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As my bank account makes its slow and inevitable march to the zero mark, I am once again forced to make the choice: completely freak out or refrain from completely freaking out.

The latter, while far more desirable for both myself and those around me, is pretty much impossible when I start eschewing the letters and make way for the maths.

Poverty seems inevitable. Yet again.

Part of this is a dearth of new clients or projects that have fallen through, and some of it is just the basic cost of, oh, everything going up.

So, it’s true, we might be heading towards a whatsit? A recliner? A concession? Recession. Turns out it has nothing to do with recess.

I have decided that in lieu of going completely batshit insane and curling into a tiny, sobbing ball on my floor, I will search for a solution by researching a subject other than that one with the numbers: history.

What made my grandparents so badass was that they not only knew how to save money, but they also knew how to make do with what they had. Unfortunately I was too busy playing Monopoly and eating all of their Oreos to ask how in the hell they did that, and learned basic rampant consumerism from my parents. So now I have no idea how to keep a hold of my coins, and I’m pretty crappy at exercising restraint when it comes to consumption and ingenuity. On the flip side, I am damn good at Monopoly.

Using the Internet as my lantern through the frigid dark of frugality, I found some interesting tips for how to conserve energy, cash, and food, though their relevance to my modern life is a little bit questionable. But maybe a few of these can help you to save some dead presidents to put towards something valuable. Like gas. Or Nine Inch Nails tickets.

  • Use margarine and butter wrappers to grease your pans.

Personal Relevance: Low.
I don’t bake. And when I do there’s usually a white, pudgy midget on the front saying things with exclamation points at the end like Easy! In Minutes! or Make In Your Microwave!
Also, I’m still kind of vegan.

  • Hang your laundry out to dry on a clothesline. Make your own clothes. Make quilts out of used fabric. Accept hand-me-downs.

Personal Relevance: Moderate.
I would love a clothesline, or to clothesline my enemies. Shopping at thrift stores is the closest I come to inheriting clothing. Creating my own outfits would be great, and would save me a trip to Buffalo Exchange, but my skirts would be made of Cling Wrap and my tops would be made of produce stickers. I can’t sew. At all. Let’s just blame it on something other than impatience and an absence of natural femininity. Or blame it on masturbation. That line from Showgirls. “My right hand is so tight I can barely thread a needle.”

  • Introduce some new gerunds into your life: gardening, hunting, fishing, sewing and knitting.

Personal Relevance: Unknown.
Gardening is hip here in Portland, one of Simon’s neighbors even has a chicken coop next to their tiny slice of soil and seeds. A sign reading “Chickens For Obama” is staked into the ground beside the cage, so apparently poultry can vote.
Hunting and fishing are usually reserved for only the most outdoorsy of my friends, and the ones who are perpetually trying to lure me camping by regaling tales of wasting an afternoon on a lake, catching a shoe sole and a guppy while finishing off a twelve pack solo. I am sober and highly unskilled with any sharp objects and water. Also, like I said, unless it’s fishing for wasps (with fire) I’m not into killing.
Knitting and sewing are very “in” with the hipster crowd. Now, if only I can convince that girl with the oversized sunglasses and vintage cowboy boots knitting in the corner of the coffee shop that she should apathetically stitch me a dress along with some matching underwear and socks.

  • Buy quality goods and take care of your things. Repair what you do have when it breaks.

Personal Relevance: High.
This, to me, is key. So many of us have been raised with this idea that things are simultaneously crucial and yet replaceable. There is less of an emphasis on purchasing an item as an investment, as opposed to just “buying stuff.” Going shopping is a hobby. It’s no wonder we’re so obsessed with money and this impending economic doom. Spending has taken the place of having fun. We’re a society of consumers, and unfortunately we’re about to have to choose between recreational spending and necessity. I say we all revive free fun.

(Note: Investments of mine that seemed pricey but paid off include a high-quality down comforter, a portable oil heater, and my top-of-the-line vibrator. You didn’t really think I used my hands to sew, did you?)

  • Reuse aluminum foil, Ziploc bags, jars. Use cloth napkins instead of paper towels. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…”

Personal Relevance: High, but punishable.
I am such a trash whore. I admit it, and I hope that by posting this my hypocrisy will somehow be forgiven or prompted to change my wasting ways.
I tear off five paper towels to dry my palms.
I use plastic bags to store everything from onions to stew, and then I immediately throw them away when I’m done ingesting their contents.
Aluminum foil is practically regarded as being just second to toilet paper in my house, if the crazies are right then I’m preventing aliens from mind-reading everything from my leftover couscous to half a bar of chocolate.
I recognize this as being imprudent, leading to frivolous spending on household items in addition to crap that gets ushered out into that big, beautiful myth I’ve heard about known as “the environment.” It sounds nice, and I’d like to visit it sometime, hopefully before I ruin it all.
As for the yellow/mellow part, gross. Just gross.

  • Avoid shopping, even looking at ads or Internet sites. Utilize a “borrow and loan” system with your friends and family in order to prevent going out and purchasing new things.

Personal Relevance: High.
You can’t miss what you don’t have, and ignorance — when it comes to shopping — really is bliss. The less I look, the less I want. And borrowing and loaning, from clothes to comic books, is the best way to both have a topic of discussion and to save cash. Just remember to return what you’ve tried out, and to say thank you.

  • Do not eat out.


Personal Relevance: Mixed.
A cheese omelet at a local breakfast spot: $8.50 (not including tip or coffee)
Same omelet at home: $1.49 (eggs) + $0.79 (individual Colby jack cheese stick) I asked my roommate if he was eating the heel of a loaf of wheat bread, the answer was no. See? Cheese omelet and free toast totaling less than $3.00. And I have three eggs left over.

Then again, to make a rice and beans burrito at home it’s at least $5.00 for all of the ingredients. Out at my two favorite spots it’s either $3.50 (vegan) or $2.00 (non-vegan). So, relevance on this one depends on what you’re eating. But I’ll say that when you go out to grab grub you’re more or less wasting money that could be better spent. Unless the waitress is cute. Then maybe you’re getting dinner and a show, upon which case, money spent, something earned.

Additionally: Tip, people. Tip.

  • Use powdered milk and beans. Can your own fruits and vegetables. Make fruit leather and jerky. Use every part of any meat product, use leftovers, don’t let anything go to waste.

Personal Relevance: Moderate.
Meat is expensive, and I personally believe that killing is wrong and bad (excluding wasps) but if you do happen to hunt I say eat everything, including the hooves. Once I am taught how to make jerky, pickle, and create fruit leather I will likely never leave my house again. Other than to tend to the orchards and shoot a tofu. For the jerky. Or to hunt for wasps.

Now that a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, I think it’s our behavior as consumers that has to change. (Feel that breeze? Those are all the different bubbles bursting at once.) Especially as a freelance writer, where the next client could be you, but most likely could be someone who reads this two months down the line, it’s vital that every greenback goes towards something that is, at very least, practical. I’d like to think that the panic that’s generated by the rise in the price of gas and the drop in the dollar’s value would have made our grandparents knowingly smirk. The optimistic approach is that we as a nation can handle this, and I’ll cope with being a college educated part of the working poor in-between histrionic freak outs. After all, hope might not fill our stomachs, but just like Googling pictures of Maynard James Keenan, it feels good, and it’s free.

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Articles of note:

Sun Times article on saving

CNN Saving Secrets

No Washington Worrying, though.



  1. If it makes you feel any better, I used to make design my own clothes as a hobby back when I had free time, and I also used to knit, not for the economics of it but just because I liked designing original things. Once you buy the fabric/yarn and all your sewing accessories, making your own stuff is rarely cheaper than buying cheap (especially used) clothes. So you’re off the hook on that one.

  2. Way back when I was a poor pobrecito much like yourself, I bought a pressure cooker at goodwill, stole a new gasket for it and ate beans. Lots and lots of beans. My friends who were fortunate(?) enough to live with me at the time still regale me with fond memories of beans. Lots and lots of beans. And malt liquor.

    The most expensive part of a rice n bean burrito is the tortilla – if you actually cook the rice n beans yourself (which you should). If you buy the cheap-o tortillas, you’re looking at less than a dollar a meal, easily.


  3. Running the risk of stating the obvious, I’ve found that the basic principles in “It’s All Too Much!” can help with the ‘gotta have’ syndrome. Anyway you slice it, it’s a lifestyle change. Just make the slices small and thin as you go. (Love the daily twitter comments by the way).

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