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Food Storage Tips: In case you are freaking out about the economy: How to be frugal

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Lately I’ve talked to more people who are freaking out about the economy. I became concerned last winter and spring, and I’m still following economic news closely. I’m assuming some amount of freaking out accounts for the newfound popularity of food storage information. The values of assets are disappearing, but the debt remains (unless it gets bailed out, but if I understand this right, a bailout of that size would eventually lead to huge inflation). This, plus the uncertainty of some jobs and the decreased access to credit, means we are feeling less prosperous than we used to.

I think the best first step to take after freaking out, and taking a deep breath to calm down, is to practice frugality. A lot of this preparedness stuff requires money, and getting the money requires cutting back on non-essentials. So, how can you make the transition to living frugally?

Write down where you spend your money. Look at the non-essentials, and start to make cuts.
Get ideas for where you can creatively cut costs. The best place to start getting ideas is from Amy Dacyczyn’s Complete Tightwad Gazette. You could also see about checking it out at the library, but in my opinion this is a book worth owning. Some of it is out of date, and some of the ideas are, um, extreme, but the bulk of the information is very helpful. I especially like her philosophy articles, which help you see things from a frugal perspective so you can start to solve your own frugal problems. The book is entertaining to read in little snippets of time. Trent at the Simple Dollar arranged an interview with her last May. If you’re a fan, check it out!

Start going to yard sales. Craigslist or the local newspaper website usually have lists of yard sales near you. Think ahead about things you will need in the future, and start looking for them now. Especially good items to look for are clothes in sizes your kids will wear in the next 5 or so years, according to your available storage space and moving plans. Kids yard sale clothes are a bargain at 25 cents to $1 each. Look for canning jars and other preparedness items. Granted, these were more easily found a few years after Y2K, but I was able to find a hand wheat grinder for $3 this spring, so apparently not everyone is freaking out. Breadmakers are still relatively easy to find cheaply. You might also look for gifts. Depending on your family and changing economic circumstances, you might be able to get away with buying extraordinarily thoughtful used gifts in good condition. I also like to look for books that would be good for self education, such as classics, children’s books and old textbooks. These are usually 25 cents to $1 each.

Speaking of yard sales, if you have a lot of extra junk, sell it! Usually most items fetch better prices on Craigslist or eBay. Yard sales depend on a cheap buyer happening across the thing you want to sell on that particular morning, but on Craigslist you can find a buyer who specifically wants the thing you are selling.
Cook more; go to restaurants less. If you are used to restaurant food and don’t like your cooking, keep practicing. Get a good cookbook or get acquainted with online recipe sites, and keep trying!

Start thinking about how changing economic circumstances will affect your kids. Your family may need to cut back on activities, cutting back to only the most important to your family or your child. Look into inexpensive activities, such as scouts. Substitute with more involvement at home, like playing catch in the yard or reading chapter books in the evenings. Also, children and adults may need to adjust their eating habits to avoid wasting food. Amy D. has an article about this, called “War and Peas,” in her book. After you are calm, talk to your kids about what changes are going to happen at home, and why those changes are smart and will prepare you for the future.
Use time to save money. Many money-saving things require more time. If your hours have been cut back at work, perhaps you already have more time. Or perhaps you can carve out more time by working together as a family, and limiting unproductive time (like surfing the internet, she said sheepishly). Wealth is increased by cutting expenses and increasing productivity.

Learn new skills. You can count on making mistakes at first, but don’t let that discourage you. Eventually, after you make the required number of mistakes, you figure it out.

Think about how people used to do things. Last week, a caller to the Dave Ramsey show really wanted to go on a cruise to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary, but she didn’t have sufficient money saved. She became upset when Dave said that she shouldn’t go. That call got me to thinking: how did people celebrate anniversaries 40 years ago, before cruises became popular for everyone? Were people’s marriages less worthy of celebration back then? No, most people had happy marriages, but they celebrated more simply. This idea extends to other topics, such as houses. My grandparents raised 8 kids in a 1200 square foot house. My parents raised 4 kids in a 2000 square foot house. Now the average new home size is 2500 square feet, and most families have 1 or 2 kids.

That leads to a sad topic. Can you afford your house? Based on the stats, a lot of people who bought during the boom years in boom markets cannot afford their homes over the long term. Carefully look at your own numbers. If you don’t have a fixed rate mortgage and you want to keep the house, now is the time to look into refinancing, because short of more bailouts, financing isn’t getting any easier to get. Compare the fixed rate payment to the cost of renting acceptable housing. Consider selling your home and renting if it would be much easier on your budget. If you need to sell, in my controversial opinion now is better than later. House prices need to go down until prices are affordable to buyers without “creative” loans, and there’s no sense in throwing good money after bad in order to try to keep an unaffordable house.

If you can see a necessary change looming in the future, start the process of changing now. Our family believe that oil will be more difficult to come by in the coming years, so we have gotten bikes for all family members and are using those for local transportation in good weather. It’s easier to make a change before you are forced to, and it will help you save money in the long run.
Cooperate with your neighbors. Not every family needs every kind of tool and piece of equipment, if you can share with those around you. My neighbor and I are trading carpool trips in exchange for use of my wheat grinder.

Look on the bright side. Going down to a lower standard of living doesn’t mean unhappiness. We’re usually about as happy as we are in the habit of being. People weren’t any less happy 30, 50, 80 years ago. The transition may be painful, but once you are used to the changes it won’t be painful. Some changes can even be good. Decreased spending in restaurants can lead to better health. Smaller homes and fewer children’s activities can lead to more family togetherness.
At this blog, we are committed to helping you find frugal ways to prepare. Smart frugal decisions will help your family make the most of your money as we prepare for whatever may be to come.

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