Living Cheap and Living Well
Serious creative pursuits can have a profound impact on your finances. Whether you are engaging in a side project or making a leap with no safety nets, odds are you will need to know how to stretch your money. But the starving artist cliches don’t necessarily have to apply to you. The good news is that with a little resourcefulness you can live cheap and live well.
The trick, though, is learning how to manage your money responsibly and effectively. Your financial behavior should allow you to cover all expenses and ideally save some money as well. Obviously this is easier said than done, but if you’re not on top of your expenses, your expenses will be on top of you. With so much emotion tied into money, it is easy to make assumptions and otherwise ignore the issue. But this is both dangerous and needlessly aloof. Finances don’t have to be a bear you occasionally poke. And the sooner you learn to ride that bear, the better off you’ll be.
Take Active Control of Your Spending.
You work hard for your money. And you can always use more. But more may be a long time coming.
Search the libraries of books offering financial advice, and the central thesis is usually some version of this: spend less than you earn and invest the difference.
Again, this is very easy to say. But even if your finances are under water, you can still take beneficial action. Debt cycles can be controlled and broken on any income, but only if you act as our own advocate.
It is not the place of this article to offer detailed financial advice. But there are resources that will help you form a good relationship with money. For example:
And lastly, some encouraging news for those with intentions of building wealth:
Few things affect your life more than money. So spend some time thinking about it. It doesn’t have to be your top priority, but it should be given its due respect.
(Almost) Never pay retail for anything.
Quite possibly every single thing you buy is available somewhere else for a fraction of the cost. The only possible exceptions are fresh groceries: meats, fruits and vegetables. But even those items have ideal purchasing scenarios. The key is to ask yourself several questions:
Does the brand name really make a difference?
If I buy this used will it work just as well?
Can I get the same thing cheaper somewhere else?
Do I absolutely have to have this at all?
This may all seem like common sense, but our consumer culture is extremely good at manufacturing the illusion of need.
Books and media can be purchased or found online. Amazon, Half.com, and Ebay all provide very good deals on most things. And if you haven’t checked out Craigslist yet, you should.
Clothing and household items can be found at thrift stores or factory outlets. In the case of thrift stores, many people give away perfectly good name brand items.
Used furniture stores and outlets are easily located online.
Many cleaners and household products can be found at a dollar store. Admittedly, you sometimes get what you pay for, but some things, like soap and notebooks, are hard to screw up. Sometimes these stores carry surplus inventory of name brand products which didn’t sell somewhere else.
Every grocery chain has its own generic version of everything. These items are always cheaper, and very often just as good as their name brand counterparts. It is advisable to sample a generic food item to see if you like the taste. But most chemically based things, cleaners, medicines, and sprays, have identical active ingredients. Just look at the labels. In this case you are literally paying for the packaging.
There will be cases where it is unavoidable, acceptable, or even advisable to pay retail. There is no generic Godiva. But such items are special, or only needed for special occasions. It is also important to mention that saving money can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. The trouble to get something can neutralize the money one might save on an item. For example, you no one would drive two hours to buy cheaper cold medicine. Remember that you do get what you pay for. Your goal is efficiency, not to cut corners.
Control your expenses.
Many monthly expenses can be easily curtailed with just a little bit of forethought. Do you watch enough TV to justify growing cable rates? You can watch your favorite shows, commercial free, on Blue Ray or online. Next time you’re eating raman noodles (again), ask if that $70 (or more) a month for television is worth it.
The same can be said for high speed internet access. The online market is getting more competitive all the time. Good deals can be easily found. Or, if you don’t go online much, just go to a coffee shop when you absolutely have to.
Despite its stigma, many people use pre-paid cel phones if they know they don’t use it enough to justify a monthly plan.
If you have a monthly cel phone plan, check to see how many of the bells and whistles you actually use. Most providers will happily modify your plan according to your usage, especially if you have used the same company for a long time.
For the particularly anal, most electronic equipment have what is called a “standby off”, rather than shutting down completely. So the device still uses small amounts of power while it is not in use. In this way a massive home entertainment system can nickel and dime your power bill. There are some things you may want to habitually unplug when you are done using them. Computers are a good candidate for this.
Knowing how air flows through your home can help you when warming or cooling it. Circulating the air in your home, allowing or making it travel from room to room, can reduce the time you have to use heat or air conditioning. The less climate control, the more money you save. Toward that end, it may be a good idea to learn just how much heat or cold you can comfortably put up with. If you can live with putting on extra sweaters or taking repeated cold showers, your monthly utility bills take mythic drops.
For those living in cities, a monthly transportation pass allows unlimited use of the mass transit system. The trade off is that it will take much longer to get where you are going, and you’re riding mass transit. But millions do it every day and they find ways to productively pass the time.
Learn to cook. Food can be very expensive or cheap depending on how you buy and prepare it. It is still possible in today’s world to eat a full, nutritious meal for only $5. But you won’t find it anywhere but in your own kitchen. The following links lead to recipes that should be both easy to make and easy on the wallet:
In general, it is more economical to cook on a large scale. So if you like pasta, make a massive pasta dish you can eat out of for a week. Depending on what you make, $20 can yield a week’s worth of food. Cooking takes time, however, and you’ll be stuck eating the same thing for a week. But that is literally a small price to pay.
And anyone thinking of cooking large meals should pay attention to the following two words: