Budgets are tight for many of us. If you’ve squeezed and squeezed and squeezed yours again, maybe these few tips can help you squeeze some more—and have a little creative fun along the way.
Cut your own hair
If you adopt a simple hairdo, you can easily learn to cut and trim your own hair (and beards, for men). Online and beauty-supply stores sell precision hair-cutting scissors and trimming appliances.
I’ve cut my own hair since I was I took over from my mom while I was in high school. Over the decades, I’ve had long hair that needed only occasional trimming; short pixie cuts I had to spike every couple of weeks, and various mid-length ’do’s. I’ve cut a lot of men’s and children’s hair, too.
We calculate that do-it-ourselves cuts and trims saves our two-person household about $600 a year.
Eliminate “phantom loads”
Also called "vampires of the household," phantom loads refer to the electricity used by appliances and electronic devices after you’ve turned them off or left them in standby mode.
Electronic devices are notorious vampires: Home-entertainment devices with remote controls, appliances with digital clocks, electronics that use a power adaptor (or wall cube). You can put these devices on power strips that you turn off when you aren’t using them. “Smart” power strips cost a bit more, but allow you to shut off some devices and leave others on standby. Eliminating these phantoms can save as much as 10 percent of your electric bill.
The red LED lights you see glowing at night will remind you that these appliances are using electricity even after you’ve turned them off. Now look around for power adaptors (used in appliances such a hair dryers and cell-phone chargers; also called “wall cubes,” “wall warts,” and “power bricks”; these are typically warm to the touch and drawing power. Unplug these when not in use.
If your electric bill is $100 a month, you could save about $120 a year by reducing phantom loads.
Generate less trash
I think of the Depression-era gave slogan—Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without—as a good way to increase my “disposable income.”
Reducing the trash we generate and throw away saves money, energy, and the community (taxpayer) costs of disposing of it. Here are a few ways to reduce your household trash:
The easiest and simplest: If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Living in an advertising-saturated consumer society makes this psychologically difficult. I think of it as a spiritual discipline.
- Patronize thrift stores* and yard/rummage sales, and accept hand-me-downs from friends, neighbors and relatives. If you can use or repurpose things, you’ll have less need to buy new stuff and less stuff to throw away.
- Buy in bulk whenever possible: grains, beans, nuts and other dried foods, soap, light bulbs. You’ll produce less packaging trash and benefit from the lower per-unit cost.
- Buy the most durable products you can afford and keep using them, even if they go out of style. I think we should start a movement to make sturdiness and durability the epitome of high style.
- Choose cheap, safe, at-hand household cleaning supplies to eliminate the need for expensive commercial formulations. A lot of these products--baking soda, vinegar, borax, oatmeal, olive oil--do double or triple duty as articles of health, beauty, and hygiene.
- If you have a garden, re-purpose newspaper, cardboard, worn rugs, and worn-out clothing as weed-suppressing, water-conserving mulch. Top it off with a little hay, straw, pine needles, or lawn clippings to improve the aesthetics. Recycle your kitchen and yard wastes into a compost pile.
- Host a neighborhood paint-trading (tool-trading, etc.) party. The idea? Everyone arrives with leftover paint, stain, varnish, and similar products they don’t need. Set all the articles on tables and let people walk around and choose products they’d like to take home and use. The rules: Each item should be in its original container, tightly closed, and should bear a tag with the original owner’s name and telephone number. People must agree to take home the products they brought if no one else wants them.
Depending on how vigorously you pursue these suggestions, you could save hundreds of dollars a year.
*Warning: I’d never buy a used or discarded mattress or upholstered furniture. There’s too much possibility of bedbug infestation, and these critters are notoriously difficult and expensive to eradicate once they’ve established themselves in your home.
We usually think of walking, jogging, and bicycle riding as good forms of exercise, and they are.
But what if you changed your frame of reference and began thinking of leg power as basic transportation, ways to get to and from errands?
Commute on foot or by bicycle to work, to the library or post office, to the grocery store, to visit friends? Why not? Advanced thinking by the Danes have given rise to a new concept designed to encourage citizens to bike more miles, generate less carbon, and get fit in the process: the bicycle superhighway.
How much can you save? Given the lack of attention to biking and walking thoroughfares most of the nation, probably not that much on gas and car maintenance (since most people probably won’t dare to commute to work), but I guarantee you’ll improve your health and emotional resiliency--a huge bonus that may save big bucks in health and drug-related costs and make your life much less stressful.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.