The 10 Things I Won’t Give Up Just To Save Money
Times are tough and they may be getting tougher as inflation and unemployment rates rise. There are 10 things that I could cut out of my expenses to save money right now but these measures will likely cause my earning power to shrink and my cost of living to rise in the long term. I’ll share my plans for spending, my ideas for cutting back, and so, you won’t think I’m frivolous, my list of things I never bought in the first place.
10 things I won’t give up:
1) Internet access. The Internet has freed me from the limits of my local economy, which has been burdened with layoffs from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Hanesbrands, and Wachovia. It has allowed me to eliminate yellow-page and other forms of advertising in favor of a website and network of contacts that range from bankers, teachers, and sales reps within a 10-mile radius to engineers in Honduras, designers in New York and California, and property managers in Washington, DC. And, my Internet access enabled graduate-level distance studies in journalism, and a freelance blogging job with Wise Bread and Parenting Squad.
2) Good food. I know I could save money at the grocery store if I just bought regular peanut butter or high fructose corn syrup orange drink rather than natural peanut butter or real orange juice, but I want to consume the good stuff and avoid what I am pretty sure won’t be healthy for me. My goal is to stall the onset of disease so I can save healthcare dollars and be healthy enough to work productively for many more years.
3) Fitness expenses, which now consist of a gym membership and athletic gear, such as running shoes, Barracuda goggles, moisture wicking apparel, and concentrated carbohydrate gels.
For a while, I opted for cheaper alternatives that didn’t require planning or a membership fee, such as running and walking in my neighborhood. I also used a stationary bike and home gym. These were good options for a while but I didn’t really maintain a good fitness level as it became difficult to measure my progress. When I realized that I could start facing some serious health problems, I decided that the expense of the gym (in my case, a family membership at a nearby YMCA) was worth it. Having access to resistance training equipment, indoor and outdoor tracks, indoor pool, group classes, and more helps keep my workouts interesting. After a decade hiatus, I am now back to community road races and bike rides.
4) Health insurance. I have a high-deductible policy primarily to avoid having to sell investments in order to pay for a catastrophic health event. The policy itself isn’t particularly useful in covering day-to-day healthcare expenses though I do receive pre-negotiated discounts on medical services.
5) Cancer Screenings. The cost for these range from free for an annual skin cancer check offered on a limited basis by a local dermatologist to $50 or so for a yearly mammogram and $1,500 for a colonoscopy every 5 years. Treatment should be much less expensive in the early phases than in the latter.
6) Dental Care. My childhood dentist didn’t use novacaine when drilling so avoiding the dentist has often seemed like a rational way of saving money, time, and stress. But repairing dental problems can be pricey compared to the expense of regular cleanings, check-ups, and ultrasonic toothbrushes. And since underlying health problems can be signaled by problems in my mouth, it makes sense to get looked at (even for a moment) by a dentist. For inexpensive care, use services offered by area universities or community colleges with dental programs.
7) Dinner with the book club. Once a month, I gather with a few friends (all moms with teenage sons) to discuss our latest selection while dining at Panera Bread, where a sandwich, salad, and/or soup are somewhat extravagantly priced compared to home-prep expenses. Though we’ve considered other sites including our own homes, we haven’t yet strayed from this choice: no one has to ready her house and the folks at Panera allow us to sit and talk for hours. We meet for dinner on un-crowded Saturday nights and stay until closing. The social connections, divergent perspectives shared in a supportive environment, enlightenment regarding literature and teenage culture is invaluable, and cheaper than talk therapy (though please visit a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist if you need help).
8) Kids’ activities, now consisting of junior varsity football, scouts, and church youth group. Despite one child’s athletic injury (a $600 wrist fracture, making me realize why orthopedists are prominent sponsors of the football team), these activities are some of the least expensive available. Summer camps run a few hundred dollars and most outings typically require the cost of food and just a few dollars more. So, I am not planning on cutting these relatively minimal expenses for what I hope will yield dividends in the future, namely strong men and someone to pitch my tent when we go camping on vacation.
9) Chocolate and wine. There are some indulgences I refuse to give up. As my eighty-something dad says (paraphrasing Clement Freud’s wisdom), if you give up what you enjoy, you don’t live longer, it just feels longer.
10) Annual vacations. Getting away from my routines and having novel experiences is essential to my well-being, physically and mentally. And, according to research, vacations may help prevent cardiovascular disease.
10 things I never bought in the first place:
1) Lottery tickets. The lottery came to my home state of North Carolina a few years ago but I haven’t yet bought a ticket. It’s not that I will never, ever buy a ticket but I haven’t yet and now doesn’t seem like a good time to start. (For a lottery alternative, see Philip's post on generating a windfall).
2) A larger car than I need on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I would love to be able to haul gear around on the bed of a pick-up truck or take a vanload of kids to the swimming pool. In some cases, not having the larger car has cost me more (because I have had to buy supplies on the road or take 2 cars so that kids can be seated safely) but in general, I have saved on the initial cost of the car, insurance, property taxes, and gas.
3) Private school tuition. My kids are doing well in their district-assigned public schools and if they weren't, I would consider alternatives such as charter schools more suitable to their needs, tutoring by a professional or me, and/or the guidance of an educational psychologist. I just can't see justifying $10,000+ per year per child for private school.
4) Extra pairs of shoes for the kids. For most of their lives, my kids have had just one pair of shoes: a pair of sneakers for school, play, and nearly every social occasion. Old pairs were saved for use as river shoes on canoeing trips. There are exceptions that require a change in strategy. When a formal event is on the horizon, I wait until close to the big day to make sure that whatever pair of shoes I secure will still fit. Now that they're older, I have gotten them flip-flops or fake Crocs to wear to the pool; fortunately, these type of shoes are not as size sensitive as sneakers or dress shoes, and so have lasted multiple seasons. For hiking boots, I snagged a great deal on functionally great shoes in an unusual color from Lands' End overstocks or bought sneakers with super-duper treads.
5) Mortgage payments on a too-expensive-for-me house. Though I have, at times, regretted not spending more on a larger house that might have increased in value more rapidly than the one I am in now (my home's tax value is less than the median price in my town), I am pleased with the affordable mortgage payment.
6) Cleaning supplies. I’ll admit it – I am not a good housekeeper. Cleaning supplies for anything other than laundry, dishes, and certain parts of the bathroom, are rarely on my weekly shopping list. Soap and water seem to do well; and now that someone I trust has proven its efficacy, I am going to spend my cleaning money on baking soda.
7) Entertainment. I’ve always chafed at the cost of movies and some live shows, considering that there are usually free or cheap alternatives, funded by corporate sponsors, local groups, or my public library.
8) Expensive trips. Though I insist on annual vacations, they haven't typically been luxurious ones. And now that I've started bike riding, multi-day events with tent or gym accommodations appeals to my sense of adventure and frugality.
9) New wardrobe every season. I wouldn’t mind updating my closet more often but I don’t have a great fashion sense and rarely have face-to-face meetings with clients so my fashion clothing needs are minimal. I try to buy classic clothing that lasts nearly forever.
10) More enriching activities for the kids. If you're a parent, you'll know that there are loads of activities for kids. Fortunately for me, my kids don't beg to be signed up for lessons though I wouldn't mind partaking in martial arts, cooking school, and horseback riding. Putting a limit on these saves at least $50 each month plus gas money.
10 things I am considering cutting out or changing:
1) Using a clothes line to dry my clothes (It took 3 days for 3 t-shirts to dry but I am hopeful that the right combination of clothes and lower humidity in the fall will bring faster drying.)
2) Cancelling the newspaper (Reading the paper has been my morning ritual for years but now that the paper is trimming its print offerings, I am considering eliminating this daily habit altogether.)
3) Growing a garden (Right now, I have chard and blueberries but would like to learn how to have a real vegetable garden.)
4) Turning back the heat and air conditioning, depending on the season
5) Baking, not making, homemade gifts
6) Camping rather than staying in vacation rentals or hotels on vacation
7) Consuming cheaper sources of protein (such as applesauce protein bars found in my clean eating post)
8) Shopping more at consignment stores, discount stores, and Goodwill
9) Learning how to landscape my yard (My yard needs some work so, even if I hire a professional, I'd like to get a better handle on what I should and shouldn't do; community college classes are great for this type of information.)
10) Organizing my space (I am one of those people who need to get organized in order to avoid buying tools or other rarely used items I already own.)
So, now you see my priorities, which likely differ from yours, and my feelings about false economy, that is saving money on the front end only to have to spend more later. Feel welcome to consider my list as you ponder yours.