I've just moved. One of the things that happens when you move is that you get a chance to reassess your life . You reconnect with your past, you re-imagine your future and you start noticing things about your life that might have passed you by because you hadn't opened a certain cupboard in four years.
One of the things I've noticed is how frugally our family lives in London compared to when we lived in the United States. Some of that has to do with the global economic recession of the past few years, some of it with the exchange rate, and some of it with the exorbitant cost of living in London.
But we've also made some smart choices about how to cut costs and I thought I'd share some of those with you today:
- Don't buy books. OK, this may sound insane coming from someone who regularly posts about books and reading, but it's a good piece of advice. Owning a lot of books not only wastes a tremendous amount of space, but you have to ask yourself how often you actually re-read them. (In my case: almost never.) Books are expensive. The average hardcover book retails for about $26 right now. Whereas in the library, you've got loads of choices and they're all free. So as long as you request them sufficiently in advance, the sky's the limit to how many books you can read without ever spending a cent. (OK, I'm not counting late fees ... )
- Don't buy movies. I have a good friend here in London who watches a lot of films. But whenever I recommend one to him, he always says "Great! I'll go buy it this afternoon!" This friend isn't loaded and I always wonder why on earth he spends so much money on movies when you can subscribe to something like Netflix (US) or LoveFilm (UK) and see all the movies you like for a low monthly fee. (Or get them at the library for nothing. See above). We own a few films, but most of them are for the kids and almost all have been presents. It just strikes me as a really easy way to cut down your budget without losing out on anything.
- Make your own coffee. This one is a no-brainer. If you add up all the money you spend on buying coffee out everyday -- let's say you spend $2.50/day on some kind of fancy coffee drink, that adds up really quickly: $16/week, $74/month, $888 a year to be precise. (This is, by the way, is exactly the sort of logic we used to use when I worked at Chicago Public Radio in order to exhort listeners to donate to our station.) For $800, you can buy a really nice espresso machine these days, and possibly even a grinder to go with it. I've gotten to the point where I actually prefer my own coffee to the stuff they sell on the High Street (main street in U.K.). I can even send you a video on the optimal way to tamp your espresso (free of charge.)
- Buy second-hand items. For years I resisted this. Part of the reason was that my mother always shopped at vintage clothing stores when I was growing up and for that reason alone, I was hell-bent on not doing it. But now I see her infinite wisdom. And it's not just clothing. We've furnished half of our flat in London with (really nice) second-hand furniture that we've acquired from other American families who come here for a few years and then move on. Over the past few years, we've chalked up sofas, rugs, waffle makers, night lights, you name it ... and all at a really moderate price. I'm a member of a local women's group that lists such second-hand sales as part of its services. But many schools, churches and other community organizations do this sort of thing regularly. So keep your eyes peeled ... there are some real treasures out there and people are often dying to offload them.
- Do some travel writing. Granted, this one is going to be easier to implement for the journalists and writers out there. But it's amazing what kinds of deals you can get on hotels and travel arrangements if you agree to do a review. We've done a ton of traveling around Europe over the past few years -- to places like Helsinki and Vienna and Croatia -- and most of it has been possible because I arranged to do a review of the hotel where we were staying. Note: you don't necessarily have to be a professional writer to score this kind of gig. One site that I write for is mostly just a bunch of mums offering tips for family-friendly travel. And once you've done one of these reviews, getting more gigs is a piece of cake. Try it! You *will* like it.
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