Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Five

I thought I'd start myself a little series, cleverly titled "Friday Five," where every Friday, until the well of ideas runs dry, I present a thematic list of five things to inform, to educate, to tickle your fancy. 

This week's theme:

Five Tips for living on a Budget. 
(Note that I capitalized "Budget." Not an accident. In case I haven't mentioned it many times before, the main breadwinner in this family has been a full-time Ph.D. student for the last three years.)
(Also note that this theme was somewhat inspired by Vanessa's recent post.)

Ahem! Without further ado ...
My Five Tips:

1. Stop buying disposable paper/plastic goods and use re-usables instead. (OK, I make an exception there for toilet paper.) We use cloth napkins for our family (paper for guests). I haven't bought paper towels in eons; we use dish towels instead. For dusting, we use rags made from cut-up T-shirts -- my husband produces a steady supply. For baby wipes, I used baby washcloths kept moist in a wipes warmer. For snacks and sandwiches on the go, we use these (made by a mom in our homeschool co-op), 
and these (made by me, from my mom's quilting scraps and lined with the plastic casing in which new pillows come). 

2. Make copious use of the local library and its reserve system. Whenever I see or hear of a book I'd like to read myself or buy for the children -- and really, on what day does that NOT happen? -- I first check the library's online catalog. Much as I love the idea of building a huge personal library, the reality is that I rarely read a book several times over anyway, so why not require less shelf space and access tremendous literary wealth, three weeks at a time, for free?

3. Buy clothes secondhand. I'll admit it's taken me a while to come around on this one. I have a weakness for good clothes, not to mention cute little-girl duds. However, I've made so many great finds lately at resale/thrift shops, name-brand clothes for self and kiddos in quite respectable condition, that it now seems silly to browse retail shops for items I really can't afford. Example: a Banana Republic blank knit dress at the Junior League shop for $8. Have you checked prices at Banana lately? 'Nuf said. (I do make an exception for Hanna Andersson dresses, since they last forever, through multiple children, still looking brand new, but my sweet mother is kind enough to splurge on us once or twice a year, so I suppose that doesn't count.) 

4. Cultivate cheap dates. I can't remember the last time my beloved and I did dinner and a movie. When we do get a night off, thanks to the grandparents, we're perfectly happy to get takeout and watch whatever came in our Netflix queue. We spend less per month on Netflix than we would on two movie tickets once a month, and we escape bombardment from disturbing movie ads, so you do the math. Other options: Coffee instead of dinner out, a bike ride, a game night. It's not how much you spend, it's finding common ground when life's busyness operates to draw us into our separate worlds. 

5. Look for other ways to reduce, re-use, recycle. We run used paper through our printer, blank side up. We use the clothesline instead of the dryer whenever possible. We turn off lights. If we need something new, we try to see if something from our storage closet or elsewhere in the house might be repurposed appropriately. 

And you know what? Many of these are lifestyle choices that may have sprung from our circumscribed material circumstances. But they're choices I'm glad to have made, regardless. We live in a society that hounds us to throw stuff out the back door, while we're bringing a stream of new purchases in the front door. So tempting, yet when added together, not the kind of life we at our core want to lead. Don't get me wrong, I'm no ascetic, I naturally gravitate toward "the finer things" and some of the choices we've made in order to avoid consumer debt have certainly kept me on my knees. 

But becoming less wasteful? Valuing time spent rather than money spent? Learning to distinguish between whims, wants and needs? Modeling that kind of journey for our children? Aiming for contentment that cannot be bought? Finding abundance within limitation?



Naomi said...

Love it, love it, love it.

Lydia Anthony said...

Thank you for that.

I truly believe that as my income has decreased over the past couple of years, I have become more creative, diligent, and happy in finding ways to sustain and enjoy life without the need for "green paper."

You also reminded me of this eye-opening little video:

Tim said...

I'll add my own little contribution this way (obviously, I'm fully with my wife on the above five points): for every mile of a trip that I don't drive the car because I rode my bike instead, I save about $0.10. At $2/gal and 20mile/gal, that's about $0.10/mile. Bike trips to the grocery store (2 miles round trip = 20 cents saved), to the library to drop off a nearly overdue video 5.5 miles = $0.55.
This is all not even mentioning the tremendous strategic significance of the bicycle in fighting the battle of the bulge... ;-)

Vanessa said...

Just today I was thinking that I need to come up with a better way to store B's sandwiches on out outings because I am tired of buying ziplock bags. I need that sandwich bag you made lines with plastic. On-line they cost a lot! Can I buy one from you, as I don't have time to sew these days?

There is a good article in Time this week about living a thrifty life. There is something liberating about thrifty spending and recycling. It's been a fun challenge these days to save our pennies.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas!! The little things really can add up. My husband is a PhD student as well :) Thanks for stopping by my blog!