Nearly all of the talk these days about economizing focuses on how to get what we want but pay less for it. It’s all about how to get more for less.
For those of us who are longtime advocates of the “simple-living” movement, it seems like most Americans are missing what could be the golden opportunity of these relatively tough times — coming to appreciate that less can often be more. In other words, we shouldn’t be worrying so much about “How can we afford it?” Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “Do we really need it?”
Here are five potential lifestyle changes to consider. They may seem fairly radical to you when you first think about them. But if you adopt even one or two of these changes, you’ll not only save some serious money, you might just be happier in the end.
Cancel your cell phone plan
Possible yearly savings: $1,200 per phone
The idea is heresy, I know, but just consider it for a moment. Only 20 or so years ago, cell phones were virtually nonexistent, and the world seemed to work OK. Now cell phones are considered a necessity, even though surveys show that we dislike our cell phones more than any other device we own (including the alarm clock!). So, if that’s truly how we feel, how can giving them up be a bad thing?
The average cell phone plan costs about $100 a month, and a study recently released by Utility Consumers’ Action Network found that the actual average cost of using a cell phone is more than $3 a minute if you don’t use most of your minutes, and about $1 per minute even if you do use all your minutes. As a fairly successful author and national media personality, I use myself as a poster child for this cause — I’ve never owned a cell phone, and I seem to get by just fine.
Get rid of your second or third car
Possible yearly savings: $8,000
The average American household now owns about two vehicles. That compares to about one per household in 1960, and, again, I don’t remember a shortage of cars causing undue hardship back then. AAA estimates it will cost $8,121 to own and operate a new passenger car driven 15,000 miles a year. That’s about 54 cents per mile by the time you factor in depreciation, insurance, repairs, gas, licenses, taxes, etc.
If your family owns more than one car, what’s the worst thing that will happen if you give one up? You could easily save thousands of dollars a year by sharing a single car, coordinating trips, taking public transportation and so on. And Mother Earth will thank you.
Prepare more meals at home
Possible yearly savings: $2,000
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. family spends $2,668 each year eating out. I’d estimate that you could prepare those same meals at home for about 80 percent less, or an annual savings of roughly $2,134. The other upside is that old-fashioned family time around the dinner table may just make a comeback. An article in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reported that frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using marijuana, with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, and with better grades among adolescents. See what I mean? Less is more.
Wear out your clothing
Possible yearly savings: $1,800 per person
Only a small fraction of the clothing we throw away in the U.S. is “worn out,” meaning that it’s threadbare, torn or badly stained. Many of us donate unwanted clothing to charity. But even many charities have more clothing donations than they can handle, and much of it still eventually ends up being thrown away.
The problem is we rarely wear out our clothing or much of anything else — these days. According to some government reports, the average American spends roughly $1,800 on shoes and clothing per year. Clearly most of us have more than enough clothes in our closets to go for six months to a year, or even longer, without needing to buy anything new.
Give up college room and board
Possible yearly savings: $9,000 per student
The average cost of student room and board at colleges and universities is about $9,000 per year. I’m amused by the generational shift that has occurred here in the U.S. over the past few decades when it comes to kids living with their parents while they attend college. Even back in my college days (the 1970s), lots of us — myself included — lived with our parents and attended a local university or community college.
Today, that arrangement is fairly rare — it’s just not “cool” to live with your folks. Of course, in my day, student loans were uncommon, in part because we didn’t need to borrow money to pay for room and board. The irony, of course, is that these days many kids graduate so in debt — owing tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — that they have no choice but to move back home with mom and dad. Now back in my day, living with mom and dad after you graduated was really uncool.
Jeff Yeager honed his cheapskating skills during 25 years working with underfunded nonprofit agencies. He lives in Accokeek, Md., and is the author of “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches” (Broadway). Find out more at .
This article was reprinted with the permission of Bottom Line Personal Boardroom Inc., 281 Tresser Blvd., Stamford, CT 06901. Please visit for more information.