Often, families find that the totals in their bank accounts are quite inadequate and depressing. One reason may be that they have an overly inflated concept of what their life-style should be.
Keeping up with the Joneses, for example, can be a very unprofitable undertaking. The family that fritters away its income on expensive nonessentials may soon be wondering how the next rent payment is going to be made. Contrast this approach with that of the apostle Paul: "I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous.... I have learned the secret of...facing either plenty or poverty" (Philippians 4:11-12, J.B. Phillips).
This attitude about material wealth can save a person many a financial woe. The key is to recognize that whether rich or poor, in debt or out, material possessions do not make a person permanently happy. Rather than trying to live beyond one's means, one should learn to be satisfied with what one has — and to improve on it as time and money eventually permit.
Using this basic approach, here are some suggestions on how you may be able to trim some of your major living expenses.
With food prices rising, many consumers have already become well versed in the art of trimming their food budgets. In some instances, they have simply sacrificed on the quality and/or quantity of food eaten. In the face of inflation, many families may have no other recourse.
However, there are ways of getting around the price squeeze at the supermarket. One obvious way to soften the blow of family food prices is to buy in bulk, in larger size packages. A smart shopper who stocks up on economy sizes will save more than just food money. He or she may eliminate some of those time- and gas-consuming trips to the local grocery store.
Significant savings can also be achieved by avoiding prepackaged meals or gourmet items. Much of their price represents the cost of somebody else's labor. Potatoes, for instance, offer an excellent example of the savings a nonprocessed diet brings. In their natural state, potatoes sell for a few cents a pound. Yet they may cost many times that as potato chips or crisps.
Natural grains often quadruple in cost when transformed into boxed cereals. And block cheese is another prominent food item that sells much more cheaply than its sliced counterpart. And nonprocessed food — vegetables, fruits, meats, milk and grains — are not only usually cheaper, but provide a healthier diet as well. In this regard, you might consider starting a backyard garden. For the price of a few seeds, and a little effort, you can enjoy the pleasures and financial rewards of homegrown produce.
Perhaps the biggest food savings families can achieve will come through home cooking. Restaurant dining, even in more modest establishments, is an expensive proposition. When families dine out, they in effect are paying a heavy premium to have somebody else prepare their meals.
Efficient meal planning can also be a boon to the family food budget. Leftovers can be tastefully used in casseroles, soups or stews. And on weekends, you might try serving two meals a day instead of three. This might be especially convenient for the family that rises late on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Cutting Costs on Clothing
Following the latest fads may look chic, but it's not so fashionable when it comes time to pay the clothing bills. Your clothing budget can stay in trim if you basically stick to clothing that is classic and timeless in style.
Buying quality clothing is another way you can save money in the long run, even though you may have to pay more at the time of purchase. A good seamstress can rack up significant savings on a sewing machine. On the other hand, for certain types of apparel, a stitch at home may not always be worth the time, effort and cost of material involved.
Since the clothing industry is highly competitive, it pays to shop around. If your family finances are such that you can time your purchases to coincide with sales, so much the better. And don't rule out quality used clothing. In some big cities, fashion-conscious individuals donate little-worn garments to thrift stores. There they can be purchased at a fraction of their original cost.
Trading in the family car every two or three years is a losing financial game. If you want to get the most for your transportation funds, hang on to the car for a while. Get as much mileage out of it as is practical. That sleek and shiny new vehicle that looks so good in the showroom will usually depreciate markedly in value the minute you sign the papers and put the key in the ignition. After the first couple of years, depreciation drops off a bit, so you can come out somewhat ahead of the game if you hold on to a new car for at least four or five years. After that, depending on its quality, you may find the cost of repairs and operation greater than the cost of making a trade.
If you can find the type of car that you can buy new and operate economically for 10 years or more, you will be well ahead. And if you can pay cash, you can save yourself a bundle in costly finance charges. Obviously, the smaller cars are a definite plus for the buyer who is looking for economy.
Also, it doesn't hurt to learn a little about auto mechanics. Often you can save yourself sizable repair bills by doing your own routine maintenance. And if you are really fed up with spending so much money for the family auto, you might think about riding a bicycle or public transit, or car pooling.
Care for Yourself and What You Have
Many families spend a large portion of their annual income on health care. Wouldn't it be more prudent to concentrate on a health-conscious style of living that seeks to avoid getting sick? A healthful diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep promote good health.
A little concern spent on preventative maintenance — a scheduled check on the car, the window screens, the washer, the stove, the roof, the bicycle, etc. — can mean a lot of money saved on expensive repair bills.
Following principles like these in caring for yourself and what you have, and applying the measures outlined elsewhere in this series, will help you attain the objective of living within your means.