Dollar Sign

Stretch Your Budget

Tracey Columns

A few weeks ago I asked you to send me your best ideas for stretching your budget. From the responses I received, I think some of you should be advising Washington. You could dig us out of this mess in no time! Might any of the following ideas work for you?

A clever reader writes: “I cut my own hair.  You can just dive in and try (cautiously), or there are books at the public library on how to cut your own hair, or family members’ hair.  It’s a little challenging at first, looking in the mirror and getting the scissors to go in the opposite direction, but it gets easier the more you try it.  I figure I save $15-20/month doing this. (The sad part about things like this is that it takes money away from hardworking hair dressers.)

Another is coping with my weakness for going out for coffee and treats.  I still go out some, but first I will try to think of some tempting treat I have at home that would be nearly as appealing.  Sort of a mental discipline.  One example is:  I buy bulk croissants at WinCo and freeze them … then when I am ready to have one I cut it in half so it will fit in the toaster (do you call that laterally?).  Toasting the frozen croissant thaws and toasts it in one step.  Have some good jam on hand.

I am making an effort to let less food spoil.  Being a single person, if I buy food in larger quantities it may spoil before I can eat it all.  I’ve discovered that I can cut up cheese into smaller portions and freeze them individually in plastic bags.  Some cheese, like cheddar, changes in texture, gets more crumbly, but it is still just as tasty.”

Another reader focused on ways to be a truly wise shopper. She wrote:
“Think generic! It’s an obvious way to save on prescriptions but so many people skip over store brands for food and household products. Guess we’re all creatures of habit but I can’t believe how much I am saving just by  switching to generic brands… and I never used to use coupons but I do now. I can’t believe how they add up in savings.”

A number of people reminded me of the dangers of credit card use, one advising “Cut them up and throw them away. You’ll save money and feel so much better each month when that bill isn’t sitting there waiting to be paid.” I was reminded of my mother’s approach – good old cash. She kept a series of envelopes in the cupboard, each marked with a particular spending need, like “groceries” or “clothes.” If the envelope was empty, we made do with what we happened to have around. It was a simple and very effective way to live within our means.

One gentleman, with a great deal of experience on the subject, suggested the following: “I’ve been a car owner for over 60 years and the way I have saved the most money was by taking care of them. Have them serviced. You’ll get better gas mileage and they’ll last longer too.”

Another reader is a fan of the public library. “Sure, I want to go buy a book – but I wait until I can find it in our wonderful library. I also have luck finding delightful CDs and DVDs there too. And it’s all free! It doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?”

Finally, perhaps one of my favorites … “Grow a mushroom log under your sink. That is, if you love mushrooms like  do. Once you get it set up, it’s easy to maintain. I also grow fresh herbs in my kitchen window. You only have to snip what you need. Food tastes is so much better and I save money. Besides, it gives me great pleasure to see them growing.”

Thanks for all of the wonderful ideas. It’s clear that by simply making a few changes, we truly can stretch our budget.

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