Friday, April 3, 2009

Cutting back

The town where I live is slow to grow. That tends to mean we're not on the cutting edge of any cultural revolution (the green and local movements are just now becoming popular) but right now, slow is a wonderful thing. We haven't been hit quite as hard by the recession, the increased costs of goods, or the extensive mortgage defaults. 

We're lucky, but that doesn't mean we're completely unaffected. Companies are closing, people are losing their jobs, a few are losing their homes, and anyone who works for the state is seeing their retirement die a long slow death. I know a few mothers whose kids (some of whom also have kids) are moving home until they get back on their feet. Even my father is making plans to prep his 100 acre farm so that if anything happened to any of us kids, we could live off his land. 

Fortunately, Dave and I are usually on the same page when it comes to money and we don't spend much of it. We're VERY frugal people and our personalities are such that we prefer a minimalist lifestyle to the clutter of owning "stuff." By simplifying our lives over the years, we've come into this recession owning our house and our one car outright (aka we pretty much only pay utilities, insurance, and food), and it was this dedication to simplicity that made it possible for me to quit my job last August without huge financial repercussions.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm not always on the look out for ways to continually cut back - especially now that we're living on just one income. Every month, I pour over our monthly purchases looking for things we might need to rethink the next time around. Food purchases are now scrutinized closely, we downsized our cellular phone service, and are looking at cheaper prices on internet service as well. 

We've made quite a few other changes throughout the years - things like  using our library instead of buying books, movies, magazine and newspapers; never window shopping; becoming a one-car family (the difference in working full vs part time for me) and biking/walking/busing as much as possible; learning to cook from scratch, grow our own food, and make our own household cleaners; cutting the cable; shopping second hand; eating smart - less meat, dairy, and processed food, and more dried beans, lentils, rice, and pasta; getting creative with our spare time (attending free festivals and fairs, volunteering, reading, watching our favorite tv shows on-line for free; hanging out with the neighbors in the front yard); gifting differently by making our own greeting cards and even some of our own gifts (baked goods, crocheted blankets and scarves)... 

Of course, like anything else, cutting back demands that we be mindful. I'm not talking about saving money by shopping in your cheap big-box store - that usually just means more "stuff."As you cut back on all this "stuff" in your life, things you find you don't really need, you'll have the opportunity to spend more discriminately on the things you do - for instance, buying from local producers which contributes to the health of your local economy and buying things that will last a lifetime, not wear out just as the 1-year warranty expires. When we talk about where and how we spend in addition to how much we spend, we can make a difference in our pocketbooks, in our communities, and for our environment. 

Most importantly, however, remember that cutting back doesn't mean denying the things we love. It's about restructuring and refocusing so that we have time and money to put towards the things that make us happy - more time to spend with loved ones and less stress over how we'll ever get those bills paid. It's about more life and less distraction.

So let's hear from you. Have you always been frugal? How has the economy made you rethink your expenses? What creative things have you been doing to cut back?


Anonymous said...

The main area where we have been cutting back is just buying less and buying second hand whenever possible. I was sick of all the clutter in the house and realised we were buying far more than we needed. Now I think twice about buying anything...I still love the old saying reduce (do I really need is?) - reuse (is there something else I can reuse instead? or can I buy second hand?) - recycle (I love making or repruposing old things into something new).

One particular area where I found we spent too much money was buying gifts. I have now set myself the challenge to give only gifts made from recycled materials. Its been fun.

One big change i want to make in the future is to become a one car family instead of two....One day..

Theresa said...

I have mostly been mostly frugal, although I did use credit cards more than I should have when I first started working full time. I had been in grad school for so many years I felt a need to 'catch up' with buying things, for some reason. Silly, in retrospect, and fortunately it didn't last long, because I just hate having clutter around me. It stresses me out.

I'm at the point now where I make a decent salary, but spend very little on non-essential purchases. This has resulted, just a few months ago, in the paying off of all our debt except our mortgage and my car. Paying off debt has become much more rewarding than buying things! Anything we do buy, we think about long and hard and discuss 'til the cows come home. And we buy stuff that is built to last now, when we do make a purchase.

It doesn't feel like cutting back at all. It feels like I have room to breathe, and that is a great feeling!

Heather @ SGF said...

littleecofootprints - Good for you! Going from two to one car definitely takes an adjustment, but one you will find as rewarding as some of the other changes you have made. Best wishes!

Theresa - I love how you put that - you now "have room to breathe." That's a beautiful expression and it's exactly how I feel too.

Clutter always stressed me out too. Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed, I go through the house and find things to donate to the shelter. It always makes me feel better to have less "stuff."

Beany said...

Ever since I left my parents' home I had trouble with the sense that I had a very small amount to work with. My family had a feast or famine attitude that I always resented and have strived to avoid that in my own life. I like consistency and if that means not spending a windfall at once but spreading it out, then that's what I will do.

My husband is also equally frugal...sometimes more than me (I will buy a candle with my pocket money and he won't..for example).

I can't say that the economy has made an impression me in anyway. I'm continuing habits I've always had (saving, living thrifty, stocking up on food when I come across deals).

The biggest difference now is that I'm more confident now than I was as an 18 year old with my spending choices. I'm not embarrassed that I don't know what American Idol or that I don't know what Jonas Brothers' pants styles are. I do (most of the time) keep my eyes on the big picture despite my occasional misgivings.

Right now I'm trying to save up for a downpayment for a duplex that I am hoping to buy either toward the end of this year or sometime in 2010. I'd like to rent out half of it to a like minded couple and live in the other half. We'll see how that works out.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - Sounds like you are doing great. I mean, like you, we're not rich by any stretch of the word, but we live a happy life and try to make smart choices. Good for you!

Good luck with the duplex. Whomever moves into the other side will be lucky to have you as neighbors!

Angela said...

Heather- I'd say you ARE rich, by a couple of definitions...
One is in comparison to the rest of the world- if we live above the poverty level in the U.S. and don't go to bed hungry, and have a place to go to bed, we're living better than about 99 percent of the rest of the world. And your life is rich, because you're happy and fulfilled, and don't need STUFF to define who you are.

The biggest thing I've done to cut back is to join a group called The Compact, which is to buy nothing new. I thought it would be hard, but it's actually been so easy. I didn't realize how frugally and simply we were already living, plus it's so easy to buy things used or even get them free.

Thanks for the post.

One note to littleecofootprints: if you're buying recycled gifts, I recommend etsy, it's online shopping for handmade gifts. You might already know of it.

Daisy said...

Restructuring and refocusing: good words. Very valid description of what cutting back and minimizing really mean. I've been frugal for a long time, and I still enjoy shopping at secondhand stores. Classic wardrobe, very little $$.

Heather @ SGF said...

Angela - you're absolutely right. By world standards, we are incredibly rich. I don't know much about the Compact other than the few articles I've read, but it sounds like a GREAT project and a way to refocus our attention on non-material things.

Daisy - I agree, shopping second hand can provide some wonderful finds! It's just a matter of being patient and letting go of the cultural need to have things right now! It's way more fun this way - an adventure, if you will.

Beany said...

I was curious and checked out housing prices in your area. Looking at some of the prices and space availability, I'm soooo tempted to move there in a few years as I'd be able to own a house outright. But I don't know how in the world I'd convince my husband to leave the ocean though...

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - We have ocean! Ok. Fine. It's 3 hours away, and it's the gulf which isn't nearly as pretty, but we just go to all those beautiful places when we take a vacation. If we live in CA, we'd have VERY different lives just trying to pay for everything. Here, we can live a slower, more mindful life, and I have the opportunity to do what I love. Do I need to have a talk with him? :)

Maybe you should come visit us. I can do some convincing...