The following list of money tips are practical stewardship strategies, some small and others significant, that have made a difference at the Kinnard Homestead. Stay tuned for the addition of more of their kind!
Take the Doritos Out of Your Cart
Spending less by splurging less.
When people ask me what I think the key is to gaining better control of one’s finances, I often say, “The key is to take the Doritos out of your cart.”
Obviously, there are many stewardship principals that could be worked into a more academic answer, including certain theological and economic rules that must begin to frame the way we think about money in general, but, on a strictly practical level, I think it can start with the Doritos.
To say it another way, gaining better control of one’s finances starts with how well we discipline ourselves in our everyday spending (and splurging) habits. For me, Doritos are a silly but personal example of one form of “splurging” for me. I could list several other examples, but junk food and other dispensable products in the shopping cart are probably a common leach for many people’s wallets.
Honestly, a bag of Doritos won’t break the bank. But a pattern of wasting dollars on non-staple-worthy items can and eventually will break the bank. I’ll never forget the day I sat down with Amy some years ago to analyze every penny spent during a recent grocery run. Over half of our total itemized receipt had been spent on what we had to honestly classify as “splurges” – and that didn’t just include a husband’s favorite junk food choices. There were several household products we were buying as a family (from shampoo to paper towels) that added up to a big percentage of our overall spending budget simply because of their “name brand” price tag.
As we have come to discover, a hundred little holes can sink a boat just as fast as one big hole. While it’s always wise to patch the big holes in our finances, it does no good if we aren’t about to identify and do something about all the less obvious ones.
Ask yourself, “What are the ‘Doritos’ in my cart?” Then ask yourself, “Can I do without this item?,” “Is there a coupon or sale I should take advantage of when buying this item?,” or “Is there an alternative and more affordable product I should purchase instead?” While not all generic brands are worth the compromise, you’ll be surprised to find that the difference between many are really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
All that to say, if you want to gain better control of your finances, take the Doritos out of your cart.
Fill Up Your Sink Before You Drain Your Liquidity
Saving (and not borrowing) for home appliances.
What are man’s basic needs? For all of human history the list has traditionally included “food, water, shelter, and clothing.” For some, certain life-sustaining medicines have risen to the same status. Sadly, for many modern housewives, expensive home appliances deserve the same ranking too.
Believe it or not, your Dish Washer is not a “need.” It’s just a convenience. The same applies to your Washer and Dryer, your Water Heater, and, yes, even your Refrigerator.
When our family was building our house in the country, we made the decision to save for all our appliances one at a time instead of putting them on a credit card. It wasn’t an easy adjustment to make having come from a fully-loaded suburban home where everything in the kitchen was stainless steel, but we managed.
We learned that dishes can be cleaned quite effectively in the sink. We learned that multiple loads of laundry can be washed in the course of an afternoon play date at the house of a friend who makes available their laundry room. We learned that clothes can be dried by the energy of the sun and wind while hanging on an invention called a clothes line. We learned that one can heat water in a kettle in the absence of a water heater for bathing and doing the dishes. When a power line went down on our street during an ice storm, we learned that food can be divvyed up in ice chests (or taken to our church’s freezer!).
The point is, one can survive while being inconvenienced. If your objective is to stay out of debt, all it takes is rolling up your sleeves and washing your own dishes long enough to save for that new dish washer, or to pay to have it repaired, or to learn how to repair it yourself. Also, because stores like to offer seasonal sales on their appliances throughout the year, it can be advantageous to hold out an extra month or two longer until that expected sale comes around. A little inconvenience can generate a lot of compounded savings.
And, so there’s no misunderstanding, when I say “inconvenience,” I don’t mean for just the wife. Husbands and kids can help scrub some of the load too. And when we talk about “savings,” it turns out the benefits of everyone rolling up their sleeves goes far beyond the financial. If done right, a husband and wife (or a parent and child) can even grow closer together in their relationship by redeeming the opportunity of working together to talk and bond. What began as a tedious chore can become a tremendous chance to grow into a stronger family.
Trade a Dozen Eggs for a Bale of Hay
Spending less by bartering what you have
In the United States, the recognized legal tender to repay a debt, or to meet any other financial obligation, consists of U.S. dollars and coins issued by the Federal Reserve. The advantage to using such a national currency is obvious. Practically everyone shares the same agreed upon value (or government-determined value) for a single dollar. This means we can do business with anyone we want simply by having enough dollars in our possession to make our desired transactions.
There are some disadvantages to using a national currency though that are worth thinking about. The most apparent being that the entire system requires us to have an adequate amount of dollars, or an adequate source for acquiring those dollars, to make our desired transactions without going into debt. And because the only way to acquire more dollars (unless you want to go to prison for counterfeiting) is to earn them in the form of sales or wages or investment from those who have a balance of dollars to transfer to us, we are always dependent on another person’s dollar.
The solution to this problem isn’t to abandon the use of our national currency. Every one of us would regret it if we tried. However, I do think a lot of people would benefit by adding to the balance sheet of their net worth not only the number of digits in the bank but the amount of goods and services at their disposal. In the old days, a person was considered rich not only because of how much gold and silver he had, but by the quality of his craft, or the size of his herds, or the strategic location of his fields. Why? Because it was understood that gold and silver aren’t the only currencies to exchange with.
I’m talking about good, old-fashioned bartering: A dozen eggs for a bale of hay. A quilted blanket for a mowed yard. A custom website for an old tractor. A freezer full of beef for use of the back pasture to graze the neighbor’s cows. So long as an equal value is agreed upon by two parties (and it’s not a bad idea to have some agreements in writing), the possibilities for “buying and selling” become so much more adaptable.
The place to start is to ask yourself what you have (or what you can do) that would be of value to someone else. After you’re confident with what that is, you keep an eye out for those who have or can do something that you need who themselves need the very thing you have or can do. Then, when the right opportunity presents itself, you simply ask them if they’d be willing to barter with you. Give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised by the kinds of deals that can be arranged.
Let an Amateur Cut Your Hair
Spending less by doing it yourself.
There are 4 boys in our family—5 counting their father. At the time this post is being written, a single haircut at one of our local area salons is $15. For all the guys in our house to receive a monthly haircut, it would cost $75. Over a 12-month period, that amounts to $900. You can do the math on how much we would spend over the course of a decade all in haircuts.
Suffice it to say, our family made the decision early on not to go to the salon. It started with a $20 set of hair clippers and a reluctant newly-married man sitting down in the kitchen to let his new bride practice her untested barber skills on him. After only a few months, and only a few crooked sideburns, Amy became the family’s resident barber and has improved her skill with every new haircut.
The decision to cut our own hair is just one example of steps taken to become “Do It Yourselfers.” There are plenty of other skills we have learned over the years thanks to our local library (and YouTube!) that have saved us thousands of additional dollars in the areas of home construction, plumbing, electric, plastering, flooring, furniture making, concrete work, pork processing, food preservation, basic veterinarian emergency care, and a lot more. There’s no need hiring out a job that you can do yourself, assuming you have the time to do it and the ability to learn how.
Mute the Commercials
Spending less by outcrafting crafty marketers.
They say the average person is exposed to around 5000 ads per day. They’re coming at us constantly in the form of TV commercials, radio spots, internet banners, billboard signs, telemarketing calls, bake sale flyers, cereal box offers, and on and on and on. If that wasn’t enough temptation to get us to spend our money, Goliath marketing firms spend billions of dollars studying our likes, dislikes, and spending habits at our favorite online stores to customize new ads strategically designed to get us to make that second, third, fourth, and, eventually, recurring purchase. The scary thing about it is, marketers are so good at what they do, we don’t even realize that our decision to buy most of the things we own was a decision we were influenced to make by some form of advertisement.
A useful strategy to gaining greater control of your spending is to not only increase your awareness of the influence marketers have on you, but to learn to decrease the amount of marketing material you get exposed to. Muting commercials (or better yet, turning off the TV), installing a good pop-up blocker, avoiding window shopping, adding your number to the National Do Not Call Registry, cancelling your subscription to mail order catalogs, and other similar practices can save you thousands of dollars a year. Just as a child won’t have the desire to buy the latest video game console if he doesn’t know it exists, you won’t feel the itch to buy whatever gadget or gizmo you would waste money on if it never catches your attention to begin with.