As we all slog through this dreadful recession, it helps to keep in mind the insane Monty Python song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
While that may seem a bit tough to do at times, there are a number of ways in which one can be frugal while still contributing to the economy. Here are just a few:
Join AAA. It costs very little per year (I think our family plan is $85/year and that covers a number of cars). The obvious benefit is the towing they provide if your car gets into trouble. Unless it is hideously snowy out, they usually come within 15 or 20 minutes (at least that has been the experience in our family).
And you can actually get a positive return on that $85 annual investment because car rental companies, movie theatres, Amtrak and many hotels will give you a 10% discount if you simply tell them you are a AAA member and provide them with your membership number. It doesn’t take very long to get back that $85 and maybe even much more. Just Google: AAA savings and discounts, and enter your zip code and you will be treated to more money saving opportunities than you can imagine.
Take out a membership at Costco. The price savings on food and household products is amazing. The quality of the food is also amazing — salmon, lamb, beef, crab meat and on and on. And you can get miles on your American Express card as an extra bonus.
Restaurant owners are particularly anxious now. The many I have spoken to are fearful that as we enter 2009, their businesses will evaporate. Chefs are getting very imaginative with their specials, trying to entice diners by creating dinner specials that are appealing while also economic with ingredients. So with the money you save at Costco, go out to dinner one evening at a local restaurant and order the special. And then please don’t skimp on the tip — waiters and waitresses are among the lowest paid workers in this country and they cannot afford to have their incomes reduced.
If you live in the New York metro area — Fairfield County in Connecticut, or Long Island, or New Jersey, or Westchester County — take the family on a Saturday morning excursion to Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx (right near the Bronx Zoo). Bring a cooler and stock up on wonderful cuts of meat, fresh pasta and bread and homemade cheeses and sausages. Then have a family style meal at Dominic’s. You will have enjoyed a trip to Italy without the airfare or the expensive euro.
Buy a slow cooker — or better yet, go up to your attic or your garage or your basement and find one of those old crock pots you haven’t used in three decades. They are just as good as the new fangled "slow cookers”. Get a great recipe for beef stroganoff (on the Internet) and then get hooked on what was a hot trend in the hippy 1970s.
Have a contest with yourself — see how much money you can save next month on your electric bill by making it a rule in your household for every member of the family to shut off lights every single time they leave a room. I bet you will discover there will be newfound money in your bank account and you will be helping to reduce your carbon footprint and to keep the price of oil from rising.
Remember that about half of the people working in this country are small business owners or sole proprietorships. All those small shops — restaurants, cobblers, street vendors, manicurists, hair stylists, electricians, tailors — need our business. If their prices seem too steep, ask them if they can bring them down a bit. For sure they would rather agree to a lower price than do no business at all.
Save all the paper you have used printing out first drafts, or information from the Internet, or emails you have been sent and instead of throwing it out, put it back in the printer to use the other side. Or cut those sheets of paper in half and use the back side to take messages or leave notes for people. While that won’t help paper companies or Staples, it will definitely help save trees and money.
Use all the leftovers in your refrigerator to make a fabulous soup. Just remember to sauté some onions first – they can turn yesterday’s meal into something delicious. The house/apartment will be filled with great aromas and you will be astonished at what a wonderful cook you are.
Install timers on your thermostats that will reduce the temperature when you leave the house in the morning and when you go to bed at night. Studies show that you can reduce your energy usage by 5% or more just with that device. Other studies show that those timers have as low as a two year payback. That is worth it.
The next time you want to have a dinner party, turn it into a potluck affair and ask each person to make their favorite dish and to bring the recipe to the dinner. My cookbook is full of other people’s fabulous recipes.
On the highway, slow down from 80 mph (yes, we all go that fast from time to time) and enjoy a bit more music or a book on tape while you travel at 55mph. The green gods will be grateful as will your bank account.
By the time you have done all the above plus all the other creative things you have thought about to reduce the negative impact of this recession, the recession should be over and you will have created a whole new way of living.
And rent a Monty Python movie – laughter is essential during bad times.
Patricia W. Chadwick
President, Ravengate Partners LLC
Patricia W. Chadwick has had more than 35 years of investment experience. She is the founder and president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm that provides advice on financial markets and global economics.