Being downwardly mobile, I’ve got to keep pruning the low-hanging fruit, the non-essentials. In the last post, I cut the telephone land line and the monthly phone bill. I’ve also whittled away at a long list of other non-essentials as I gradually scaled back my lifestyle from “affluent” to “working poor.” Here’s my top ten list (plus one):
- House (Apartment) Cleaning Service. Probably the most expensive of the non-essentials, and the first to go. For years, a cleaning service came every two weeks to do the necessary little chores I was too lazy to do. (Can you believe I paid for a cleaning service, even when I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment?)
- Vacations. I’ve never been bitten by the travel bug. Still, I used to get away for one weekend every season of the year, when I was affluent. And I usually took a real one-week vacation in the summer or fall. Now I haven’t had a real vacation in years. I acknowledge that forgoing vacations, year after year, is a sacrifice. But if I did vacation, I’d do it on the credit card, digging myself deeper into debt. Not a good idea.
- Cable TV. When I lived alone, I made do with rabbit ears. Cable, even basic cable, was a luxury I could easily live without.
- Home Internet Service. Same as Cable TV, above. Most of us weren’t even aware of the Internet a decade ago. Now we act like it’s a necessity. It’s not. I dropped it along with the cable TV, and used the free public Internet access at the library. However, when I share housing with another person, I usually split the cost of cable and internet. It seems like the neighborly thing to do.
- Newspapers. This was a tough one. All my life, I’ve read at least one daily newspaper. At the height of affluence, I subscribed to my local paper seven days a week, plus the out-of-town New York Times. The bill for The Times was $1 a day, and well worth it. But The Times was obviously low-hanging fruit. It had to go. Later, I cancelled the local paper as well. The monthly saving was small but necessary. (I never thought the day would come that I couldn’t afford a daily newspaper.) I still buy ONE Sunday newspaper at the newsstand, when I’m feeling flush. Otherwise, I get my news from TV, or I go to the library and read the newspapers to my heart’s content, for free.
- Ice Cream. I switched from the premium Hagen Daz to an everyday brand. Since the doctor advised a low-fat diet, I cut way back on even the less-expensive brand, more to save my health than to save money.
- Pizza Delivery. I resisted this extravagance for a long time. (I might be too lazy to clean my own apartment, but I was willing to fetch my own carry-out pizza.) As the years went by, I surrendered to our cultural addiction to ease and convenience. Pizza delivery is handy when you have friends over and don’t cook. But my days of entertaining lavishly with delux pizzas (no anchovies or black olives, please) are over. I still enjoy pizza whenever I can, but I don’t have it delivered.
- Eating out. As a lifelong bachelor, I prided myself on preparing my own breakfast of cereal and a banana at home. But for lunch and dinner, I habitually patronized one neighborhood restaurant or another. I was a generous tipper, too, if I do say so myself. That lifestyle is a only a pleasant memory. Now, I look for price cuts at the supermarket, and eat almost every meal at home.
- Buying Books. One of my few extravagances was buying and reading new books, mostly paperback, but often enough, expensive hardbacks. When I read, I like to highlight important passages, and you can’t do that unless you own the book. It’s a luxury I can no longer afford. The public library lets me check out books for free, but frowns on highlighting.
- Church and Charitable Donations. Now frugality is getting serious. In the affluent days, I sent checks several times a year to favorite charities (soup kitchens, disaster relief, and the like). There came a day when it seemed that I needed the money as much as the charities did. Next, I reduced my weekly church contribution to an embarrassingly small sum. Lately, I’ve been skipping church contributions entirely, and feeling guilty. I’m determined to return to my habit of small donations to church soon, but not this week.
- Bottled water. This is my most recent economy. For years, I carried a bottle of spring water with me everywhere. I still buy bottled water by the gallon for use at home. Our well water is OK for showers and laundry, but not for drinking or cooking. But thanks to a handy, 27-ounce stainless-steel canteen, I no longer buy those outrageously expensive small bottles of water. See, I fill the canteen free, with tap water at work, or from the gallon jugs at home. I still carry water everywhere, but I’m saving money, and with no sacrifice.
There you have it: A list of non-essentials I can live without, and save money. Please add your own suggestions for saving money on low-hanging fruit under “comments.”
Much more to come on adjusting my lifestyle from affluent to working poor. Simply cutting the low-hanging fruit was not nearly sufficient to balance my budget. Soon, we’re going to take a hard look at the essentials.