We haven’t had a significant salary raise in this household for quite some time. Yet, despite the fact that our income hasn’t gone up very much, our standard of living has increased. We’re able to travel more and buy more of our wants. Not all, but some. I wondered how this could be. If our income isn’t going up significantly, how is it that we were able to increase our standard of living?
Part of the answer lies in aggressively shopping for the best prices on the items we need and use, using coupons, buying used when possible and using more store brands. In other words, we are more careful to pay the least amount possible for what we buy. However, there is still more money available to us than this can account for. I think the larger part of the answer lies in the stuff we don’t buy at all.
When I gave it some thought, I realized that there are a good number of things that we have stopped buying altogether in recent years. This may be because we stopped needing the item, or because we’ve learned how to get it for free, but more often it’s because we found a better way to do something that doesn’t require the items we used to be purchased. I found that in a lot of cases we were buying certain items out of habit because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” not because we really needed them. Sometimes it was laziness that was keeping us from finding new ways to do things or acquire items. However we came to realize there were items we could eliminate. Not buying these things has freed up a good chunk of our income and given us more “play money” in our budget, despite not having had a significant income increase.
So what are some of the things which we’re eliminated from our purchases? Here are a few examples to get you started on your own list of “don’t buy anymore” items:
1. Paper napkins. We bought cloth napkins on sale at Target (dirt cheap) and have been really happy with the results. We just toss them in the washer with the regular laundry, so they don’t cost extra to clean. We were using (and wasting) way too many paper napkins and it was costing us about $60-$80 per year. Not a huge amount of money, but it equates to a few good meals out or a night in a no frills hotel.
2. Commercial cleaning supplies. No, we don’t live in filth. I have learned how to clean with baking soda, lemon juice, distilled white vinegar, and a reusable rag. I used to use disposable cleaning wipes, all purpose cleaners like Lysol, Comet for the toilet, and a whole host of other products. Given that the wipes alone were $15/pack at the warehouse club and I bought them about six times per year, that’s $90 I knocked out of our budget right there. Plus there are the savings from not buying other types of cleaning products. My house no longer smells like a hospital, my hands aren’t as dry, and I’m not filling up the landfill with wipes that were too easy to waste. My septic tank is also happier since far less toxic stuff is going down there.
3. Haircuts for the males. For the price of one haircut (about $18), I bought a set of clippers and tools that allows me to do the job at home. We haven’t paid for a male’s haircut in several years. If only I could find a way to have my own hair cut at home without it coming out looking like a bird’s nest.
4. Calendars. This one came up just this week since it was time to bring out the new calendar. We get several decent wall calendars for free each year. Some come from our local banks and others come from charitable organization to which we donate during the year. I used to toss the freebies because I wanted the “cooler,” “more fun” ones from the stores. Then I realized I really don’t look at it that much, so why bother. I just keep the best of the freebies and use those. I also stopped buying “page a day” and desktop calendars because I use the software on my computer or my PDA for all of my scheduling needs. I used to buy two wall calendars (one for home and one for work), a page a day for my desk, and a refill for my Day Timer. All total it was about $50 per year in calendars that I don’t spend anymore.
5. Shampoo. This is one of those things we’ve learned to get for free. There are always free samples available from sites like WalMart.com or StartSampling.com. Since I’m not brand loyal, it doesn’t matter to me which shampoo I use. Whatever is free is fine with me. I also acquire a lot of shampoo form hotels.
6. Trash bags for small trash cans and “poop bags” for the dog. I used to buy special trash bags and poop bags from the store. Then I realized that I was coming home with all these bags from the store that were the perfect size for these jobs. What I don’t reuse I take back to the store to recycle.
7. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions. I enjoy magazines and newspapers, but rarely spend more than a half hour with any one title. It seemed like a waste to pay for that little bit of time. Now I take a Saturday and go to the library and read my favorites. I also get quite a few magazine subscriptions for free from sites like Freebizmag.com. MercuryMagazines.com or StartSampling.com.
8. Notepads. I used to buy cute notepads to keep by the phone or computer to jot things down or make lists. However, I pick up so many for free from trade shows and events that I don’t need to buy more. If I do need more notepads, I’ll cut up copy paper that was used on only one side and staple it blank side up to make a pad.
9. Pens and pencils. As with the notepads above, I get so many pens and pencils for free from trade shows, fairs, and events that I’ll probably never have to buy any again. They’re not “cool” or “cute” but they write. I keep a stockpile throughout the year and this saves a lot of money at back to school time.
10. Coupon savings books such as the Entertainment Book. I used to buy these thinking I was saving money until I realized that I could find many of the same coupons online for free. The dining coupons largely went to waste because we stopped eating out so often (another huge money saver). We weren’t using it enough to make back the money spent and the few coupons I did need could be found elsewhere.
11. Envelopes. I save the ones that come with junk mail and just slap an address label over the preprinted address. (If they’re postage prepaid I add a stamp because it’s not going back to the company that pre-paid the postage.) It saves money and puts annoying junk mail to better use.
There are so many other things I don’t buy or pay for any longer including books, DVD’s, makeup, pantyhose, dog grooming, dry cleaning, cable TV, and oil changes. I also get what I can from Craigslist.com for free. The above listing is just a small sampling of the things we’ve managed to stop buying without decreasing our standard of living.
There is one big limit to this strategy that I’m beginning to discover. The amount of money we’re able to free up is decreasing now due to the higher costs of the items we do need to buy and can’t acquire in other ways or do without. Rising gas and food prices are eating away at some of the savings we’ve created by not buying other things. We’re trying to find other items to eliminate from our purchases and constantly experimenting to see if there are more things we can do without or do differently. However, the amount of play money we freed up initially is dwindling. Still, I’m still glad we’ve stopped buying a lot of things because even if the extra money is no longer used for fun, it’s there in the budget to be used for necessary things. It’s still a winning situation and a good idea to eliminate what you can.
I encourage you to think of things you don’t need to buy anymore and create your own “don’t buy anymore” list. Everyone’s needs, tastes and desires are different, but there are probably many things that, if you gave it some thought and applied a bit of creativity, you would find you could do without, acquire for free, or use other items that you already have to do the job.
Image courtesy of What What