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Reading Daisy’s article about how 92% of Americans are eating poorly and having ever more trouble paying the bills was rather shocking. These people are making what I’d consider decent money, but inflation on pretty much every front is really putting a kink in our budgets. I’ve noticed it, too: I purchased bagels on sale only yesterday. When the package was delivered, I saw that my bagels were 2/3 the normal size. So now I need to eat more of them or stay slightly hungry until lunch. Ugh!
I lost a third of my income over the past few years.
The past few years have been years of adjustment for me. I lost a client representing 1/3 of my income during Covid. My lying eyes tell me that prices are up a good 20% on grocery items, and that’s if the item in question is on the shelf. In this article, I’m going to discuss my own experiences adjusting to this in the hope that others can benefit from ideas that might not have been thought of. I am no paragon of budgeting virtue, and in many ways, I’m lucky this happened in later life and not when I was in college. But for what my experiences are worth, please read on.
The loss of 1/3 of my income hasn’t been the easiest to deal with. However, as a freelancer, I’m used to client attrition. What we do is work to replace that income.
Here are a few ideas for replacing lost income.
I found a job writing blog posts and taught kids online for a while. Selling yard sale finds and items I no longer use on eBay can help, but keep in mind that fees add up. I spent one afternoon making voice recordings for use in training chatbots to understand human speech.
Even after I coughed up the 20% fee to Upwork, I had more money than I’d had that morning. Every little bit helps! Daisy gives some great ideas for replacing income here and how to deal with the immediate aftermath of job loss here, 99 ways to work from home are listed here, and I’ll tell you about the nuts and bolts of doing so here.
If you’re really hurting, you can apply for no proof needed class action lawsuits. Be aware that those do take time to resolve but every little bit helps. Check those out here.
Forage yard sales and thrift shops for things you need or can sell at a profit. I’ve borrowed books and videos from the library rather than buying them. When I was living in Seattle, I bartered my cleaning services to a bookstore for books rather than money. When I was done with the books I sold them to another store for a few bucks. I acquired a beautiful copy of the Tao Te Ching that I still have and could never have afforded back then. What can you barter your services for?
Simply not having enough money is the hardest thing to deal with. What can you do to raise your bottom line?
Other ways I cut my budget
So what else did I go to cut my budget while still living decently? Let me count the ways!
I broke out my trusty copy of The Tightwad Gazette for some great ideas, like cutting my dryer sheets in half. That certainly stretched out a box of sheets! Eventually, I paid $6.99 for a dryer ball and haven’t purchased a box of dryer sheets since. The only drawback is keeping my cats from playing with the ball. What items could you replace with items you can reuse for a lifetime?
When my favorite body wash doubled in price, it was time to go back to good old Ivory soap. Shampoo has always been the cheap Suave, no need to rinse and repeat. Tightwad Gazette has some tips for frugal soap use on pages 237-238. Apply this idea to everything else you need.
When I broke a soap dish, I didn’t rush to buy a new set. I’m using one I had in my closet. Free is good.
Speaking of which, there are many free things available, from books on the Internet to samples in stores. Even a bite of food can help! My Aunt Joann would go to every food stand in a given store and take a sample. I thought that was crazy until I realized that we no longer needed lunch. She raised my 5 cousins on a very tight budget, so I found this worthy of note. Maybe she wasn’t so crazy! Free is good, and she took full advantage of every freebie she could get. Perhaps you could too. What items can be swapped out for cheaper versions? How many things can you get for free?
I’ve definitely cut down on eating out, and having food delivered is simply out of the budget! That was a treat at $25 per meal. At $30, it’s gone. I went from eating out 1-2x/a week to once per month. My birthday will be an exception, and you can rest assured: I’m paying cash. I make larger dishes on the weekend, such as a roast or squash casserole, and eat that over the course of the week. Check out this article on eating well on $30 per week.
Growing and preserving my own food has really made a difference, even though I also pay for a CSA share. I haven’t purchased fruits or vegetables in the store for years unless it’s something I can’t grow, like oranges. I have 2 tabletop hydroponics units, a garden in my yard, my CSA share, and a community gardens plot. The CSA share isn’t cheap, but it’s for the entire year.
Buying other foods in bulk, such as family packs of meat, also saves money in the long run. I divide those into single meal portions using my FoodSaver, which has more than paid for itself.
I grow mushrooms and have bartered them for eggs in the past, as well as dehydrating what I can’t eat fresh for use later. Kits can be cost-effective here if mycology isn’t your thing. I’ve seen mushroom kit sellers at farmer’s markets. Buying locally not only saves shipping costs, but you support your local economy. Your neighbors need the help too. What can you do to grow even some of your own food? Check out this article on apartment and condo gardening.
I know, not all of those options are available to every person. Use what you can, and consider urban foraging. Never heard of that? Read about it here.
Speaking of gardening, there are many ways to repurpose household items to serve in the garden. I’ve used old food containers for seedling pots and watering collars. Milk jugs, soda bottles, bedsheets, plastic utensils and more serve in my garden in various capacities.
Do you need an expensive tool that you’ll use only once? Consider renting it rather than buying. Tools can be great time savers. For example, I used to use a hand sander to prepare my 12’ x 6’ deck for painting. It took me an entire day and many sandpaper packets, not to mention a sore back. I borrowed a belt sander one year and had it done in one hour. Tightwad Gazette has some great rental tool advice on page 765.
Get out of debt.
I turned 59 1/2 on a Friday last year and paid off my house 3 days later. Debt-free is good, and not having to pay a mortgage has definitely eased the stress on my budget. Keep in mind that taking money from your IRA before your time is an early withdrawal that will trigger a huge taxable bite out of your income!
This is one place I’m benefitting from pure luck of the draw. If our current situation had happened while I was in college and renting, that would be a problem. I got lucky and took full advantage. What can you do towards becoming debt-free? What are the positives in your situation?
How else can we adjust?
These are but some of the ways I’ve adjusted to meet the demands of living in today’s conditions. Above all, I’ve kept my attitude positive and changed my thinking, and that has made all of the difference. When there’s simply not enough money there are two things that can be done: increase the bottom line and decrease expenses. How that’s done is a matter of an individual’s skills and what opportunities can be found.
Have you had to adapt to new financial circumstances? What have you done to adjust to the new conditions? Let’s talk about it! Share your tips in the comments section.
About Amy Allen
Amy Allen is a professional bookworm and student of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s also a Master Gardener with a BS in biology, and has been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010.