After this post from last week, I was thinking about some ways I stretch my dollars without impacting my quality of life too much. I thought this week would be a good time to talk about that.
I’ve got a bit of an informal system I apply when I’m looking to cut expenses down in certain areas so I think I’ll try to formalize and go through the steps I consider when I’m faced with a large expense that I want to lower. If I had to break down my system into a broad overview, I look for ways to lower the frequency with which I accrue the expense, when possible.
One of the first few things I consider is just giving up whatever that expense is. So far, as of this writing, I still haven’t turned on the AC for my house yet. It gets a little warm during the day but overall it hasn’t been that bad, I open some windows and get a decent breeze going and that’s been working for me.
Though I think I’ve kind of cut most of the things I can go without out of my budget at this point, my tastes can always change. I may stop having smoothies for breakfast and go with something else instead.
Unfortunately, I can’t just cut everything out of my budget, no matter how much I want to. I’ve yet to figure out a way to get by without food so I still have to do something about that.
If I can’t or won’t get rid of it entirely then the next thing I do is look if there is a cheaper substitute that matches in quality. Food is an easy one here, I’ve substituted part of the fruit I put into my smoothies for greens instead. Not only does this make them a little healthier but it lowers the average price a little bit at the same time. I started to swap grapefruit for apples as the fruit I add to my lunch every day. The apples cost me around $3 to $4 for a week’s worth of apples depending on variety whereas the grapefruit cost about $5 for a week’s worth of fruit, so by switching to a cheaper alternative I’m saving approximately 20%. However, I may buy the occasional grapefruit when they start to come back into season.
I’m not sure whether this goes better here or in the make it last longer step, since the first thing I do when buying a non-perishable item is compare the unit price. It’s also fairly obvious, I think. But I’ll put it here.
Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy more of an item than less. For instance, I get the most for my dollar by buying a larger container of peanuts rather than a smaller one. While this increases my cost when I buy peanuts, I’m paying less per unit amount (oz, lbs, kg, mL, etc.) than I would be buying something at a cheaper dollar amount. At least it helps to check and make sure you’re getting the best price per dollar.
Sometimes though, a substitute doesn’t exist or a cheaper option just isn’t up to the task.
Making it Special
If I can’t completely get rid of it and I’m not happy with the substitutes, I can make it a special purchase I make if I meet specific goals or other specific circumstances. For instance, I’m planning on a few different purchases for when I reach specific financial goals.
Maybe I make it something I can only buy once a month like I’ve been doing with the loose-leaf teas that I’m working on restocking. This also lets me stew on if I really want that blend or not.
Once again, making it special may not work, either it doesn’t reach some threshold to be a special purchase or I need it regularly.
Make it Last Longer
If all else fails I can always look for ways to make the same amount of an item last longer. If I can get two meals out of one apple that’s a better use per dollar than one meal. An example of this is the almonds I put into my trail mix. These almonds cost me an eye-watering $20 a container and last me ~2-3 weeks. They’re pretty close to the most expensive individual item that I buy when going to the store.
If I could use maybe half as many almonds I could stretch that purchase to almost 6 weeks. That’s $20 off of almost every month’s grocery bill, or a 6% saving compared to my goal spending for the month.
I may jump straight to this step for some things I know I have to buy regularly. At the end of the day, I have to heat my house in the winter to keep pipes from bursting. So instead I can keep my house at a lower temperature and wear a light jacket around the house. Thus I make the same amount of energy last a longer time.
Of course, some items only have a standard amount I can use.
If there is no other way I can cut an expense, next I see if I can just do it myself and if it would be cheaper to do so. For instance, cooking rather than eating out. I can learn to make just about anything with the help of Google and/or a cookbook.
Of course, this is necessarily cheaper. I could learn how to make my plant pots but I would have to make far more than I would ever need before I would break even.
Keep paying the same amount
If I can’t go without an item, substitute it for something else, or make it last longer then I just have to pay the price I have been. There is a floor to the price of just about everything. Beans and rice still have a cost and I still need so much food a day to survive. Sometimes I just have to swallow my pride and accept that there isn’t a cost-effective way to get out of or lower an expense.
Alternatively, I go back to the giving it up step and review if the reason why I won’t give it up is greater than the price now that I’ve considered everything.
Wrapping it up
So here’s a brief overview of the system that I use to approach different expenses as I identify them. I assess the possibility of changing the frequency of how often I buy it, if there are cheaper alternatives, or I cave and buy it at the price. Overall, I don’t need much outside of a handful of recurring expenses so I mostly can cut items or find a way to stretch or substitute them.