that snap onto a roll, we just use the kitchen towels that were apparently breeding in our linen closet. We keep a roll of paper towels for guests, but use cloth for everything else. We also use bins rather than one-use plastic baggies for storage (except for the offspring as he throws them away at preschool.)
Switch to cloth diapers: Hear me out. While you could use plastic pants and pins and fold your own… you don’t have to. Cloth diapers can be just as easy as a disposable diaper. Some kinds (pockets) go on just like disposables– diaper on butt, snap or velcro to close. It really is that easy. There is some extra laundry, but adding a load or two per week is not going to cost as much as the $10 or more per week on disposables. There is initial investment, but a single cloth diaper can last 2-3 years or more. (I haven’t bought diapers for my son in a year and a half!) Yes, there is poop to clean… but I’m already cleaning it off my son’s butt, so for me (and many) cleaning it off a diaper usually is not a problem. Diaper sprayers or disposable liners can reduce the mess.
Thrift stores: After my son was born, I kind of needed some work clothes that fit the expanded frontier. I hit up the local thrift store. For less than $20, I had four pairs of pants and 6 shirts. All classic, mix-and-match. I had a few shirts at home that still fit, and now had a wardrobe. Not all thrift stores are created equal– the one by my house is in a wealthy area, so there are plenty of donations with tags still on them or barely worn. Check out a couple to see what you can find that offers good value. I have also bought a bread maker for $5, and tote bins worth of baby clothes for my son over the years. Resale and consignment shops can also offer great bargains.
Learn How to Fix Things: Google is your friend. You can Google how to fix anything with videos, tutorials, and more online for free. I have replaced a car battery, fixed chair legs, sewed buttons, add patches to worn spots, replaced toilet handles, and more just by Googling how to do it. I have also repainted tired plastic patio furniture, scrubbed soap scum from the shower curtain, and glued many things back together just to save a few bucks. It’s an every little bit counts mentality.
Wait on Purchases: Don’t buy something right away. When times are lean, we write down what we want to purchase. Then we have time to consider if we really need it. Sometimes the “need” passes or an alternative is discovered. For the remaining, we make sure to save money on it, somehow. Perhaps it’s scouring the thrift shop, eBay, or Craigslist for a cheaper one. Or we often wait for sales or promotions (like 15% off with credit card… but ONLY if we can pay off the card at the end of the month.)
Track Your Spending: One of the biggest ways to stretch your money is to really know where it’s going. Few people realize how quickly their lunch at work or coffee at the shop adds up. Or maybe it’s single-serve packages of something when you could get a larger package and divide it yourself (a 2 Liter of pop at my local grocery store is LESS than a 20 oz bottle!) Seeing where the biggest expenses are can also help efforts to cut them– maybe it’s eating out on Friday night or new clothes or movie rentals or some other “small” purchase that adds up. Finding the culprit can help find a solution– many libraries have now included movies and eBook rentals in their catalog. Crockpot or ready-to-cook meals can help the Friday night problem. And so on– but the problem can’t be fixed until it has been identified. (I’ll confess– our expense was books. And I wasn’t even reading them all.)
Make it Game: One thing many frugal people have is the mindset of trying to outdo themselves. Just how much money can we save? How good of deal can be gotten? It doesn’t have to be this extreme, but looking at it in a positive light– an opportunity, a game where the money saved is like points racked up– can make it easier to stick with it and make it work. Seeing it as a chore or a restriction will hinder progress.
Clair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget . Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Msdickson