Given the state of our economy, now probably isn’t the best time to be increasing our expenses, but, wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what we’re doing. One of our goals is to go to Guatemala four times over the course of 2009 (compared to the two times we went in 2008). Our first trip of the year is this March and will cost us a whopping $2,000 a piece (that’s $4,000 total for those of us who have trouble with mental math)! Which means we’ve got to come up with some serious cash. Thankfully, due to the practical and efficient nature of my husband, our expenses are already pretty inexpensive. Yet, like most everyone else, we’ve decided it can’t hurt to trim back even more. Here are the top ten ways we do cheap:
We bought a new car. That got your attention, right? Let me explain. We sold my gas-guzzling Jeep Cherokee Sport a few years ago and have been borrowing a truck from Nate’s parents or managing with just one vehicle ever since. Unfortunately, our one vehicle was a temperamental 1992 Accord (affectionately named “Tomater” after the old truck on Cars) that didn’t always like to start in hot weather. We decided to keep this rusty, not-so-trusty vehicle, but also back it up with something more reliable–a beautiful, black, two-door, fuel efficient Honda Accord with tinted windows. She’s a real beauty, and we feel ridiculously spoiled when we drive her. But you know what? Here’s the kicker…our luxury vehicle is actually seven years old. And we paid for her in cash. She’s really nothing fancy; it just feels that way because she’s a ten year upgrade from old ‘Mater. We didn’t feel the need to spend excessive amounts of cash on a tool that is constantly losing value.
Now that we have our “new” car, we don’t use it. We walk. We do as many of our errands as possible without using a cent of gas—we regularly walk to the bank and post office (which are about a mile and a half away), but we’ve also been known to walk to Family Video, the library, CVS, and just today I walked with a backpack overstuffed with papers to the recycling center.
We drink water. A few months ago, we decided that, at $3.00 a gallon, milk was becoming an even bigger rip off than gas. And sodas? Don’t get Nate started. Even the off-brand stuff costs $1.12 a gallon! So we’ve made it a point to drink water (less than $.02 a gallon) for at least one meal a day. Don’t laugh, but this one is tough for me. I hate water, but I’m managing.
We use credit cards. This one can be dangerous, I know. Thankfully, Nate and I both grew up in homes that used credit cards, but never ever let credit card bills build up. Our parents faithfully paid off the bill every month, and now we do the same. We pay everything with credit card (even our rent when we lived at Village Quarter apartments) and collect airline miles. We’ve yet to use our miles, but airline miles are what allowed my parents to get free airfare for the Christmas cruise they just took us on. But, as Nate says, the best thing about credit cards is the free record keeping we get. Every month they send us our spending habits and show us where it all went!
I’ve become less vain. The first time I cut Nate’s hair, his roommate/future brother-in-law told him it looked like he had paid a crackhead a quarter for cutting his hair (sorry, Chris, it’s just too good to let go). I didn’t think I’d ever recover, but now, several years later, I’m back to cutting Nate’s hair. It saves us at least $6 every six weeks, about $50 a year. On top of that, I’m starting to let Nate cut my hair. I never thought I’d let a guy with scissors get anywhere near my professionally cut and highlighted head, but he doesn’t do a bad job. Admittedly, I was worried that his amateur handiwork would stand out in all of our cruise pictures, but, honestly, even I can’t tell. It doesn’t take us any more time than it would to go to a store to get our hair cut, but it is relational and we’ve come to enjoy the conversations we have as chunks of hair float past our faces. What a trust-building experience!
We don’t buy clothes. My last year in college (2007), I put myself on a shopping fast. I didn’t know what I would be doing after I graduated (a professional job? More school? The Peace Corps?), so I decided to hold off on buying new clothes. Nate hasn’t had to buy clothes for years. He gets nearly all of his clothes (no socks or underwear- ew) as hand-me-ups from my rapidly growing, “little” brother, Wade. At 6’4”, Wade’s pants might finally be too long for Nate, but we’re still looking forward to him passing along his outgrown shirts.
Our technology is from the stone age. We finally caved this past year and bought a business laptop for Nate (total cost? $300). However, I still use the laptop I got for Christmas in 2002, and the computer Nate uses at home is almost fourteen (14!) years old, and it’s running Windows XP.
No name brands for us. If I start to feel self conscious about using Kroger Rice Puffs Cereal in my “Rice Krispie” treats, I just get rid of the evidence. Once the packaging is gone, even I forget about it. And you know what? I guarantee that our guests have never noticed that the butter in our butter dish costs us only $.72 instead of the $1.50 Land O’ Lakes kind.
We reuse our bags. True, Ziploc bags don’t break the bank, but why buy more than you need? Or at least that’s what Nate’s tried to help me to think. I never thought I’d be washing disposable bags, but now I do. All the time. Nate throws them away more than I do. Honestly, this one probably says more about how Nate’s parents taught him to use resources wisely and recycle than it does about our ability to save money, but it saves us money none the less.
Instead of a gym membership, we got a dog. Supposedly, the average person loses 14lbs in the first year they have a dog. I haven’t lost 14lbs, but we are healthier because of Sofi. We’ve always had it in mind to walk an hour a day, but with a dog the daily walk is no longer optional. We must go out in rain, wind, humidity, heat, snow, and ice. And, unless we’re really short on time, we almost always make it the full hour. Now that’s commitment. Would I do it for myself? Probably not. But for Sofi, you bet.
By the way, the day after Nate posted “Bailout for the Bankrupt Christmas,” we heard that Buckner, the group we work with in Guatemala, has had to lay off staff in Guatemala due to the decrease in U.S. charitable giving. Interesting that what Nate was writing about in the abstract, has been made clear to us in such a concrete way. Next time we’re in Guatemala, we won’t see some of the missions coordinators and office workers who have been such a help to us in the past.
As the financial crisis hits home, what are you doing to survive or thrive financially? Post your best suggestions as a comment or send us an email at nate and rachael @ hotmail . com (no spaces).