Surviving in a post economic meltdown world

It’s been interesting this week to see how many people have read my post on the economy and personal finance. My friends have come to my defense, both on and off the blog, and even asked me to elaborate. So I decided that I would post, in the “for what it’s worth” category, some of the things we do to save money.


First, though, I do have to admit that we have truly been blessed by the generosity of family and friends. That makes a huge difference, and we can’t take credit. We owe quite a debt to the world for all that has been done for us, and all we can do is pay it forward whenever we can.


That being said, though, here are some of the principles we follow in daily life:



         Plan meals for the week. If one meal requires several higher-priced items, I try to come up with something super cheap to balance it.

         Shop with a list.

         Start at Aldi’s. A dozen eggs at Aldi cost me 89 cents last week, where it would cost twice that anywhere else, even Wal Mart. Tuna is about 39 cents instead of a dollar or more. On my list, I put a check next to everything I can get at Aldi.

         Try the generics. Not all of them are good—I don’t buy generic mayo, for instance. I’ve tried it and I don’t like it. Salad dressing is another thing I buy by name. But butter, milk, poultry—the staples are the same whether they’re brand name or generic. And the Kroger cereals are at least as good, and sometimes better than, their branded counterparts.

         Look at “manager’s specials” for meats. They don’t sell them past their date.

         Make virtually all meals from scratch. We don’t do convenience foods much, unless you count frozen veggies for the kids. Prepared foods are expensive—and generally loaded with unhealthy stuff.

         Cook so one meal lasts two to three nights.

         Pack lunches from home. It costs $.75-1.25 to prepare a lunch of a sandwich and an apple. Going out would cost two to four times that much—plus, it’s a much bigger meal. So this helps with weight control too.


General financial habits

         Scratch the impulse buys. It’s not that we never impulse anything, but we keep a pretty tight rein. Hauling kids with us to the store helps—we don’t spend any more time shopping than we have to. J

         Comparison shopping online before we go out. Sometimes it’s cheaper online because there is either free shipping or no tax or both.

         Do without. “Want” is different than “need.”

         For a few months, keep track of every penny that goes out and what it gets spent on. I did this for most of 2008 so we’d know what I actually needed for household expenses, plus a little “fun.” It was an uncomfortable experience, adding up those totals and realizing how much the little stuff added up. But it helped me rearrange my own thinking.

         Ask, Do I really need this? For instance: I’m unhappy with my wardrobe, but as much as I’d love to go shopping, I’m 9 months pregnant, and preparing to nurse for a year, which, let’s face it, changes the body shape. It would be irrational to buy anything for the next few months.

         Pay extra on the house every month, however little it may be. You save a ton of interest.


Raising kids

         Shop garage sales and secondhand first. It’s really hard to walk by the kids’ clothes at Target, much less Baby Depot, but how many outfits does one kid really need?

         Baby food is a crock. It’s so easy and so cheap to make baby food. If you have a food processor, you can make a week or two’s worth of food while you’re doing dishes. A great book is “Super Baby Food,” which my s-i-l Gina gave me when Alex was born, and which I now give to almost every new mother (along with Dr. Sears Breastfeeding Book).

         Breastfeeding. Huge. And helps you lose weight, too.

         Cloth diapers are not for everyone, but environmentally, financially and practically speaking they are great. In our experience, they hold the mess in better than disposables, too. Cloth is an investment that pays for itself with the first child and saves tons with later children.

         Limit the number and type of toys. We’re something of a standing joke in both our families for our antipathy to battery toys. (I think there’s a conspiracy between the toy companies and the battery companies.) I grew up on a farm in the ’80s, when the years swung on a wild pendulum from parched to diluvial. My childhood was spent on the verge of bankruptcy. So I grew up with a wildly different picture of Christmas and birthday than my peers—one that would make the Toys R Us CEO want to vomit, but which I think is better for kids anyway. Alex gets told “no” a lot. The earlier that kids learn the difference between “need” and “want,” the better. Besides, remember the old standby that kids are more interested in the box than the toy? My kids are hardly lacking for toys, but the only things Alex plays with every single day are the $5 plush Superman and the couch cushions.


One last note: we keep an envelope labeled “fun money,” which we use for dates, ice cream runs, Bonkers trips, etc. Whenever we get an anniversary gift, or a rebate check—unexpected windfalls—the checks get cashed and put in the envelope. Then the fun stuff isn’t 100% dependent on the monthly budget.


Maybe these principles aren’t universal, but I think they’re pretty useful. It’s not like we live without comforts. We love good food, good wine (when I’m not pregnant), nice kitchen gadgets, movies—all those things. And we get to enjoy them; it’s just planned out so that we’re in control of the things, instead of the things ruling us. And that’s the best part of all.