Go with the (cash) flow
June 15, 2011 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I would like to live as cheaply as possible, please!

Lately I've been low on funds and so have been reevaluating my spending habits. They kind of suck. Some of it is from pure laziness (ex: I pass a bookstore that displays a book I want, I would rather spend the $20 than go to the library because it's just that tiny bit more convenient.) But most of it is from not knowing any better: I don't really know how to cook, society told me my cell phone is necessary at $75 a month, my credit card debt is developing a mind of it's own because I can never stick to a budget.

Here is what I'm looking for from you fine folks:

a) practical day to day cost savers (food, clothing, phone)
b) alternatives to big ticket items, if they exist (rent, utilities, vet)
c) advice, or where to look for good budgeting info

I know this question has been asked before, but I'm wondering if there's specific Canada/NS info, particularly regarding apartment living costs?

A little more about me: I'm single/f/26, I'll be moving to Halifax, NS shortly, I make less than 20,000/yr, I have a cocker spaniel. I don't really use my cell phone but like the security of it while I'm out, I have a weakness for movies but don't watch too much tv. Internet is mandatory. I like to craft and have spent an embarrassing amount of money of stuff like sock wool (which is freakishly expensive.) I already buy some stuff from second hand stores.

I know my question is quite broad, but if you have specific advise, like how to grow a functional vegetable garden in your living room, I'd appreciate it too!

I feel like this question is missing some key info, but I'm not sure what, I'll thread sit for a little while if anyone has clarifying questions.

posted by Carlotta Bananas to Work & Money (55 answers total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
Also, the more creative the better!
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 7:04 AM on June 15, 2011

I found that switching to budgeted cash in envelopes was the very best method for me to solve overspending on random things while I was out.
posted by Zophi at 7:11 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I keep my credit card debt under control by requesting a $1,000 credit limit from my card.

If you currently pay for cable, you could look into getting a Roku box and streaming Netflix and Hulu to your TV for a lot cheaper but I know that stuff is tricky and different in Canada so YMMV.
posted by bleep at 7:11 AM on June 15, 2011

Use a prepaid cell phone.

If you've got internet already, you don't need television. If you like movies, try the all-streaming netflix, or just watch movies via google, youtube and hulu.

Project Gutenberg has millions of books available for free online.

Use your thermostat sparingly.

Use googledocs to create a budget spreadsheet and check it religiously.

Only use your credit card if you're going to pay it off each month; otherwise, pay cash. Switch to a rewards card.

Learn how to cook, for goodness' sake. You can do beans and rice a million different ways, and they're all delicious.

Stop buying crafting stuff on impulse.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:12 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Well right off the bat, $75 for a cell phone is nuts if you don't need it. If you just want the security of the phone, get a cheap prepaid phone. Virgin has a $10 a month plan for prepaid, and that's just the first one that I found on Google...others will have you add a set of minutes that expire in 3 months or 6 months so you are only putting money out once in awhile. You could get rid of your landline too, so your only phone costs would be your cell. Lots of people have done this, it's not that scary when you get used to it.

Sell your sock wool on Ravelry and use the funds to start paying down your credit card. Sell anything you can sell (on craigslist or ebay) and do the same. Tell yourself that you are doing it so that you aren't tied to that debt.
posted by cabingirl at 7:14 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Prepaid cell phone.
posted by OmieWise at 7:19 AM on June 15, 2011

First off, make a budget. Track each and every expenditure for at least three months to see exactly where your money is going. Then you can cut back on some things while keeping others where they are, or even expanding certain things. This really is as simple as making up your mind to stick to it and then doing just that. I know the initial sticking-to-it can be difficult; I was you back in the day! It can be done, though.

For cooking: How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Go ahead and purchase this one; it's an investment.

For the cell phone: If you don't really use it, could you switch to pay-as-you-go? Would it make more economical sense if you canceled your contract, bought an unlocked phone, and just paid for minutes as you need them? Work out the numbers and see what you get.

For the vet: A lot of offices offer vaccine clinics, where you don't have to pay an office call cost, just the cost of the shots.

For utilities: Just as an example, if you don't use the clothes dryer, you aren't using electricity, so your bill should be smaller (not by much, but still). Wash only in cold water. Don't turn on the air conditioning unless you absolutely positively have to; or not!

For other stuff: Just suck up the minor inconvenience of the library or whatever else you come across. Seriously, just do it. Think of the money you're saving, or the trees, or the fossil fuels, whatever it takes. Maybe you need to get sanctimonious about how green you're being by using the library. Stick to your budget!
posted by cooker girl at 7:19 AM on June 15, 2011

About 8 or 9 months ago I finally closed my credit cards and stopped the vicious bleeding of living beyond my means. It's been an adjustment, but I've noticed my biggest savings from food. I was a constant eater-outer. I never eat out anymore. I bag my lunch and bring it to work (sandwich, chips, fruit).

I am single as well, and I spend roughly $30 - $40/week on groceries at the local Aldi (super low price off-brand grocery store). At first I was really, really wary of buying these weird brands, but as god as my witness if you had me taste test the off brands next to the well known brands I could NOT tell you which was which. I save SO much money doing my weekly shopping here.

Here is the main tip with groceries - stop buying prepared foods. You know the ones - the frozen pizzas, the deli chicken salad, the frozen bag-of-pasta-and-chicken-and-veggies-with-sauce that you heat up in a pan. It is SO much more economical to actually cook your food. Every couple of weeks I buy a couple of 3.5 lb. whole chickens ($3.60-ish for a WHOLE chicken!) and roast them in the oven, pick off all the meat, wrap it in individual portions and freeze them. I then use that meat for a good two weeks in various recipes.

My other tip along this line? Get & keep staples on hand and you can make SO many things. By staples I mean: bread, milk, eggs, flour, sugar, mayonnaise, butter, oil, potatoes, onions, rice, pasta, canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, cheese, frozen/fresh veggies.

If you had told me a year ago I would be cooking and enjoying it, I'd have scoffed. I was the "Why cook for one?" kinda gal. But now I really enjoy trying new recipes, and these tips have helped save me tons of money on food, and I am enjoying what I eat more than ever.
posted by Falwless at 7:25 AM on June 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

Some months ago Mark Boyle came to a TEDx conference in the city where I live. He explained how he was able to live without money. Although his approach is far too radical to be followed by anyone with common sense - he washes himself in the river using sand instead of soap; he brushes his teeth using a bone -, his example suggests we one could live reasonably well without having to spend that much money.

He started a movement called Freeconomy which is based on trading services instead of money. Actually not that different from the concept of Time Banking (there's a social website for this called 65 hours).

Mark Boyle trades potatoes for the right to use his neighbor's internet connection.
posted by dfreire at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I like to craft and have spent an embarrassing amount of money of stuff like sock wool (which is freakishly expensive.)

On this specific subject: sometimes a crafting hobby is a cleverly-disguised shopping hobby. If you're a stasher, an impulse yarn/craft supplies buyer, or you lose interest in projects quickly, retrain yourself to work on only one project at a time, and work only from your current stash until it's depleted. Only buy new supplies if you have a specific project in mind for them and you're done with everything else you can make. If you're bored with crafting at home, join knitting/crafting groups instead of shopping for new stuff. (Find a group that doesn't meet at a store, or you'll be tempted to buy more stuff!)

If you have a huge stash of sock yarn to work through, consider making one of these blankets! The pattern is easy to memorize, and you are changing yarn fairly often, so it stays interesting.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

I also agree with prepaid phone. If you stick with your current provider you can save on activation fee/getting new sim card/phone. My plan with Rogers (one of the more expensive paygo plans out there) is just $11/mth.

Get a roommate (or more) to save on rent.

Go "green" and make your own cleaning product. Google "baking soda cleaning".

Take public transit instead of driving, biking/walking would be even better, and you get to exercise too. Get rid of gym membership if you have one.

Go to discount theatres, rent dvds, stream movies.

Budget Bytes: yummy recipes for cheap
Squawk Fox: Frugal living tips.
posted by lucia_engel at 7:38 AM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Rent: I know someone who lives with his wife at the Hillel on campus for free, in exchange for housekeeping and maintenance duties (like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow). I know there are people that live at some of the other churches/religious organization meeting places on campus rent-free as well. Something to check out. Also, I had a friend who had free living quarters in exchange for taking care of an old guy's orchid collection. She spent about 20 hours a week on maintaining it.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2011

It's the big and fixed expenses that really blow a budget, not the occasional splurge on a $20 book or fancy wool. The splurges just stick in your mind more because they are one-offs and make you feel more immediately guilty. So, to save money, look first to the big things: rent, car payments/transportation, vacations. If you apartment shop very carefully (and even better, live with a roommate), you can trim hundreds off your budget right off the bat. No amount of coupon clipping can equal that.
posted by yarly at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Writing down everything I spent worked really well for me. It deters me effectively from wasting money on stuff that I don't need - so much so, that I don't need to adhere to a budget at all.

I began doing this based on the advice in Your Money or Your Life, recommended on the excellent Get Rich Slowly (put together by Metafilter's Own jdroth). If you head over there, you'll probably want to start with the articles under "Get Out of Debt".

Additionally, I save a lot of money by not having a car. This may or may not be an option for you. You may also be able to save money (and time) by not having an Internet connection in your house - it's amazing how many other things you will find to do...

For food, see if you can get a workshare on a CSA farm. I did this for a couple of summers and paid almost nothing for food during harvest season, because I received a big box of delicious vegetables in exchange for weeding/planting/harvesting/painting/whatever every other Saturday. It also forced me to learn to cook all the weird stuff I got in the box (eg kohlrabi).
posted by yomimono at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Look at all your monthly recurring bills and get rid of as many as possible - especially if they are subscriptions for things you don't use and magazines you don't read.

You don't need cable TV.

Get on Freecycle.

Buy an old bike and use it instead of driving.

Go running round your local area instead of going to the gym.

Always buy the cheap brand of something at the grocery store at least once. If it's really really nasty you can always upgrade next time. Usually it turns out that the cheap one is fine.

Find where the local immigrants do their shopping and go there.

Go to the market just before it shuts, for great bargains on food they need to get rid of.

Make soup - perhaps out of the things you got cheaply at the market!

If you have an expensive coffee habit, buy a coffee grinder and an Aeropress. This looks like spending money, but it will pay for itself quickly if you would otherwise be in Starbucks every day.

Learn how to joint a chicken. A whole chicken is cheaper than buying it in pieces.

Learn to love charity shops.

Go to the library once a week. This way you will pass up the book at the book store because you already have a stash of unread books.

Porridge makes very cheap breakfast.

If you can't be bothered to make sandwiches, packets of oatcakes and tubs of hummus are still cheaper than buying pre-made sandwiches for lunch.

Coley is just as tasty as cod and much cheaper. Pork belly is also cheap and makes a great roast.

Sherry, butter, cream, lemon juice, chilli, anchovies, fresh herbs - all help to add a flavour hit to otherwise boring food.

If you know someone with a card for a cash and carry, get them to take you, but only buy stuff that really is cheaper in bulk and that you would have bought anyway at the supermarket.
posted by emilyw at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have decided to get laser eye surgery in a few months, and to pay for it I will live as cheaply as possible to save up the cash (even though I have savings). Having something to work towards is helpful for me, then I can say "oh, but do I really want this, or do I want laser eye surgery more?" This stops me from buying stuff I really don't need.

A very poor but stylish grad student friend of mine shops at Superstore (of all places...) for her clothing, much to my disbelief... but then I went shopping there myself and saw that they really do have some nice clothes, and very inexpensive. I picked up some good quality t-shirts in a variety of colors for $5 (on sale from $8). Go a size smaller when trying on stuff though, they all fit big.
posted by lizbunny at 7:41 AM on June 15, 2011

(Superstore is Loblaws out east, I think)
posted by lizbunny at 7:42 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a second job. If you work just 10 hours a week at minimum wage, that's an extra $400 in your pocket. That easily covers a few book and wool splurges.
posted by yarly at 7:43 AM on June 15, 2011

Also, if you are paying $75/month I'm assuming you have a smartphone with a data plan (if this isn't true, please listen to the above commenters and ditch that plan post-haste). You can make that phone your ally by trusting it to do things like find you public transportation to wherever you'd like to go, comparison shopping for those impulse buys like $20 books, notifying you of restaurant deals for the nights where you'd really like to go out with friends, and sending you interesting new recipes by RSS to motivate more cooking. You can also use it to track your expenses and check the balances of your accounts.

Most of these things, you can also do with paper/pen and library computer + printer, but if you've already got a smartphone, you might as well get it on your side.
posted by yomimono at 7:46 AM on June 15, 2011

I found the best way for me to control my spending money is to give myself a set monthly amount I can spend via cash withdrawals from an ATM, automatic debits, or credit card purchases. I keep a list of these expenditures in my planner, and when I've reached my limit, I'm done spending any extra money for the month. At the beginning of the month I write down all the upcoming expenses for the month (i.e., haircut, a wedding present for someone, bus tickets to get to my parents' place for a family do, etc.), so that I know to reserve some of my spending money for those things. I also have a set amount I can spend for groceries every month, and I know what my other expenses are almost to the penny, so this keeps me on budget.

To save money, I buy mostly secondhand stuff, and do things myself whenever I can. I hardly ever eat out. I don't have any of the gadgets people take for granted they need these days: no cell phone, no cable, no BlackBerry or Kindle or iPod. I do have internet access — the internet is a wise and cost-effective expenditure. I don't have a gym membership — you can go walking or running for free, or buy a $20 workout video and do it a few hundred times.

You may be able to find a deal on rent in return for agreeing to do some maintenance or cleaning around the property.

Be very mindful about every purchase you make, and think long term. Look for the best option and the best deal on every purchase you make. Could you use something you already have at home? Could you make, borrow, or rent it? How much will you use it? If you're going to use something a lot, buy good quality because it'll outlast several cheaper versions of the same item. Try to get good stuff cheap rather than cheap stuff cheap. Don't compromise on quality on some items. You need good shoes, a good haircut, and a good mattress.

Definitely learn to love your local library, and learn to cook. If you try one new recipe a week, you'll have tried 52 recipes in a year. And you can have your friends over to a meal and serve them the best meal they've had all week for very little. And yes, as people have already said, watch the crafting supply costs. Challenge yourself to make things out of whatever you have lying around. I find thrift stores are a treasure trove for craft supplies. I buy necklaces there and restring them. I find handknit sweaters in a beautiful yarn, ravel and wash the yarn, and reknit it. I've found some really nice new, unopened craft kits. One time I bought a beautiful kit for a needlepoint Christmas stocking kit for $6 (it costs $35 to $40 to get a kit like that new).

Oh, and read Your Money or Your Life.
posted by orange swan at 7:48 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stop drinking. (or do so at home.)

nthing the prepaid cell phone - it saved me like 50 bucks a month on something I rarely used.

Make soups! They freeze real well, so you can make a damn gallon and put the rest in ziploc baggies so you always have a meal ready in 5 minutes. Buy a few containers and then start buying things in bulk (like rice, lentils, etc).
posted by OrangeDrink at 8:00 AM on June 15, 2011

Recommending The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Ideally from your library; if not there, then secondhand.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

My prepaid phone at Virgin Mobile costs $60 a year, plus tax, since I set it up to be automatically paid every three months, but it's pretty limited in what it does (the phone itself cost $10). You can get a smartphone from them for $25 a month for unlimited data. Still too expensive for me, but maybe one of these years....
posted by Ery at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two small things:

I sharply cut back on reading blogs-about-things-I-like-to-buy and blogs about my hobbies. For example, I cook a lot, but when I read cooking blogs I am tempted to rush out and buy ingredients for things instead of figuring out things to make from affordable ingredients or figuring out things to make for particular events.

I also keep an ongoing, elaborate "things I would like to buy" document - not just a list but actual writing about what I'm wishing for and why I want it. I've noticed that this helps me keep a handle on which of my wishes are ephemeral (most of them) and which are real. Right now I have a short mental list of things I actually am sure I want and can use.
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

to add to emilyw, wash your ziplock bags! no need to throw them away after one use.
posted by Tarumba at 8:26 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you sell crafts on Etsy? That could cover supplies, but I'd try to cut back on them anyway (I tend to collect craft supplies, too, thinking "but I can make this, and this.." and it doesn't happen any time soon).
posted by cp311 at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2011

There are a bunch of great suggestions on this thread. My advice echos some of the other answers

Both my wife and I have hobbies that we can make money on. Not much, but when my wife needs crafting supplies (or needs to pay back the savings account for a large project) she makes up a couple dozen infant hats and sells them on etsy and locally. This allows her to work on projects that she has a much higher interest in, and buy large swaths of Pendelton Wool.

When I want to do a large charcuterie project, or an expensive batch of beer I either sell shares of it to my friends and family, or put some of my prized home-canned tuna up on the auction block. This allows me to buy expensive cuts of local meat to cure and enjoy.

When going frugal, don't forget that you're doing it so that you can do the things that you really DO love. It allows you to put your real desires and wants into perspective. For a good 6 months, my wife and I forgot to do fun things, because we were still in "broke-as-fuck" mode, even though we actually had a bit of room to live a little. Don't forget to do things you love!
posted by furnace.heart at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding Tightwad Gazette. Also, it's been a while, but when I lived in that part of the world, I ignored most peoples' negativity and lived in downtown Dartmouth. I could walk/bike to the ferry and was downtown in mere minutes. The number 1 (or 10) bus always ran well across the bridge. At that time, rents were much cheaper in Dartmouth.
posted by kch at 8:45 AM on June 15, 2011

oh, and shop at Value Village. Sometimes you have to wander through a bunch of times to find what you need/want, but it's usually worth it. There used to be one in downtown Dartmouth. Also, I found Halifax to be a pretty bikeable place (despite hills). ymmv.
posted by kch at 8:47 AM on June 15, 2011

Becoming frugal is a learning process, not something that is easy to do all at once. I too learned a lot, back in the day, from the Tightwad Gazette. There are also several reddit.com sub-groups related to your learning process, like r/frugal.

But there are other things, like the difference in cost between baking your own bread instead of buying it. Packaged cereal should be banned from your home (oatmeal in bulk!). Never buy produce in numbers you can't eat. When things start to go bad, make it a priority to use it in a recipe. (Soup is great for veggies on the verge of no good.) Convenience foods cost more, always. So if you don't have the income, you have to start using your time.

So, your number one priority is to learn to cook, from scratch. Once you establish a well equipped kitchen (estate/garage sales!) with spices and the proper cookware, you make this your new hobby. Buy everything you can in bulk. (Spices too! Especially!) It's as simple as borrowing cookbooks from the library and copying out recipes. Loads of recipe sites online, too of course.

If you can't sell your car, then you can at least use it as sparingly as possible. Health clubs are for people with money to burn, so it's walking and running, as often as possible. Bus it when it's not.

I love books. Love them. I also never go to bookstores, because I can't stand the pain of not buying them. Libraries are great, and if they don't have what you want, try inter-library loan.

Learn to turn down your heat. It took me awhile, but I'm now used to 60F in winter. If you live north, there is no need for an air conditioner. Fans only when desperate.
posted by RedEmma at 8:49 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good money-saving food tip: Go to the thrift store & find a bread maker. People get rid of these all the time. I've found 2 recently that look brand-new. They cost me about $6 each. Use the bread maker to make loaves of fresh, wholesome, delicious bread. It costs pennies a loaf, seriously. The most expensive ingredient is the bread machine yeast, which can be purchased in the baking isle of any grocery store. You can find the instruction booklet or recipes online, just google the model number on the machine you buy. Considering that a decent loaf of healthy bread can cost upwards of $3, this will save you lots of $$ over time. The bread tastes much better too.
posted by DizzyLeaf at 8:58 AM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Keep your cell phone (try to get a cheaper plan) and cancel your landline if you have one. You're moving anyway, so now's a good time to cut the cord.

Hulu and a lot of other streaming video sites are not available in Canada, but you can watch streaming TV/movies on the websites for CTV, the Comedy Network, CBC and Netflix.

Don't buy coffee at coffee shops, it can really add up. As a bonus, you can feel good about not wasting all those disposable cups.

Get a part time job to support or help your hobbies. If you like knitting maybe see if you can get some weekend hours at a yarn shop. Then you get a discount on yarn and some extra money.

As far as renting goes, it's going to be cheaper if you can get a room in someone's house, but I don't know if you'd want to live like that. Having a dog is going to make it harder to find something too.

Since you're moving to a new city, you've got an opportunity to start some really good habits. Try to make thrifty friends who are cool with doing inventive and cheap activities rather than going to the bar and dropping a lot of money.

Good luck!
posted by ODiV at 9:04 AM on June 15, 2011

Quit shampooing your hair.

Sounds crazy, but going no 'poo will leave your hair healthier and save you money at the same time. It takes a little period of adjustment for your hair to detox from all the petro-chemicals you're been bathing it in, but once your hair settles into it's all-natural state of health, 9 times out of 10 clean water and a vigorous finger massage is all one needs. I occasionally do the dilute apple cider vinegar rinse. And a dollop of Jojoba oil as leave-in treatment (also excellent for the skin and as shaving lube.)

Haven't bought shampoo in over a year and my hair's never been healthier. Ever.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:04 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your dog should be on monthly heartworm preventative, and the cheapest I have found is at Valley Vet. Iverhart is the same as Heartgard, and all you need is a prescription from your vet. You can also get inexpensive heartworm preventative from some low-cost clinics.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2011

If you work just 10 hours a week at minimum wage, that's an extra $400 in your pocket.

Am I missing something? Fed minimum wage is $7.25 an hour; 10 hours at that rate is $72.50. (But I like yarly's earlier point about the big expenses being the most important ways to cut.)
posted by LonnieK at 9:27 AM on June 15, 2011

That's Canadian minimum wage - OP is in Nova Scotia! (I won't scold you for being US American-centric.)

There are great suggestions here, but again ... rewashing ziploc bags? What will that save you, a dollar a month if you use a lot of bags? Skipping shampoo, saving maybe $80/year if you shampoo a whole lot? Even baking your own bread instead of buying it will only save maybe $12/month, if you go through a loaf a week. I suppose through being super-duper-duper frugal on consumables and utilities you could save, say, $250/month (even that seems high to me). That might be a meaningful amount to you, but make sure you're not ignoring fixed expenses because you regard yourself as so frugal when it comes to the daily expenses. Most cities easily have a range of rents and transportation options that would allow you to save $250 if you pick well at the outset.

What I'm saying is, saving money is all about making substitutions and tradeoffs in your purchasing behavior. But while your brain may process the substitution of washing ziploc bags as really important, you're only saving pennies. Don't be fooled -- make the substitutions that are actually meaningful, like rent. Also, don't forget to value your labor correctly. The hour you spend baking one loaf of bread could be time you spend working for $10/hr (3 loves of bread).
posted by yarly at 9:39 AM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you decide to bake your own bread (which is a very fun, delicious and easy way to save money on food) - I highly recommend this recipe, which requires no work whatsoever and creates the best loaf of bread possible (it's also in Mark Bittman's book I believe, but this is an easier version):

3 cups flour
1/4 t yeast
1 1/4 t salt
1 5/8 c water

1. Mix ingredients by hand for a few minutes until wet/dry are
thoroughly combined. (I mix the dry first to get the salt and yeast
distributed and then add the water. I use a tupperware container with a
lid, because the dough doesn't stick and I can cover it.)

(I have successfully substituted 1 c of whole wheat flour with good
results, as well.)

Cover with plastic wrap or lid.
Let rise 12-18 hours at room temperature (~70F).

2. Fold dough three or four times and shape loosely into a ball. (you can use a floured board, but I just do it in the bowl...much easier/cleaner.) Let rise another 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 450F with a heavy covered dish/pot inside (6-8 quart
pyrex, ceramic, or dutch oven; I use an 8 qt cooking pot that can go in
the oven; I oil the pot, but don't know if this is necessary).

4. Remove dish/pot from oven (watch your hands) and flop the loaf
inside. Shake the pot/dish once or twice so the loaf settles. (It will
form into a decent loaf, so don't worry too much about the initial
shape.) Cover the dish/pot (could use foil if no lid). Bake 30 minutes.
Then remove cover and bake 15-30 more minutes until the loaf is well

5. Shake the loaf out onto a rack and let it cool somewhat before
attempting to slice.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:45 AM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree that learning to cook a few things should be a high priority. Stock up on staples, then buy some of whatever produce and meat (if you eat it) is on sale at the moment. Then come home and look in How to Cook Everything to see what to do with it. Check garage sales and thrift stores for cookbooks, small appliances (a food processor is a handy thing to have) and pots and pans.

Then, once you've learned to cook a bit, you can bring yummy leftovers for lunch and save more money.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:56 AM on June 15, 2011

I already make a lot of food from scratch; my problem is impulse purchases at the shops, getting ingredients that sound good at the time but might languish in the closet for a week or two before getting used. What helped me cut down my weekly food budget was to: 1 - plan meals a week in advance, so i knew what ingredients i would need to have on hand and 2 - don't go food shopping when you're hungry. eat a snack or something first - that way you're not just tossing stuff in the cart because it sounds good.

Don't get a breadmaker, especially a used one. You can get a dutch oven or other heavy pot and make Bittman's No-Knead bread, and the dutch oven is good for other stuff as well. like long braises of tougher, cheaper cuts of meat.

4 hours is the magic number - after braising that long, the collagen and connective tissue in the meat will break down and it'll be really tender.
posted by dubold at 11:02 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I won't scold you for being US American-centric

Ack. Sorry. Hope I'm not a candidate for "Talking to Americans" on 22 Minutes. And nthing yarly's key point again: Make the substitutions that are actually meaningful.
posted by LonnieK at 12:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sit down once a week and check online what's on special offer at your favorite store (better yet check a few stores) and decide whether there's anything you want to stock up on. Know what you can freeze (cheese and butter are a couple of examples that not everyone knows about and around here they're frequently on BOGOF (buy one get one free). Then draw up your meal plan for the week. Based on both of these make a grocery list and STICK TO IT when you go to the store. Don't pick recipes that require a lot of expensive ingredients except as a special treat, and know the price of things. I've halved my grocery budget from £80 to £40 a week doing this and frequently I spend even less than that.

Figure out when your local store marks stuff down that they want to sell that day - we call these items "whoopsies". Don't make a special trip if it means wasting gas, but get your regular shopping when you're most likely to find whoopsies. If you get to be a good cook you'll be able to change your meal plan on the fly to incorporate these, and if not just get ones you can freeze.

Consider going vegetarian. Get chickens if your lifestyle in conducive to them. Grow your own fruit and veg if you can and freeze/preserve as much as you can.

Don't go out to eat at restaurants except on special occasions. Start a tradition of dinner parties among your group of friends instead.

Also I highly, highly, highly recommend the Old Style Moneysavingexpert forum. All the moneysavingexpert forums are great although they're based in the UK so some of the stuff won't be relevant to you, but a huge chunk of it will.

Don't listen to those who say concentrate on the big ticket items only - you need to look carefully at both. Small expenses add up faster than you'd think, and while some things like rinsing out ziploc bags aren't going to do much for your pocketbook, other stuff like checking out library books, planning meals, and only buying stuff on sale will.

Make being frugal a habit and it becomes really fun - like a game that you "win" by spending less money that you otherwise might have.
posted by hazyjane at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

- For crafting: set rules that you can only buy yarn when you've knit x number of projects form your stash. I've been knitting only from my stash since Jan. 1 (both for money reasons and because I'm planning to move and need to declutter) and you'd really be suprised at what you're inspired to make from your stash. If you're on Ravelry, find your yarn and see what other people made from the same yarn. Also, Knitpicks.com and elann.com (the sales)for cheaper yarn. Personally, I find selling crafts to be much more hassle and trouble than it's worth, but YMMV.

- If you have a landline and a cell phone, get rid of the landline.

- If you pay for heating, look into ways of making your home more energy efficient. If you own, this could mean a renovation (using EcoEnergy retrofit program to get some of the costs back) but even if you're renting, it's worthwhile investigating any drafts, (and you can knit a draft stopper snake to keep in front of the door, that's all cute and stripey out of leftover sock yarn).

- I see a lot of advice for urban farming and food-crafting/preserving in this thread. That stuff is great and fun, but it's really easy for it to get more expensive than you think. Price out any food growing and preservation activities against just buying the food. For a lot of things, homemade can actually be more expensive. Freezing is usually pretty cost effective, canning can be (if you have the supplies and choose recipes that are quite simple) but don't think that making your own vanilla-bean, rum-infused, local organic strawberry jam will be frugal: it won't be. And yarly's point about time is correct: if your considering moving something from "buying" to "making", factor in your time when calculating the savings (or lack thereof).

- Slow cookers are the god-send of cheap and healthy cooking options for me, though. They allow you to cook cheaper cuts of meat (like short ribs, pork shoulders, etc), cheap vegetarian chilis and stews with dried beans, etc while being out at work and take less energy than conventional cooking. Really tasty things like braised short ribs, pulled pork, carnitas, soups, chilis etc can be made in a slow cooker and you make enough to last you for days. I also use it to cook dried chickpeas for hummus or make a fish stew using those large bags of frozen basa that are cheaper than all the other fish. Also, chicken thighs are almost as lean as chicken breasts and much cheaper.
posted by Kurichina at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Project Gutenberg is great and all, but not the same as a book. If you have an eBook reader, it can be the same as a book, but reading from a laptop can get tiring.

Instead, browse the library like a book store. Pick up a book on a whim, and feel no guilt! Browse the movies! Find new music! And check the inter-library requests, if there is a specific something you want and can't find on the shelves.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2011

Quit shampooing your hair.

I didn't shampoo my hair for close to a decade, and I thought it was great. But then I realized that my pillows and the back of my couch, and any chair I sat in regularly upon which I rested my head, were all grimy and gross. My hair felt clean, and it looked clean, but it was not clean.
posted by OmieWise at 12:47 PM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Find the local food bank (hopefully there is one). Sometimes you score, sometimes not. At mine the local grocery stores give away so much bread thats almost past date that the food bank is begging people to come take it so it at least gets eaten. Same for milk and eggs.
posted by Glibpaxman at 12:57 PM on June 15, 2011

Marty Nemko recently published an article on how he would live decently on $20,000 a year. There are some good ideas listed for you to consider.
posted by quadog at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

For kitchen things, try to stop using disposable products. I only use cloth napkins and towels for everything. Even if they get stained or dirty they're cheap to replace especially at a thrift store. IKEA or any homegoods store has a super cheap pack of "bar towels" that you can use for about everything. I try to avoid plastic bag storage by using tupperware or glass jars for storage, but when something needs a bag I just reuse a produce bag from the grocery store. They're big enough that you can twist the top around a few times to keep the air out.
posted by bendy at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2011

I just called DirecTV about 15 minutes ago and got $50 off my bill, per month, for the next two years and I'm not under any contract.

So I recommend calling all your non essential bills (TV, internet, cell) and while being very polite ask if there is anything they can do to help you so you don't have to cancel service. (In your case just canceling TV all together would be a good idea.)

Also, are you already working on increasing your value so you can make more money? That's the best way to lower the % of life expenses as long as you don't upscale as you go.
$20,000 is basically minimum wage. Even the local gas station next to me has starting positions at $12.50 an hour which would net you closer to $25,000 a year.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2011

If you like knitting and crocheting and don't want to spend a fortune on yarn, hit the thrift stores (or charity shops) and look for sweaters to pull apart and use in your projects. Some of the yarn in these sweaters will make decent socks (so I've been told by my knitting group, who are much more advanced than I am).
posted by patheral at 3:18 PM on June 15, 2011

How you should save depends on why you expect to be living so modestly. I mention this because there is a level of visible stinginess that results in a downward spiral. If you're hoping to find work, you have to look reasonably well turned out: there are jobs you won't get if you're dressed in mismatched castoffs from the Salvation Army, virtuous though those may seem to those intent on living on next to nothing.

You are young and have said nothing about illness, so I'm assuming you're off to NSCAD or some other such thing. Most of the advice here is good, although I suspect you'll find food surprisingly expensive in Nova Scotia. You might see what kind of fish and seafood are a deal down there though, and develop a taste for them.
posted by zadcat at 3:19 PM on June 15, 2011

dressed in mismatched castoffs from the Salvation Army

Buying secondhand clothes doesn't have to mean this if you have any kind of taste or discernment at all (and if you don't, buying new clothes won't help you either).

My wardrobe is almost entirely from charity shops and is made of up brands like Boden, French Connection, Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, Whistles etc etc. My clothes are casual because of the kind of job I have but they look great and I honestly can't imagine why they were given away in the first place.
posted by hazyjane at 10:38 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Food - don't eat anything you didn't make yourself / or is at home. I know exactly how much I'm spending on food every week because I get it delivered frozen. It's not the cheapest, and I'm not recommending you do this, but because every single meal is provided, I don't buy a chocolate bar here at $3, a muffin there at $2, a lunch for $10. Don't buy coffee out. Take a bottle of water. Coffee is probably cheaper where you are, but it adds up. If it's $2.50 a cup, 4 cups later it's $10, $10 a week is $500 a year. Say no to taxis, only use the cheapest of public transport. Walk where you can.

Clothes - stick to a simple palette and style. Most of my clothes are black, white, grey, with a couple of bright coloured shirts to mix it up. I nearly always wear jeans, which means boots/socks. My socks are all black, so it doesn't matter if one of them gets holes in it. If my jeans are clean(ish), I can wear them a couple of days in a row without washing. Two pairs of jeans, 5 pairs of undies, coupla bras, 5 shirts and different weight jackets. When you're on a low income, you simply can't afford to express yourself with your clothes. Replace only when necessary. You do not save on sales, you spend.

But most of all, don't buy when you go out. Make EVERY SINGLE purchase a planned one. Want to buy a new book? Write it on your luxury to buy list, budget for it. If you wait a week, you might say, hey, I can borrow that from the library, and save the $20 for a haircut. Keep a little notebook to record whatever you do spend when you're out. Really, you forget very quickly, if you don't write it down. It doesn't have to be complex, just a list of what you bought, and the price you paid for it. Tot it up every day.

Oh speaking of haircuts, there's two ways I know how to save on hair - really long or really short. If you go really short, and buy clippers as well, you can maintain your look by trimming yourself. If you go really long, you can look neat by pulling it back into a bun or a plait.

Veges patches are great but they don't give good returns until you've invested a significant amount of money & time. However, potted herb gardens make a lot of sense, and as you learn to cook, it's great to snip a little parsley into your omelet or basil into your pasta dish.

Cheapest food is usually grain based (where I live at least). So that means having flour, rice & pasta on hand for bases. You can buy oil in bulk (sets you back a fair whack but it's way cheaper in the long run, and wait for the special - sometimes you get it half price). With flour, you can make cake, pastry (for meat pies), pancakes, muffins, scones, damper, bread (though, again too, I've tried that, and without a breadmaker it was a pain, with a breadmaker it was hit and miss. Might have been me, might have been the environment, but I can't recommend it.

Tinned produce is also in the relatively cheap range, provided you're not buying exotic veges or fruit. It lasts well. I wouldn't buy meat in a tin, because it probably isn't. Eggs are a great source of protein, and help to bind flour together. Good for omelets, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs. Go to the inconvenient library, and look up some home economics / family/ domestic science books. They're probably going to be more budget conscious than most cookbooks.

Rent? Share.

Credit card? Pay it off and then freeze it in a block of water. Do not microwave it when you want to use, let it thaw out. With my banking online, I was allowed to name my accounts, and that one is called credit demon. Truly, once you get past the point of getting the balance back to zero, it's so hard to even imagine getting back there. You go, oh fuck it, I'll worry about it next month, I'll put the minimum + $10 on it, and it will suck you dry.

My phone is on a prepaid plan. For a while (in another house), each of us had cells, we didn't bother with a landline. To call a friend, use Skype.
posted by b33j at 6:56 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

one easy things I did: I switched my bank to Charles Schwab because they reimburse ATM fees. That saved me $10 bucks a month.
posted by bananafish at 12:55 PM on June 16, 2011

Dizzy Leaf mentioned buying a used bread machine before I got a chance. Never buy one used, because you can always find them in great, unused shape at thrift stores and garage sales.

If you really want to maximize the cost savings, buy yeast in bulk. You can usually get 2 pounds at Costco or Sam's Club for under $5. Here's a similar package on Amazon. Don't open both bags at once, and keep the opened, unused yeast in a mason jar in the freezer. I've used years-old yeast stored this way before, and had fine results in my bread machine.
posted by msbrauer at 6:20 AM on June 20, 2011

The cheapest prepaid cellphone in Canada is probably this one. I use it only for emergency calls. It comes to $25 a year.
posted by storybored at 10:55 AM on July 10, 2011

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