My Story: Bare Bones Budgeting

contributed by Tracy


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This is for the person who has recently been reduced to "bare bones" budgeting tactics. "Bare bones" is always variable! Although having always been frugal, when my husband was first without work, we thought some frugal ideas were pretty extreme. A year down the line with still very little work, I'm really surprised at how much we've learned and how far we've come. We've never gotten to dumpster diving (yet?), but we've had to find ways to stretch cents in order to get by. We've also learned to never judge anyone or question their tactics no matter how bizarre they may seem, because we simply never know what lies ahead. So, it can be pretty hard to define and offer my best "barebones" ideas, but here are a few:

  • It's great your car is paid off but still seek out ways to save on transportation. Public transport, sharing rides with other people or walking whenever possible are great savers. Many people throw out old bicycles. Pick one up and ride your way to savings and fitness (and feel good about reducing all that fossil fuel pollution too!).

  • Share accommodation. It can backfire if the person you choose to bunk with is irresponsible, so choose carefully. However, if you choose wisely, you can split rent and perhaps some other living expenses with someone else. Or, find someone with a spare room over the garage or even inside the house and ask to stay in return for working in the garden an afternoon a week, doing the laundry, babysitting, cooking, etc.

  • Cable's always great (certainly if there is no other reception), but if you're serious about cutting back, it should go! Join a library and read or take advantage of the free or reduced movie rental options there. Another option is to get an evening job at the cinema or a video rental store to not only earn some extra cash but also see movies for free. Alternatively, use that time in the evenings that would otherwise be spent watching TV doing something that could earn some extra money. If you're good at something, try to find a way to make money out of it. Or offer a service like babysitting, pet grooming, dog walking, typing, tutoring, etc. All these will require is your time.

  • Look out for free anything. If you see someone with a laden fruit tree in their yard, ask if you can have some of the fruit. Eat it, preserve it, freeze it, or jam it. There is a wealth of ways to make "excess" food last. The Internet is full of ideas!

  • If you have the space, plant some veggies. It's amazing how many tomatoes a single bush produces. Lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli grow well in pots on the windowsill with little effort from you.

  • Depending on how confident, or desperate, you are, you could ask local supermarkets, butchers and greengrocers for any stuff they're wanting to throw out. You may get some gross stuff but just discard it yourself. You stand a high chance of getting some stuff that's still fine. It just may be on or slightly past the "Sell By" date.

  • Watch your phone bills! And be very conscious about utility bills. Water and electric bills can be vastly reduced with some thought and effort. The Internet is full of ideas on how to lower these costs.

  • Keep an exhaustive spending journal for a month. It sounds tiresome but do it. Write down every little thing you buy, even if it only costs 25 cents. At the end of the month, scrutinize that journal. Be honest with yourself and differentiate clearly between what you need and what you just want. You might find you're spending extra money on coffee, phone bills, potato chips and other such items that can be easily eliminated. It's a healthy and surprising exercise. Try it!

  • Shop around for the best insurance rates. Even if it's only $10 cheaper per month, that's $120 extra per year!

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com

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