Wednesday, January 6, 2010


A treeful of Eagles one cold day near Eleva, WI along US Highway 10.

Money, it’s a crime. We need money, and more and more of it every day to get by and keep up our “standard” of living. But what of this standard we speak of? What is that? Is it keeping up with the Joneses? Is it not ever having to go back to a cheaper brand of anything once you’ve experienced the high price spread? Is it not selling, (or not being foreclosed upon), your home and moving to a smaller place in a bad neighborhood?

They say there is no inflation. There was no COLA, (Cost Of Living Adjustment) for Social Security recipients this year, yet prices are up across the board. I remember a story about the grocery store owner in Ashland. Years ago, when there was a paper mill in full operation, business was good. When workers started using a grocery list to do their shopping, he knew times were changing. When prosperous, no one looked at prices and they purchased what they wanted. When the end of the mill was near and layoffs started, the inventory showed an increase of buyers using the lower cost generic brands and a huge decrease on gourmet items. He closed the store before it went bankrupt.

I’m on a fixed income with Social Security. Little by little, as prices go up, you don’t notice day to day, but after a while, it sinks in and when I did a little research, I see we are paying a lot of money and getting far less than we got just a short time ago, especially on a gallon of gas, a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread.

I came across this article on Beth’s Blog. I haven’t mentioned Beth in a while, but her blog is a plethora of fascinating articles every day. I call it the Liberal Reader’s Digest. Recipes, quotes by famous, and not so famous, people, words to live by and news articles about just everything. The other day, I spotted this headline:

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck. This is a phrase I have used for years. My Dad used it. He used to say life was feast or famine. I realize that in my life, I always had a roof and a meal, but I was one paycheck away from financial disaster. That proved out when I had a heart attack at 36 years old and missed one year of work after a bypass surgery. I filed bankruptcy and lost everything, including some dignity.

I read the article. Now, I’ll comment on what I have done, or not done, as it pertains to the 10 Ways to Stretch Your Paycheck.

1) Stop buying bottled water. Americans spend a staggering amount on bottled water - $18 billion last year.

I don’t buy bottled water as a rule. I have, on occasion, when traveling, purchased a bottle or two of water, but I generally don’t. I fill large 5 gallon carboys at a natural spring and drink that water at home. I fill Nalgene bottles for when I travel or go out. I always seem to have a bottle of water in the car. Can’t save anything there.

2) Skip the Gourmet Coffee.

Hmmm, that would be tough. But my best friend owns a coffee roastery. I buy at wholesale and that is cheaper than the sale prices I’ve seen at the grocery store for Folgers or Maxwell House. Are they talking about the lattes at the coffee shop? If so, well, I must admit, I do buy an Americano just about every day and it costs me a buck sixty. I tip the great baristas at the Dish and the Spoon a quarter, so, I’m at $1.85, say four days a week, that’s $7.40.

If I drank regular coffee, it’s a little less, maybe a quarter or thirty cents cheaper. I feel like I’m paying rent on the chair I sit in for sometimes up to 2-3 hours, talking with friends. A small price to pay for entertainment. Besides, when you’re retired and have no life, I’m glad to pay for an activity and get a good cuppa joe to boot. But the bottom line is, I can stop this practice and have around $30.00 per month in my pocket, but be bored to death.

3) Buy Less Prepared Food.

I don’t buy processed food. Fresh veggies, not even frozen or canned, (maybe a few cans of tomatoes). We even make our beans from scratch in an old West Bend bean pot from the 1950’s, and I’ve started making bread on a regular basis.

4) Buy Staple Items in Bulk.

We do this. Rice, oatmeal, nuts, flour, beans, pasta. We even buy milk in bulk bags. We don’t drink milk, but the Grand kids do and they are here for breakfast a lot.

5) Clip coupons.

I clip coupons for groceries every Saturday for the following week and plan menus on the items we regularly use when they go on sale. This is meat and veggies mostly. Remember, no processed foods. I don’t buy magazines to clip coupons for other items like toilet paper or shampoo. If I bought a glossy page magazine, I would be harming the environment as well as costing me more than I’d save with the coupon.

6) Buy generics rather than brand names.

Are the contents of these two boxes of cereal really different?

I do this. I buy the “Our Family” brand rather than the name brand. There is no difference most of the time. I just bought some crispy rice cereal. It was a lot cheaper than the Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal. I already save here on many items.

7) Cut out dining out and take-out.

I never thought about how much we went out to eat in the past, but I know we go out far less than we used to. Can’t cut out what you don’t do. Really, I can’t remember my last restaurant meal, unless you figure the breakfast I had on my way to Chicago last month. I guess I could have brought something from home, but the savings of doing that on a seldom made trip would be negligible.

8) Go to the library. Buying books can be very expensive.

We do. I don’t buy books. I exchange them at a place or buy them at a thrift store for pennies if I buy them at all. The library is the way to go. Already in this camp.

9) Pay bills on-line. Avoid paying postage and late fees by paying your bills on-line and on time.

I do this. There are two local bills I write checks for and I save postage by bringing the bill to the utility in question. These utilities don’t have an online bill paying option.

10) Lower your monthly bills.

Easier said than done. I guess I could go to a dial-up internet service. I could save $300.00 per year. I could do without DirecTV and Sirius Radio. I give in on this one and agree that I could save some money every year. But how much of a difference will this make? Would it be worth it? Would it change my life?

To be honest, the one singular thing I can do to save money, to rid myself of an unneeded expense, would be to quit smoking cigars. I don’t like the way the cheap ones taste, so I don't buy them. The good ones are expensive, I do buy them, and even though I don’t inhale, (Sure, that’s what Bill Clinton said, and you know what he does with his cigars), I’m sure there is some good I can do for my system and pocketbook if I quit both smoking AND buying. I can certainly think of other ways I could save money as well.

There you have it. Read the article, see if you’re doing it, or what you’re doing. Maybe you don’t need to save money. Maybe you really need to save money. We’re all in a different situation, I’m sure. That brings me back to that term, Standard of Living. I guess my choices to drink a good tasting cup of coffee, smoke a good quality cigar and watch mindless sports costs me money that I could certainly use for something else. But I don’t think we’re going without things to afford the luxury of coffee and TV. That’s my opinion on my own situation. Those are my choices.

But consider this:

Everything costs money. Look at this example using the bottled water. So, you stop buying bottled water. You drink from the tap of your home. Each glass costs. In my town, you pay for how many gallons of water you use in a month, and the sewer costs are based upon how many gallons you use. If you have a well, you still pay for the electricity to power it and replacement and maintenance costs of the pump. A hand pump would cost and wear out too.

I can figure out how much an 8 ounce glass of water costs, and it’s not much, but it does cost something. How about the ratio of the cost of the house and the faucet where you get the water. Businesses run properly do this expense reporting. The cost of goods sold, the fixtures, everything is a deductible item on the tax form. Every time you use the faucet, it’s life span shortens. Replacement of the fixture can conceivably be added to the cost of each individual glass of water. The cost of the glass itself, wear and tear on said glass, replacement cost. Washing the glass after use and the detergent and once again water and sewer costs. Heating the water to wash the glass properly to avoid sickness from germs. Fuel costs to heat water, the water heater and its use and replacement. It all adds up. It all costs something.

All kinds of landfill and other environmental issues with these. That's for another day.

This is not an argument to use bottled water. Obviously water from the tap would save money over buying bottled water for all your water needs, but there are expenses involved. How about the chemicals you are drinking from your towns water purification process or if a mistake is made and water purity is compromised? Is that healthy? Can you get disease or sickness. Health care certainly costs a lot of money. Maybe bottled water is a bargain then!

A nice cool glass of water. Of course you know I drink spring water that I go get Up North from an artesian well. Not cost effective, but tastes darn good!

You can read about where and how I get my drinking water HERE

My point is that everything costs money. How do you get it, spend it, hold on to it? I’m sixty years old. I have made it through, paycheck to paycheck, for many years. There is a roof over my head, I eat regularly. Probably the biggest change that I could make that would put a few coins back into my pocket is to eat less overall. I could sustain on half of what I eat right now, therefore saving half of what food costs me to live. Half. And I’d be helping myself health wise as my diabetes is directly related to food intake.

But that’s not good strategy. If I Iive longer, it costs me more than if I died sooner, adding a burden to my already stretched out pocketbook. Maybe Pink Floyd sums it all up in the song with the same title as this post. (Lyrics below)


Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay
And your O.K.

Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash

New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I'll buy me a football team

Money get back
I'm all right Jack
Keep your hands off my stack

Money, it's a hit
Don't give me that
Do goody good bullshit

I'm in the hi-fidelity
First class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet

(Sax and guitar solos)

Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly
But don't take a slice of my pie

Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil

But if you ask for a rise
It's no surprise that they're
Giving none away

"Hu Huh! I was in the right!"
"Yes, absolutely in the right!"
"I certainly was in the right!"
"You was definitely in the right. That geezer was cruising for a bruising!"
"Why does anyone do anything?"
"I don't know, I was really drunk at the time!"
"I was just telling him, he couldn't get into number 2. He was asking
Why he wasn't coming up on freely, after I was yelling and
Screaming and telling him why he wasn't coming up on freely.
It came as a heavy blow, but we sorted the matter out"



Mel said...

I don't know about you--but I didn't note the closeness of my own 'budget' until it was on top of me. Now THAT'S scary...or has been for me.
I don't particularly like thinking about it--I'm not a 'money' person. It's never been one of my priorities. But it's about to become one and I can't say that I like it much.
I think it's even fair to say that I don't like it.



And I do drink bottled water with electrolytes and vitamins added.
Maybe that's a medical thing since the doc told me to do that and I can take that off taxes?
Hahaha...that'll only work IF I actually follow through and drink it, huh?


I found myself inventorying with you as I went down your list.
Not a whole lotta squiggle room...

What's up with that?!

Fran said...

Nothing like having the main wage earner get laid off then terminated to shift into overdrive re being super careful w $.
My biggest fear @ the time was losing the house.
This kicked us into pinching every penny & stowing it aside for a mortgage stash.

When the husband became re-employed, we kept that reserve & still work at having that safety buffer.

We quit drinking bottled water a while ago. I invested an a nice food grade stainless steel reusable drinking bottle (LL Bean.... I seriously wonder if some of the cheap stuff we see is stores is aluminum??)... but a few months ago, a local grocer had a really good sale on drinking water bottles by the case, & every now & then I attempt to have an emergency stash- including water.

Anyway, much to my surprise & delight, I noticed they charged me a deposit fee.
Yes, the bottles need to be returned like a can, for the deposit $. There are only a few states doing this but mine is one of them.

So that will at least keep them out of the landfill.

We installed a PUR water filter on our tap to help take out impurities.

When we are both working full time, we do treat ourselves to eat out sometimes.... either because we are burned out, or food choices in the house are running low.

WE use coupons, or have found good places w great food & reasonable prices.

We've always kept it reasonable... bills get paid first, then we see what is left over.
We did not by more house than we could afford, we don't drive expensive cars.

Anyway.... I hope to keep the buffer going so we have that little peace of mind.

Interesting too, the more we step off of the whole consume/buy mode.... I find myself not even caring who has what on sale.
Just kind of only buy necessities & not really interested in all the rest.

I, Like The View said...

I was mentaly ticking boxes with you down the list (for me cutting down on the cigarettes would be the best area to curtail spending)

and I figure that the new coffee maker will pay for itself, if I worked out how much I saved by not going out (I don't drink alcohol really, so coffee is my main pleasure)

I wonder if you have loyalty cards in the US? I have a few. . . my favourite being the ones for the coffees I get when I am out, every tenth is free! and at the local chemist I get a free lipstick everynowandagain. . .

but mainly, it's the way my mother (who grew up during the war/rationing) brought me up - waste not, want not. . . scrape every last tea-spoonful out of the edges/sides/bottom of the jar. . . carefully count/measure out what you cook, so you don't waste food. . . put any left-overs in the fridge and reuse them promptly. . . treats are treats, not snacks. . . be economical with the lighting and heating. . .

oh! you don't need to hear this!
I enjoyed reading your piece, and what's more we need to live like this in times of not-famine too, (a little like Fran said) that's the lesson

for me, anyhow

Spadoman said...

What wise people, all of you. I, Like The View is right, we need to not spend like there is no tomorrow all the time, not just when the economy is doing poorly or inflation is up. Like Fran says, to have a buffer. That's been hard for me over the years, but I see the wisdom of it.
I was just thinking about how everything costs us money, everything. It would be impossible to live without it. Even street people use what someone else pays for in some way.
And Mel, I know, there is NOT a whole lot of squiggle room. I've got my thinking cap on all the time. We went out last night for dinner, but it was spontaneous, and it was thought about, not just "Let's go".

Peace to all of you and thanks for coming over to the Round Circle.

Spadoman said...

To clarify:

The thought of going out to eat was spontaneous as we were out at the library and we stayed a long time. When we left, it was way past dinner time and no one wanted to start cooking.

But, we had to use the thought process as to whether we should or could spend the money and where/what we could afford.

Obviously couldn't be spontaneous and thought about at the same time. You know what I mean, just felt like I should explain.

Peace again.

I, Like The View said...

despite everything I wrote, and my mother's very frugal way of living. . .

. . .one thing I have learnt is that it's important to take care of yourself

and if that means a treat sometimes, or a decent cup of coffee a few times a day, then that is important

life shouldn't become a grudge to bear, and we shouldn't begrudge ourselves the pleasure of living

we have to enjoy as many moments as we can, and altho a lot of those don't cost a penny, sometimes it's ok to do things for pleasure and do things that seem frivolous. . .

. . .if you see what I mean!

I really hope you enjoyed the meal - just enjoyed, in a normal way!


Spadoman said...

Yes we did, I, Like The View. We did enjoy our meal. In fact, we were laughing so loud while fooling around waiting for our food that people were looking at us and they started to laugh too!

I know exactly what you mean. Maybe that describes what is meant by "quality of Life". Believe me, expenditures for some things are, as they say on the MasterCard commercials, PRICELESS!

Thanks for weighing in again. I love discussion. Sometimes, things can't be said in one go around, there needs to be more dialogue. I love it.


eaprez said...

LOVE the eagle pic! I'd be hard pressed to give up my 70 cent french vanilla coffee each morning. For every three I buy, I get the fourth free. Not a bad deal. I am going to buy some vanilla syrup and try making it at home...cheaper :) I am not a fan of bottled water because of the environmental factors involved in the plastic bottles. I invested $100 in a hot/cold dispenser and have big jugs delievered to the house and bought my own containers. I used to love vitamin water BUT it has calories that water and I couldn't get past the plastic bottles I was discarding all over the place.

eaprez said...

P.S. Thanks for the shout out