Ice Cream, Guilt and Aging Well

Recession Living

Two years ago, when our great recession was getting underway, there was an excellent discussion here about Surviving Hard Times. Many elderbloggers and readers left their tips and tricks and memories from the Depression about cutting expenses for all of us to choose from.

We didn't even know yet that in just four months we would be hit with the Wall Street crash that decimated elders' life savings (others too, but I'm concerned with old people on this blog) by as much 30, 40 and even 50 percent.

My biggest loss was a too-large, so-called “safe” Lehman investment and I read over last weekend that I'll be lucky to get 14 cents on the dollar when the bankruptcy is settled – probably years from now and diminished by collective billions the settlement lawyers are being paid.

Overall in October 2008, my one-day loss was a bit more than 30 percent. I immediately pulled all my investments and put the proceeds into a cash account. It doesn't make any money worth speaking of, but I'm unwilling to re-enter the investment world yet. Even if others are making money, I'm too stupid about investing to feel comfortable with it right now and I don't believe the economy is anywhere near stable.

So belt-tightening continues. Some of my attempts didn't work out well. The ten ceiling lights I replaced with CFLs (far more expensive than incandescents) all burned out within a couple of weeks. I learned the hard way that CFLs cannot be used in sockets that are on dimmer switches. (Why don't they tell us these things up front?)

Moreover, normal incandescent replacements did not work due to heat build-up that triggered flickering, so I had to purchase the special little spotlights that cost almost as much as CFLs and burn out just as quickly as normal incandescents.

Last year, during the entire months of May and June, it rained in Portland, Maine every day but three - the longest period for continuous rainy weather in the history of record-keeping in the city. The result for me was that every pot of herbs, vegetables and berries, which I had doubled in amount from 2008, was killed. Lost investment and increased food costs.

There is better news in my Oregon digs. When I was searching for a new home, monthly expenses were at the top of my considerations. I wanted low condo homeowners association dues, lower property taxes (I pay more here in Maine than I did in Manhattan) and reasonable heating costs.

Although the homeowners dues are about 30 percent greater than what I pay now, the amount is locked in for three years and it covers trash which I have been paying here. Other savings on cable, internet and property tax will lower my total monthly expenses by about 15 percent. Nothing to sneeze at.

A big savings is going to be food. It is always hard to cook for one, but cleaning out the pantry last week taught me an embarrassing lesson about myself.

In the back of the cupboards were about two dozen cans of beans, soup, etc. older than their use-by dates. What happened is that new purchases filled up the front of the shelves hiding older tins I forgot about along with enough bags of split peas for at least 20 gallons of soup, too many boxes and bags of rice, four unopened bottles of soy sauce, two of nutmeg (who uses that much nutmeg?), and similar collections of other condiments.

In Lake Oswego, I will be able to walk to nearby stores and shop more as I did in New York – every day or two as I need stuff. It will reduce over-buying and I'll get more exercise without any effort. I love food shopping and it's even more fun when you don't need to drive. Plus, I will be confined to purchasing only what I can easily carry.

So here's what I'm getting at today. After two years of recession living, what new ideas have you found for saving money that have worked? What didn't work out well or where have you screwed up? And what's your best advice for more savings and squeezing more value out of the money we spend?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Walt Grant: Willie John Pays


"Overall in October 2008, my one-day loss was a bit more than 30 percent. I immediately pulled all my investments and put the proceeds into a cash account. It doesn't make any money worth speaking of, but I'm unwilling to re-enter the investment world yet. Even if others are making money, I'm too stupid about investing to feel comfortable with it right now and I don't believe the economy is anywhere near stable."

Ronni, I can't imagine you are more stupid than I about investments. That doesn't mean that some people aren't really smart AND honest about investments. And paying for such consultancies (as for doctors, dentists, attorneys, HVAC specialists, painters, vets... any providers of needed services) normally SAVES money. You are welcome to contact me offline for details on my experience.

We save $ by doing as many household jobs ourselves. If we can't do it, we get three quotes, choose one.

We save on clothing. The book "Smart Shopping in Montreal" by Sandra Phillips, lists all warehouse sales, etc. She also has a blog, Sandra's Shlog.

If you come to Montreal, you will find good deals on clothing, but you have to know where to shop.

It's easier to save when there is no clutter- the less "serving no use" stuff we have, the better to keep the joint clean!

When in other cities, I ask around where the good sale stores are.

I make soup in the crock pot. Beer stews in winter. Bean salads in summer. I check the internet for easy recipes. I like to switch use things I find at flea markets, such as a turkey baking pan is now a plant holder.

We leave our cars at home on the weekend, use the bus. Enjoy it.

Montreal has great tiny, frugal, ethnic food restaurants. You can eat well here, frugally, or go big.

Check sites like Frugal Living for more ideas.

I utilize every store card gives me cents off on gasoline. Hardware store card gives discount. I use grocery coupons, free car washes by organizations. Cook in quanity and freeze. Car dealer gives $ off coupons for maintance. I have stayed in the market, just readjusted balance of investments. I also when possible offer to pay in cash vs credit card to save vendor that cost. I am not shy in asking" Is this your best price?". I scan local paper for any appealing deals. I cook in quanity and freeze. I don't have a depression mentality(not old enough yet:-) but have always been a saver and appreciate all my blessings.

I hate to shop for clothes, my body is a weird conglomeration of different dimensions. So it really distressed me to find my pants and jeans (which I wear 90% of the time) were cutting me in two at the waist. I started stretching and toning exercises which I should have been doing all along and now my jeans are at least bearable if not yet completely comfortable. I'm saving on shopping, plus I feel better too.

The library is my friend. I've pretty much stopped buying books -- but I borrow constantly. We have a great service through which you can request anything they have (and they get more all the time) and it is delivered to your branch when it become available. I have about 10 requests in at any time. It's a thrill when I get the email that indicates that they brought one over -- and I never know which one. Feels like a present.

Besides, by using the library, I avoid collecting more books to dispose of ...

I started bartering my decluttering services for haircuts/color last year. It worked fine for a while and I saved a ton but the woman has small children and we often had trouble scheduling. So now I pay for my haircuts, but at least I found a salon that is 50 percent (!) cheaper than the place I used to go to!!

Cooking at home most of the time....stretching the time between haircuts...moving money to get the best interest rate & thrift stores (but it must fit and I must love AND need it!)...Netflix instead of glasses...taking (yech!) freezer and cupboard inventory before any grocery shopping trips so nothing is wasted...DIY alterations...weekly trips to the library

Since I have always been known as a 'tightwad' I have always saved money. I never pay full price for clothing. I buy on the Internet at half price. I buy shoes in the store at the end of the season sales.

My one blooper was changing my medical alarm company. The company that was set up for me by the rehab counselor was around $7 more per month than the one recommended by AARP. When they raised their rates another $5 per month I decided to switch to the less expensive company.

I set up the new one to start at the first of the month and canceled my old one to end that day. It didn't work out that way. The new system started their fee the day I ordered it and I didn't get the equipment for another week. The old system would not give me credit until they got their equipment back. I had to ship it to PA during the heavy snow period and they didn't receive it for 11 days. Are you still with me? I was paying for two systems during this time (18 days). On top of that it cost me $26.75 to ship the old equipment back, even though they had a man in town to install it.

The old system charged my credit card for the full month I wasn't using it instead of giving me credit from the time they received the alarm. By threatening them with the BB Service and the Attorney General, they did refund me part of that month. At that point I gave up. The final loss was having to pay two companies for 22 days use plus the money to ship it back.

I figure it will take me about nine months to recover the cost of my 'money saved'. ;-)

The Oregonian "Food Day" section is mostly local, often relevant to cooking for one/two. You probably know there's a Farmers' Market at Millennium Park every Saturday, 8:30 to 1:30.

Sounds as if you're all ready for the big move...are there advice-givers in blogland on how to prepare Ollie for his new digs?

I cook many meals at once and freeze.
I inventory my freezer in a book clipped to the back of the door.
I have a perfect healthy breakfast dish - I cook 10 portions at once and freeze. It has all the food groups and uses nutmeg - ha!
I never buy new clothes.
I knit my own socks.
I grow most of my own veggies.
I get free meat and fish from neighbours who hunt and fish.
I only take my car when I can cover many appointments and shops.
I never go to a hairstylist.
I pulled my money out of the markets 5 years ago as I clearly saw our current way of life is unsustainable and still is.
I own my house outright and moved here 6 years ago when land was dirt cheap. I have 7-1/2 acres of arable and woodlot.
I heat my home with my own wood.
My property taxes are $60 year and that includes garbage pickup.

The huge financial losses have been totally offset by the gains. I just hung on. G just ignored his and it's back where it was. I expect things to drop 30% again soon before it all levels off.

Ideas: We yanked out a built in pantry and slipped in an IKEA set of shelves with drawers. No more lost cans or spices. Photo in a Feb 9, 2010 entry:

We changed our shopping habits from Vons and Ralphs to a higher priced neighborhood store. We buy less and in the end save vast amounts. I write out menu's and we eat all our leftovers. I spend about 50 a week on groceries for 2.

We heat only the room we are in with small space heaters rather than use our antique and very expensive radiant heat. Every room has extra quilts which, of course, justifies my terrible habit of quilting.

All the little things do add up. I buy new shoes and sweats, but even my swim suits are used.

We shop for the fun of thrift stores, swap meets, and estate sales. We drive a car that get's 41 miles to the gallon. We have a truck that used to get 30mpg until it was recalled. Darn it.

I read...and I buy books. I buy used on Amazon and ABE, book club, or Cancer Society store books, and of course, one block away is the library.

You probably already do these things, but I too was surprised at how much stuff was in our pantry and unreachable. I through a lot out much to my chagrin.

My approach: sensible spending for daily/weekly/monthly items during the boom years means I don't have to cut back during recession times. That means living within our means ALL the time and paying off credit card bills in full every month. That means not buying the latest iPhone 4G, iPad, or other shiny new Internet capable device when it first comes out; but waiting until the price drops.

And here in Boston, it meant boiling water the last 3 days and not buying overpriced bottled water (with the accompanying plastic bottles have many negative impacts on the environment).

My wife and I share a car which we bought used. I work freelance from home, so I cook a lot and we don't dine out often at restaurants. My wife likes it when I have food ready when she comes home from work.

Yes, we both took a hit during the recession on our retirement accounts, but we are both in our early 50's with time to still contribute.

Cheaper haircuts; library; bring my lunch to work; cook meals on the weekend to last the week; rarely buy anything that's not on sale...

I really don't spend money on anything that would be considered frivolous, EXCEPT--I'm a magazineaholic. I LOVE decorating magazines and even the every other week Woman's Day. At the end of 2008, I decided to let all my subscriptions run out, since every little bit helps. Well, I started feeling deprived and would pick up a magazine here and there when I was grocery. I know I ended up spending more for the newstand price of magazines in the past year and have gone back to getting my three subscriptions. I feel like I've saved money and just that little bit of extravagance makes me feel better.

I just stayed out of the stores. It was amazing to see that I could cut our expenditures by 1/3 simply by not tempting myself with "oh I just have to have that" things... and I'm talking Target's $1 bins.... they add up.

I stopped wearing my dry-clean-only clothes and began eating lunches at home - another $5 here, $5 there savings.

The library, like janinsanfran says, is a better deal than Barnes and Noble, and my overstuffed shelves look better, too.

As to investing, your plan meets the most important criterion : it passes the "sleep test"... as in "If I do this will I be able to sleep at night?" Years of living with a recovering-investment-professional have shown me that the pain of the downside is exponentially greater than the joy of the upside.

I think everyone has said it all. Save on food, electricity, gas. Working at home has become the new norm because we save on food and gas. But I personally think the economy is looking up, employment is going up. We have to look at it positively and there are great opportunities to start small businesses or perhaps a home business. As they say when a door closes, another opens.

Excellent ideas here. We've done nothing at all new during the Great Recession, but it has had no negative effect on us. We just kept doing what we've done for 49 years:

1. Take advantage of every coupon and special offer that fits our needs, but never buy anything just because it is on sale or being discounted.

2. Budget for necessities--food, clothing, taxes and insurance, future auto buys--with a goal of accumulating slightly more than necessary in each fund each year. Also have a fund for "fun things" such as eating out and entertaining.

3. Never buy a big item without discussion and agreement that we need it. A "big thing" costs $100 or more.

4. Teamwork is ok up to a point, but be sure each partner has some personal money that can be spent without consulting the other.

5. Use credit cards whenever possible, but pay all balances every month. We gain hundreds of dollars annually from cashback bonuses by letting those who don't manage their lives well help support us.

6. Do not gamble any amount you cannot afford to lose. "Investing" in the stock market is gambling (why do we call it playing the market?). Wealthy people who can find and afford expert advisors win. Most others lose. A fair chunk of our income comes from CDs set up on a 5-year laddering plan. Through these tough times they are paying more than 5 percent. Those who say you must play the market to beat inflation (mostly those who get commissions when you do) need to explain why a steady plus 5 percent is not better than minus 30 percent followed by a long period of recovery (maybe).

7. Review your financial situation every six months and make any adjustments necessary to ensure you are living within your income.

8. If you can possibly do so, don't retire until you've paid off mortgages and auto loans.

9. Combine shopping trips to save gas and hassles. Always make a list. Prepare healthy stuff to eat at home. But eat out a lot; it's fun, and if you stick to actions 1-8, you'll have ample spare cash to enjoy the experiences!

Gee, one privilege of reaching elderhood is exercising the old folks' ancient right to tell others how to live. Fortunately, we are free to ignore all such advice and develop our own methods of experiencing the good life. May you live long and prosper following the path you choose.

There are so many Frugal websites and blogs for saving money. Start your search for a Frugal blog that works for you! I have saved so much money by using coupons, email coupons, and shopper deals at grocery stores. If you have the time to coupon/ad/internet shop - do so! It will save you hundreds of dollars every year!

Libraries are #1, with programs that include art shows, speakers, classes, demonstrations, free movies, books and magazines. Some libraries have even started lending cake pans that come in different shapes, puzzles and games.

Please do not forget to put together an emergency food shelf though. Store enough food for at least two weeks, include meds and whatever you might neeed if power was knocked out and store access was limited. If you have room, add a little extra to help out others as well. You just never know when the circumstances may make such a thing a necessity.

I second the library being number one. All the books you can read, the free internet connection. I spend hours in the library reading newspapers from everywhere, magazines. Free speakers. I just went to Blue Metropolis, a CBC book festival and saw James Frey "A Million Little Pieces." for $5. He was being interviewed about all his books, the Oprah thing, etc. Excellent.

Tons of free stuff out there if you have the time and patience to look around.

I started this comment when I got home from work yesterday, but the computer ate it (poof!), so I'm trying again. I just re-read some of the other comments, and they illustrate the creativity of many of those who read your posts, Ronni. I'm not where Wisewebwoman is and never will be--I'm a confirmed urban dweller--but more power to her. She will survive!

Like many, my husband and I live reasonably, use credit rarely and pay off any balances every month. Although I'm not deep into the coupon craze, I use them when they're for something I need. Our cars are 10+ years old, but we don't do a lot of driving, partly for environmental reasons plus the price of gas, and we're hoping they last about as long as we do.

We lost about 10% of our retirement stash in the recession, but we count ourselves lucky, especially since (at least until today's rollercoaster!) we'd regained almost all of it. We credit the informed guidance of our financial advisor. Having one is something we strongly recommend for people who aren't financial experts. We aren't. Our advisor is independent--he charges a flat fee of $1200 annually--so he's not motivated to sell us products we do not need or aren't right for us.

We meet with him several times a year in person or by teleconference to keep our program on track. Most of his clients are retired or semi-retired and fall within a broad definition of middle income. I hate to think where we might be financially without him.

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