Environment & People

Pinching Pennies: Desperate Measures Pt.2

Posted in - Environment & People on March 12th 2011 0 Comments Saving Money in Desperate Times

We covered some of the more obvious penny pinching measures in our previous post: Unnecessary Costs – Pt.1, but what if you have already shaved your lifestyle down to the bare minimum and are still struggling to make ends meet?

This post stems from my experience of having been through financially desperate times myself. I hope some of these obscure ideas will be helpful to others who are struggling (PS: Things will get better!)

Tips for Keeping Warm

Common Sources of Heat & Utilizing Heat Better

In most cases, multiple sources of heat are regularly being generated throughout your home by light, appliances, and other sources. For example, gas stoves create significant heat by means of pilots that run constantly. You may find that your kitchen is one of the warmer rooms in your home for this very reason!

Finding existing sources of heat may give you ideas about what rooms are “warm pockets,” and ways you can help direct some of that heat to other rooms (or ways to suppress it on warmer days).

Back in the day, when heat was generated from a single source such as a wood stove, older homes had large metal grates in the floors (usually near an interior wall or in the center of a room) to allow heat to rise to the upper levels. Sometimes these vents were also installed in vertical walls to help air move from room to room. Nowadays, homes are rarely built with this type of energy efficiency in mind, but with a bit of ingenuity, these old methods can be brought back to life and can save significant dollars on energy waste.

Using Light – What the Sun Was Made For

I cannot begin to stress the value of sunlight in heating a home. Even on cold or cloudy days, simply opening window shades and curtains will produce a wealth of heat. The effectiveness of this is extremely apparent in our small apartment, where opening windows during the day allows me to completely turn off the heat (even in 20 F weather)! If you aren’t already doing so, open those shades every morning and let the light pour in.

Finding Leaks & Reducing Waste

Keeping the heat you do have in (and the cold air out) is a necessity. With a few dollars and minimal supplies, you can seal up those ugly little leaks around doors, windows or even outlets (we had a horrible draft coming through our phone outlet!).

You should also ask yourself if every room in the house needs to be heated (or heated equally). You may find you have rooms that are rarely (if ever) used. Closing off unnecessary rooms could make a big difference in your heating bill.

There is also a room I would like to address that is rarely used for anything but one purpose: The Bedroom. A bedroom probably doesn’t need to be heated at all during the day, and certainly shouldn’t need as much heat as other areas of the home, (simply because bedrooms are only used for sleeping, when you are huddled under a pile of blankets anyway)!

Naturally Staying Cool

The same methodology for staying warm applies to staying cool (in reverse). Turning off appliances that generate heat, opening windows while blocking out sunlight, keeping hotter rooms closed off, and having good ventilation to move air through your home will help keep things cool without needing to blast an air conditioner at full capacity.

I would also like to mention the use of fans. Though it may feel temporarily cooler to have a fan blowing in your face, a fan usually generates significant heat when it’s running. Be cautious with fans… Though they can be useful for moving air through your home, in some cases they may actually hinder your efforts.


Please be realistic about extreme conditions. If, for some reason, you don’t have access to any utilities in these situations (though we hope you are never that desperate), look for a safe location to get relief from extreme heat or freezing temperatures.

Cutting Back on Appliances

Dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and many other appliances are all convenient, time saving tools that waste a massive amount of energy. It isn’t easy to let go of the convenience of these items when they are at your disposal, but if times are really desperate, these are NOT necessary items.

A person who does 5 loads of laundry a week can save approx. $600 a year if they wash their clothing by hand. This may not seem like much, but could feed you for several months if spent carefully… Consider ways to avoid using costly processes if you can do things in a more affordable (albeit time consuming) manner.

Being Energy Conscientious

Being mindful about energy use on a constant basis can reduce huge amounts of waste (this doesn’t just apply to energy, but to waste in general). The typical American uses over 100 gallons of water at home in ONE DAY. In comparison, in parts of Ethiopia the average is 2.5 gallons a day!

You might be surprised just how much you’ve been wasting, and how much of that waste you can live without. Do you leave water running when you brush your teeth? Do you turn lights on when you could just open a window? How often do you leave lights in the house turned on while you are asleep or not in a room? Are you running fans, leaving electronics turned on or leaving items plugged in when you aren’t using them (yes, even that little red light that designates “off” is getting power from somewhere!).

How often do you wash clothing that you’ve only worn for a few hours? Did it even smell; was it dirty at all? Do you really need to fill the bathtub the entire way? Does the sink need to be full of water in order to wash your dishes? Was that trash bag really full before you took it out? Did you even need to put those items in the trash, or is there a place where paper and food can be deposited in a compost? Are you watering plants with a hose, or have you tried collecting rainwater in barrels (it’s free and doesn’t use a pump!).

Finding Energy Leaks

In addition to using resources more carefully, you will probably want to keep an eye out for energy that’s being wasted in your absence. A leaky toilet or sink, bulbs that are of higher wattage than is necessary, electricity that is being used for wasteful items (such as Christmas lights, fish tanks, night lights, path lighting, floodlights, etc.), or even careless habits of friends and family members can make a huge difference in energy costs.

Careless habits will more than likely inflate your repair expenses too… For example, not turning a sink off fully (and allowing even a small drip to occur) will very quickly eat away at the inner-workings of a faucet until you have a permanent leak on your hands. Not only is water being wasted, but expensive hardware can be destroyed all-too-quickly.

Saving on Food & Groceries

This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve always felt strongly that eating healthy is paramount in importance. For example, I personally consider a good diet far more important than having a washing machine. Unfortunately, good food is increasingly hard to come by and increasingly expensive!

Because of my own personal convictions about food, I’ve spent numerous hours searching for alternative sources, and been surprised by what I’ve found. For example, I can purchase raw milk (with all it’s wonderful enzymes in tact) for 69 cents less a gallon, than milk from the grocery store. I also found that local vegetables at road stands and markets are almost always more affordable than those in a supermarket (and organic!) and finally, I found that meat from the local butcher (who raises grass-fed cattle) is cheaper than meat from our local supermarket (and doesn’t contain ammonia, steroids or antibiotics).

Of course, meats and vegetables overall are more expensive than heavily processed foods and don’t last as long. This is where my logic on health begins to kick in. Genuinely healthy people will save money in the long run on medical expenses, health insurance and OTC medications. Many people who have gained control of their health don’t even bother with health insurance (ask Mrs. Gerson, who at over 80 years old, has never needed it).

That being said, in the most desperate times, you may have no choice but to purchase cheap. Do your research on local options and weigh the prices… Spend some time on cutting coupons (but only for items you actually need or use), and purchase affordable and long lasting foods. For example, meat is considered a luxury in most countries and is not a necessity in any diet. Grains such as rice, noodles, etc. will last longer, are very affordable and work as great “filler foods.”

Look for surplus grocers in your area where you can buy long-lasting foods in bulk at incredibly cheap prices, or even check for food auctions (we have lots of these around because of being in Amish territory). You might be able to get healthy fresh vegetables in large quantities and freeze or can excesses of these items yourself.

If you have the grass to do it, try starting a small garden as a more affordable source of real “healthy” foods…

With that said, eating healthier, organic foods may actually save you money if you are willing to do a bit of work and research! This is great news!

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