Dear Home Ec 101,
I lost my job due to downsizing. The economy is so bad that I had a hard time finding a new job, and when I finally did find a new job, it was with less pay and fewer benefits. I’ve run up my credit cards and I owe a fortune. I cannot continue this way. Please help me learn to live on less.
Dawn in Detroit
This is a fake, made up letter. Nobody sent this to us. However, it is the reality so many of my friends, family, and acquaintances that are living both here in Tennessee and all over the country. Even in cases where people have not lost jobs, prices have gone up, wages have generally stayed the same. The American dollar is worth less than the Canadian dollar. People in the middle class and poorer are being hit very hard.
So, since many of us are having to learn to live with less, I’m going to run a series this month on how to live on less. You may be surprised at how easy it actually can be to adjust to living on less money than you are used to. Today’s lesson: find the joy in doing for yourself.
When you have more discretionary spending, it’s easy to start relying on conveniences that cost a very small amount of money. For example,washing your own car. For $5, you can run the car through an automatic car wash. It takes just a few minutes to run it through the automatic car wash, and you don’t have to get wet in the process. But if you’re washing your car for $5 once a month, you’re spending $60 in a year on car washes. That might not sound like a lot, but when you take all these different little expenses like the car wash, it adds up to a lot of money.
Washing the car yourself can be a lot of fun, especially if you add kids and a dog. The kids and dog are optional, but I like to wash my dog at the same time I’m washing my car (making sure to use baby shampoo on the dog, and car wash solution on the car, natch), which is a time saver as well. Now, during the winter, I hate to get out in the cold and hose off the car, but when you get a bunch of salt and grime on your car in the winter, that’s one of the most important times to wash your car. So I look for specials at the local car wash.
Often, you can find really good coupons for the local car wash in the winter. One that is local to me sends out coupons to get wash, wax, vacuuming, windows, everything for $6. This is one of those times when $6 is definitely worth the tradeoff in time and freezing my butt off.
Sure, washing the car is kinda fun, but what about the things we really hate? Like, I hate cooking. This time last year I was making 3 times what I’m making now, so we went out to eat a lot more. I realized awhile back how much money I was still spending on going out to eat, even though the new, lesser paid budget didn’t really accommodate that much going out to eat. So we started eating in more often, and I grumbled about it. I really hate to cook.
I’ve gotten a much better attitude about it recently, however. One of the reasons I hate to cook so much is because I was never really properly taught to cook (mainly my own fault, don’t blame my mom on that). I got to thinking about that, and decided to start teaching my kids to cook. The 4 year old now washes and tears lettuce, measures things that are easy to measure, and helps with setting the table. My 7 year old fetches ingredients, reads the recipes, cuts things that are easy to cut (things you can cut with a butter knife), does a lot of the measuring, and does some of the microwaving. My 13 year old is learning everything- chopping, frying, baking, you name it. He can actually chop an onion better and faster than I can.
This is good on several levels. It makes me feel better about cooking, because it’s not so ponderous, I have 3 sous chefs to work with me. I also feel like I’m teaching my kids some important life skills that I didn’t learn until I was older. And, my oldest kid is now a good enough cook that if I just can’t bear the thought of cooking, instead of saying the heck with it and hitting a Mexican restaurant, I can now ask him really nicely to cook dinner, and he will.
So it is entirely possible to even find the joy in doing things you hate. You just have to look for the positives, instead of dreading the task.
For more reading on this subject, check out Meredith’s posts on cheerful frugality over at Frugal Hacks.