If you live in the middle of nowhere like I do, you may find that being a money saving guru is difficult at times. We don’t have easy access to a lot of grocery stores or big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target and their lower prices. We don’t have a CVS or Walgreens on every corner, making it difficult to take advantage of the money back programs these stores offer. Without a lot of gas stations competing for business, gas prices are on the higher end of the scale. We don’t even have a library close by which makes getting books and other materials difficult.
It’s hard to save money in an environment like this. The closest stores are expensive mom and pop operations and hopping in the car to take advantage of bargains and sales isn’t always possible or economically sound. Some things cost us in other ways, such as when service providers (think AC repairmen, plumbers, etc.) tack on a fuel charge because our location is so far out of the way for them that they have to recoup their fuel costs. Although living in a rural area has many positives, saving money isn’t always one of them.
I used to live in the city so moving out here was a shock to the system. At first I spent a lot of money running back and forth to town for every little thing. Either that or I was spending more than I had to at the local stores. After a couple of years of this, I wised up and realized I would need new strategies if I wanted to save money and live in a rural area. So here are my best tips for saving money if you live in no man’s land.
Plan ahead: When you live in a rural area, you want to minimize the trips you make to “civilization” and you want to get the best value on every trip. The key to this is planning ahead. Often we make a day of going into town and we try to hit as many things as possible. This means scheduling things like doctor’s appointments, vet visits, and haircuts for the same day. If we’re shopping, we carry detailed lists of everything we need and we’ve noted any sales on those items. We carry coolers in the car so we can buy perishables and keep on shopping. Spur of the moment trips to town are costly and time consuming when you live in a rural area, so every trip we make to town is planned like a military operation.
Shop online: Online shopping is the best thing that ever happened to rural residents looking to save money. Prices are generally lower than the nearby stores, and with coupons and free shipping we come out far ahead of having to drive to a store. Even if we have to pay for shipping it is usually not much more than we would have paid for gas to go into town. We buy as much as we can online these days, including some grocery items.
Use your rural status to your advantage: We have a big advantage over city dwellers when it comes to using our land to save money. We can garden or put up a clothesline and there’s no homeowners association to complain. We can work on our cars under the shade tree and no one cares if it’s up on a jack for a couple of days. We can own a few chickens for eggs and that’s considered normal, not offensive. We can store our RV on our own property and no one minds. If you live in a rural area you probably have a lot more freedom to use your land in ways that save you money, so take advantage of it.
Do whatever you can online: Many services that we used to go to town for have now been put online. I can print postage and mail packages from home instead of going to the post office. I do all of my banking online, including deposits now that my bank allows checks to be scanned for deposit. I can buy and manage insurance policies without going to visit an agent. I can order prescriptions online and no longer have to visit the pharmacist. See if there are online ways to do what needs doing. You might be surprised to find that there are.
Reuse and repurpose rather than buying: When you live in a rural area, you get used to reusing things rather than buying new all the time. Clothes last more than one season, lunch boxes and backpacks last more than one school year, broken things become parts for other items, and empty jars and boxes become storage. When your buying options are limited, you get creative and make things last or serve other purposes.
Swap/barter with neighbors: If you have good neighbors or a solid church group, see about setting up some swaps or bartering opportunities. Pass outgrown kids’ clothes and baby supplies along to other parents, swap books and magazines, trade garden produce, or trade skills like baking for house painting. When resources are limited, pooling talent and things goes a long way toward making life easier for all.
Learn to do without: The biggest money saver I learned when I moved to the boonies was learning to do without. If I forget an item at the grocery store, there’s no running back to pick it up. It has to wait for the next big trip. Same thing if I run out of something or something breaks. I’ve learned to work around the missing items or to live without things for a while. It’s a good lesson and it saves me money and time because I’m not running to the city every day.
Learn DIY skills: If you live in a rural area, the more you can do for yourself the more you can save. When it requires the better part of a day to get your oil changed, you learn to do it yourself. When the plumber wants to charge you for fuel and extra time to unclog your drain, you get mighty handy with a snake. If you can’t do something yourself, try to find someone nearby who can and then offer to do something for them in exchange.
The good news about living in a rural location is that you probably save money because you are removed from temptation. If you don’t pass stores and restaurants every day, you have less opportunity and temptation to spend money. There is no running into Target every day on the way home for work, or stopping by McDonald’s on the way to soccer practice. You’re probably also limited by a lack of movie theaters, concerts, night clubs, amusement parks, or other entertainment money drains. Factor in lower taxes, property prices, and no HOA dues, and living in a rural area saves you a lot of money in the long run. However, it does require a lifestyle adjustment and careful planning to keep you from wasting money and time.