A while ago I was reading a financial blog that promised to save me 120 dollars a month in just minutes. Here’s how:
Switch from a cell phone postpaid to prepaid
Change the cable plan from all-inclusive cable to basic cable
Cancel Blockbuster and move to Netflicks
I appreciate that such basic advice is out there for newbies, but doesn’t it seem to aim too low?
Cell phone- I know they are handy, but sometimes you might reevaluate whether you need one at all. I did not have one for years.
This is how it worked for a while in my family (your circumstances may differ):
My mother has a family cell phone plan. She can get up to five cell phones on her plan. She has one, one of our married daughters has one, two of our single girls in their early 20s each have one, and my husband has the fifth. It used to be mine, but when he lost his job, he lost his cell phone, too, and it was obvious he needed it more than I did. I am seldom away from home alone, and usually whoever I am with has a cell phone of their own for emergencies. We split the bill five ways, and that makes it cheaper than prepaid phone.
A little bit ago Granny Tea said she didn’t want to do that anymore. Now that there are just five of us at home, really (Jenny is here, but only until the wedding)- we canceled the landline. The two teens bought their own phones and paid for their own plans. We went with Republic.
Cable- you can eliminate Cable altogether. We have never had it in 30 years of marriage, except for a six month period when the trailer park we lived in then provided it. I tell people this and you know what their first response is? “That’s a good idea, but where we live, we don’t get reception without Cable.” Um. Us, too. We have almost always lived in places where no cable meant no television. So that’s what we did, or rather what we didn’t do. We played games, read, and worked on projects during the time other people typically watch television. For a few special occasions we went to a friend’s house to watch something special- the elections, the Olympics, the Superbowl. One memorable election year we had just moved to a new state and we knew nobody. We looked into getting Cable turned on for one month only in our new home. We discovered that it was cheaper to rent a local hotel room (in a hotel with a pool) and watch the election results there than it was to get cable, so that’s what we did. One way of looking at it is certainly that the cost per night would have been cheaper with cable, but since we had no intention of using more than one night of the service, it wasn’t cost effective to buy that much more than we wanted.
Cancel Blockbuster? We never had a monthly membership to Blockbuster. In fact, we did not even rent movies ever until about ten years ago, and it was still a rare treat. If we wanted to watch a movie, we checked it out from the library, or watched one we had picked up inexpensively for a birthday present. We watch more movies now than we used to- and I don’t think that is a good thing. But we still do not have Netflix, Blockbuster, or Cable. We still check them out from the library. Sometimes we watch movies or TV shows on Hulu.com. Well, that’s how it was when I wrote this. Now one of the kids pays for Netflix, and they all love Redbox.
It’s not that any of the above solutions the one true and right way to be frugal. Each family has its own dynamics and logistics that need to be worked out – most of our friends had canceled their landline long before we did, but that wasn’t feasible for us because there were often minor children at home alone who didn’t have cell phones- and we live in the country. So the best frugal choice for you won’t be the best choice for somebody else. On truth that is universal though is that we all need to check our assumptions.
I’ve often blogged about the concept of ‘what do you have in your hand,’ the idea being it’s better to make do with what you have than to run to the store for something. It’s usually better to repurpose what you have, or at least what you can get for free or very, very cheap, than to spend three times as much for something new. Often our assumptions prevent us from really discovering those ‘what’s in your hand’ moments.
It’s hard to test your assumptions though, because they are assumptions. They aren’t decisions you consciously, deliberately, and thoughtfully made. They are default positions you haven’t even noticed you accepted.
One way to check them is to listen carefully to others and yourself- what you’re listening for is anything at all said in a somewhat incredulous tone with words like this:
Well, you can’t…..
Obviously, you have to…..
You can’t get by without….
Times have changed…..
Nobody does that anymore….
Whenever you hear (or think) something like one of the above statements, perk up your ears and start thinking. Think:
Why can’t I?
Why do I have to?
Needs? Have people always needed whatever that is, or did they get by without it in the past? If so, how?
Why couldn’t I?
Why shouldn’t I?
If times have changed, they can change again? Am I a follower or an independent thinker?
Nobody? Really? And if this is true, why couldn’t I start?
Now it might be that once you have asked yourself all those questions, you still won’t see a reason to change what you’ve done. That’s fine.
Here are a few examples of things I have been told could not be done that we have, in fact, done:
Lived through midwestern summers with no air conditioning
use cloth pads
Travel cross country with small children and no DVD player
Provide our children with fun and meaningful cultural experiences on a single income.
And so much more. What are things you do that other people assume just can’t be done? What assumptions have you learned to overturn?