How to live on less: The series

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

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

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.


  1. How to live on less: repurposing items on January 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    […] in the “How to live on less” series, let’s talk about repurposing items. This is a lesson learned from our […]

  2. Margaret on January 16, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    oh how cool that you enlisted your kids! My girl is just 2, but I look forward to teaching her things around the house in the way that my mom did not (she was of the school that it’s just easier for the adult to do it – she’s otherwise patient, so I don’t know what the deal is). I bet your kids are even better eaters on the days that they play a big role in getting dinner on the table.
    Looking forward to the frugal ideas!

  3. Buphie on January 16, 2008 at 10:22 am

    On Car Washing…
    Where I live, a lot of gas stations have drive-thru car washes. Most of them will give you a free or half-price car wash with 8 gallons of gas. I really hate going to the gas station, so I run my tank to empty, then fill it full and wash the car every 2-3 weeks.

    BTW, I love my VW Beetle with it’s 30 miles to the gallon of regular gas. I fill my tank for $35 twice a month, while my hubby puts $75 of premium in his Audi every week.

  4. Bramble on January 15, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    There was a great article recently in Mother Earth News with 75 tips on how to live on less written by a guy with no debt who lives reasonably on something like $4000 a year. I’m pretty sure you can access it on their website, it was worth a read.

  5. Badbadivy on January 15, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Amy at Mom Advice is a great friend of Home-Ec 101, we absolutely love her blog and I was totally planning on linking to her during this series as well. GMTA! 🙂

  6. Pam on January 15, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Check out she has a daily blog that is devoted to frugal living….meals, shopping, lifestyle.

  7. hsgbdmama on January 15, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Its not only more frugal, but also healthier, which hopefully will save $$$ in other areas.

    Looking forward to seeing more tips!

  8. Carol on January 15, 2008 at 10:06 am

    What a great series, Ivy. I will look forward to this.

  9. kelly g on January 15, 2008 at 2:03 am

    I’m so looking forward to the series too. i definitely need to work on the whole cooking thing..

  10. Melissa on January 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I’m so looking forward to this series!

    Many Blessings,

  11. Rachel on January 14, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    The cooking thing is my major downfall. If you ladies every decide to put together a month-long semi-frugal menu that I could just follow, I would love you to pieces.

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