We had company for dinner last Tuesday. I spent three and half hours preparing and cooking five dishes. I don’t typically spend this much time on meals, but I wanted to cook enough for everyone’s varying pallets and to also have leftovers for the rest of the week. I was successful in both quantity and flavor. Dinner was good. The trouble was I didn’t have any napkins for my guests. I haven’t bought napkins or a roll of paper towels all year, maybe since before Halloween last year, maybe longer.
Our family uses dish clothes and kitchen towels. We do have company often, but I had been using a stack of Valentine and Halloween napkins that were in the basement from old parties and functions. We are classy and practical people. Now, here I was with four guests and nothing for their spills and fingers. I rummaged through the kitchen towel drawer and found two scraps of cloth I use for wrapping bread or laying over food to keep the bugs off. Perfect for napkins, although a bit frayed.
Then I started thinking about the things we just don’t buy. Things we have never purchased, or have quit putting in our cart. Each item was probably eliminated because we don’t need it, they weren’t in the budget, or we found an alternative.
- cereal-we now make hot breakfasts or prepare baked goods ahead of time
- laundry detergent-we make our own
- fabric softener
- paper towels, napkins-started to use cloth
- air fresheners, candles, etc
- plastic ware, paper plates, etc
- dishwasher rinse aids-now use vinegar
- Ziplock bags and baggies-I save bread bags and other plastics from purchased items or use reusable cloth sandwich bags, Rubbermaid items, glassware with lids, etc.
- Ziplocks for my soup swap every fall is an exception
- Individual serving size anything (yogurt, raisins, soups, snack packs, juice boxes, etc)-we buy larger containers and dole out serving sizes, make our own or do without
- Beer is the only exception I can think of right now
- tissues-use toilet paper for now, thinking of flannel hanky come back this fall and winter
- specialty cleaners (dusting sprays, window cleaners, mop solutions, bathroom cleaner, etc)-replaced them all with castile soap, vinegar and baking soda as they ran out
- microwavable anything (we gave our microwave away)
- special “baby” item-the adult/child version were just fine or we did without
- magazines-use the library, get old issues from friends, read online
- accessories for the home or for us personally (i.e. picture frames, nick-knacks, jewelry and hair pieces)
- cards-call, email, make our own, send e-cards or replacement videos and pictures
- bath extras (i.e. bath salts, bubble bath, special shaving creams, exfoliates, muds)
- babysitters-trade child care with friends
Things we have significantly reduced our consumption and purchases of:
- pre-made, packaged and processed foods
- paper diapers-we cloth diaper during the day and paper at night
- disposable wipes-recently made flannel cloth wipes, which Brent doesn’t use and we still take a pack of disposables out with us in the diaper bag
- car washes-I don’t recall the last car wash
- stamps-we use online bill pay and email for most everything, buy postage at the PO for larger packages or print postage from my computer
- envelopes-we don’t mail a lot anymore, and when I do, I have a stash of return envelopes from bills that I have kept or I fold and tape a piece of scrap paper around whatever I am mailing
- books-library, paperbackswap.com, or ebooks
- photos-I have ordered photos online to be sent directly to my mom, but otherwise we just look at pictures online
- newspapers-I check online to see if getting the Sunday paper is worth the coupons
- meat-we buy meat for our meal co-op group only, Brent’s recently converted to vegetarian and the rest of the family just follows suit.
- spray oils (Pam)-I replaced them with an oil pump spray bottle from Pampered Chef
- gifts-we make what we can from fabric in the cabinet, blank CDs, baked goods, experiences, trading services/babysitting, bulk school book orders and other creative giving
- light bulbs-for over two decades we have replaced nearly every light bulb with compact fluorescent, thus reducing the need to buy them often
- seeds, flowers, lawn care-save seeds from produce, share seeds and bulbs with friends,and use our own compost
- date nights-date less, or stay up later to date at home
- movies, videos, Netflix, and other media time-We rarely go to the movies, if we do, it’s the discount theater and not everyone goes. We reduced our Netflix to streaming only. Are there any more video rental stores? We use the library for free.
- drawing paper and art supplies-By keeping the copies of paper that come home from school and work and saving single sided papers from junk mail, we have a profound stack of art papers for airplanes, grocery lists and doodles. Taking four children to any family friendly restaurant will yield a set of at least 8 crayons, sometimes up to12. My grandma B has taken us out and asked the server for old crayons that were destined for the garbage, she is my savings inspiration (she could go to Fulmer’s and always get them to pay her to shop when she used coupons).
- hot water-I started using cold water for everything I could, including hand washing. I let the dish washer use hot and wash only diapers with hot. Showers for children are timed, minimum bath water is shared for the little boys.
- make up, nail polish, fragrant lotions/sprays, and other temporary accessories-My mom bought me eye shadow and mascara for my birthday two years ago and we haven’t bought anything else since or probably many years before.
- gasoline and other car items, services, etc-Besides the obvious reduction in driving, we do a lot of our own basic maintenance and my dad has helped with brake pads and more.
- clothing, shoes-Buy used, buy very little, buy only what we need, borrow and be extremely grateful for hand-me downs.
Certainly I am forgetting many things. What have you given up or reduced in your lives?
Two More Things
I found that by not shopping at WalMart and Target we are no longer tempted to buy things we don’t need just because they are there and they are on sale. When ever something runs out, I ask myself if I need it and could I make it for less. Perhaps I need it, but not now and it sits on my list for a long time or until it’s forgotten.
Just by keeping a list I am no longer running out for a couple of things just when I need them. I might have air filters on my list for a long time because they are more expensive at Kroger, but when I finally get to a place where they are less expensive, I buy more of them to cover the time between store visits.
Damned If We Do
The thing that gets me, is that despite our change in habits, purchasing shoes stills “breaks the bank.” It may have something to do with our deprivation/impulse issues. When we have gone a fair amount of time cutting back, doing without, feeling deprived (again, by middle class standards), and then we may get some windfall money or Brent takes on an extra job for cash, and we blow it. We feel we can go out to eat, spend a little more on a bike helmet, buy a bike, drink more beer, visit family and friends out of town, get the odor controlling cat litter, pay back favors or give gratitude with purchased gifts, pay more on a debt or utility bill, send a kid to day camp, get the name brand popcorn, or tap the thermostat down a little more (all recent splurges). The reality is that because we did all this impulsive spoiled spending, we have to return to lengthy stretches of conservation. The habits of saving and thrift are not as strong as the desire to spend and consume (though both have strengths that ebbs and flows). We are working on it.
I wrote a bit about all this here and here, and will continue to come back to it. I hope to also give a good update on what we have been able to save by not driving, how we ended up using that money instead and what our financial plan is for the remainder of the year. What else would you like to see/hear/read/know? I feel very comfortable talking about money and my family with the exception of our actual base salary income and the tuition situation for my children at school, as these two issues would effect a lot of other people beyond our six. Ask away.