May 28, 2013

Support Through the Struggle

I got the card. I saved $4.
Here is the baseline I live by: If I am in any debt (other than a mortgage), that means I am struggling financially.

That isn't to say that I am going hungry, or that I cannot pay my bill minimums, or that I'm in danger of becoming homeless. But if my only option is to pay some rich corporation additional money every month (in the form of interest) and the only thing I get in return is to owe them money for longer, I'd say I'm not in great shape money-wise.

So I admit it to myself and to you: I am struggling financially.

Do you know anyone who isn't?

But when procuring credit cards is so easy, and when we are only required to pay minimums so we can continue to treat ourselves and live above our means, it doesn't always feel like a struggle. It's easy to just continue on with life in the same, overextended way. At the end of the month, though, when your income-to-expense ratio hits you smack in the face, the stress of bill paying or the sheer mass of debt you owe is a big clue that the numbers aren't adding up.

We might not be where we thought we'd be by now. We may feel like we should be doing better. But admitting you're struggling doesn't mean you are in poverty. It doesn't imply that you are looking for handouts. And it isn't something to be ashamed of. It just means that we've been fed the lie that our Dream is to accumulate stuff, that we deserve to have more stuff, and that if we only had more stuff we would be happier. And we're ready to dream a new Dream, because the one we've been believing is so much bull. Many (most?) of us are in the same boat. We have a lot of company, whether it looks that way or not.

The benefit to admitting a financial struggle to yourself is that you can then begin to look for — and accept — the support opportunities that inherently exist in a capitalistic society. There are deals to be had, my friends. Reducing your expenses doesn't have to come in the form of eating neon orange mac and cheese, or fast food, because it's the cheapest thing we can find.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that while I'm in debt, I simply cannot afford to do all of my shopping with the locally-owned businesses I try to support. If I ever want to be financially secure enough to do so, I need to focus on getting out of debt now. I've started to take a look at the "Clean 15" list of items found to have the least pesticide residue if I can't pay the premium price for organic. I've begun to shop around for the best deals on things I use the most of. I'm still mindful of trying to spend my money locally and on companies/items that I can feel good about, but I also have to be honest that I need to find a way to cut my expenses (especially on food and body care products, my biggest expense after housing). If you, like me, need to reign in the spending but don't want to ditch your values, here are a few money-saving opportunities to consider.

1. Shop on days that you get a discount. 

At our local natural food co-op, where we are members, we get 5% off our purchases one day a month. I try to stock up on the things we use a lot of on that day. At the regional natural food chain, we get an education discount of 5% off every Wednesday (B is a faculty member, and I was a student up until recently.) The things we can't get (or are much more expensive — which isn't a lot) at the co-op are best for us to buy here on Wednesdays. That store also gives discounts to military and seniors. Check around the cash register of your grocery store, coffee shop, hardware store, etc for signage offering a deal for your profession, age, or service background. This is either a marketing tactic for the store, a thank you to you, or a benefit of your business/membership. It's yours, it's meant for use it!

2. Join the clubs, get the cards. 

Lots of different kinds of stores offer some sort of club or card that saves you money or tracks your spending to provide you a quarterly reward of some type. If the club or card is free, you can only benefit from it. And it actually works. My concern about getting junk mail kept me from taking advantage of this for a long time, but you can usually may be able to opt out of mailings. And if not, with all of the junk mail I get each day anyway, I might as well be getting a financial benefit from some of it. I have a rewards card at a hardware store and a discount card at a grocery store, and for splurges my coffee shop has a punch card so after I get 10 coffees my next one is free. All have saved me money. Yesterday, I saved about $4 off a roughly $24 bill at the grocery store by purchasing mostly (organic) items that had a card discount price.

3. Re-explore your work benefits. 

Get out your employee handbook, and read the benefits section —and all of the attachments or links in that section — thoroughly (even if you already did that when you got hired — you might find something that didn't appeal to you then, but would be useful now). You may find some really obscure benefits that you want to take advantage of, from cheaper gym memberships to reduced prices at a local accupuncturist, yoga studio, or massage therapist. Some employers will even pay for you to take a class if you want. B's employer offers a crazy number of really useful benefits: inexpensive CSA shares, free use of a gym, room rental in a guest house for visitors, reduced-cost housing opportunities (on campus, and depending on availability, etc), even free firewood. If you look at your benefits as part of your salary, using more of them essentially results in a raise. Again, these benefits are yours. Be sure you are taking advantage of them!

4. Borrow, borrow, borrow. 

Seriously, do you need to own tools? A lawn mower? A pickup truck? A mixer? Painting supplies? So often, when we need something for a single project or for once-a-week/month/year use, we just go buy it. After all, it's usually not that expensive (thanks, underpaid workers in foreign countries). But meeting your neighbors and sharing or borrowing these items would be much less expensive, and leave you with much less stuff to find a place to store — plus, create less of a demand for cheaply manufactured goods. And with the use of social media, where you are connected to so many folks, it's easy to put out a call to borrow something to everyone you know without putting anyone on the spot. Worth a try, don't you think?

5. Price-compare with Etsy before making a purchase. 

I have been surprised to find items handmade in the USA on Etsy that are comparable in price to an item I may be considering purchasing at a big-box. I recently purchased a few skirts on Etsy that weren't much more than I would have spent for a similar item at a big-box. I also found a gorgeous handmade cellphone case for cheaper than any case I could find in a store. You may not find what you want, or you may not find something for a price you can afford, but it is definitely worth a look.

Being more honest with ourselves about the state of our personal finances gives us the power to change them. I admit to myself that I am struggling financially today, so that I can make the changes that mean I don't have to be struggling financially forever.

Who's with me?

What are some of your strategies to save money but stay green (and socially responsible)? Share in the comments below!


  1. Joey - I am so glad you are doing this blog. I am totally on the same path right now and really enjoy your thoughts on the matter.

    Nice to be connected from afar!!

  2. Angie, I'm so glad you are reading and finding some camaraderie! I think more of us are dealing with these issues than we care to admit. Love to get your comments, too! Thanks!

  3. Some people consider taking out a mortgage as one way to financially cope. It’s good that you’re not one of them. Anyway, you’ve got great spending tips here and I hope your readers can be succeed in being thrifty after reading this. Regarding mortgage payments, I hope those people can learn how to spend their money wisely so that they won’t struggle in paying their dues. :D