Saving and survival in hard times

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Our family has been struggling with financial difficulties for some time now, and what has enabled us to survive, stay out of debt and keep our heads above water are, among other things, these money-saving strategies:

1. Food: we keep chickens for eggs, have a herb garden, and grow and gather some seasonal produce, but naturally, this isn’t enough for all our needs. We have learned to choose the cheapest and most nutritious foods we can get, and cook long-lasting, economical meals such as soups and stews.

We stockpile and try to venture out shopping less often, making do with what we have in the house. The less you pop into stores, the less you will buy!

Another useful strategy is, whenever you find a defect in any store-bought product, don’t pass, complain. If you word your complaint right, you might get not just a refund, but all sorts of coupons and gift cards as compensation. Lately we have complained about a bag of wormy rice, and got two bags of rice and a bunch of canned goods as a gesture of goodwill.

2. Utility bills: reexamine your electricity and water usage and scrimp as much as you can. We have a solar water heater and I try to make do with it even in winter – we still have enough sunny days to shower every other day or so. Shocked? A daily shower is a privilege, not a need, especially in winter (in summer, we have plenty of hot water from the solar heater to shower every day). Wash full loads of laundry, line-dry your clothes, turn off lights and appliances, and wear extra layers of clothes rather than heat your house.

3. Gas: gas and car maintenance are expensive. Stay home as much as you can. Schedule all your errands for one day. Try to get people to drive over to see you, rather than go to them.

If you live in an area with reliable public transportation, consider going without a car. We can’t do without a car, unfortunately, and furthermore, we’ll have to upgrade in the near future as we grow to be a family of six and a standard 5-seat vehicle is no longer enough for us. Of course, we’ll sell our current car to help fund the next one.

4. Clothes and shoes: hand-me-downs and thrift stores will keep you clothed for next to nothing, and often you can get very nice brand-name gently used clothes that will last a great deal longer than cheap new clothes you might have bought at the mall.

5. Housing costs: if you rent or are paying a mortgage, it’s a huge, stress-inducing drain in hard times. Many people have been able to downsize to a smaller, cheaper, easier to maintain home, without any material reduction of comfort. We are lucky enough to own our home free and clear, but unfortunately, the local taxes are killing us. We are praying for an opportunity to sell and move to an area with lower local taxes.

6. Health: we have reexamined our health insurance to get a more affordable plan that covers nearly as much. It’s still a huge expense, and we might have to give it up altogether if things don’t improve soon, because it’s absurd to have a health insurance and starve, but for now we’re holding on.

At the same time, keep yourself in as good health as possible, because depression and physical weakness make it more difficult to handle a financial crisis. Eat as well as you can, get your sleep, be out in the fresh air, and take exercise in the form of walks, riding a bicycle, or working in the garden. It’s healthy and free.

7. Shopping and entertainment: just close your pocket and don’t buy anything you can survive without. Limit your entertainment to free stuff – walks, hikes, bonfires, friendly get-togethers – and moreover, stuff that is within walking distance or a very short drive, because gas costs money too, remember? Swap books with friends or use the library, reexamine your mobile phone and internet plans, and if you still have cable TV, cancel it.

8. Alternative money making sources: as important as saving is, sometimes you also need to think how you can earn a little extra. My husband fixes computers while he’s getting his company established, while I write fiction and nonfiction, do freelance editing and proofreading, translate, and do occasional nutrition counseling for people who are prepared to make it to my neck of woods.

It’s hard when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s possible to survive and even thrive by judicious management. Read more on frugal living strategies here.

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Making money from home

Our desire for financial independence, coupled with our wish to have a quiet, gentle, non-money-driven life and a mother at home for the children, has led us down the path of exploring simple,  self-reliant living. A simple life is not necessarily a cheapo life, but it is conductive to saving money in many ways.

We home-educate, so we don’t have daycare or schools fees. I breastfeed, so we never had to buy formula. By regularly checking out thrift stores, we have a reliable source of clothes and household goods, very cheaply. We only have one car, which saves us gas, maintenance and insurance. Our entertainment is simple and usually involves visiting with friends or local, free day trips. Finally, we are currently working on the important aspect of food self-reliance, by raising our own chickens, foraging for free edible goods, and establishing a vegetable garden.

Nevertheless, while saving money is a cornerstone of debt-free living on a small income, sometimes it isn’t enough. Maybe you’re going through a period of increased expenses. Or maybe you just want to make a little extra that would go towards financing a project you’ve long dreamed about. For us, I guess, it’s a bit of both right now, and I’ve been brainstorming some ways of making money from home:

Childcare – this isn’t something I would personally do as a first choice, because frankly, with my three children I’ve got quite enough to be getting on with. But providing childcare is probably the most popular and reliable means of generating extra income from home among stay-at-home mothers around here, either as all-day care for babies or picking up children from school, feeding them lunch and watching them for a couple of hours.

Private tutoring – a foreign language, a proficiency at music or dancing, superior knowledge of mathematics, or any special skill can all be converted into a side income by providing private lessons at your home or in your neighbors’ homes, at your convenience. Of course, if you have little children you will need someone to watch and entertain them while the lesson is going on. Or, if they go to bed early enough, you might teach while they are asleep.

Coaching and counseling – I have done nutritional counseling and coaching, one on one and in group settings, right in my living room. With young children I haven’t been able to do it on a regular basis, but I look forward to having more time, and hopefully more space, in the future. Any kind of coaching or counseling can be done from home, though again this might not always be compatible with full-time parenting of little ones.

Selling your surplus produce – if you have an established homestead, with a seasonal surplus of vegetables, eggs, milk or animals, you can sell what you produce. The key is to find customers for what you offer. We tried doing that with fresh eggs last year – we had more than we could use, but people just weren’t interested. So we decided to thin out our flock a bit to make it more sustainable, and lo and behold! People just lined up to buy productive hens for their back yard, and asked us to contact them if we have more birds for sale in the future. It sure was a nice surprise. This year we hope to raise some extra chicks to sell at the end of the season.

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Above: Black Brahma/New Hampshire chicks, which will hopefully grow into nice big birds, to be sold at a good price at some point

Selling things you make – women around here and all over the world sell their homemade bread, baked goods, candles, soaps, body care products, home-sewn baby slings, toys and nursing covers, and more. It’s possible to expand this into a group tutorial: for example, people who have bought your artisan bread and liked it might be willing to pay for acquiring the skill of making it on their own. It is possible to advertise in local newspapers, and Etsy has opened a whole new world of possibilities for hand-crafters.

Selling your art – if you are the artsy type, your hobby might just redeem itself financially and become a source of income. Around here we have painters, glass-blowers, and jewelry-makers. Again, group tutorials might be an attraction as well. If I had the possibility, I’d love to learn beading. A friend of mine, Jenny, set up a successful home business selling her cute painted rocks.

Writing – I write fiction, love it and hope to get a publishing deal someday, but I realize it’s a long, slow process with lots of competition and I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. So I’m also looking at possibilities of writing articles, website content, and doing English/Hebrew translations.

These are just a few ideas I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear yours.