Luckily I am employed. When I read the newspaper and look around, I realize how blessed I am to have income. Still, I've been living more or less like a cheapskate for years. With the exception of one cushy job I had that afforded me the luxury of buying a lot of take out containers of rice pudding from the corner bodega, I have had to figure out ways to live well for less. Here are a few ways that a very practical home improvement editor (that's me) saves money on home products:
• Things I don't ever buy: Plastic bags and
plastic food containers. After years of
spending on "Tupperware" that I inevitably let mold in the back of my pickup truck, I stopped
spending on plastic. I reuse containers and bags. I invested in about eight large sturdy plastic
food containers, the type that caterers use. They're almost indestructible. I use those (and
wash them out religiously) and actually purchase food for the container (juice in a glass jar
vs. juice in a plastic bottle). I use glass juice jars for everything from freezing soup to using
them as flower vases. I save plastic shopping bags and use them as garbage bags -
therefore I don't ever buy garbage bags. Don't knock it 'til you try it.
- Something else I don't ever buy: Paper towels and disposable plates and flatware. They're expensive and take landfill space. I have a bunch of cheap dish towels that work fine. The one exception I make is paper napkins, and only if company is coming over. A pack of 500 paper napkins costs about $2.50 and lasts for months.
- I don't buy toilet paper. This sounds crazy and maybe sounds like I have bad hygiene habits. Don't worry - I buy bulk packs of tissues instead. Toilet paper is really expensive. At my local market, a 12 pack of toilet paper costs about $15. Since I don't like flushing money down the toilet (heh), I figured out that a large pack of generic "Kleenex" actually lasts longer and costs less.
- I use soap and water to clean almost everything. My house, my body, my hair - you name it. I have cheap bulk dish soap in the kitchen and bar soap in the bathroom. For extra house cleaning and laundry cleaning power, I mix vinegar and cheap bottled lemon juice (and I save the bottle - you're getting the idea now) into the soap and water.
- Health is wealth: I wash my hands (with soap and water) multiple times a day, keep a clean house (with soap and water), go to bed early and wake up early, walk to and from work, and don't eat out (I never, ever eat in restaurants - not even a slice of pizza, not even on a date). I carry around bottles of filtered tap water, rice cakes, and fruit so that I don't have the inclination to eat out if I am hungry and on the go. Instead of going out for sugary caffeinated drinks, I keep a bag of cocoa powder next to my desk and make mocha with it with the office instant coffee. By doing these things I maintain a nice robust immune system, a healthy body weight, and avoid things like food poisoning and e-coli bacteria that the restaurant industry offers consumers.
- My appliances multitask. If I don't own it, I borrow it. Why buy a crock pot when you have an electric burner and a flame tamer? If I need a small appliance that I don't have (an iron, for example), I borrow from a neighbor. Look, I know that you might not know or like your neighbors, but borrowing things like a vacuum cleaner or clothes iron from them is a good way to both get to know them and like them. Borrowing and lending household gadgets is a really good way to build community.
- I only buy what I need. If there is a chance I can repurpose or reuse something, I find a way to. I recently hung a planter for one of my two houseplants, which incidentally are the only decorations in my house (even my decorations multitask - my plants improve my indoor air quality). I used clothespins, a silverware holder, and a wire twist tie to mount the planter on the wall. I was determined not to spend and I didn't.
- I refuse to pay extra for electricity. I have only a small office kitchen type refrigerator in my house. It uses infinitely less electricity than a large fridge. If you have a huge family, you probably need more refrigerator space. If you're single, do like me: I store my fruits and vegetables outside of the fridge and refrigerate only foods that are perishable or might attract bugs (dry foods that could attract pantry moths). I turn off my hot water boiler - I heat the tank when I need to shower and it is well insulated enough that it stays pretty warm for a day or two. I save hot water by rinsing off, turning the water off and soaping up, and then rinsing off again. I do this in the winter, too. Being a bit Spartan is good for your health.
Check out the Survival Strategies section in the New York Times online for reader-generated ideas for surviving the recession. There are a lot of ideas for saving money at home. Keep reading Networx.com for budget home improvement ideas - we can help you to fix, renovate, and decorate your house during the recession.