I am excited to introduce today’s guest post by Erica N of Living Life in Rural Iowa. She offers tons of actionable tips on how to make ends meet. They may seem extreme to some people, but they are simple and actionable.
Start Saving Money By Having A Poverty Mindset! Learn 25 Ways to Extreme Living and Saving!
Written by Erica N
This post first appeared in Living Life in Rural Iowa
We all want to save money, but sometimes we just don’t know how to save more money than we already are. We don’t want to take the next step in frugal living because we know that we will be looked upon as crazy. However, sometimes you need to save an extreme amount of money in a very short period of time. You might be suddenly faced with only having half of your normal income. You might find yourself with a lot of medical bills or a large repair bill.
You might also desire a different kind of life. You may want to prepare, to homestead, or just live a simpler and less stressful life. Most people don’t think they can afford to do those things because they are so tied down with debt or other obligations. However, most people can if they would re-examine their spending.
In other words, you will need to practice a level of frugality that most of us don’t want to think about. I call this poverty living. We are all living (or should be living) at a level of frugality that seems a little tight, but sometimes we need to get a lot tighter.
What does poverty living entail? Basically, living as broke as you can while still covering the necessities. Some of you, like me, already have done this before and never really had a name for it. While some of you already may live like this and do not have any other way to save more money, some of you may feel the need to do this just to get your budget and finances back under control. You may also feel the need to do this because you are facing an uncertain financial future. And, like I mentioned before, you may have some large bills you need to pay.
How does poverty living and saving work? How can you start living this way?
1. Take a long, hard look at your finances.
You need to take a notebook and write down every single bill, expense, and spending you do now. You also need to look at any future expenses you know you will need to pay for. This is the time to get really tough with yourself and/or each other as a couple. What items in your budget can be eliminated, paused, or reduced? Do you have expensive habits? Are you extravagant gift givers? Are you kids in too many activities or have expensive hobbies? This is the time to examine everything including your lives. If you need or want to live as frugally as possible, sacrifices need to be made short term and possibly long term.
2. Get your grocery spending under control.
Some of you will say that you don’t spend a lot of money on groceries or at least as much as your friend spends on her groceries. You need to change your thinking. You are practicing a whole new level of saving so you need to focus on you. You need to carefully look over your receipts. You need to start making a list and sticking to the list and the budget. You need to plan meals around basic foods, what you are growing, and what is on sale. Going without a list and with no plan will make for a miserable time for you and your budget. You need to make the time to do this. You can also start a price book so you can get an idea of when an item is the cheapest, where the best price is, and how often it is on sale.
3. Meal plan and plan your meals around cheap, basic foods. If you are trying to save money, having fancy meals of salmon, steak, and lobster is not going to be possible. You need to keep your meals as frugal as possible. You may not be able to have meat as much as you like either. Casseroles, one pot meals, and soups will feed a lot of people cheaply. Make sure you also plan for breakfasts and lunches. If you think you will get sick of the same foods all the time, you may just need to suck it up. You are trying to save money. You can find a lot of ways to jazz up your meals with getting bored, but you will need to be creative about it.
4. Sell what you don’t need. If you have four vehicles, only two are in working condition, and you only have two drivers, sell the two non-running vehicles. You can sell vehicles as is as long as you are honest about what is wrong with them. The same with the stuff you have in the garage, house, shed, and anywhere you are stashing things. Now is the time to make a little extra money! If you don’t need it, get rid of it. Some things will only have a purpose once or twice a year and that is okay. However, your kids’ outgrown toys, clothes, and equipment are not doing you any good sitting in a closet. Neither is the sporting equipment that you used ten years ago but think you will use again someday.
5. What are the necessities for you and your family? What do you really need? We all think we need things, but most of the time we can live without them. Sacrifices will need to be made in order for this to work. A good deal of the things we think of as necessary we find out is not necessary after living without them for a few months. You just need to really examine everything you purchase or use and ask yourself if you can live without them.
6. Unless you are getting it for free, no eating out, no going out on dates/nights out, no alcohol, and no other bad habits. They aren’t necessary no matter how much you think they are so now is a good time to get rid of the bad and expensive habits and any other costly fun things. You may suffer some withdrawals, but the suffering will be worth the money saved and possibly improved health. You can also add soda pop, candy, and other “treats” that we think we need for ourselves. We don’t need them and we would be better off without them.
7. Write down every penny spent, earned, and examine every purchase. This is a learning process. You will make mistakes, but in order to know where your money is going, you need to be on top of the spending. Ideally, you do not want to spend any money, but life is never ideal. However, by writing down every purchase and expense, you can easily see where your money is going and where it shouldn’t be going. From there, you can make the necessary corrections to save even more money. And sometimes, just the thought of having to write down the expense will stop you from purchasing the item. No one wants to write down that they spent $1.29 on a candy bar.
8. Figure out what the true cost of things is. You may think your child needs to be in activities like basketball, dance, and other sports. You may think it is only costing you $40 for the registration fee. However, you are also spending money on additional vehicle gas, vehicle wear and tear, your time, possibly fast food to feed the family, special clothing and shoes, and more. That $40 is more like $400 before the season is over. While I believe kids should be involved in a few things, sometimes parents get kids involved in things they don’t want to do. The same can be said about our hobbies and past times.
You need to examine the reasons to be involved in things and decide if the cost is worth it. Most of the time, it is not. This can apply to any area of your life. Maybe you have a home business, but that business is costing you as much money as you earn. You might have a hobby that is costly. You might like to do crafts, but the supplies are costly. You need to look at everything involved with those things and ask yourself what the real cost is for the hobby or past times.
9. No more food waste. When you are living below the poverty level, you do not have the luxury of wasting food ever. If you are raising food, you better find a way to preserve it somehow if you cannot eat it all. If you have leftovers, you should be eating them until they are gone. If you cannot eat all the leftovers, you need to freeze them or offer them to friends. If you do not like leftovers, you either need to get over yourself or make just enough food for the meal. You do not have the money to be throwing away food. If you have little bits of food or vegetables in your fridge you don’t know what to do with, make a refrigerator clean out casserole or soup.
10. Clean and take care of your things. Neglect and disrepair will only cost you more money. You need to make sure your things are clean and in good repair. Most of the time keeping your items clean will cost you almost nothing. If something breaks, have it fixed or fix it yourself. Most of the time, the repair will be cheaper than buying the item again.
11. Save money any way you can. You need to always look for the savings in almost all of your decisions. This doesn’t mean you should buy cheap goods that will break quickly instead of quality. This means you should always examine everything to see if you can save money. Saving items like rubber bands, twist ties, bread sacks, scrap paper, and more will save you money and extend the life of your purchase. Turn on a lamp instead of the overhead light because the lamp will take less electricity. Use grocery sacks for trash bags instead of using the real thing. Put on a sweatshirt and drop the thermostat by two degrees in the winter. Ask yourself constantly how you can save money and do it.
12. See how far you can stretch a tank of gas. Buying gas for your vehicles can be a budget killer. If you are driving to work every day, ask yourself if you can carpool with someone. Maybe you can walk or ride a bike to work. If you do have to drive, drive the speed limit. You need to also combine your errands. Try to limit your trips you are making. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to make the trip if not for work or family. Reduce your grocery trips to once a week or twice a month. If you need to go to the library, where else do you need to go?
13. Have a no spend week, month, or even longer. If you really want to curtail your spending, this is a great way to do. You need to set your limits and allowable purchases (gas, groceries, prescriptions) before you start. You also need to write down anticipated expenses and what you will do if unanticipated expenses do come up. However, this works best if everyone is on board with it. If you live with others, you need to talk to them. You can still practice a no spend month yourself, but it just might be more difficult.
14. Never turn down free items if you need or want them. Some people will turn down free items offered to them just because of their pride or they think someone else will need it more. If you can use it or need it, by all means, accept the free items. Accepting and using free items is the number two way to save money (number one is not spending money).
15. Learn to trade and barter. Trading goods and services is a win-win for everyone involved. If you have eggs and your neighbor has apples, trading those things with each other helps everyone involved. Bartering is a similar concept. You can offer to clean for someone in exchange for a haircut or another service. Whether trading or bartering, you are saving yourself a great deal of money.
16. If you have some expensive habits or friends, this is a good time to put them on hold. We can have the best intentions when we are trying to save money, but our habits and our friends can ruin those intentions in seconds. Habits like a drink after work, daily coffee runs, ribeyes on Friday nights, and expensive night outs can be the ruin of a good budget. You might think that these things will ruin the budget at the time, but over time these things can really add up and take away from the money you are desperately trying to save. Friends can be just as bad. Some friends may not feel like they can have a good time without an expensive meal out, lots of drinks, and/or a day of shopping. You can deal with them by leveling with them about the fact that you are saving money and cannot do those things anymore. You can maybe find other things to do with them that are free or inexpensive, but you may just have to stay away from them for a while.
17. If you have a credit card problem, you need to deal with them. I know a lot of people who are completely responsible with credit cards and pay them off every month. They are very conscious about what they spend and use them responsibly. I am not talking to those people. If you have problems with credit cards, you need to get rid of them as quickly as possible. You may need to cut them up or put them in a safe deposit box away from you. If the interest is very high, look at switching or transferring to a low/no interest card in order to save money on interest. Then you need to pay them as quickly as possible. You need to learn to live on cash or within a budget if credit cards are a problem.
18. Buy used before you buy new. Almost everything you consume can be purchased used except for food, personal items, and maybe undergarments. Most of the time, you can find what you need to purchase used on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, garage sales, resale shops, thrift stores, and sidewalk curbs. If you can anticipate needing the item and you find it before you need it, purchase it. This would be in cases like winter coats, clothes for growing children, school items, and more. You will save so much money this way and you will also stop the cycle of consumerism.
19. Shop from home first. Most people will go out and buy something new instead of using what they have at home. Back to school shopping is a prime example of this. Your kids probably came home with items they used last school year that is in perfectly good condition. However, we have been trained to think they need everything new when school starts again. We need to ditch that thinking. Look over their last year’s items and reuse what you can. The same goes for gifts. Most of the time we have a brand new item at home that will work for a wedding or baby shower gift. Yes, this is regifting and make sure you do it right. Remove the card and make sure you don’t give it back to the person who gave it to you. You may also be able to make a present with items you have on hand already.
20. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Most items are not disposable, but we treat them as such. It is easier to throw something away and purchase new again. However, a person living at poverty levels do not have that luxury. Wash, fix, repair, mend, and reuse items again. If something like a towel (for example) is no longer sufficient for the shower or bath, it can be used as a cleaning rag. Plastic bags can be washed out and reused again and again unless you use them for raw meat. Ask yourself if you can reuse this item or find another use for it before throwing it away.
21. Buy non-disposable items. On the flipside of reuse, reuse, reuse is making sure to purchase non-disposable items. This may seem like you are spending more money, but you are spending money on an item you hopefully never have to purchase again. Using handkerchiefs or a washcloth instead of facial tissues will save a lot of money. Using rags or cleaning cloths instead of paper towels will save a lot of money. Using plastic or glasses food containers instead of plastic food bags will save money. Look for the items you can use again and again instead of disposable items.
22. Realize saving money is in the little things as well as the big things. Many people have this idea that you cannot save money unless you are saving money on big purchases. This is simply not true. With a poverty mindset, you need to look for the savings in everything and often times the real savings in the little things. By not buying the coffee every day, you are saving $1-4 a day which adds up to $7-28 a week. In addition to those savings, you aren’t tempted to buy the donut or bagel which is $2-4 a day or $14-28 a week. Already you have saved $21-56 in a week which is $84-$224 a month which is very nice payment on a bill. This is the mindset you need to create – little savings add up to big savings over time.
23. You may not be able to buy organic, non-GMO food or special ingredients. Back to the good old grocery budget. Most impoverished people can not afford this kind of food unless they are growing it themselves. While I mentioned before that you need to convert to cheap, basic foods, that doesn’t mean you need to eat junk or eat unhealthily. You need to keep food to rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, and eat well but cheap. You just may not be able to afford organic food, hemp seeds, or anything that is marked up due to being the new health food cure-all.
24. Use everything until it is gone and do not purchase new unless you need it. When you are poor, you do not have the luxury of throwing away a half-used bottle of shampoo. You suck it up and use it up. You add a little water to the bottle to get the last bit out after tipping the bottle upside down for several days. The same should go for almost everything else that you use. You do everything you can to use up the last little bit of everything. Then you need to ask yourself if you need to buy another one or do you have something else on hand that will work. Most people do have something that will work instead of buying new. However, if you need it, by all means, buy another one and try to make it last longer (unless it has a short shelf life!).
25. Work as much as you can (within reason). If you are truly needing to get out of debt, pay off big bills, or just trying to save a large amount of money, you need to work as much as you can. Most people are not willing to do this. However, if you are offered more hours at work, take them. If you have the opportunity to work a part-time job in addition to your full-time job, do it. The only caveat to this would be if you have to pay more to work more. Having kids in daycare longer is usually not beneficial for the budget or family life. Sometimes you can work from home or telecommute which will help you save money as well as make more money. I would just steer clear of multi-level marketing jobs that ask you to spend money in hopes of making more money. Yes, they do work for some people, but often they don’t work for others.
Some of you are thinking you already do most of these things, but can you take it further? I know I can and should. If you are stuck for ideas, the internet is a wonderful place full of good ideas. If you think you can’t live without a smartphone, satellite television, and more, research other cultures and extreme savers. They will teach you quickly that you can and you would be spending your time much more productively without them.
Do you think you can live like this? Do you think you could make the sacrifices for the bigger goal?
Thanks for reading,
About the author:
Erica N writes about preparedness, homesteading, frugality, parenting, and life in general in her blog, Living Life in Rural Iowa. A mom of four who has survived divorce, poverty, kids going to college, and teenagers! Always keen to learn more about what she writes about. She has written a book, The Prepper’s Yearbook, available now.