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Spending my life working hard at low paying jobs, money has always been tight. Every month I had fixed expenses that always needed to be paid – rent, phone bill, and car insurance. There were other necessary monthly expenses that fluctuated every month like the electric bill and gas for the car. Then there were the luxury items that I might have to do without depending on whether I had enough leftover money to buy them, like groceries, clothes, and seeing the dentist.
It doesn’t matter if we’re a low-income earner or a high-income earner, we all have recurring monthly bills to pay. It’s just one group has an easier time paying their bills.
I learned to live frugally starting as a teenager because I had no other choice. I lived within my means because I had no means. If I wanted something, I had to figure out how to make extra money to buy it. Or do without.
I’ve spent many years of my life working low paid, high turnover positions like a cashier at a gas station and behind the counter at McDonald’s.
There’s been too many times I’ve had less than $20 in my bank account or in my wallet, worrying about paying the rent or putting food on the table.
Going out to a restaurant, a concert, or even a movie on cheap Tuesday? Where am I going to find that extra money?
At least back in the olden days when I worked at McDonald’s, we got a free meal per shift. That was any burger, a small fries, any drink, and a dessert to enjoy on a half hour lunch break. If we worked a longer shift, we got a second 15-minute coffee break and were allowed one free drink. I worked Monday to Friday so at least I got a free meal every day and that helped a lot.
Too many times I had less than $20 to my name, with one week to go until pay day, wondering how I was going to put gas in the car or pay the car insurance just so I could get to work.
There were many nights I cried in bed worrying about money.
And that, folks, is the life of a person who earns minimum wage.
Maybe you’ve also been stuck in a similar situation, working a low paying job and wondering how you’re going to save money or pay the amount owing on a credit card bill.
Putting extra money aside for an emergency fund or my retirement? Ha! What extra money?
I know what it’s like to be stuck in an underpaid, underappreciated job. There were many times I wanted to treat myself, pick up my credit card, and buy something to make myself feel better. A trip to Hawaii would be nice! But no, I resisted. My credit card was mostly for dental work and car repairs and then I spent months paying it off. And just when the end was in sight – one or two more payments and the balance would be zero – BAM! The car breaks down again.
How am I ever going to be in a position where I can save money?
How can I cut things out of my life when I’m already living a bare bones existence?
Years later I’m still figuring out ways to save my money. Here’s a round up of 12 things I’ve cut out or cut back on just so I can live life as frugally as I can.
And maybe, just maybe, I might have a little extra money available to put aside in a savings or investment account.
1. Soda pop
I used to buy two-liter bottles of Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, whichever one was on sale for a buck or less. Four or five bottles hit my grocery cart every shopping trip. Over ten years ago I started saving money and drinking healthier iced tea when I bought a Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Machine. (Disclosure: I’m an Amazon associate. If you click the link and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
I’ve never been much of a coffee person, but that doesn’t hold me back from stopping at Tim Hortons as much as possible to pick up donuts. My favorite? Boston Cream! That doesn’t mean another donut won’t catch my eye and I’ll buy two donuts. Maybe even throw in a muffin.
Donuts are another product I’ve gone the healthier route on, buying donut pans and baking (not frying) my own donuts at home. I haven’t been to Tim Hortons at all in 2020, and I don’t recall if I went in 2019. Maybe once.
Ten years ago? I’d be in Tim Hortons several times a week scarfing down Boston Creams..
3. Gym membership
I’ve had a few gym memberships over the years, even while working a minimum wage job. Mostly I was going for aerobics classes. Always, I’d get less motivated about going to the gym and drop the membership. These days I can find exercise classes for free on YouTube.
4. Bottled water
Now here’s a paradox. I was never much into buying bottled water. Why would I when I can get water from my tap for free?
I now live on a small acreage with well water. The ground water smells bad. To clarify, not putrid bad, it just has an off smell. Water shouldn’t have any smell!
The hard water here is safe, but if it smells funny, it has to taste funny. I’ll use the water from the tap to brush my teeth, for my iced tea, and cooking, but I won’t drink cold water from the tap like I used to everywhere else I’ve lived.
Ironically, I now buy bottled water. However, I don’t drink one every day. A case of 24 bottles will last me two or three, maybe more months!
If there is nothing wrong with your tap water and there’s no ground (or worse!) smell coming from it, drink it instead of wasting money on bottled water.
5. Makeup remover
Makeup is not really my thing. I tend to go for the natural look, sometimes forgetting to wear any at all. I stopped buying expensive makeup remover many years ago. I just make do with mild soap and water or sometimes a foaming face wash from Olay.
Coconut oil is also a good makeup remover. And great for cooking too!
6. Dryer sheets
Let’s start with the obvious reason why I’m saving money on dryer sheets. It’s been over five years since I’ve owned a dryer! Not by choice. I’d like to own a dryer but my current living situation has no space or hook ups for a dryer. If you have a dryer, save money with reusable dryer balls. (Disclosure: I’m an Amazon associate. If you click the link and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
7. Hair cuts
Up until ten years ago I was supporting a hair stylist who’d been my mother’s favorite hairdresser. Some sort of weird sense of loyalty, but she was a very good stylist. To get my hair cut and colored was around $40 or $50, I don’t recall the exact amount, but for sure over $40. About twelve years ago Great Clips came to Cloverdale, but it took me a couple more years to make the break from the hair stylist my mother and/or I had been seeing for about twenty years.
When I made the switch, a cut at Great Clips was around $12 or $15 and a bottle of hair dye at Walmart was around $5. Huge savings!
Break your habit of a high-priced hair stylist and go to the budget cuts salon in your town. Even if you’re unhappy with the cut, your hair will always grow back and you can keep looking for a new hairdresser.
8. Eating out
I rarely eat out anymore.
My dining out budget is $20/month. Yes, I am frugal. That usually means Subway – which I’ve always loved. Some months I don’t eat out at all, and other months I go a bit over $20. I save tons of money buying my food to prepare at home. It’s also heathier.
Pretty much the only times I eat out are when I’m on vacation.
However, in this time of coronavirus, I’m aware that restaurants are struggling and when I can spare a few bucks, I buy take out and hopefully help keep people employed.
I’ve cut the cable bill a few times in my life, cancelling extra channels. Where I’m living now, TV service is included in my rent! Yay me! However, my landlords are down to just a basic package so they can save money.
At my last house I spent $80/month on satellite TV, so I’m saving $960 a year! Wow!
If I have to go back to buying my own TV service, I’ll probably sign up for Amazon Prime, about $100/year, and spend a little extra, maybe $20/month to get a bundle of channels I like to watch.
I can watch shows on the network’s web page and find free movies on YouTube.
If you cut the cable and sign up to Netflix or another streaming service, you can save hundreds of dollars a year.
10. Buying gifts
No one wants to be the Grinch, but I save a lot of money by not buying gifts. When the deadbeat and I were together, we had a Christmas Fund, but most of the money was spent buying gifts for each other and a few other people. Very few.
My parents are dead and I have no other family. I exchange Christmas presents with a couple of friends, costs me less than $100.
Doesn’t it seem like you’re always buying presents every month for one occasion or another? Stop doing it and you’ll save a lot of money. You can make a thoughtful present for someone, perhaps bake a cake or granola bars. If you’re a decent artist, make a drawing or painting of the person’s pet, and that’ll be a huge hit.
I became a vegetarian over 30 years ago, so I’ve saved a ton of money by not buying meat, from the grocery store or a restaurant when eating out.
Even if hadn’t become a vegetarian, I wouldn’t be able afford to buy meat today.
12. Sweet stuff
I love chocolate bars, cakes, ice cream and just about every sweet treat out there. However, after my doctor told me I had to get my blood sugar levels down or risk crossing into diabetes territory, I took it very seriously. I estimate I save over $1,000 a year by drastically cutting back on the goodies.
If you cut the sweet stuff out of your diet, you too might lose weight and save money and live healthier.