15 Expert Tips for Stretching Your Budget

One Writer

For families under duress in these economic lows

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I happen to be an expert at making dollars stretch and feeding my family when there appears to be “nothing” in the kitchen. I guess I learned this by growing up economically impoverished, in a large family with a small house. You just learn to “deal” with things. We put plastic on our windows in the winter and sometimes had to supplement our heat with the kitchen oven. We shared bath water. We asked permission for “seconds” at dinner so it could be determined how much was left to “go around.” We didn’t waste a glass of milk.

Therefore, I am resilient and resourceful — which is what you have to be right now in this time of economic crisis.

Every single dollar counts.

While the pandemic continues, it's more difficult to get out and groery shop (and you want to be in the store less), and the paydays dry up — you’ll want to be in control of your resources, much like us “broke” people have been doing for years.

Don’t worry. You will be ok. But you may have to adjust your lifestyle a bit, do what we call “tightening the belt” and “riding it out” which is what we do when the money runs out between paydays. I promise — it’s not all that bad and when things improve, you can fluff your lifestyle right back up. For now, buckle up and be smart.

Here’s my top 15 tips to keep you on track until things get better

1. My number one tip: Cook rice and potatoes — from scratch.

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Keep a bucket of rice like this in the kitchen and perfect your rice routine. Guess what happens when you follow the instructions on the rice bag? Perfect rice. It’s not hard to do, takes about 25 minutes start to finish, and fills bellies. It takes only one cup of dry white rice to feed all four of us — three adults and a teenage girl who can out-eat all of us.

Best yet? It’s way cheaper than the side dishes you’ve been making. Buy one bag of rice and get many meals out of it.

The same goes for a 5-lb bag of potatoes. Unlimited ways to cook potatoes and it’s cheaper than all those frozen potato options you may be used to. Get out your peeler and a good kitchen knife and save your family a bunch of money each month just by making rice and potatoes (from scratch) a part of your regular diet.

Yes, I know. Lots of starch. Use brown rice if you are worried about the waist-line! (Yes you can mix it in with your white rice if the cooking directions are comparable.)

My favorite rice is actually Jasmine rice — but we only buy it when I can afford to “splurge,” just in case you want something fluffier and drier than regular white rice.

Now, let’s move on…

2. Turn off the extra power.

Unplug things you are not using and use less power with your devices. Turn off the lights. Make a concerted effort to reduce your power usage and save some money.

3 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Standby Power Loads

Did you know that if your TV, computer and other appliances are plugged in, they are quietly draining electricity all…www.energy.gov

3. Stop ordering things you don’t need.

No you don’t need new things at a time like this. Hold off on those purchases until things get better. The temptation to spend your downtime shopping online can be a downfall for your finances and this is no time to take those risks.

4. Cancel superfluous subscriptions.

You probably have a half-dozen subscription services you aren’t even using, and some you are using but could do without. Cancel them. You can always add later what you are missing.

Television streaming services, magazines, deliveries, make up or other monthly box services — just let them go for now.

5. Buy food and household items in bulk and learn to use sparingly.

Do the math on buying in bulk for items you normally buy. Review the usage for these items and see if you can tighten that up. Buy refills or close-out bulk items.

6. Use less hot water.

It costs a lot of money to keep water hot and ready for use. Here’s a great article on how to save money with regards to your hot water:

10 Water Heater Tips | How to Save Money and Energy

Want to save money on your water heating bill? Water heaters account for about 18% of your total energy bill. Learn how…happyhiller.com

7. Sell off items you don’t need anymore.

Let Go, eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace — you’d be surprised what you can sell off for a few bucks here and there. Check your closet, your drawers, your garage, and your storage areas for things you aren’t using and de-clutter these items one sale by one.

8. Go meatless for a few meals. Dried beans are a powerful substitution.

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Dried beans are a great protein substitute for meat and it is very economical. In the above picture you see my stash — stored in reused spaghetti sauce jars and jars from the Dollar Store.

Here’s a great recipe if you aren’t used to cooking dried beans from scratch:

How to Make Dried Beans from Scratch--Easy!

9. Consider “off the grid” entertainment.

Turn off the TV and phones and get out your puzzles, board games, playing cards, or books. Not only will you while away the time in a fun way, you’ll save money on the power bill. This is a great time for family bonding and storytelling. Don’t waste it by being plugged in — each person in their own corner of the house.

Power off — games out!

10. Replace downtime with side hustle work.

Stop wasting time on Candy Crush and spend your downtime doing side-work online. From surveys to freelancing, there’s a little something you can do if you just look for the opportunities.

12 Ways You Can Absolutely Make Money Online

For many people, making money online would be an absolute dream come true. If they could find a way to make money with…www.forbes.com

11. Stop buying the fancy cleaners and detergents.

Do you know you can clean pretty much anything in your home with white vinegar, baking soda, and a slice of lemon?

How to Make Cleaning Solution With Baking Soda and Vinegar | Hunker

Combining baking soda and vinegar can create an effective homemade cleaner that works on many surfaces in your home…www.hunker.com

You can even make your own economical laundry detergent — it really works. Less than $2.00 for 5 gallons sound good to you? Here’s the recipe and instructions:

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent, Less than $2 for 5 Gallons!

I wasn't happy with the recipes for homemade liquid laundry detergent I was finding so I played around a little with…www.mrshappyhomemaker.com

12. Stop buying boxed dinners and frozen foods.

What I mean is the one-time meals and sides in boxes, bags, and frozen items. These foods are pre-cooked, prepackaged, and prepared for you ahead of time to save time — and that costs you extra at the cash register.

When you cook from scratch you save money. Find classic recipes and give it a whirl. You’ll learn a lot and save a lot by investing more time and less money.

13. Shop at Aldi and visit food banks.

If you’ve never shopped at Aldi, prepare yourself for a shock at the register. You will save TONS. The brands look different to you but don’t worry — the food is good. (Note: I do not like their fresh produce and prefer to buy from farmer’s markets — another good way to spend wisely.)

Food banks operate differently per county / state so you’ll have to find out how your local one works, what you need to do to sign up, and how to pick up your food.

14. Recycle your leftovers — aka DON’T waste food!

Take the leftover chicken and cut it into small pieces. Bag it and stick it in the fridge. The next night — it goes into the pasta or soup. Do not waste leftovers — can they be made meals for the next day’s lunches? Can they be chopped and frozen to use in other meals? Think ahead and be smart about the leftover food after a meal — and yes, I mean what’s left on the stove, not what is on your plate after you eat. Those scraps can go to the animals, if you have them, or into a compost pile.

15. Downsize your gadgets and gear.

Gadgets, gear, car — these can all be downsized, especially if you are making payments on them. Can you sell them, pay off the balance, and have enough left to buy a used one? This will get you out of a monthly payment until things improve. You don’t need the latest phone or a new car lease — those are luxuries and you can dial back on the luxuries for now.

The take-away

You can do this. There’s nothing humiliating by making wise decisions in a difficult time — or making wise decisions to avoid a more difficult time. When I was a kid and the power got shut off due to nonpayment, my parents would announce that we were just playing like we were camping. It was kind of exciting, really. Make it all fun. Things will get better. Remember, character building is priceless.

For further reading:

Decluttering Your Life for Emotional Freedom

When Life Hits Really Hard

Saving Your Favorite Recipes Like Your Grandma Did

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