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Of Recent Note

Ways We’re Saving Money

As the price of everything hikes higher and higher, thrift is fast becoming an essential life skill. The TMN readers and writers tell us how they’re beating the high cost of living.

The economy, it is having issues. Gas is up to $600,000 a barrel (or something like that), groceries will cost you an arm, leg, and your firstborn, and society gently groans under the ceaseless predictions of doom and gloom in our future. Perhaps you’ve already started cutting corners: trading standard furnishings for the more economical boxes and crates, or saving quarters at the Laundromat by doing away with clean clothes altogether. Here are a few more suggestions for these troubled times, courtesy of the ever-thrifty TMN writers and readers.

 

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How to save money? Steal a hybrid car. Because at $4 a gallon and rising, it’s hard to make it to the Badlands on the $50 you got from a filched stereo receiver. American cars have focused on the useless parts of their technology (security systems, locking mechanisms, elevation off the ground) while resisting advancements in fuel efficiency to the point where freewheeling auto theft has become cost-ineffective. The industry has been so caught up in appealing to consumers that it’s left petty thieves little recourse except to steal a Prius. Also, they’re whisper-quiet. It helps for listening to old Kitty Wells tracks five miles outside of Omaha before you lay a brick on the gas pedal and let it coast into a quarry. —Llewellyn Hinkes

 

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I once heard the best way to save money is to spend money wisely. Which is why I felt completely justified in spending $300 on camping equipment: In the future we’ll save loads of money on vacation lodging. By sleeping with the bugs. In the rain. Hungry beasts poking their noses at the nylon seams. Grown men peeing in the bushes 10 feet from our heads. Spending that much money on two sleeping bags (“Would you like those in ‘clay’ or ‘nitrogen?’“), foam pads, and a tent that sleeps two felt even more thrifty for the fact that someday, if the economy continues its weary, downward spiral from recession to depression, this two-person tent of promised holiday bargains could actually become our home. —TMN Reader Zan McQuade

 

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A few weekends ago, given the option of (expensive) flying, I instead took a bus. A very cheap bus. It wasn’t bad, as bus trips can go, and there was even a movie: Spider-Man 3. It wasn’t really a Spider-Man 3 kind of crowd—across the aisle were a number of elderly ladies in Atlantic City-style pastel pants—but that’s fine. It was rather loud, however, and I had 500 pages to read. I channeled my concentration and only glanced up occasionally: First, Tobey Maguire acquired a startling emo haircut, then the picture went scraggly for at least 45 minutes, and by the next time I looked up, it had either ended or been switched off early. I’m inclined to believe the latter, despite the fact that there were no rousing complaints from my fellow passengers. The bus got stuck in traffic and was an hour late getting into Boston. I only managed about 200 pages. But it was cheap. —Bridget Fitzgerald

 

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Save money? Move abroad. Granted, Paris isn’t the cheapest place to live, but my wife and I know plenty of Americans getting by on dollars drinking very good €6 wine, riding €1 Velib bicycles, and renting €600 attic shanties in the dodgier back alleys near Les Halles. Who knows, maybe the buck will get its bite back. We all can stuff our mouths with half-price macaroons and burn down Ladurée! —Rosecrans Baldwin

 

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Other people’s AC. Other people’s DVDs. Other people’s swimming holes. Advice from someone else’s shrink. Beers from someone else’s fridge. Another person’s penicillin. Another person’s breeze. Other people’s news. Sugar from the neighbor, and a different war from anyone willing to donate. My shoes are my own, though, because stealing someone’s kicks is just too low-down. —Tobias Seamon




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I couldn’t afford to take a real vacation with my honey, but don’t feel sorry for me: I used my frequent flyer miles to buy us tickets to visit my family in the Caribbean. They have a car, a spare room, and a fully stocked kitchen (and bar). All we have to pay for is gas—even though self-serve regular goes for almost $5 a gallon, the island is so small you only have to fill up every two weeks. OK, feel a little sorry for me: We’re arriving at the start of hurricane season. —Liz Entman

 

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The British pound and I try to maintain a stiff upper lip as we get bounced around in the wake of the U.S. power-boating its way toward economic disaster. Cycling should let me cruise away from gas prices, and it saves on gym membership, but I have to fuel myself too. The best foods don’t grow on trees, you know. So I’ll be saving the economy by visiting the U.S. It may have been wiser to invest in a vegetable patch and stay home instead of giving in to every one of New York’s expensive indulgences, but helping to prop up the American economy seems more sensible than guilt-free carrots. And a monster with powers of economic meltdown and recession scares me more than slowly rising levels of carbon dioxide. America, you may have money, just don’t let Al Gore know. —TMN Intern Mike Smith

 

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You’ve got to make money to save money and there’s no time like an economic slump to sell some modest dreams. For sale: The Perfect Cozy Night In: One 14-inch color TV with remote control. One double-loaf bread-maker, used three times, comes with manual, recipe book, and one packet of yeast. One stunning, floor-length, size 10, black lace and chiffon prom dress. One smooth and luxurious bottle of Pellar Estates oak-aged ice wine from the breathtakingly cold Niagara Peninsula. Flick it, bake it, wear it, drink it—a perfect night in for $175. —TMN Reader J. Daly

 

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How am I saving money? After I lost my job in January, I took a vacation to New Zealand. Except, no, that’s spending money. Try again. After my position was eliminated, I stopped purchasing a monthly MUNI pass, as my need to regularly travel farther than walking distance was eliminated, too. That helped. Also, instead of purchasing the Malt-o-Meal-brand not-Cap’n Crunch, I now buy the Kroger house-brand not-Cap’n Crunch, a full $1.50 cheaper than the knockoff it’s knocking-off. But remember: When looking at what’s left from your unemployment check after paying all your bills, water is not a milk replacement—just eat your knock-off knock-off Cap’n Crunch dry. —Meave Gallagher

 

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Food is expensive. Once I finally realized this, I quit eating breakfast—it’s pointless. And I gave up good-tasting coffee for the free stuff in my office. It’s the kind that comes from a tiny plastic canister that you load into a machine like a video cartridge; after two or three cups I get a metallic-resonant ache in the back of my neck. But no one believes me that it’s the coffee. For lunch, it’s Subway: $3.19 plus tax for three to five vegetable servings (a six-inch Veggie Delite) is a deal. I like to splurge for the chips (only $1.50 with a drink) and then put them inside my sandwich. Sure, sometimes I reminisce about the early 2000s—back when I ate chip sandwiches because they were hilarious, not because I was broke. Then again, they still taste the same. Things aren’t that bad. —TMN Intern Matt Robison




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I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to appreciate the value of things, not just how much they cost. I’ve learned to save money by buying brand. Sure, you can spend a fraction of the cost of a Rolex by buying a watch from one of the dozens of places down on Canal Street that hock cheap knock-offs, but guess what? They wear out faster, the little faux Rolex insignia is always held in place by sub-standard glue, and, whatever you tell yourself, you will die a little inside every time someone asks you if that’s a real Rolex and you lie and say it is. It’s a little more money up front, but if you take the long view and get the Rolex (or whatever absurd status item you have your heart set on) instead of buying several ersatz watches every year, you’re saving thousands down the road. I’ve also been eating dog food for the past month. —Erik Bryan

 

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Here in Austin, a tank of gas can last about a week, the New York transit equivalent of which is a seven-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard ($25). Gas prices being what they are—and what they are is enough to make you douse yourself in fuel and set yourself on fire (if only there were a cheaper way)—a week’s worth of gas costs double that MetroCard. Which is part of why I’m now taking the bus; my $10 monthly pass averages to about $2.50 a week. The other reason is because I miss something else the subway afforded: two half-hour blocks of undisturbed reading and iPod-listening time. And given that, even if gas were half its current price, I’m not sure I’d want to give up the bus. —Andrew Womack

 

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I basically took the easy way out (that’s called sarcasm) for this period of economic downturn by making the decision to finally quit a job I had hated for a few years—with no new job in sight, and right on the cusp of recession. I’ve been working freelance and job-seeking, and the upside is I’m a lot happier in the short term, and see more possibilities for the longer term. The downside is, well, I don’t have a job. Need a graphic designer? Look me up. Feel my pain? I’m happy to take donations. —TMN Reader Kate Dewitt

 

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Downstairs from my office there is an Au Bon Pain. They have delicious sandwiches, and it’s nice to get away from my desk for a bit to go fetch one. But I’m swearing them off. My lunches there tend to cost me about $9 a day. But if I pack, I can sate the midday demons for less than $4 a day. I’ve done the math. My typical packed lunch, when I have my act together, is one Nature Valley granola bar, one Stoneyfield Farm yogurt, one large piece of fruit such as an apple or a pear, and a mix of chopped raw vegetables (green beans, carrots, broccoli, and green pepper are my favorites). Total cost for one day’s worth of this from my local Key Food? $3.67. Not enough food for you? Add in a snack pack of Sun-Maid raisins and one fresh plum, like I sometimes do, and you’re still totaling only $4.60. Victory! Now, if only I could remember to keep the kitchen stocked. —Kate Schlegel

 

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As of this writing, Benjamin Franklin’s face on a piece of green paper is worth €64.87. Fortunately, my tiny apartment in Avignon, France, was paid for in dollars with my school tuition. Unfortunately, my love for the French language and for the annual Avignon Theater Festival is wearing thin in the face of exchange rate-related financial doom and a desire not to starve. How I’m getting by: a diet of pasta, baguettes, cheese, and wine supplemented with fresh fruit from the local market. I’m avoiding scurvy and I could afford to buy a strictly unnecessary but cheering plant to brighten my dark apartment! I should make it through the summer all right. Except that I just re-checked and now that same $100 bill is worth €64.69. —TMN Intern Nozlee Samadzadeh

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers