Thursday, March 20, 2008

Radically Frugal

Crystal over at Money Saving Mom asked an interesting question: "If you had to become radically frugal, what would you do?" It got me thinking about ways we could reduce our spending if we really had to. What is the minimum we could get by with? My ideas follow.

The first to go would have to be music lessons for our son. I would hate to cut this out since he plans to make music part of his career, and all the music education we can provide him is beneficial to his future career, but he would probably still do fine if we didn't pay for lessons anymore. Perhaps he could pick up the occasional lesson at his own expense. This would save about $130 a month.

Closely associated with this is music competitions. Presently, we travel out of town six to eight times a year for music competitions. This also is a huge help for his future career, and would probably set him back for awhile if we had to eliminate it, but it is not an insurmountable problem. This would save us $150 a month. Along with this is the band our son plays in. If he quit, we would save about $60 a month in gasoline in driving to band rehearsals and gigs.

Cell phones would have to be high on the list too. Cell phones for our eighteen and nineteen year olds give me peace of mind when they are out and about, especially driving alone, but I'm sure we could survive without them. Maybe I would never let the kids go out alone again! Savings: $90 a month.

We could replace the Professor's ancient mini van commuter vehicle with a little putt putt that gets much better gas mileage. That, our son estimates, would save us about $100 a month. We do plan to do this soon, anyway, whether we need to cut back on our spending or not.

Another savings in the Professor's commute costs would be to carpool with a coworker who has recently moved to a new home near us. The Professor would have immediately jumped at the chance to carpool (he has carpooled many times before), but this particular person stays at work very late nearly every night. When I say late, I mean at least 10:00 pm, and often well past midnight. That is not at all appealing to the Professor or to me. That would save maybe another $50.

Our college daughter could work really hard to find a ride to and from school (10 miles away) so I wouldn't have to take her. She did catch a ride from a classmate her freshman year, but that student moved to an apartment near campus and is not longer able to drive her. She has tried, but hasn't found anyone willing, or anyone with a similar class schedule as hers, who lives nearby. This would save $90-$100 per month.

I already walk when I can, and I combine trips when I do drive, such as stopping at Walgreens, CVS, and the grocery store when I do the school driving. But maybe I could find a place here and there to avoid driving. That might save an extra $10-$20 a month.

We could save more on our electric and gas bills if we made our home uncomfortably cold in winter and hot in summer. If we kept the house at 60 degrees in winter and didn't use AC until the house was up to 95 degrees in summer, we might save $50 to $75 in the winter months and about $100 in summer months. But I'm just guessing.

We could cut way down on grocery spending for a few months if we ate almost exclusively from our emergency stash. We have about 200 lbs of whole wheat, and about 50 lb each of oatmeal, split peas, lentils, and barley. We also have some dehydrated eggs, butter, cheese, vegetables, and a little fruit, all left from our Y2K stash. If we ate these mostly, supplementing with fresh dairy and fresh produce, and a little meat as garnish, we could probably get by with spending about $20 a week for a few months. That would save us about $200 a month on groceries.

We are already saving as much as we can on water. We have been in a severe drought here for several years, and the entire metro area has been on water restrictions for two years. Our restrictions are too complicated to go into here, but basically we are not allowed to use water outside, and we are to reduce our water usage overall by 10% minimum. Our family has always been careful about not running the water needlessly, such as when toothbrushing, and running the dishwasher and washing machine only when full. Also, years ago we instituted what we call "military showers". We did this not to save water, but to ration out the hot water. We had the problem of running out of hot water by the third shower if each one of us took a standard shower, one right after the other. That left the last two people in the family taking cold showers. So, military-style, we run the water only to get wet, then, with water off, we soap up. Water on again to rinse, then water off to lather the hair. Water on again to rinse the hair, water off to shave legs (as needed ~ obviously not for the males!) The final rinse, then you're out of the shower. I can promise you that such a shower is no fun in the winter when the bathroom is cold. There is no pleasure as great as shaving goose-bumpy legs! Anyway, looking for more ways to save water beyond what we were already doing, I came up with the idea of putting a 5-gallon bucket in each shower. When we turn on the shower, we collect the cold water in the bucket as we wait for the hot water to arrive from the water heater. In the hall bath, about 2 gallons collect before it gets hot. In the master bath, far from the water heater, 4 gallons collect. At first, in the summer, we were watering our dehydrated shrubs with this water. In the winter, when the shrubs don't need water, we started using it to flush the toilet. We had previously started living by that little poem that tells you when to flush, the one about mellowing. That helped our water usage somewhat, but doing the bucket flush REALLY helped our water usage. Now, when it's time to flush, we empty the shower bucket in and down it all goes! Our water usage has been cut in half. We were amazed. But, sadly, our water bill wasn't cut in half. These measures already save us $20 a month.

We could also save some money on household expenditures if needed. We could cut out the lawn and garden fertilizers and weed control chemicals, the little I spend on scrapbooking, our one magazine subscription, film developing, and any replacement items we buy new. I think this would average about $50 a month. Our personal care items and home cleaning supplies and paper goods are already no cost by CVSing.

The total so far is about $1000 a month we could save in expenditures if we had to.

We could eliminate the extra we're paying on our mortgage, but if we decided to become radically frugal, it would most likely be so that we could pay even more, not less, on our mortgage to get it paid off even sooner.

Another area is our "extra" tithe. It is not an option to stop our tithe altogether, but the extra, the "above and beyond" could stop if necessary. The only reason we would do that would be in the event of unemployment.

We could also stop adding to our savings account if we needed to, since we have our six month emergency fund in place. In the most radical scenario, we could also stop our 401k, but to do so would be very short-sighted. All these "others" could save us a couple of thousand, but we would only do them in the event of unemployment.

Areas we can't reduce further:
  • We live in a modest home and our mortgage is amazingly low.
  • Our landline and DSL are as low as possible. The Professor is required to have DSL at home for his job.
  • We presently have the least expensive trash collection company.
  • Our auto insurance might drop a bit with a different car, but not by much.
  • Our monthly set-aside for auto maintenance isn't really enough to cover the repairs we have been needing.
  • We don't go out to eat, or spend on any other entertainment.
  • We almost never buy clothes.
  • Our medical, dental, vision, and life insurance are free with the Professor's employer.
  • We can't eliminate the $50 in monthly prescriptions the Professor needs.
  • College tuition is free since our college student is in-state and maintains a B average. Her brother will join her in the fall and will have the same tuition deal. They pay for their own books and supplies and auto insurance.
  • I cut everyone's hair but my own. No one in the family will cut mine, so I get it professionally cut, although I go as long as possible before getting it cut.


Anonymous said...

After reading your entry, I checked out the link - it was fascinating. Do any of your supermarkets do markdowns on produce? Our Bi-Lo chain has plastic bags pre-printed with $1.49(it used to be $.99) and the produce guys stuff them as full as possible. I love finding those bags. I have gotten 6 avocados and they were all good, 10 lemons, a mix of apples and oranges, or red and yellow peppers. Some needed trimming, but most stuff I could use right away or fix and freeze. Big Sis

A.D. said...

Only our Kroger does markdowns. I love looking around the store for those red tags. It's like a treasure hunt. I find the most markdowns in dairy and day-old bread. Once in a while I find marked down produce, but not often. Meat too, but it's usually the expensive stuff, marked down to still expensive. Once I even found a markdown in the fancy cheese. That was a bonus day!

Julie said...

We are frugal in other areas so we can continue with the music and associated travel. We've always lived this way though --since dh got laid off within a few months of our wedding.