This government shutdown has left many in the unpleasant position of not having income for the foreseeable future. Many who never had to practice frugality before will be forced into it. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to stretch your budget a little bit:
- Change the way you grocery shop. I have been forced to practice this, since the Commissary is included in the shutdown. I’ll be using the free app Ibotta, which credits money to your PayPal account for buying certain brands. You can get 25 cents-$1 back per item, which may not sound like a lot, but it adds up. Clip coupons religiously. The cost of two papers on Sunday is $3, and I consistently save $10-$15 per shopping trip. It more than pays for itself in our household. MAKE SURE YOU ONLY USE COUPONS FOR THINGS YOU WOULD BUY ANYWAYS. This doesn’t mean you should stick to your favorite brand like it’s going to disappear, but don’t fill your basket with crap you won’t eat. Brand loyalty is a couponer’s worst enemy. Print coupons from the internet, and load e-coupons to your store card if you have one. Comparison shop with the weekly ads before you go to find the best deals, even if they aren’t at your usual store. I for one have moved to El Super, where everything is in Spanish.
- Cut out all the non-essentials. This means alcohol, cigarettes, new clothes, books, shoes, your Netflix plan, expensive add-ons to your cell phones, new cell phones (the iPhone 5 will still be there when this is over. Promise.), and almost anything that doesn’t directly help you keep a roof over your head and food in your belly.
- Start walking places. If you’re somewhere that isn’t pedestrian-friendly, reach out to your neighbors. See if someone would be willing to take you to the store when they go. Gas is expensive, so use as little as you can.
- Consider switching all your disposables to cloth. This will take a little start-up money, but it doesn’t need to take a lot. Check on eBay for cloth diapers and wipes, cloth napkins, and un-paper towels. You can find these things from China really cheap. You can even make your own napkins and un-paper towels from an old sheet or clothes. If you doubt the cost-effectiveness of this, think about this- one diaper on eBay costs about $15. A pack of disposables costs $15. You can reuse this one diaper over and over and over, but let’s say you use it every single day. Use it for a month, you’ve paid for half a pack of disposables. Two months, and it’s cheaper for you to use that cloth one.
- If worst comes to worst, get rid of your internet, cable, and cell phone plan. They are money suckers, and if they start to interfere with your ability to provide food and diapers, they need to go. If you can’t get out of your cell phone plan, ask about suspending it until the shutdown is over. People will survive without being able to get a hold of you. If you’re convinced they can’t, get a cheap Tracfone or prepaid non-smartphone for CALLS ONLY. You can rack up minutes really fast if you text.
- If you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CUT DOWN ANYTHING ELSE without making your family suffer (and by suffer I mean go to bed hungry), call your creditors. Everyone is affected by this shutdown, and most creditors will understand. The bank we have our car loan with is offering people who are directly affected by the shutdown the option to skip 3 loan payments if they have to. Our other bank has a similar program for loans, lines of credit, and paychecks. Call and ask the people who hold your biggest monthly bills first, then trickle down to your smallest bills. In our case, we would cut the car loan, then insurance, then cell phones, then credit cards, and so on.
- Reach out to your church for help. We’re one of the only military or government families at our church, and I’ve had almost every member e-mail me asking if we need help with money or food. We don’t yet, but you bet your ass that I’ll go to them first if we need help putting food on the table.
- Keep your head up. Do free activities with your family to keep things positive, and really try to avoid fighting with your spouse about money. Things are bad enough without your family arguing because of the finances.