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*12 Ways to Radically Reduce Your Expenses

How often do you hear people talk about how they would live their dreams if they only had a bit more money?  People always dream about moving to a remote area or about staying home with the kids or about relocating to the bug-out location, but often feel that these things are financially unreachable. Do you do this yourself?

If so, then maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your finances and enact a personal austerity plan to radically cut expenses.  Most people would be surprised at the changes that can be made when they rethink the definition of the word “necessities”.

aus·tere

   [aw-steer]
adjective
1.severe in manner or appearance; uncompromising; strict; forbidding.
2.rigorously self-disciplined and severely moral; ascetic; abstinent3.
grave; sober; solemn; serious.
4.without excess, luxury, or ease; limited; severe.
5.severely simple; without ornament ; lacking softness; hard

With the gloomy economic forecast, it’s not reasonable or rational to expect things to improve in the near future.  If you want to be somewhat immune to the financial difficulties coming down the pipe, you need  to perform a financial makeover to pare down the monthly output to the bare minimum.

Does this sound kind of grim?  It’s not – decreasing your monthly output provides a different kind of safety net.   You can end (or at least reduce) your slavery to the system, where the government helps itself to at least 30% of your paycheck through payroll deductions.  With your newfound freedom, you may discover that you have the money to start a business, relocate, or cut back your work hours to spend more time doing the important things in life.

Devastating financial changes are coming to a location near you.  Wouldn’t you prefer to make the cuts now and adjust accordingly, instead of having them forced upon you through evictions, foreclosures, repossessions, and other painful methods?

 Redefining necessities

If your finances are out of control, the best possible reality check is a stark look at what necessities really are.  It is not necessary to life to have an iPhone, a vehicle in both stalls of your two-car garage, or for your children to all have separate bedrooms.  People in Southern and Eastern Europe right now will tell you, as they scramble for food, basic over the counter medications like aspirin, and shelter, that “necessities” are those things essential to life:

  • Water
  • Food (and the ability to cook it)
  • Medicine and medical supplies
  • Basic hygiene supplies
  • Shelter (including sanitation, lights, heat)
  • Simple tools
  • Seeds
  • Defense Items

Absolutely everything above those basic necessities is a luxury.

So, by this definition, what luxuries do you have?

Some are more important than others, based on your lifestyle and might be considered secondary necessities.   You might require transportation, work clothing, a computer and an internet connection, electrical appliances, a cell phone – you are the only person who can define which are these are luxuries and which are secondary necessities.  It’s essential to be truly honest with yourself and separate “wants” and “I really enjoy having this” and “the kids will complain without it” from “needs”

For example, I am a freelance writer who lives in a remote area.  Without an internet connection and a laptop, I have no work.  For me to make a living, therefore, my computer and monthly internet bill are a necessity.  However, because I work from home, a fashionable work wardrobe is not important to me.  I can wear jeans and a t-shirt to work every single day, and it won’t affect my career at all.  If you have to go out to a job in customer service, for example, then perhaps a computer and internet connection would be less important than a good-looking career wardrobe.

My Personal Austerity Plan

A couple of years ago, I began to see the writing on the wall for my own personal finances. I’m a single mom and my former husband is deceased, so there is no child support coming in.  So as far as raising these children goes, I’m the only game in town.  I realized that the industry I had been working in for many years was very shaky (automotive) and that I’d better get my financial house in order.

I began to cut expenses as quickly as possible.  I was making a very good income and our lifestyle had “improved” with each pay raise and promotion.  Although these changes were not incredibly popular with the kiddos, I made them ruthlessly.  I made the following adjustments:

  • Moved from a 4 bedroom home to a small 2 bedroom
  • Cut cable and home phone
  • Began providing a limited budget to the kids for school clothes, winter coats, and holiday gifts. If something “better” was wanted, the difference had to be earned
  • Made the kids do extra chores for privileges like field trips, vacations, and houseguests
  • Began cooking entirely from scratch and limiting meals out to birthdays or long trips
  • Got rid of the current model year car and got an older, more affordable vehicle
  • Began gardening, preserving bulk foods, and shopping through mail order sources

These efforts paid off within a few months, because my prediction was right – I got downsized.  Had my expenses been at their former level, we would have struggled to keep the electricity on and food in the cupboards.

When I lost my job, I began looking for ways to make money from home.  I was fortunate and picked up some freelance jobs pretty shortly, but I realized that I couldn’t make ends meet with what I was making, at least not in my then-current location.

So, I began a search for a less expensive place to live.  The beauty of what I do for a living is that I can live anywhere – I only require a reliable connection to the internet.   Within a few months, we’d located a very distant, very remote little cabin in the North Woods.  We sold a bunch of stuff and then packed up the rest and moved 7 hours north to the boondocks, a move that saved over $1100 per month when compared to city life.

Get a Picture of Where You Are, Right Now

I realize that the changes I made are not changes that will work for everybody.  I’m not suggesting the changes are a whole lot of fun either.  Adjusting your own situation requires a brutal analysis of your expenditures.  If you can’t get your partner or spouse on board, it’s all but impossible to do a complete overhaul.  Kids, however, have to deal with it – expect loud complaints but be firm.

Print off your bank account statements for the past 2 months.  On a piece of paper, track where your money is going.  List the following

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Car payments
  • Vehicle operating expenses (fuel, repairs)
  • Insurances
  • Credit card and other debt payments
  • Telephone/Cell phone
  • Cable/Satellite
  • Internet
  • Extracurricular activities for the kids
  • Extracurricular activities for the adults
  • Dining out
  • Groceries
  • School expenses
  • Clothing
  • Recreational spending
  • Gifts
  • Miscellaneous (anything that doesn’t fall into the above categories gets it’s own category or goes here)

Don’t say to yourself, “Well, I usually don’t spend $400 on clothing so that isn’t realistic.”  If you spent it, then it’s realistic.  You are averaging together two months, which should account for those less common expenses.  Brutal honesty isn’t fun, but it’s vital for this exercise.

So….what do you see when you look at your piece of paper with your average monthly expenditures for the past two months?  Are there any surprises?  Did you actually realize how much you’ve been spending?

It can’t continue like this.  The economy will not withstand it.  Step one is to see where you can cut things out right now from the above expenditures.  Can you reduce your grocery bill?  Slash meals out?  Budget more carefully for gift-giving and school clothes?

Design a Plan to Radically Cut Expenses

Step two – this is where the brutal cuts come in.  What can you change about your life?  Where can you reduce expenditures by several hundred dollars monthly?  This is the point at which most people say, “I can’t.”  Most people don’t want to move to a smaller house, get an old car, or go without premium cable.  But this is where you can truly dig in and change your life.

As I said before, everyone’s situation is different.  You may be locked into a mortgage on a huge house in a market that won’t even cover the balance of what you owe.  It could be the same with your vehicle.  Explore all of your options, though, because paying a few thousand dollars to get out from under it could be worthwhile.  Some people could have reached the point where they must begin to default on payments.  That too, is a personal choice. I’m not recommending that you blow off your obligations.  (However, do consider the fact that large banks get bailed out by the government, and everyday people do not.)  Before making decisions like that, be sure to discover all of the potential ramifications, such as repossessions, garnishing of bank accounts, and ruined credit.

Here are some cuts to consider:

  1. Move to a smaller house.  Contrary to popular belief, no child ever died because he or she had to share a room with a sibling.
  2. Relocate to a small town.  Is it worthwhile to commute to a job in the city from a smaller, less expensive location? This can give you the added opportunity of homesteading and providing for many of your own needs.
  3. Get rid of your late model year vehicle.  Look for a decent used vehicle that you can purchase with cash.
  4. Cut back to one vehicle or even no vehicles.  Sometimes public transit and your own two feet can provide all of the transportation you really need at a fraction of the price of owning a vehicle.  This varies by location.
  5. Stop using credit cards.  This goes for any type of lending system that requires you to pay interest.  Stop accumulating debt.
  6. Don’t eat out.  Limit meals out to no more than once a month or special occasions.  Even better, don’t eat out at all.  Dining out, even at a fast food place, is at minimum 4 times more expensive than the same meal prepared from scratch at home. (And far less healthy!)
  7. Look for free or low-cost entertainment.  Consider a family YMCA or community center membership instead of gymnastics clubs or private tennis lessons if you need to enroll your kids in some activities. Go hiking, have picnics, explore parks, go to the library, and find out what’s offered for free in your home town. Learn to enjoy productive hobbies like canning, carving and needlework. Switch from cable to Netflix.
  8. Use the envelope method to budget for shopping trips.  For back-to-school shopping or Christmas shopping, decide how much you want to spend.  Put that money in an envelope.  As you shop, place each receipt in the envelope.  When the money is gone, it’s gone.  If there’s something else your child desperately wants, then they need to decide what item they’d like to take back to get it.  Be firm and stick to your guns.  This has the added benefit of teaching your children to budget.
  9. Reduce your monthly payments by cutting things like cable, cell phones, home phones, and/or gym memberships.  Look at every single monthly payment that comes out of your bank account and slash relentlessly.
  10. Shop using the stockpile method.  Shop only the sales and simply replenish your stockpile. Keep shelf-stable food on hand for unexpected financial crunches.
  11. Eat leftovers.  Have you ever stopped to think about how much food you throw out every month?  You can often provide a few “freebies” every month by carefully repurposing your leftovers.
  12. Stay home.  By spending more time at home, you will spend less money.  You won’t be grabbing a bottle of water, going through drive-thru for lunch or putting fuel in the car.  Learn to treasure you time at home with loved ones – it’s worth more than money.

This is not a comprehensive list – when you look at your personal expenditures,  other ideas will present themselves.

Why Now?

Why is it so important to make these changes?

Because if you don’t change your way of life, the government will.  A job loss will.  Inflation will.

 

These upcoming cuts won’t hurt the ones who are making the cuts.  Congress members will still get large salaries and raises.  The First Lady will still spend millions of taxpayer dollars on vacations that would make Marie Antoinette blush.  The White House will still serve gourmet meals while Americans are digging through the garbage to stave off hunger.

Realistically speaking, the way things are going, none of us is likely to get a hefty raise.  We’ll be lucky to keep the incomes we have.  But expenses are only going to go up.  To keep the true necessities within reach, we need to reduce our expenditures and put away emergency funds and stockpiles.

Personal bank accounts are being plundered across Europe.  People are not just living paycheck to paycheck – there ARE no more paychecks.  They’re living hand to mouth, hunting and gathering what they can in order to stay fed.

Making some difficult changes now can provide a stable standard of living in a world that is going downhill at breakneck speed. By decreasing your monthly output, you can hang on to necessities.  I’d rather choose my own austerity plan than to have it forced upon me.

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Can You Reduce Any of These 10 Fixed Expenses?

The bells are tolling on the American economy.  Every day, another expert is warning us of the imminent demise of our way of life. If you’re paying attention, you can see it coming, like some huge storm system, bearing down on you. You don’t stand there and wait for it to hit you.  You don’t have to be a passive victim of the economy. It’s time to sit down and take a long hard look at where your money is going. Lots of financial experts give tips about reducing your discretionary spending but what about those fixed expenses? You can free up some large sums of money by reducing your monthly output.

Most of us have a set of fixed expenses.  Some of these are vital, some are not, and what is vital for me might not be important for you.

What fixed payments come out of your bank account every month?

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Home Insurance
  • Car payment
  • Car insurance
  • Cable/Satellite/Internet
  • Gym membership/Exercise classes
  • Loan payments
  • Cell phone bill/Home phone bill
  • Child support/alimony payments
  • Tuition
  • Extracurricular activities for the kids

Some of these, you can’t do anything about.  However, some of these payments can be reduced or gotten rid of altogether.

The real question is, if your financial circumstances changed dramatically, could you afford your current lifestyle? If the answer to that question is  “No” then you need to figure out how to reduce your regular monthly output.

Keep in mind that what works for my family may not work for your family.  It will depend whether your spouse is on board, how dire your situation is, and with how much importance you weigh your frugality makeover what you opt to change. Some of these measures would be drastic, and others would only cause a minor change in your lifestyle. Let’s take a look at each of these expenses individually and ask some important questions.

  1. Mortgage/Rent This is often the biggest expenditure that many families make each month.  When you buy a house, realtors will nearly always show you homes at the top of your price range. When you are looking for rentals, most people search at the high end of their budgets.  That’s fine in good times, but if things go awry, you’re stuck at that same level because banks and landlords don’t care that you lost your job or took a financial hit.  Sometimes moving to a less expensive place is your only option if you wish to make big financial changes. This can free up as much as a thousand dollars a month for some families. Moving is expensive, though, and you have to figure that in to the potential savings. If you are only going to save, let’s say, $50 a month by moving, it will be more than a year before you recoup your expenses, and that is going to do little to change your overall outlook. If you are moving to drop your expenses, it needs to be a substantial monthly savings to make it worthwhile. If you own your home, consider refinancing at a better interest rate.
  2. Home/Car Insurance You have to have insurance so this is not an expense that you can cut out of your budget altogether. However, you can shop around for better prices. You can look into changing your coverage. Do you have duplications in coverage? For example, my insurance company offers roadside assistance for about $40 per year, but my vehicle came with 3 years of free roadside assistance. You can drop your rate further by increasing your deductible, but if you do that, be sure you have access to the deductible amount should an accident occur.  If you have several cars in your family, you might not need to have rental car coverage on your policy.
  3. Car Payment As with a home payment, most people push the envelope and get the nicest vehicle that they can afford. What you drive is a status symbol in North America, and practicality doesn’t always come into the decisions.  The best option is to get something that you can afford to pay for in full so that you don’t have a payment. Consider trading in the vehicle you are making payments on for one that you can pay for outright or make payments on for a short period of time. But if you made the decision in less frugal days, you might be what car dealers call “upside down” in your financing. That means that you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth. If that is the case, then you will basically have to pay someone to take it off your hands and that is not always worth your while. If you find yourself in that situation, the best thing you can do is use some of your freed up money to pay off your loan as quickly as possible. At least then, the bank gets less interest from you. If you have more than one vehicle, is it possible to become a one car family? This will drop your automotive maintenance costs, get rid of an insurance payment, and take away a monthly payment if both vehicles are being financed. If one of your vehicles is paid for, consider getting rid of the one that is being financed.
  4. Cable/Satellite/Internet This is an area in which cuts can almost always be made.  We don’t have cable or satellite, but we do have the best internet available.  In our home internet is vital for my job and also for my daughter’s school.  Since we have internet, if we have the urge to watch something we can stream it for free online.  For your entertainment needs consider something like Netflix. It’s a fraction of the price of a monthly cable or satellite bill and you can choose what you want to watch commercial free at any point in time, not just when it’s on network television.  You have the added bonus of avoiding those pesky commercials too.  Expect an outcry if you get rid of these services, but also know that your family will get used to it quickly.  Trust me, they’ll live.
  5. Gym membership/Exercise Classes Being healthy is a top priority if you want to live a frugal lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend high monthly fees to do so.  You can kill two birds with one stone by coming up with some productive active things to do: chop wood, build, garden or farm.  If you live in a place where it’s reasonable to do so, walk instead of driving – you’ll get some exercise and save gas money and wear and tear on your vehicle.
  6. Loan Payments Look at paying off your debts as quickly as possible using the snowball method.  Instead of just making your regular monthly payment, take the smallest debt and pay it off as fast as you can while still making your minimum payment on other debts.  Once the smallest payment is paid off, take what you were paying on that and apply it to the next smallest debt, and on and on until you are beautifully debt-free! Then, once you have no debt, commit yourself to staying that way.
  7. Phone Bills Most people do not need both a home phone and a cell phone. One or the other will nearly always suffice.  I actually don’t have either one.  I use internet phone service which costs $2.99 per month for the odd telephone call I have to make and email for everything else. It takes some getting used to but you might find that you welcome the peace of people being unable to interrupt you just as you sit down to dinner. You can free up a lot of money each month by getting rid of the phone, but expect people to look at you strangely when they ask for your number and you say, “I don’t have one.”
  8. Child Support/Alimony Payments There really isn’t a lot you can do about this kind of monthly expense. These numbers are set by the courts and you will go to jail or have assets seized if you don’t make them. As a single mom, I can tell you that there were times when we depended on child support payments to buy our groceries, so the argument can be made that if you have children, it’s your responsibility to make these payments.
  9. Tuition If your child is in college or a private school, tuition payments are a fixed expense that you can’t really do much to reduce.  You can apply for scholarships, but aside from this, the price is the price. You don’t want your child to start off adult life in debt if you can help it, so if you can find a way to make these payments instead of using student loans, you are giving your son or daughter the biggest possible gift: financial freedom.
  10. Extracurricular Activities for the Kids This one really depends on your family. If your child is just killing time, then the extracurriculars may not be of high importance.  On the other hand, if they are a talented athlete or budding musician, you may find this is a very worthwhile expenditure.  Some families who homeschool look to extracurricular activities as a way for their kids to socialize with their peers, and that is also very important.  If the activity is not a serious pursuit, sometimes it can be replaced with lower cost activities through the local community center or YMCA.  Some children are really over-programmed, with an evening activity every day of the week and two on weekends. Kids need downtime and the freedom to just go outside, climb a tree, and look at the clouds floating by.

It’s far better to make these changes before you’re forced to do so by circumstances.  If you can reduce your fixed monthly expenditures, you’re less likely to default on things that are true necessities, like keeping a roof over your head and food in the cupboards.  I would prefer to control the cuts myself rather than have the decisions made for me by foreclosures or repossessions.

Despite what the government wants us to believe, the financial situation in this country is not getting better, and it isn’t going to improve for a very long time. The economic storm is bearing down on us, and the most important preparation you can make right now is to figure out how to weather it.

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Creating a Budget is Easy….Sticking to it…That’s the Hard Part

Lots of experts will give you excellent advice on how to create a budget.  Creating a budget is actually pretty easy.  You figure out what your expenses are, take this from your income, and then figure out what to do with the money you have left over.

Sticking to the budget…that’s the tough part.

This is where most people experience financial failure. They know what they should be doing, but that little treat is just calling out to them, and they think, “One off-plan expense won’t matter.” Or perhaps they have a spouse who is not really on board with the whole budget business and they are constantly playing catch-up because of unplanned expenses. The economy is certainly not getting any better, so it’s important to get control of your finances NOW.

With careful planning, you can keep everyone happy, have the occasional treat, and still stick to your budget.

Budgeting is like dieting.

Really, if you think about it, a budget is a lot like a diet.  Everyone hates doing it, but sometimes our pants won’t zip and we’ve got to do something about it.

So, you figure out what your caloric intake should be. Every bite of food you eat should be measured and accounted for and you subtract the amounts from your allotted intake.

Sometimes you have an off-plan meal – a piece of cake at a birthday party, a celebratory dinner out, or an ice cream cone with the kiddos.  You have to account for this too, and you can’t do it too often, or your diet will fail.

Sometimes you have loved ones who sabotage your good intentions, either deliberately or thoughtlessly.  They might be food pushers (come on, one bite won’t kill you), guilters (but I made this especially for you), or influencers (just because I buy chips doesn’t mean you have to eat them.) Whatever the case, the result can be the same – your careful plan is in shambles.

It’s exactly the same with money.

It is often the influence of others, no matter how well-meaning, that causes you to go over you financial “calorie limit”.  If you plan carefully, you can allow yourself some wiggle room to enjoy something outside of your normal diet (or budget).  For example, when dieting, if you know that you have a party to attend, you might eat fewer calories for a day or so leading up to the event so that you can splurge without guilt. When budgeting, if you know there is an outing planned, you might cut back a bit on the grocery bill that week in order to have extra money to spend during your event.

When dieting, if you want a treat, you can have it – but you might be eating steamed veggies for the rest of the day if that treat is the equivalent of your daily caloric intake.  Likewise with spending, if you want a Disney vacation, you can have it, but you might need to live in your uncle’s car, since you won’t also be able to afford to pay for that, your mortgage, and your car payment.  Eating whatever you want can have unpleasant consequences. So can spending whatever you want.

Here’s how to create a budget.

Most folks have created a budget before, so feel free to skip over this part.

Creating a budget is simple. In one column, you have your money in, and in another column, you have your money out.

Money in might be:

  • Salary from work
  • Bonus check
  • Tax return
  • Alimony or child support
  • Rents due to you from property you own

Money out might be:

  • Mortgage/rent
  • Utility bills
  • Credit card bills
  • Car payment
  • Insurances
  • Loan payments
  • Groceries and miscellaneous spending

So your first step is figuring out those two totals.  In most cases, your money in will be more than your money out. If it isn’t, you have a serious problem and you need to look at lowering your fixed expenses ASAP, or your financial problems will spiral so far out of control you’ll end up destitute.

Assuming you have some money left over, this is for your variable expenses.  You may want to allot this money to savings, to preps, to paying off debt, or to spending money for the members of your family.

Are you surprised when you see the numbers there in black and white?  Maybe you bring in more than you thought. Maybe you are spending more than you realized.  Either way, now that you can look at it all on paper, the next part will be a lot easier.

Ditch the credit cards

If you are going to keep spending money using credit cards, then you might as well skip the rest of this article. You’ll be paying exorbitant interest if you don’t pay them off in full each month, and what’s more, it’s impossible to control spending when people can just swipe a card.  This is especially true if other family members who are not as budget conscious have access to the cards.

Lock them up in your safe and use them only when it is necessary. Then immediately pay the balance off in full.

Sticking to the budget

So, planning the budget is easy. Anyone who can do basic math can create a budget. But how do you stick to it and get your finances under control?

Control…that’s the key word.

This is the method that I use.  Feel free to adapt it to your situation.

I have a bank account that I use specifically for fixed expenses. All of my payments out go through that account. Everything that is not  earmarked for bills comes out of the account.  I don’t carry a debit card with me for this account, to reduce the temptation of knowing I have that money there…maybe I could just buy this and replace the money real quick before the bills come out.

The money that comes out is immediately organized into…Altoid tins.  (Finally another use for those little tins!) The tins go into the safe until they are needed. It’s like the envelope method, but in a different container.

If there is money left over after I’ve sorted my variable expenses into the Altoid tins, this goes into my wallet and is my spending money.  I keep grocery money in  (you guessed it) an Altoid tin in my purse.

When spending grocery money, the change and the receipt go into my tin.  That way, I know I’m sticking to my budget for food. When the tin is empty, it means I’m out of grocery money. Sometimes I have extra money left at the end of the week, and that stays in the grocery money tin to allow me to make some large bulk purchases.

Some of the variable expenses that I delegate money to are:

  • Emergency fund
  • Gasoline (I’m going to need a bigger tin for this pretty soon)
  • Groceries/stockpile
  • College expenses (one done, one yet to go in my house)
  • Preps
  • Medical expenses/dental care
  • Vision care (Two family members need corrective lenses)
  • Clothes (growing kids!)
  • Spending money for family members
  • Gifts (a little each week towards holidays, birthdays, etc.)
  • Fun money (for road trips, school field trips, dinner out, and miscellaneous adventures)
  • Garden supplies (this is my addiction! seeds, plants, tools, oh my!)

It’s important to prioritize these areas.  Just because the tin exists, doesn’t mean that you have to put money into it each month.  I’ve listed these in the order of importance in our family.

Just because there is money in the tin doesn’t mean it gets spent each month. The beauty of this is that you less frequently have a big expense that you haven’t planned for. If my daughter needs new glasses, the money is there, available for the appointment.  If we want to go visit a museum or national park, we have some money set aside to do that.

Alternatively, if the tin is empty, the expense has to wait. Maybe the birthday celebration will be a bit more humble, the greenhouse will have to wait to be purchased for a few more months, or we’ll have to make do with clothing that is a little snug for a couple more weeks. Our entertainment will be limited to Netflix, a nature walk, or a trip to the library.

Like I said, the key to this is control. One person has to be in control of the finances. I’m not recommending that anybody become a tyrant, doling out nickels after a family member begs and pleads.  However, if anyone can just go and help themselves to the money that has been budgeted, this is not going to work.  Unless both partners are completely on the same page, the person with the best financial sense needs to hold the key to the safe.  I know that if you’ve just been shaking your head, paying off the credit card bill, and belly-aching a little each month, that your family isn’t going to like this. You’ll probably have to listen to some adamant complaints. It will be worth it in the end when you have the peace of mind that comes with having your budget under control.

A budget is not about a total spending freeze.

Most people hear the word budget and automatically cringe, picturing a state of horrible deprivation, old clothes, and perhaps their big toes poking through that hole in their sneakers. Much like the word “diet” (see above) “budget” is thought of in negative terms.

I’m not going to lie…sometimes it’s like that, especially if things are really out of control.

But usually, at least after the first couple of months, it isn’t bad at all. Being on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t spend money. It means that you plan for your expenditures so that you can afford the stuff of everyday life. It means that you pay for the necessities first and that you get the extras second.  It means that you scrutinize where your money is going and you make certain that your purchases are worthwhile – do you really want that fancy meal out each week, or would you rather put that money towards a fun family outing at the end of the month? It means that those expenses that you know will come up (like new eyeglasses) will be planned for, and they won’t make an enormous dent when it’s time to pay for them, leaving you rolling pennies for gasoline to get to work.

The peace of mind that comes from having control of your money is priceless.

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A Quick-Start Guide for New Preppers Who Want to be Ready RIGHT NOW

When you first start prepping you want everything RIGHT NOW. You look around your home and see nothing but shortcomings. You don’t have enough food, you don’t have a woodstove, you have no secondary water source…that’s it. You and your family are doomed.

You feel a panicked urgency because you’ve learned just enough to know that you are NOT prepared.You know that there are all sorts of supplies that you need, but if you’re like most of us, you’re on a budget. Very few of us can afford to buy everything we need all at once.

Here’s a guide

Stop panicking. Take a deep breath. You can devote yourself to getting prepared without breaking the bank.

So if you have to split up your purchases, how do you prioritize your supplies? How can you create a sensible supply quickly before an impending crisis occurs?

The recommendations in this guide for new preppers will help speed you through the preparedness process. Wherever possible, use items that you already have. Consider this a checklist of what you need and fulfill it as you can. In each category there will be a range of options, including some freebies whenever possible, as well as reading material on the subject.

Please keep in mind, the following doesn’t provide you with a year’s supply of anything. It will get you through most short-term disasters with aplomb, though. Once you have this foundation in place, you can spend time and money building upon it.

Water

Water is near and dear to my heart, so much so that I wrote a book on the topic.  I always put water at the top of the list, because without it, you’ll be dead in 3 short days. The need for an emergency water supply isn’t always the result of a down grid disaster. Recently, we tapped into our emergency water when the well pump broke. Some places have had water emergencies when the municipal supply was contaminated by stuff like industrial spills or agricultural run-off. Floods and bad storms can also sometimes cause the water supply to be tainted.

Use containers you have RIGHT NOW and fill them with water from the tap. Put the lid on and stash them away. Don’t use milk jugs or juice jugs for drinking water, but you can use them for sanitation water in a pinch. If you can get your hands on some empty, clean 2-liter soda bottles, that will be perfect. We don’t drink soda, so we have some of the 1-gallon water bottles from the store.

Buy some filled 5-gallon jugs of purified water.  How much you need should be based on the number of family members. The rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person, per day, but you may find you need a lot more than that when you add in pets and sanitation needs. You may be able to find these less expensively, already filled at the store. When I lived in Canada you could pick up a filled jug for less than $10, but California has all sorts of environmental rules that make these containers more expensive here. Another option is the 7-gallon Aquatainer that is designed for easy stacking. (Be sure to put this in a place where the floor can support the weight of a bunch of heavy water containers.)

Have a way to dispense the water from the jugs.  We have a top-loading water dispenser for use in emergencies. These MUST be top loading because the bottom-loading ones require electricity to run the pump.) If you don’t want to make that kind of investment,  you can get a nifty little pump for about $12.

Get a gravity-fed water filter.  I use a Propur, but it’s a hefty investment when you’re trying to get everything at once. If you can’t swing that, buy Jim Cobb’s Prepper’s Survival Hacks book. It has numerous DIY water filters that you can make without spending a fortune.

Cooking methods

If the power goes out, how will you cook? You need the ability to boil water, at the very least. If you can boil water, then you can heat up canned food or prepare freeze-dried food in an emergency. Here are some secondary cooking methods, some of which you may already have.

Wood stove or fireplace.  If you heat with wood, you’re a step ahead already, at least in the midst of a winter power outage. However, you won’t want to fire up the wood stove to cook in the summer, particularly since you may already be battling the heat without a fan or air conditioner.

Gas kitchen stove.  Some kitchen stoves that use gas or propane can be used without electricity while others can’t. (If you’re replacing your stove, this is definitely a quality you’ll want to look for.)

Outdoor barbecue. If weather allows, you can fire up your propane or charcoal barbecue during a power outage and cook your feast outdoors.

Rocket stove. There are all sorts of little emergency stoves out there which are designed to boil water quickly and without the use of a great deal of fuel.  My favorites are the Volcano 3-way stove and the Kelly Kettle.  You can also make an efficient stove. We made one last week that brought water to boil in less than 4 minutes.

Do not risk using emergency stoves designed for camping, indoors, unless the manufacturer specifically says that it can be used indoors. To do so is to risk fire, smoke damage, or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Food

Emergency food comes in many different forms. The first thing you have to look at is cooking methods, which we discussed above. The food you choose needs to be able to be prepared using the method you have available now, not the one you plan to get in the future.

Another important note is that your emergency food supply should be nutritious. You won’t want to fill up on empty calories when you may be making greater demands of your body. Keep in mind food restrictions, too, because an emergency situation is bad enough without an allergic reaction or intolerance illness.

There are several different ways to create a food supply.

See what you have.  Go through your kitchen cupboards and see what you already have that could be used in an emergency. Things like nut butters, crackers, and other no-cook snacks are great options. Canned foods that only require heating are good as well. Instant rice or noodles can be added to your emergency supply. Group these items together on a special shelf or in a Rubbermaid container so that they are available when you need them. Figure out how long your supply would last your family before you go and purchase more. Figure out what shelf-stable items you need to add to balance out your supply. (Perhaps dried or canned fruit and vegetables, canned meat, jerky, etc., would provide more nutrients and variety.)

Emergency buckets. The very fastest way to create an instant food supply is emergency buckets of freeze-dried food, which require only the ability to boil water to prepare. One caveat: do not go with the cheapest thing you can find. Some of those taste absolutely terrible. As well, they’re loaded with unhealthy chemicals and sodium. If you normally eat very healthfully, then move to MSG-laden freeze-dried meals, you’re not going to feel well at all in an emergency.

My very favorite brand of emergency food is Numanna, found HERE.  It’s surprisingly tasty, contains no GMOs, no MSG, and no Aspartame.  They even have gluten-free products, which is important to my family since we have some pretty severe intolerances.  These are already prepacked to last for 25 years and are a crucial part of my long-term food supply.

Build a pantry.  Make a list of what you need to feed your family for a month without a trip to the store, and without reliance on long cooking times. (This rules out beans and rice for most people.)

Heat

If you live in a cold climate, winter weather during a power outage can be a life-threatening emergency. It’s vital to have the ability to stay warm if the power goes out. Most central heating systems require electricity to run the fan or motors. Here are some options for secondary heat sources if you generally rely on your central heating system.

  • Wood Heat: Everyone’s favorite off-grid heating method is a fireplace or wood stove. The fuel is renewable and you have the added bonus of an off-grid cooking method. Unfortunately, if your home doesn’t already have one, it can be a pretty expensive thing to install.  If you rent, it’s probably not going to be an option at all to add wood heat to someone else’s property. If you have wood heat, make sure you have a good supply of seasoned firewood that is well-protected from the elements.
  • Propane Heaters:  There are several propane heaters on the market that do not require electricity.  I own a Little Buddy heater.  These small portable heaters are considered safe for indoor use in 49 states.  They attach to a small propane canister and use 2 oz. of fuel per hour to make 100 square feet extremely warm and toasty.  A battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm provides an extra measure of safety when using these heaters indoors.  Be sure to stock up on propane if this is your back-up heat method.
  • Kerosene/Oil Heaters:  Kerosene heaters burn a wick for heat, fueled by the addition of heating oil.  These heaters really throw out the warmth.  A brand new convection kerosene heater can heat up to 1000 square feet efficiently.  When we lived in the city I was lucky enough to have an antique “Perfection” oil heater, which was a charming addition to our decor that was be called into service during grid-down situations.
  • Natural Gas Fireplaces:  Some gas-fueled fireplaces will work when the electrical power goes out – they just won’t blow out heat via the fan.
  • Pellet Stove:   Most pellet stoves require electricity to run, but there are a few of these high efficiency beauties that will work without being plugged in.

If you have no additional heat at all, you can usually keep one room tolerable for 2-3 days.  If the cold is relentless and the outage lasts longer than that, you may need to seek other shelter.  Watch your temperatures. If the daytime temperature in the house dips below 40 degrees, the night time temperature will be even colder, and it won’t be safe to stay there, especially if you have children or family members who are more susceptible to illness.

These methods can help you stay cozier during a storm.

  • Heat only one room.  One year, our furnace went out the day before Christmas. We huddled into a small room with just one window.  We closed the door to the bedroom and used a folded quilt at the bottom to better insulate the room.  If you don’t have a door to the room you’ve opted to take shelter in, you can hang heavy quilts  or blankets in the doorways to block it off from the rest of the house.
  • Cover your windows.  You can use a plastic shower curtain and duct tape, topped by a heavy quilt to keep the wind from whistling through your windows.  Take down the quilt if it’s sunny outside for some solar gain, then cover it back up as dark falls. If you have reason to be concerned about OPSEC (OPerational SECurity – keeping your preps private), use heavy black garbage bags to cover the windows to keep light from escaping.
  • Light candles.  Even the small flames from candles can add warmth to a small area.  Be sure to use them safely by keeping them out of the reach of children and housing them in holders that won’t tip over easily.
  • Use kerosene lamps.  Those charming old-fashioned lamps can also add warmth to the room.
  • Use sleeping bags.  Cocooning in a sleeping bag conserves body heat better than simply getting under the covers.
  • Have a camp-out.  This works especially well when you have children because it adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation.  Pitch a tent in your closed off room, get inside with a flashlight, and tell stories.  When you combine your body heat in a tiny space like that, you’ll stay much warmer.
  • Get cooking. If you have a propane or gas stove in the kitchen, your cooking method may not require electricity.  So bake a cake, roast a turkey, or simmer a soup. You can use it to warm the room while making a hot, delicious feast.
  • Heat some rocks.  Do you have a place outdoors for a campfire?  If so, put some large rocks around the edges of it.  They retain heat for hours.  When it’s bedtime, carefully place the rocks into a cast iron Dutch oven and bring this into the room you’re going to be sleeping in.  Be sure to protect your floor or surface from the heat of the Dutch oven. The stones will passively emit heat for several hours without the potential of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning during the night.

Sanitation

Another thing that can quickly become dire is personal sanitation. Depending on your situation, you may not have running water or flushing toilets. You need to stock up on supplies to make the best of these situations and keep family members healthy.

  • Baby wipes. You can never have enough baby wipes. Stock up on these for hand-washing after using the bathroom, before and after food prep, and before eating.  They can also be used to wipe down surfaces.
  • Cleaning supplies. You still have to keep your home reasonably clean when there is no running water to help prevent illness and disease.
  • Personal waste. You have to have a plan to deal with personal waste when the toilet won’t flush.  Waste must be handled very carefully to avoid the spread of disease and illness.

Here are the items I recommend that you keep on hand for water emergencies:

  • Disposable disinfecting wipes
  • Super absorbent paper towels
  • Basins
  • Baby wipes (These can be used for hand washing and personal hygiene.)
  • Your regular spray cleaner (Ours is vinegar and orange essential oil)
  • Kitty litter. This soaks up messes, and helps to absorb odor. (If your toilet won’t flush because you’re on a city sewer system, it can also be used as a makeshift toilet.)

Light

Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house.  Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.

Some lighting solutions are:

  • Garden stake solar lights
  • Long-burning candles
  • Kerosene lamp and fuel
  • Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
  • Hand crank/solar lantern
  • Don’t forget matches or lighters

Tools and supplies

Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:

  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Batteries in various sizes
  • Manual can opener
  • Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Duct tape
  • Super glue
  • Sewing kit
  • Bungee cords

As you progress, you’ll want to expand on the basic tools.

First Aid kit

It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency.  Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays.  As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarrheal medications. Be sure to have a couple of good medical guides on hand.

Special needs

This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods.  If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too.  The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.

Other Stuff

As you continue along your preparedness journey, you’ll find that there are other items that are very important to you. For example, you’ll want to build yourself a bug-out bag for possible evacuations.

And don’t be surprised when this mindset creates within you the itch to be more self-reliant, which means you’ll be adding gardening tools, sewing supplies, woodworking tools,  and other supplies to your stockpile.

Another aspect of preparedness that is often overlooked in the beginning of the journey is the ability to protect your home and family. If you aren’t already of this mindset, the idea of bringing home a firearm can be overwhelming. When you’re ready to learn more about personal protection and home defense, go HERE and read this article.

You’ve got this!

You’re going to do some list-writing, so grab a notebook and pen.

  • Write a master list. Now, based on this article, go through and write a list of the things that you feel are important for your family’s preparedness plan. Include the things that you already have. Organize your list by checking off the things you have.
  • Organize the supplies that you have into “kits”. I have Rubbermaid tubs labeled with the contents for emergency purposes, sorted into kits for things like pandemic supplies, off-grid lighting, batteries and power supplies, etc.
  • Now write a minimalist list of the first things that you must have for survival. Don’t worry if you can’t get everything at once. Start off by covering all of the bases with a skeleton kit that will get you by.  This list might include some food that doesn’t require cooking (thus eliminating the immediate need for a secondary cooking method), a way to keep warm, water, a kitty litter toilet, and some baby wipes.
  • Finally, write the big list. This is a list of the things mentioned in the article that you want to own. Make a copy of the list and keep it in your wallet so that if you happen by a thrift store or yard sale, you know what you need. As your budget allows, pick up one or two of these items per week. These may be higher ticket items so don’t worry if it takes you a while to get them. You’ve gotten the bare necessities, so these items will just add to your already sturdy foundation of preparedness.

Don’t panic. Start with your basics in each category and add to it as your time and budget allow.

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