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How are you coping through leaner times? Members of Salon's Table Talk community share their tales from the recession.

Published March 6, 2009 6:54PM (EST)

Private Life

Living the Low Life: How Much Government Cheese Fits in a Van Down by the River?

comixchik - 06:46 am Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009

It's no secret, times are hard, the bosses have stolen all the money. Americans are losing their jobs, homes, and the ways of life they are accustomed to. This thread is about how to live on little or nothing, and surviving the economic apocalypse. Tips, suggestions, ideas, discussions are invited.

I've spent the last month and a half in a place with no heat where I am staying, in the attic. The windows are old, and bad, and also leak.

But I've found I sleep comfortable enough. A good sleeping bag is something very much worth having. Even an inexpensive one is good. In a sleeping bag, one can zip up and hold in body heat. I throw a hollofill comforter (old and cheap) over the sleeping bag. I also have three long haired cats, some climb in with me. We stay toasty warm. I no longer see the need to heat my sleeping space.

Kady G - 11:36 am Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #2 of 22

I grew up living in an older house (circa 1915) with no heat access on the second floor. (Where my bedroom was.) The sleeping bag + comforter + cat or two combination was just how I slept for five or six months out of the year. As an adult, I have a hard time sleeping in warm rooms and always crank the furnace way down at night.

DH is thin blooded and would rather have the heat up, but he can't argue with the utility bills.

Thanks Dad, for my Spartan childhood that prepared me so well for life in a recession. I'm only kind of kidding, my folks are pretty frugal and I'm rediscovering all kinds of interesting skills I didn't know I had. 

Scheduler - 11:43 am Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #3 of 22

We keep the heat waaaaaaay down at night at our house. I got my daughter a heatable bear (it goes in the microwave) which keeps her nice and cozy (along with down comforters and the cat).

ambott - 12:10 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #4 of 22

I also keep the heat way down at night, although I live in the frozen north country - so it can't be too cold at night. Other things I do to save money:

I Netflix instead of have cable TV - you can get the shows you want to watch for a fraction of the price of a monthly cable bill. The downside, especially now that things are going digital, is that you get almost no local stations at all.

I walk to work, it saves me $30.00/month in parking fees and I get exercise (although it helps I'm only a titch over a mile away from work).

I barely use my internet at home, so I switched to an hourly use plan on my internet service provider. Downside: It's dialup and s....l....o....w. And if you go over too many hours/month it really doesn't save you anything and in fact will cost you much more than a monthly plan.

SG - 12:30 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #5 of 22

This might be extreme, but I re-use plastic bags and frequently reuse take-out containers. I wash out my zip plastic bags (esp the gallon size ones) unless they have contained something that really can't be cleaned sufficiently (i.e. raw chicken).

I also don't buy bottled water or soda, and usually bring my lunch. I buy in bulk whenever practical.

I mend clothes that a lot of people I know would simply discard. Oh, and I buy clothes at Goodwill. I found a fantastic pair of barely worn dress pants there last weekend that I know go for about $90 in the store. My price at Goodwill? $5.95.

Janie Jones - 12:34 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #6 of 22

I re-use plastic bags too, and definitely takeout containers. Cook in bulk and freeze for lunches, mend clothes, and coupon-clip like a mofo. I was wary of coupons at first -- like, how much could they really help? -- but I saved $127 on a $277 grocery bill a couple weeks ago. Woot!

GaudyNight - 01:48 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #12 of 22

karatekid, Thryn's DH has been looking for work in Texas for more than a year and she's very up on the ins and outs of unemployment.

We wash plastic bags, buy thrift store clothes, etc., too. We don't even have a TV, let alone cable. OTOH, we'd have to be a lot poorer than we are before we gave up the CSA, the local food delivery, and preferring organic on most things in the grocery store. But I see those things as kind of a recession-beater as well, in that if our local economies were more robust we wouldn't be so dependent on the insanities of the global "market."

Kati - 03:11 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #13 of 22

Amy Dacyczyn's book The Tightwad Gazette (and two sequels) is chockfull of tips on being ultra thrifty. There's quite a bit of good philosophical discussion on what thrifty really means (as opposed to being a miser, for example). For her, it's all about getting into a mindset of paying the absolute minimum for the day-to-day things that keep you alive and functioning so you have the $$$ to spend on things that honestly contribute to making you happy.

Some people find her almost annoyingly frugal and it's true she really doesn't care about dressing stylishly or eating interesting dinners (clothes and food are more important to me than to her) but she's well worth reading if you've decided you need to cut back on spending.

Lots of the tips in her book come from people who've come up with their own ways to save on everything from laundry detergent to wrapping paper.

EyeCandy_999 - 10:11 pm Pacific Time - Mar 5, 2009 - #16 of 22

In the late 1970's when we were going through our first big energy crisis, we kept our thermostats at 62 in the daytime and 55 at night. In colonial times, before central heating, people wore night caps and socks to bed because more heat is lost from the head and feet than other parts of the body. Dressing in layers can keep you comfy all day.

Staying out of the malls to avoid impulse shopping for clothes and shoes can save tons of money. I'm simply amazed and somewhat appalled at the number of people who have closets stuffed full of clothes they hardly ever wear and dozens up to hundreds of pairs of shoes.

A lot of people waste money buying new cars when the old car still has relatively low mileage. Most cars, properly maintained, can be kept running for 200-300,000 miles.

For me, the most effective way to be frugal is to pay off all credit cards every month and never, never, never let the credit card companies rip me off with unconscionable (18-to-32%) interest charges.

Janie Jones - 06:45 am Pacific Time - Mar 6, 2009 - #19 of 22

I love the Tightwad Gazette (I'm not even going to try to spell her last name). I've actually become a lot more frugal about a lot of things since we moved to our new apartment, about a year ago. The previous apartment was one of the cheapest in town; this one is "luxury." I absolutely love it, and since it's much closer in, our commute costs have gone down so the costs of living here are approximately equal even though the rent is higher.

That said, though, I love my apartment so much that I am willing to cut costs on groceries, rarely go out, negotiate for cheaper everything (phones, cable, etc.), use coupons, shop cheap, etc., to make sure living here is affordable within my budget. Because having done it both ways, I know living somewhere I love and spending less on everything else is vastly preferable, for me.

That said, if and when we buy a house it'll be a one-income house (this is definitely a two-income apartment). I don't mind paying more for an apartment because I know that if I lose my job or something, I can move, but if a mortgage comes down the line, I'm not comfortable with that.

Just Jane - 10:26 am Pacific Time - Mar 6, 2009 - #22 of 22

I've been cutting back, but there's still more I could do. I took a new job last fall that came with about a 20% pay cut. Voluntarily - nothing to do with the economic downturn.

In preparation for downsizing, I'd moved into a cheaper apartment last January (just over a year ago now). I'm in a basement apartment in someone's house - utilities, cable and high-speed internet are included in my rent. :-) It's a great bargain. I'm eating out less, and cutting back on luxuries at the grocery store. I haven't started coupon cutting yet - hard to find the time. I hate clothes shopping, so that's not a big expenditure for me at any time.

I'm moving out of my current place in May. I'm planning to live with my BF for a month, before doing two back-to-back housesitting gigs over the summer. I will be living rent-free for 3 months! After that, I plan to find a new apartment closer to my BF's. It will be further from work though, so my commute $$s will probably increase.

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