Times are tough. Inflation is making prices scream past your income, and no one’s eager to give you a raise. Or hire you. And you’ve done everything you know to do, from fixing up your résumé to networking to working on refreshing your skills.
And you’re still struggling, just like everyone else. So what can you do to make the best of a bad situation? I’ve learned a lot since the world economy went pear-shaped in 2007, and I’m happy to share the bounty of my experience with you.
1. Know what you want. I want a Tesla III, a Canon SL1, and a 40mm STM prime lens. This is what I want for what I want to do: drive around the country taking pictures. Knowing what I want keeps me on track. I know how much money I need and I know the time frame I want it in. This lets me budget and think about what it’ll take, in terms of income, to achieve it.
2. Make sure what you want is what you want. I got a $129 point and shoot camera. If I’d given it any thought, I would have put the $129 toward the DSLR I really needed to do what I wanted. At the time, I didn’t know how bad point and shoot cameras are at focusing in complicated scenes.
With some research, and a better understanding of what I needed, I could have avoided the wasted money. That’s not to say the photos I’ve put up for sale are bad, but it took far too many shots to get them. I take great care to compose and light my photos, and I still discard 90% of them for poor detail and blur.
3. If you’re stuck deciding between two items, don’t get either of them. Odds are good you either don’t need it, or don’t have enough information to decide. Most pressure-based sales depend on this. Sometimes, at the grocery store, I’ll stand there and bounce between two different items. Then I realize I don’t really need candy, or chips, or cookies. I always feel better about it later when I realize how much money I would have wasted.
4. Sales are a lie. As a general rule, things that are on sale are things you don’t need. The steep markdowns are a big red flag: it means they were either overpriced to begin with, or never really cost what they’re supposedly marked down from.
5. Brands aren’t loyal to you. Those “store brand” products are mostly private label stuff produced by the same company. Often, those private label products even give more for your money. The Aldi brand of Ritz–Savoritz–has at least twice as much in the box as the “real” stuff, and tastes just as good. Don’t shame yourself into buying the national brand.
Even when a different company makes the private label product, they’re made by companies with similar standards for taste and quality. It can take time to adjust to the different taste in these cases, but you’ll wonder why you ever bought the more expensive stuff when you do.
6. Make an honest assessment of your technology needs. Do you really need the top-tier cable or cell phone package? See if a pay as you go service available from companies like Consumer Cellular or T-Mobile will suit your needs. See if you really care enough about all those shows on TV to pay tens of dollars (or more) for them. See if services like
Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime can replace it for you. Subscribing to all three is still cheaper than an above-minimum cable package. For the rest, there’s Redbox.
7. Get used to cooking. It’s hard at first, like anything. Going out to eat is easy, but it’s expensive. There’s nothing like a home-cooked hamburger made just the way you like it. And no restaurant can top home fries. Get a good toaster oven for reheating. Microwaves can save a lot of time in preparation, but they can’t reheat most things without turning them mushy.
8. Choose alternatives to fast food. The deli at your grocery store has lots of great food in various stages of preparation. Sandwiches, salads (pasta and otherwise), and soups are cheaper, healthier, and more filling than fast food.
9. Track your spending and income. I use Mint to watch where my money is going and where it’s coming from. The most important feature to me is Trends. Since I started using Mint almost exactly a year ago, I’ve been able to get an idea of what I spend on. And, not shockingly, it was 99% stuff I didn’t need to spend on! Junk food, mostly.
I also use it to track e-book royalties. I tagged all of them, then let the Trends thing crunch it. I found that I made more than double my usual amount last June. Payments come with a two month delay, so that payment was from April of 2013. I dug into my sales reports and found something remarkable. A ton of sales, and a bunch of borrows from free promotions through KDP Select. By tracking this and keeping records, I knew when things were better, and what I did to make it happen.
It told me what I needed to do: promote as heavily as I did in April of 2013. Which is what I’ve done for the last week. It’s why I wrote this post–it’s got good SEO mojo and I took great care to make it useful.
So that’s all I’ve got. What have you done to save money when times were hard? Share in the comments below.