I think there were six days to the end of the month. At the time, my total monthly income was $560.00. I had to pay $300 rent and the rest went to the bare minimum groceries and tobacco I could get away with. All I could think about was food, I was so hungry but just couldn’t bear to eat the crap that was left in my cupboard and fridge. I fantasized that when my cheque came I would get a Big Mac meal plus 20 chicken nuggets and dip them in honey. My cheque came of course, but once again it went to bills, tobacco and groceries, and I only had less the next month because of my fantasy meal.
- Do you love coffee? Try to wean yourself off of it and drink tea instead. When I drink coffee, I often buy generic brand Keurig pods that work out to 35 cents a cup, plus 2.5 cents for artificial sweetener and then the cost of either keeping powdered whitener around or milk. When I get tea, it costs me right around 5 cents per tea bag and I don’t use whitener so the total cost is 7.5 cents per cup. I have really come to enjoy tea and it doesn’t keep me awake like coffee used to.
- Do you get cable and Internet and keep a land line? You may need a psychiatrist (yes, some p. docs will do this!) to help you get out of your home services contract, but do it as soon as you can. Look up discount Internet providers in your area, you may be amazed how much you save. Then, either with a smart TV or with an Apple TV or Roku Device, get the following apps: River TV, Plex and Kanopy. River TV costs about $17 a month (Canadian) but will give you live and on-demand TV as well as Network TV so you can watch sporting events and news. Plex gives you a ton of videos, all free, ad-supported. Kanopy is a service you join through your library card and gives you a ton of documentaries, a lot of foreign and British TV and movies and all the movies you used to take out f the library. Now you don’t need cable or Internet. Don’t bother with a land line, I think the best thing to do is purchase a reasonably priced Android phone and use that as your main line. Shop around for a deal. I use Virgin and after 5 years I don’t miss my land line at all.
- Start to condition your cardiovascular system and legs to walk long distances. Get a quality backpack. Quality costs more, but works better and lasts longer and ends up costing less. I have a Swiss Gear backpack and briefcase and I have had them both more than five years with almost no sign of wear and no tearing or splitting of seams. When I need groceries, I put two reusable bags in my backpack and walk the two miles to my local Superstore. They have the best prices of just about any grocery store because they are much larger. I walk there, buy just what I need and then walk back with it. The exercise makes me feel great, and so does the savings. If you just can’t walk to a large superstore type place, try going with a friend and splitting the cost of a cab home, but walking or taking the bus to the store.
- Find yourself a part-time or volunteer job. Volunteering has many benefits, one of them is simply time. It takes up time to wake up, get ready, go somewhere and work for a few hours then do it all in reverse. This is time you won’t be spending money, and if you do your job well, you always have a good chance of being hired on for pay. If you can work a part-time job that pays you, even better. Volunteering will also help you get jobs because when you do apply for another position, there won’t be as much of a gap in your resume.
- If you smoke, get help to quit. If you drink on a regular basis, or have any habits, join a 12-step group. There is so much help out there for people who have habits they may have formed in their teen years that they don’t want any more. I quit smoking around 18 years ago by joining a program through my mental health clinic where I had two support groups, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions, and even a pharmacist who showed me how to use patches and the gum effectively. At the time, I was using around $5 a day of tobacco. Now, the same habit would cost me $20 a day. Figure out what habits like drinking or smoking are worth it and then think about how wonderful it would be to not wake up coughing if you smoke or wake up with a bad headache and a queasy stomach if you drink. Note that groups like AA don’t require you have stopped drinking, you only require a desire to stop drinking.
- Make the most of your local dollar store. In Alberta, we have two main dollar stores, The Dollar Tree and Dollarama. On a hot day I like to make a stop at Dollarama because they have cold bottles of Diet Pepsi for $1.25 while just about any place charges $3. I am always buying my pens and paper there for my writing and sometimes when I can’t help myself I will buy some kettle chips there, and they have so much more from garbage bags and sandwich bags to business envelopes, super cheap graphic novels to cooking utensils. I shy away from most of the food there, but my dad loves the dark chocolate I buy there for him.
- Get your name on a list to get into subsidized housing. I live in a subsidized building and I absolutely love it. The building is very solidly built and I rarely hear my neighbours at all. A social services nonprofit runs the building and they have hired me to teach poetry classes and other things. The very best part? Rent is just $411.00 a month and it’s a spacious 2-bedroom. The main problem with places like this is the waiting list, which here is as much as 2 years. I suggest going into a higher floor if you go into a 3-storey walk-up for a few reasons. Ground floors are more susceptible to mice and some other bugs, as well as break-ins. Granted, it is difficult to walk up all those stairs sometimes several times a day, but it is good exercise and very much worth it in my opinion.
There is much more to be said of course, I encourage any of my readers to write to me and let me know what they do to stretch a buck. Best wishes to all of you!