Helpful Hints for Getting By During These Hard Times

Times are tough. We all know it. No matter what the mainstream papers say about improvements in the economy we all know someone who is either out of work or who is working a much lower paying job just to keep food on the table and a roof over his or her head. It’s hard to be optimistic and to believe there is anything you can to that will make a difference in your life during these hard times, but here are some common sense ideas that may make things easier, especially if you’re not already practicing them.

1)      Get rid of those credit cards. I know, when you’re using them to buy groceries to eat, or gas to get to and from work it seems an impossible thing to do, but using credit to get by is really living beyond your means. The interest rates will kill you and even if you’re lucky enough to be able to pay off your balance the following month before interest accrues, there are still better ways to handle your finances.

2)      Create and Maintain a Reasonable Budget. This can be tough. It will mean being realistic about what you spend, and what you need to spend. Sometimes when you think you don’t have enough money for things like food or gas you can help find it by cutting out unnecessary expenses. For example, a newspaper subscription is nice, but there’s always the nightly, or morning news on television to catch you up on the major happenings in the world. Cable television is nice, but really having local channels to get your news, weather and even entertainment is just as good. True, you may miss your old favorites at first, but in the end you’ll adjust and you may find one of two things, either you’ll find new television shows, or you’ll discover the time you need to read, take care of household tasks or focus on your friends and family. A budget is a necessary “evil” but sticking to it helps you live within your means and makes tough times easier to get through.

3)      Pay with cash. This means even stopping to use your bank card for automated payments. If you never see the money you spend it doesn’t seem quite real. Use cash whenever the opportunity arises, withdrawing each weeks budgeted amount ahead of time and then surrendering your hard earned cash when you spend it. It will make you appreciate it more.

4)      Start saving. Ideally you should save 25 – 30% of your paycheck, but for those of you who are aren’t used to saving, or who are truly strapped for cash, start with ten percent. Put it in a separate account from your other money and don’t get a bank card for it. Specifically request they not send one and if they do anyway cut it up immediately to avoid the temptation to use it. This money becomes your emergency “cushion.” The money for when the car breaks down, your refrigerator dies, the hot water heater quits working, or you have a sudden, uncovered medical bill. This is your money for true emergencies so while you may start off small with just 10% of your pay, think of all the things that could go wrong and then try to increase the amount you save so you start to feel some security about the money you have saved and the emergencies you could face.

5)      Avoid spending traps. We all have these and we all have to be aware of them. Stop going to Starbucks for a cappuccino or even the corner gas station for a morning cup of coffee. Take the time to cut coupons for those products you know you absolutely have to have in brand name. Household cleaners are my big “name brand” products. I just really don’t believe the generic equivalents work as well, so I’m always on the look-out for coupons on these products. Your “must have” may be a certain name brand food or even the occasional tub of ice cream. Look for coupons for these products and use them.

6)      For products that aren’t on your “must have” list switch to generics. In most cases they really are just as good as their name brand equivalents. 90% or more of my groceries will be generic products, in fact it’s probably closer to 95%. The rest will be a few items that fall into my “must have” category and I will almost always use a coupon to purchase the product. If I don’t use a coupon I simply don’t have it, otherwise it will be tightly clasped in hand waiting until I can surrender it to the cashier and watch my savings add up.

Finally, be prepared to downsize. Your $250,000 house may be lovely, but it may be necessary to give it up, sell the gas-guzzlers and move into smaller, and sometimes much more modest quarters. For example I went from a four bedroom, three-and-a-half bath 3,000+ square foot house that was my dream home, to a very modest three bedroom, two bath 1000 square foot trailer where, incidentally, I raised six children. It’s not much, but it’s mine and God willing I won’t ever lose it. If I do, I guess I’ll downsize yet again, though honestly the idea kind of nauseates me. Still, you do what you have to in order to get by.

These changes may seem insignificant, but combined they can help you save money and have a little “breathing room.” They can help ease the pressure you feel just a little because they give you hints about ways to get by. If you have other ideas please leave them in our comments section and I’ll try to work them into a short follow-up article with Hints for Hard Times from Our Readers.

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