As everyone knows, money is tight these days. My husband and I are lucky: we haven’t lost our jobs, don’t own a house to lose, and generally manage to make ends meet, but we’ve still been pinching pennies so that I can work part time, and stay home with our daughter. With the forecast for raises looking bleak for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to work extra hard to hold on to more of what we already make.
Since we were already practicing frugality in the commonly suggested ways (conserving electricity, cloth diapering, clipping coupons), I’ve had to look more deeply to spot our remaining hidden money leaks. Perhaps what has helped the most is to look back to my parents’ and grandparents’ way of life, to see where we might be wasting money in unnecessary ways, on items that they would have “used up, worn out, made do, or done without,” as the old adage goes. In light of that idea, here are four penny pinching options of yesteryear to consider (note that all cost and savings estimates are highly approximate, based on my own local prices and usage):
1) Switch your guy to the safety razor:
Modern cartridge razors make a killing using a wildy succesful pricing strategy: the head is sold at or below cost, because once you’re hooked, you’ll readily swallow the annually increasing price of the disposable blades. In contrast, an old-fashioned safety razor headpiece costs about $30, but lasts a lifetime, and the blades cost less than 50 cents apiece. The bonus: according to my husband, after a steep initial learning curve, the safety razor paired with a shaving brush and soap easily outperforms any multi-bladed cartridge.
Cost: a five pack of blades ($2.50) lasts my husband a month. $80 investment in the first year; $30/year after that. Cartridge razors: $12/20/2 months, cost $120 in the first year alone.
Savings? $40-$90 annually.
2) Ditch the disposables (paper towels, that is):
I’ll admit that it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to my paper towels: they were so clean, and so ready at hand when I needed them, but since my ancestors did without, I decided that I could too. The key to my success: a reusable alternative that is just as effective and accessible, but which ends up in the wash rather than the trash. For a “towel” that will outperform paper any day, cut a double layer of flannel (dark colors are best!) into baby wipe size and zigzag stitch around the edges. Forty is plenty, if you throw the soiled ones in whenever you do a regular load of wash; you’ll also want to weed and replenish your stock periodically. Store them in the same place where your paper towels would go (a make-shift “hammock” rigged into the previous paper towel dispenser works great).
Cost: Flannel fabric on sale is as little as $2/yard; 4 yards yield at least 48 squares for $8. A three-pack of paper towel rolls every two weeks was costing us $104/year.
Savings? Nearly $100 annually.
3) Opt for the comfort of cloth:
This suggestion only applies to those nursing moms out there doomed to wear nursing pads for years on end. After a year of leaking, and kicking myself for not buying stock in a certain disposable nursing pad company, I finally sought out a reusable option. It took a little bit of searching, but I found a washable nursing pad that I absolutely love. Forget frugality: think of no more crinkly, sticky uncomfortableness! Like their disposable counterparts, modern cloth nursing pads have a waterproof backing and moisture-wicking linings; I’m so comfortable I’m actually thinking about switching to cloth for all my womanly needs. Best of all, I’ll never have to deal with the disaster of a disposable nursing pad sneaking into the washer again. Like the cloth towels, these wash up nicely in your regular laundry. They will wear out eventually, but even replenishing once a year equates to big savings.
Cost: $72 for 12 pairs of reusable pads. Disposables were costing $20/month (=$240/year)
Savings? over $160 annually.
4. Cut the cable, stop the satellite:
Yes, I’m going to suggest the unthinkable (at least for some of you): it is possible to exist without cable/satellite TV. In fact, my husband and I have done so for years. No, we aren’t anti-technology, or living in the dark ages; we regularly enjoy movies and shows, but we do so at very low cost. We subscribe to a well-known subscription DVD rental service, and access shows online (a day late) on most major network channels; a DVI plug easily connects our laptop to the TV set. It’s a win-win situation: the cost is minimal, and we watch only what we actually want to watch, because there’s no temptation to just “surf” the channels. We catch up on news via the Internet, and, like my grandparents, listen to a lot of (free!) radio. As a huge bonus, we spend less in other areas, because we aren’t bombarded with commercials all the time.
Cost: we pay $8/month to rent one DVD at a time, which also provides unlimited instant watching; everything else is free; annual cost = $96. Cable/satellite: at an estimated $40 month (fill in your own cost) = $480 per year. We were also previously renting 3-4 movies from the video store per month, at an additional cost of $150 annually.
Savings? Well over $500/year.
I’m sure our relatives from the past could offer up many more great suggestions like these, and hoping some of you will share, too.
What’s your great frugality idea from yesteryear?