Your perfectly-timed article on "Cutting back on spending is no vacation" was an answered prayer in my decades-long cry for help in cutting back on my spending habits. You made your article so absolutely truthful and humorous that I folded in tears of growth-pains and laughter.
According to a quote from the National Education Association, "No one is mature until he learns to wisely spend less that what he makes."
Because I am anxious to cut back on my spending, and because this is the Lenten season, I've ordered Judith Levine's book, My Year Without Shopping, and will use the wisdom and commitment as a year-long spiritual fast. Your interesting documented journey has shown us that the secret of success is self-discipline. Thank you for throwing us a money-saving lifeline.
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ONLY THE NECESSITIES
I read your article with interest. It's strange how the other half lives. I always lived with basic necessities. My father taught me to do that from a very young age. Comparison shopping was a way of life, and I continue it today.
We are vegetarians so our grocery bills are less. When I saw that you found a bag of tomatoes for 25 cents, I wanted to know where. Tomatoes are a large part of our daily life. We cook from scratch all the time. I never eat out -- even for celebrations.
Friends can get together once or twice a week and have a potluck dinner. That way no one feels the strain.
You in the media have a lot of power. Maybe you can convince the supermarkets not to throw away their damaged and about-to-expire goods and sell them at cheaper rates.
BRAVO TO THE SAVER
Enjoyed your article enormously! What you did is as drastic as quitting smoking. Every five minutes one would think of a desire, then feel the sadness of not being able to satisfy it.
My kids consider me a miser; I think I am smart about money, or perhaps, careful with money. I wouldn't have lasted until 9 a.m. the first day!
Weekly housekeeper? For a family of three? I stopped reading right there.
Good luck, but maybe it's not saving money that should be your first concern.
HOW I DO IT
I read your article regarding "The Culture of Money" and I wanted to share some of my tips with you.
I live in North Miami Beach with my husband and Twinky, the cat. I am an elementary school teacher and bought a house two years ago.
How did I do it?
1. Always take a lunch from the house. I always cook enough to have leftovers. When you make rice, cook at least three cups.
2. When I cook, I often use a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. You can buy cheaper meats (pot roast, ribs) and turn them into delicious meals.
3. I do not use air conditioning during the cooler months. Instead, we use ceiling fans. During the summer we keep our house around 80 degrees.
4. For cleaning supplies, I buy a big bottle of white vinegar and put it in a spray bottle with water to use around the house. Baking soda and vinegar combine well for most cleaning. We use baking soda and peroxide for cleaner teeth instead of expensive toothpaste.
5. When I save up some money in my savings account, I transfer it to a CD or IRA.
North Miami Beach
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Your article was enjoyable for laughs and would have been more appropriate in the comics section. Let's face it! How much of a dent will all this penny-pinching put in a budget that includes $46,000 a year for college, $12,000 a year for property taxes and homeowners' insurance, $4,000 a year for auto maintenance and insurance? That doesn't even include utilities, Internet fees and other fixed expenses.
Living economically is fine, but don't scrimp on food. Eat sensibly and well. You don't need a $14 bottle of olive oil when a 17-ounce bottle of extra virgin olive oil cost about $2.50.
Shop at Wal-Mart or Target, or Get Smart for school and art supplies. Join BJ's or Sam's. Instead of bottled water, have a "Pur" filtration system on your tap or installed on your refrigerator.
You don't need six cats and the attendant vet fees. You don't need a housekeeper; the children and spouse can pitch in. You don't need wine and books to teach cooking.
Restaurants should be limited to once a year.
A vegetable garden brings numerous joys but saving money is not one of them. It takes time and effort.
You must buy seeds, topsoil, fertilizers, soil nutrients, insecticides, and build a fence. Your garden is subject to inclement weather and hungries that manage to eat the tops off sprouting carrots.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
Your column was fun to read but made me incredibly sad.
While it is commendable that your family has committed to a no-spending month, "no spending" is the reality of day-to-day life for many of us. The difference is that it will not change at the end of this month, or even this year. It is how we must live in order to survive.
As a college student, I have countless money-saving tips for you.
* Buy store brands for olive oil, water, tissue paper, milk. Publix sells gallons of water for less than $1 each. Rather than spend $4.99 on garbage bags, just use the shopping bags that the store gives customers for free.
* Use energy-saving light bulbs to save on your utility bill.
* Rent movies at your local library.
* Try to eat well-balanced meals. A diet that is not well-balanced may result in you getting ill, which means more doctor’s bills.
* Shop at a dollar store. You can buy kitchenware (pots, pans, spatulas), garbage bags, toothpaste, cleaning products (including dishwashing liquid, sponges, bathroom cleaners). They even sell candles, batteries, tools and incense.
* You can go to just about any concert you like for free. For example, if you want to see a jazz band at a local club or bar, just ask the owner if he or she needs any help hostessing. In return for offering your services, you’ll get to watch the show for free. Plus, you may even get paid for working.
* Go to outdoor shows in South Beach. Take a bus or trolley to the beach, rather than spend money on gas and parking.
* Buy healthy food. Matzohs and cheese will keep you full longer than brownies will.
* Shop at Wal-Mart or eBay for office supplies. It’s cheaper than shopping at Office Depot.
* Don’t spend money on cat food. Find human recipes online that are also healthy for cats.
* Ride the bus, train or bike to work. If this is not viable, how about a carpool?
* Use vinegar and water to clean rather than buy cleaning products.
Here’s a useful hint: Use tequila to tenderize tough cuts of meats and fold sandwich meats. They look larger! I really enjoyed your article since now the middle class is giving up things and doing without more and more.
In the 1950s we were living paycheck to paycheck. For me this was very uncomfortable.
I analyzed our expenses and saw nothing I could change -- rent, utilities, carfare. Food was my solution. I talked to my husband, and he agreed. (The children were too young). Each week I made a stew, spaghetti, occasionally pot roast. I wanted to make sure that we all had nutritious foods. The meats were kidneys, tripe, beef, chicken and ground beef with the fat removed. In those days, the A&P would do that for you. These days one can purchase low-fat ground meat. And, of course, we ate plenty of vegetables. The kidney and tripe stew cost about $2. The meal lasted for two days with a space in between.
As much as possible, I bought store brands and sale items. All of this helped a great deal. We did not eat out. As a treat, when the children were older, we would have White Castle hamburgers. I opened a savings account and each week, when I cashed the paycheck, I would deposit some money -- sometimes as little as a dollar -- and it grew, albeit, slowly.
To my surprise, when my children come to visit now, and I ask them what they want to eat, they request one of the stews. The children understood, as they got older, that we could not always afford some things.
I wish you luck in your quest. Saving money does give much satisfaction.
One of the things that I do every day to save money is save the bathroom paper towels I use to dry my hands at work, bring them home and place them in a special bag. Whenever I have cat barf, some floor-tile mess or window cleaning, I bring those out. You would be amazed at the savings!
M. C. Chaustre-Smith
What a great article (‘‘Cutting Back on Spending is No Vacation, ’’ Feb. 25)!
Here are some tips:
* Buy in bulk at the warehouse stores. It saves enormously on cleaning products, paper towels, dog food, bottled water (We get 36 bottles of BJ’s brand of purified water for $5 instead of 12 bottles of Dasani for $7.). They also have good quality olive oil (a gallon of El Cardenal is around $11) and balsamic vinegar. Some of their in-house brands are actually repackaged name brands. I also get large bags of frozen chicken breasts and bulk ground meat that I subdivide into one pound lots and keep on hand in the freezer.
* Get into the habit of planning meals a week ahead of time and never going to the grocery store without a list. This has cut our grocery bill down by almost $500 a month. I keep two running lists on a pad in the kitchen and everyone in the family knows to add to it: one is for Publix (once a week); the other for BJ’s (twice a month).
* Always look for instore specials, coupons and buy-one-get-one-free deals. I’m now keeping track of how much I save on these instore specials: Last week it was $15; yesterday it was $27!
I commend you on your experiment. I was successful once myself, but I can tell you it was pure misery at the end. I was saving for a car -- I was 32 and my credit was shot; I felt like a hapless teenager. This meant eating at home, carrying lunch and driving much less. Most of my friends live in northern Westchester County -- a 54 -- mile round trip away -- so this took a serious toll on my social life and overall happiness. But I was able to replace my beater with a decent second-hand Toyota.
I will say, however, that no permanent lessons were learned, and I waste money I should be saving. I wonder whether experiments such as these are almost counterproductive, much like monetary crash diets. The real test will come after your selfimposed economic exile is finished. I wish you luck, and remember that happy children are worth more than saving a few pennies here and there.
It is NOT worth saving a few dollars on cheap laundry detergent. My clothes always smelled funny and were stiff and not really clean. I ended up trashing the cheap stuff, bought Tide and generic dryer sheets and rewashed most of the clothes. Obviously, this was not thrifty.