Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

These last few weeks I've been examining our budget and trying to reduce the amount of money we spend. My credit card is almost paid off, which means that next month I can start making bigger payments on my student loans and putting more money into savings. This is very exciting news, especially since I've been carrying a balance on my card for over four years and the minimum balance I've been paying on my loans meant I wouldn't be debt-free until the age of 50. My current goal is to pay off my loans by the age of 40, but I have to admit I haven't done the math to see if that's even possible. I'm afraid to consult a calculator.

As far as reducing our spending goes, we've made a few tweaks which have been paying off. Here are the top three money-saving practices we've instituted:

1. Taking part in the GAAD challenge.
This is really my challenge, not Nathan's. Basically, I have not bought any new clothing since January 1, 2011 and I don't intend to shop again until the calendar turns to 2012. (With the exception of pants for work and running capris, both of which were planned prior to the challenge.) Now, it's not like I was spending huge quantities of money on clothing before. I live in East Texas, where the Target clearance rack is about as fancy as I get. The GAAD challenge has had a different effect on my finances. Because I'm not on the lookout for new clothes or good deals, I'm thinking about shopping less. I no longer wander through stores, just in case something is on sale. Which means I'm also not buying three or four other things I didn't know I needed until I saw them on the shelf at Target. Emails about clearance sales from my favorite online shops are deleted without being opened. The pressure (which I put on myself) to always scoop up a decent deal is gone. It's a whole area of my life I no longer have to think about, except for when I get dressed in the morning. And best of all, I still have things in my closet that I've never even worn, and I still find myself weeding out items to donate to Goodwill! Which just goes to show that I own way more than I need. A striking realization, and one which I'm trying to apply to other areas of my life.

2. Using the car less... and less... and less.
We live in a small town and I can get pretty much anywhere I need to go by foot, bike or scooter. Lately Nathan has been taking my scooter to work since his job is farther away, and I've been riding my bike the one mile to campus. The scooter uses a fraction of the gas our car requires, plus it's more fun to drive. And since gas prices are currently through the roof, this is an excellent new habit to have.

I'm also taking advantage of bike commuting while the weather is nice. Once it hits 110 degrees in June, July and August, I know I'll be stealing back my scooter. 

3. Eating to live while still living well.
I love food. I love to go out to dinner and I love to experiment with new recipes and fancy ingredients. Alas, these habits are expensive! Another good thing about living in East Texas (depending on how you look at it) is that we are very limited when it comes to eating out. Because of the dearth of vegetarian/vegan options, we eat about 85% of our meals at home. Lately, I've been getting back to the basics with ingredients and dishes. We just joined a new CSA so we'll be getting the majority of our produce from there (and we paid up front for the season, so at this point it seems free!) And most important, I'm making a serious effort to stop wasting food. I'm terrible about forgetting to use up the last of the arugula, or the squash that is shoved in the back of the crisper, or the leftovers from last Saturday hiding behind a carton of OJ. My new method is to put all perishables and leftovers on the top shelf of the fridge so they're the first thing I see when I open the door. Every time I throw food away, I'm throwing money away - not to mention all the people in the world who are starving.

I know these aren't ground breaking revelations, but for a couple who already lives pretty cheaply these tweaks are definitely making a difference. Do you have any tricks to save money? Any simple methods to make life less expensive and more awesome? Feel free to share - I'd love some new ideas!