What to do about a recession

There’s endless talk these days about the downturn in the economy. Companies are laying off workers. Many people are looking for jobs. Others, fearing they’ll be laid off next, are downsizing vehicles and houses, and are working hard to pay off debt.

Whose fault is it?

Blame is being chucked all over the place. It’s the government, say some; Bush spent all the money on those pesky terrorists when he should have been investing at home. It is the banks, say others; they should not have loaned money to unfit borrowers. Consumers are being blamed too; if we weren’t so sure the sky was falling, we’d be spending like usual and the economy would be humming along.

How do I safeguard my family?

It is natural when you hear bad news to be more careful with your purchases, and to want to be extra-sure to provide for your family. Today I read a great post on the down–to–earth blog about home-making skills, and how they add stability to your budget, even in hard times. This makes good sense. John and I are planning on a bigger garden this year. We are buying another beef cow. We might even get a few chickens again. Anything we can make or grow or do at home will keep more dollars in our pockets.

It also makes good sense to pay off debt. An article featuring 1990’s frugal guru Amy Dacyzyn shares her spin on the current economic crisis. She emphasizes the importance of saving money, and not living beyond your means. Whether times are good or bad, these are always wise moves.

Should I stop all non-essential spending?

We were recently pushed into an unscheduled bathroom renovation by a tub flood. We wouldn’t have chosen to do it now if it were up to us. But once the bathroom was torn up, it felt like the perfect time to get a new tub as well. Some might see that as an extravagant move given these economic times. Maybe so. But between insurance and savings and a tax refund, we were fortunate that we had cash to cover it.

And an interesting thing happened as workmen trailed through our house at all hours during the past couple weeks. Man after man after man–  4 different different brisk, hardworking tradesmen– stopped to thank us, genuinely grateful for the business. They also showed up on time, worked hard, did great work, and cleaned up after themselves. Our flood was their blessing, and they made their gratitude obvious.  Meredith at Like Merchant Ships blogged similar thoughts recently. Our spending, especially when hiring small business owners, really does help the economy.

Should I buy it anyway?

Of course, wherever we are on the financial spectrum, we’d all be wise to heed this humorous video discussing the ins and outs of fiscally responsible living.

Is there a point at which frugal becomes TOO frugal?

Recently I read something– beats me where– suggesting that when a girl is visiting a young man’s apartment, she ought to scope out the type of toilet paper he buys. If the paper is the cheapo scratchy kind, she ought to run, the article suggested, because no guy worth having would stoop to buy cheap TP.

My mouth hung open at the idea of dismissing a potential mate on such a flimsy basis. Granted, I don’t happen to be picky about toilet paper. I know some people care a lot about TP, but I don’t. I’ve bought the most affordable brands for most of my adult life.

But to dismiss a person on the basis of his frugality? To my way of thinking, these gals should take the cheap toilet paper as a good sign…. here (possibly) is a guy who doesn’t overspend. Maybe he even has a savings account.

OK, I know. That is a lot to assume from a roll of toilet paper. But careful spending in the small things is just as important to careful money management as getting the best deal on a car. Maybe even more so. ‘Small’ spending happens nearly every day, and sometimes people forget how it can break them. They just wonder why they’re out of money all the time.

The story got me wondering, though. Is there a point at which frugal becomes TOO frugal? Obviously I don’t think cheap toilet paper is that point. But is there a line? Is it dependent on your circumstances?

For example, would it be okay for a family who is unemployed to turn the thermostat down to 55 and bundle up in the house to avoid a big power bill? What about if that same family is making $80,000 a year and simply trying to pay off the house quicker? Would it be okay for a single guy to set the thermostat at 55, but not okay for him to set the thermostat at that level if he was married with 3 kids?

Other possible examples of frugality:
–living with one vehicle (or none!)
–buying only used clothing
–eating beans 5 meals a week
–living in a small house, and having 3 or more children to share one bedroom.

Obviously the ‘line’ is going to be different for different people. Some of the things that we might think of as too frugal are probably just normal living for people in 3rd world countries. For example, many people all over the world eat rice and beans most of the time. Millions of people cram a large family into a single room home. Millions more go a lifetime without ever owning one car, let alone two or three.

I personally would have to live a very different life before I’d consider getting by on one vehicle. We live about 8 miles away from the nearest grocery store, and I’m not that into bike riding. However, we COULD probably get by with less than the (yikes) 3 vehicles we currently own. And that’s not even counting Eldest’s car that currently resides at our house along with her.

But other frugal choices are pretty natural to me. We keep our thermostat low and heat our house mainly with wood. The bedrooms furthest from the wood stove get a little chilly, but that’s what quilts are for. We’ve done cloth diapers and cloth napkins and we yard sale and thrift-shop for most of our clothes. (Incidentally, this winter Eldest is wearing a lovely full length black wool coat that she bought at a yard sale for $2 — you do NOT have to look frumpy to be a careful clothing shopper).

I’ve rambled long enough. Now I want to hear from you. Are you contemplating new ways to save money these days? Have you made a frugal choice that would seem crazy to some? Are there frugal choices out there they you wouldn’t consider in a million years? How frugal is too frugal..to you?

Kicking off our 30 Days

Here we are at the start of the month! If you are planning on doing the 30 Days of Nothing in any way, shape or form, sign in so that we can all visit each other. Remember, it’s OK to do this in a way that seems workable for your family. You decide the rules. As long as you are being more mindful about your purchases during the month of September, you are doing it right.

If you are new here, welcome! Please comment and tell me where you heard about the challenge. And if you need more details, click on the related posts, below Mr. Linky. I am looking forward to seeing what your family does with this month. How much will you save? It’s up to you!

_______________________

Related posts

Why do with less?

$200 at the grocery store all month? I may be crazy

Why do with less?

One of the reasons we decided to do the 30 Days of Nothing is simple: bills. Our daughter’s health issues this summer used our medical savings plan faster than we’d anticipated, and I’m eager to get things paid off. We don’t have much debt, and I get uncomfortable when the bills stack deeper than usual. But there’s a deeper reason to take this journey, one I haven’t talked a lot about this year. It has to do with the concept of entitlement.

Currently I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a Mexican mocha steaming in a cup in front of me. Once a week I take a writing day, and this is just what I do: head off to a coffee shop, and plow through some writing assignments undisturbed. Thinking of next week, I’m not sure what I’ll do on my writing day. Part of me thinks, oh, it’s $3. Let’s call that an essential. I’m entitled after rassling a zillion kids all week long.

But that sense of entitlement is a tricky thing.

I’m entitled to a cup of coffee, even though I can make something just as good at home. I deserve a new blouse, even though my closet is bulging. I earned the money (or at least the stellar credit rating) to buy a new car- never mind that my 10 year old paid-for rig is still chugging along. And the chipped-up vinyl floor in my kitchen– no one’s floor should look like that– we really should do something about that. Or so the thoughts go in my mind.

Meanwhile, the coffee farmer who grew my posh coffee can barely feed his family. My closet could clothe half a village, and the clothes I just discarded from my little girls’ room could clothe the other half. My 1998 Ford Econoline would make most people in this world feel as rich as a sultan (though, granted, the gas would bankrupt them). And kitchen floors in homes all over the world are just dirt.

How much am I really entitled to? And if I didn’t have such a large sense of entitlement, what could just a bit of my excess accomplish for someone else? Tough questions. Questions we’ll be thinking about this month.

$200 at the grocery store all month? (I might be insane)

Two years ago when we did 30 Days of Nothing, we spent $318 the whole month on food. Of course besides that we had our regular bills for utilities, gas, housing, etc. But we cut out all non-essentials. No clothes, books, eating out, or other extras. I felt good about what we saved that month, especially considering that at that time we usually spent $600-$700 a month on groceries, and another $100 or more on books.

These days I usually spend $900 a month on groceries. I’ve been hoping that in September I could get by on $400 for the month. Only problem is, I just tallied up our groceries for August. I spent $1100, $200 more than usual. It’s the stock-up urge: grab more of this, get another one of that — I don’t want to spend money in September. Problem is, the challenge is meaningless if I just shift all our expenses to August or October.

I decided I’ll just consider $200 already spent for September. That’ll leave us $200 to spend in the month. Yeah. $200 for the whole month. Fifty measly bucks a week. I usually spend that much before I walk 50 feet in WalMart, let alone all the way to the back of the store to grab eggs. I may be insane.

But here’s the thing: even though I spent a bit more than usual in August, I bought with economy in mind. I bought good, healthy, versatile, long-lasting items. Our cupboards are bulging with food — it’ll be at least 2 weeks before we run out of much of anything. (Oops, except I already ran out of powdered sugar making cocoa mix today to take camping, and my son just informed me we’re also out of plastic wrap. Eeek). But the point is, we have a ton of food and a huge garden. Even if we only spend $200, we won’t be starving anyone. And — don’t worry — if we truly need to spend more, I will. I may go waaaaaay over my measly little budget.

But I’m gonna aim for $200, and I’m stoked. I’ve got the start of a meal plan for the month-I am planning a bunch of new recipes to try to keep things interesting. (Frugal food does NOT have to be boring, after all.) I am excited that so many of you have mentioned that you’ll be playing along too. feel free to grab the button to mention on your blog. First thing Monday morning I’ll be putting Mr. Linky up at the top of my blog so that everyone who is playing along can link up. And of course everyone can visit around and see what other people are doing with the challenge. Remember, the rules are up to you. You decide what’s ‘essential’ to your family. Decide what to give up. Decide what to keep. You can even decide to do the challenge for a shorter or longer period of time if you’d like. It’s up to you. So come on– take the challenge!

Yard sale guessing game

OK, you know the game! Guess how much we paid for this morning’s yard sale goodies!

1 girls 15-speed bike
2 pair ladies jeans (1 new with tags- original price $44)
1 little girls jewelry box (3 yo talked me into this one) w/ misc. jewelry
1 pair shorts
1 t-shirt
2 pair shoes (including nearly-new Skechers sandals)
1 mirror
2 bottles nail polish
1 box of yarn plus 1 pr knitting needles

Not shown:
1 pair baby shoes
2 hardcover scrapbook idea books
1 khaki skirt

You have until Tuesday morning to submit your guesses! How much do you think I paid?

Doesn’t work for me: Walgreen’s

When Shannon turned Works for Me Wednesday on its head this week, asking us instead to tell about something that doesn’t work, I instantly knew my topic.

Walgreen’s.

More specifically the deal-hunting at Walgreens that involves many flapping coupons, spending much good money on fancy name brands, and waiting for rebates that come many weeks later and sometimes are disallowed entirely.

I know that many frugal blogs talk about the wonderful deals that are to be had at Walgreens. But after trying this for three months in a row, I have to admit that this particular money saving strategy is doing nothing but frustrating me.

Yes, I’ve saved some money. But I’ve also been coaxed to buy name brand products that I would never waste spend my money on otherwise. I’ve spent literally hours cruising the aisles with fists full of coupons. My little girls are starting to whimper when we even drive past Walgreens. And the stuff I end up buying is so….small. Call me strange, but when I walk out of a store having just spent $50, I want to be holding more than one bag. I hate the sinking feeling that I would have been much much better off having bought my Colgate, Prell, and toothbrushes at the dollar store, coupons be hanged. And I would have gotten done much sooner.

I WANT Walgreens coupon-stacking/rebates to work for me, I really do.

But after my latest shopping fiasco, I’ve got to face the facts.

It all started last week when I realized the soccer field was only two blocks from Walgreens. I decided that my little girls would be much happier playing on the swings and watching big sister’s soccer practice than cruising endless aisles at Walgreens. So I handed my teenaged sons a cell phone and asked them to play with the little girls while I zipped over to make the most of the May rebates at Walgreens.

Around and around I went, matching coupons and reading fine print and trying to make sure I got the maximum money back. Besides about $10 worth of rebate items, I was also hoping to get a $10 ‘register reward’ for buying 4 Colgate products. I was especially pleased about this deal because I also had coupons for Colgate to jack up my savings. I only had a few more things to find when my cell rang. It was my son.

“Hey!” he said. And then he called the name of my 3 year old and I heard odd screaming fading in and out. He called her again, sounding distracted. More odd wavery screaming.

I called his name, starting to panic, trying to get him to talk to me. But he didn’t seem to be listening to me. I called his name louder. Panic was rising in my throat. Was she hurt? I knew it wasn’t irresponsible to leave my 3 and 5 year olds at the park with their 13 and 16 year old brothers, but the mom guilt kicked in…

When still he didn’t answer me, I left my cart in the corner and jetted out of the store and hopped into the van, trying to fight back the fear that the three year old was really seriously hurt. A minute later I was pulling into the parking lot. To see my little girls swinging, screaming happily as they went back and forth. The big boys were protectively in position behind them.

Augh.

I called out to my son to hang up the phone. He looked at me, puzzled, utterly oblivious to the fact that he’d called me.

Relieved but still rattled, I jetted back to the store to gather up my coupons and my last couple items. At the checkout, the cash register accepted all my coupons (yeah!) but then refused to spit out my coveted $10 register reward. ?? The teenaged clerk sighed and called his boss, who arrive by turtle 20 years 6 minutes later. It was then that I learned you aren’t allowed to combine coupons and register rewards. I’d saved $3 with coupons only to lose my $10 reward. Not only that, but on closer examination, it turned out I’d bought the wrong Colgate products, so wasn’t eligible for the reward anyway.

I was now 10 minutes late to pick up the kids, so instead of arguing, I scooped my bounty one teeny $40 bag up and hurried off to get the kids, who were thankfully still happy and well.

On the way home I consoled myself with the fact that at least I still had about $10 of rebate money coming …eventually.

Except when I got home, I discovered that somewhere in all of that hassle, I’d lost my receipt.

Bye-bye rebates.

I am, however, the proud owner of a bottle of plaque-revealing mouth rinse, which I never in a million years would have bought without the promise of a rebate. Oh, and some lightbulbs–only a buck, and yes, we do use those. And more toothpaste. Toothpaste that cost 3x as much as I would have spent at the dollar store.

Yes, I realize that with a little better concentration and a firm grip on my receipt, I would have saved a bit of money. But I am left with the overwhelming feeling that really, sadly, Walgreens rebate/couponing does not work for me.