“Mr Mom” (the new sobriquet I have been bestowed with on this site) here.
This is “Mom's” site and up until now I have kept my profile beneath its radar for multiple reasons, mainly because it's her site, not mine. But Mom has asked me to contribute for once and a good boy does what Mom asks.
A little background here: I'm not a trust fund baby; I don't come from a rich family. And while I am employed, like a lot of Americans I don't really make a lot of money; rent and bills pretty much eats up the bulk of what I do earn. “Getting By” is more than a way of life for me; the fact I've done just that for this long is my “success story” if I can lay claim to such a thing. Not whining or complaining mind you, but for a lot of blue-collar Americans like myself this is a cold hard reality.
And consequently I am a very frugal person. Sometimes Mom loves my shortcuts, other times they are a point of contention between the two of us. Case in point: on the occasions when I get food “to go” and they put a hand full of paper napkins in with the food, I don't throw them out. I use them to rest my coffee cup and spoon next to the coffee maker and toss them after I'm through with coffee. This keeps the counter clean and Mom has no issue with that. When Mom and I are dining I rip paper towel in half for our napkins; don't ask me how that got started. I just know that half a paper towel makes a sufficient napkin for most meals, barbecue ribs aside. Mom has tried to explain the concept of cloth napkins to me but we men know not of such things.
But then there's the time when Mom moved in with me and started going through my kitchen; she took issue with the tons of stuff I had been hoarding for years, like the lettuce crisper in the fridge full of vintage ketchup packs from Wendys, Jack in the Box, Whataburger etc.
“WHY are you keeping all of these?”
“Free ketchup that's why....”
Get the picture? But I am going to lay out a few pointers I have found useful over the years to survive. Maybe you already know some of these, maybe you can put one or two to use or maybe you will hold your nose like Mom did when she found my ketchup package stash but here goes:
The only thing that makes the cost of the newspaper worthwhile these days. Let's pretend you are walking down the street and you find a dollar on the ground. Would you not bend over and pick it up? Same logic goes for clipping coupons; sure it requires an iota of effort but used en masse coupons can be your best friend at the grocery store.
A dollar off a box of my favorite cereal? Sold! A dollar off a can of coffee? Sold!
A dollar off stuff I HATE spending money on like bug spray, laundry detergent or batteries? Sold!
They are kind of a pain in the tuchis to collect, sort through and carry through the stores but can be very worth it. Some stores will double or triple coupons under various denominations (35 or 50 cents) and others ( like Best Buy for example) will accept coupons but don't advertise this fact so sometimes you have to ask.
Getting on ValPaks mailing list can be worthwhile just for the restaurant coupons alone; Buy One Get One Free entree coupons can make a real difference on your tab. They offer great deals on other products and services too (oil changes, haircuts, dry cleaning etc) but be prepared to read the “fine print” ; there are frequently restrictions. They have phone apps as well but I leave that sort of thing for Mom to handle since I am somewhat of a “techno-doofus”.
Groupon likewise can be very worthwhile to sign up with for the same reasons.
BUY IT ON SALE
Another reason the paper comes in handy. Despite the Internet, merchants still advertise in the paper. Who's got time to check every Web site for every merchant? I certainly don't.
But most local merchants have ads in the Sunday paper, all in one place.
By merely flipping through the store ads you can find out in minutes who's got tires, shocks, furniture, lawn equipment, shoes etc on sale and wisely comparison-shop.
And here locally the Wednesday paper comes exclusively with grocery store fliers, which never escape the discriminating eye of Mom. Getting low on soft drinks? We flip through the ads to see who has them on sale. WalMart and Target both charge almost full retail for 12-packs of soft drinks; if Kroger has them 4 for $10 which is the wiser choice? Paying $4.98 each or $2.50 each?
One local merchant here routinely sells meats (chicken, pork chops, ribs, steaks) Buy One Get Two Free. Buying our meat there can fill my freezer for under $50.
And if I can't buy it on sale I ask myself the question:
DO I REALLY NEED IT?
I only recently got a cellphone after having an auto breakdown in a bad part of town and being unable to find a pay phone that wasn't out of order or vandalized beyond use. Likewise I don't own an MP3 player, a Playstation , a BlueRay player, a BlueTooth or a thousand other high-tech gee-gaws that lots of people these days can't conceive of living without. I still listen to “old-fashion” CDs and watch movies on DVD; I also am one of the few people I know who still own and listen to vinyl LPs and have a working VHS player in the house. I got by for years without owning most of the bright shiny things on the shelves of Best Buy and I suspect not owning them THIS WEEK won't shave any years off my life.
IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD IT, DON'T BUY IT!
This alone gets a lot of people “over their heads” in debt and kind of ties in with #3. Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself how bad you really need something.
Sure you have to go in debt to buy necessary things (a house or a car for example) but if you can get by until payday without buying it, why buy it? I wear my shoes and clothing until they literally fall apart and don't worry about whether I am “in style” or “up to the minute”
Writing hot checks is against the law and putting things you don't need and can't really afford on the credit card will get you in the same position as writing hot checks and who needs that?
THE DOLLAR STORE IS YOUR FRIEND
We spend a small fortune at the local “dollar stores” but compared to what some of the same items cost at other stores we would be spending a lot more. Example: Mom likes to buy fruits and vegetables faster than we sometimes use or eat them. We went out of town for a few days recently and came home to a kitchen full of less-than-fresh peaches, potatoes and tomatoes . Someone suggested using those pink plastic storage bags but at one grocery store we went to they wanted a whopping $10 a box for them! We found the same bags at a “dollar store” for a fraction of that price.
Example #2: Mom likes lavender bar soap; it's $5 a bar at one local high-falutin' store but I found it for (ta-da!) a dollar at one of our local dollar stores. The same store with the $5 soap wants $5 a box for funnel cake mix; we found it for a dollar at the dollar store. The dollar store is cheaper than WalMart or Target on many items: cat food, laundry fabric sheets, school supplies etc. When you are running on a budget sometimes you can't afford to be choosey about name brands. Get over it and get to the dollar store; wear your shades or a fake mustache if you don't want anyone to recognize you. For that matter why are THEY there to recognize you anyway? Because it's so much cheaper maybe? And this leads us to number six....
DISCOUNT GROCERS A GODSEND FOR THE WORKING POOR
Mom and I shop at many grocery stores for a garden variety of reasons; some have cheaper meats than others, some have the best prices on liquid refreshments or canned goods, some accept coupons, others don't. But if you have an Aldis or Trader Joes anywhere near you and haven't checked them out yet maybe you should. Like the “dollar stores” they don't carry a lot of name brand items but you can still get things you want there for less than the major chains. A bag of whole bean coffee for $5 instead of the $9 Safeway wants? Sold! Eight frozen Angus patties for $7? Sold? A bag of bagels for 99 cents instead of the $4 Target is asking for them? SOLD!
“Overstock grocers” are worth checking out if your town has one; we have two here locally.
Sometimes they have pallets of things like Starbucks coffee on sale for a fraction of what it retails for just because someone somewhere else ordered too much of it. I found crates of a locally-made pancake mix that retails for $5 a package for $1.50 each. You CAN pay more for stuff like this but WHY?
MONEY FOR TRASH? WHAT A CONCEPT!
Ever see a guy pushing a shopping carts full of aluminum cans down the street?
WHY would someone do such a thing? Because aluminum cans sell for anywhere from fifty to eighty cents a pound that's why. And as much as I hate to say it people fling them around and decorate the streets with them like it's their God-given right. I can (and much to Moms chagrin) and frequently do go for long walks around my neighborhood with a couple of plastic grocery bags and can fill them up with aluminum cans in 30 to 40 minutes. After collecting enough of them to fill a few 39-gallon garbage bags I can take them to a scrap yard and make enough money to either top off the gas tank or take Mom out to dinner or on a really good day both. Just for picking up refuse around the neighborhood too I might add. I get some fresh air, some much-needed exercise and pick up a few extra dollars my employer didn't think I deserved, just for putting some wear and tear on my sneakers.
So there's my step-by-step guide to squeezing a dollar; hope you found some useful bit of advice in there somewhere. And I just know Mom's going to have a few words to add to this...
Mom's Last Word
His frugal ways also allow us to save money to do some special things, such as this year we've saved enough pinching pennies, that we can take a short cruise together (albeit in Hurricane Season) before I have to leave for the North Country.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Mr. Mom a little better through his Kitchen Sink posts. He's witty, compassionate and informative. He's very much a large part of Mom's Pantry, far beyond simply washing up the dishes I dirty preparing a recipe to share. Without his support and encouragement we simply wouldn't be here.
But let me just say one thing about his frugal ways, that does make me shudder a tiny bit. When I first arrived here, we cleaned out the kitchen. Below is a picture I took of his "take-out salt collection", his cayenne pepper packets he saved from his chili kits, and his coveted 'souvenir' Simpson hot dog box that brought tears to his eyes, as he watched it being placed in the trash. It reminds us all that there is a fine line between being frugal and hoarding ;)