Monday, August 18, 2008

MacGuyver Monday: Money, Money, Money

Grow a garden.
Buy in bulk.
Drive a more fuel efficient car.

What do the above have in common? They, like many money-saving tips, require more investment and waiting time than a strapped family has. When I was twenty, my then-husband and I split up unexpectedly just before we were set to move to another state, and I found myself jobless and moneyless with a small child. What do you do if you are hit over the head with a sudden financial shortfall? You MacGuyver your finances.

Step One: Cut Your Food Bill

The priority is to keep a roof over your head and keep any wage earners earning (or get them earning again). Where do groceries fit in to that? They don't. Most Americans have pantries full of food, yet we head to the grocery store every weekend for another cart full. If needed, most of us could squeeze two weeks' of meal out of our kitchen. You may end up with some unorthodox combinations toward the end, but if you treat it like an adventure, your family can have fun with this.

When your pantry is running low, the Hillbilly Housewife has a $40 emergency menu and shopping list that, while not nutritionally optimal, is certainly as healthy as the average American diet and is dirt-cheap.

My friend Mrs. Hannigan gets just about everything for free with coupons, but she has a few years of this lifestyle under her belt. If you are new to the world of couponing for free stuff, can help guide you. Just remember: you cannot afford to "spend to save". If you can combine coupons and sales to get things absolutely free, take advantage. But beware of becoming one of those coupon freaks who spends $400 a month on shampoo but swears they are saving so much.

If your cupboards are truly bare and you don't see a paycheck in your near future, go to a foodbank. Many of us donate to food banks because we know some people find themselves in dire situations through no fault of their own. Save what little money is left for things like housing and electric, things that aren't readily available

Step Two: Impose a Spending Moratorium

That means no Starbucks, no non-work-related driving, not even a trip to the Goodwill. As long as you have clothing to cover your back, you don't need anything else. Remember that this is temporary. Eventually you'll bounce back, but until then, your kids may have to enjoy homemade birthday presents or go to school without supplies. This too shall pass.

Step Three: Cancel Everything

Be smart here. Cable can go, high speed internet can go, but if you have to pay $200 to cancel your cell phone, do the math. How long will you need to do without? Does your breadwinner need that phone? Can you cancel your landline and use the cell instead? You want to pay as little as possible, so keep your calculator at hand.

Step Four: Cut Your Electric Use

Pretend you are in a third world country and have no electric. Would you have television? No. A dryer? No. A toaster? Most likely not.

It's easy to live without a toaster. It's hard to live without a refrigerator. The longer you can do without things like toasters and clothes dryers, the longer you will have money for things like refrigerators. Focus on what you physically need. Everything else should be unplugged and put away.

Step Five: Increase your Income

It's as easy as it sounds. In my case, as a 20 year single mother, I took a low-paying job as a nurse's aide trainee (every community needs nurse's aides because no one wants to do that kind of work). It allowed me to work nights, when relatives could watch my toddler. It was the worse job I have ever had... the worse job I have ever even heard of, but it brought in a regular paycheck and now I have a unique perspective on what makes a job truly horrible.

It wasn't enough to live on, at least not with the upper middle class lifestyle in which I was raised, so I told everyone I knew that I was looking for work. I organized houses, cleaned group homes, and sewed Halloween costumes (among other things). I did surveys in my spare time. I traded farm labor for rent. And while I was doing all this, I took college classes so I wouldn't have to live like that forever.

If you are determined not to leave your children, there are a lot of things you can do for money at home.

If you have a quick way to save money or earn it, leave me a message and I'll add it in.


Lisa Russell said...

psst- before I did that shampoo thing, I had never used a coupon in my life. is the bomb. I didn't want you thinking I was cooler than I can honestly take credit for. great tips, though. You always rock, and even with coupons I still spend way more than you do, so you're still the Queen of all that.