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Your Recession Budget

This article was written by in Money Management. 25 comments.


Many of us are going to be faced with tough decisions this year, and probably next year. We might even have to grapple with “how do I get these creditors to stop calling me?” or “well, where do I live now?” If owning a home is the American Dream, then being homeless is surely the American Nightmare.

Before it gets that bad, there are things you can do to trim your monthly budget. But instead of just presenting you with a list, I thought it’d be fun to try and take advantage of the wisdom of crowds once again, as I did in my article “No More Credit Card Debt: Now What?.” (Incidentally, the credit card debt is down to about $4,100. It hasn’t been that low before in this entire millennium.)

So, here’s a list of things that I have previously considered removing, or actually did remove, from my family’s budget when we needed to be spending less. Vote “Yay” for the things you think should be removed from a struggling household budget. Vote “boo” for the things you think are necessary for survival in a civilized world.

If you think something is missing from the list, go ahead and add it.

Published or updated March 2, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Twiggers

I didn’t add because I didn’t want to sign up…..but what about things like:

cell phone service (can switch to a ‘pay as you go’)
premium internet service (can easily go down to the lowest tier DSL instead of paying premium)
long distance service (use Skype or other free service)
shopping at fancy grocery store (no more Whole Foods!)
vacations

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Thanks, Twiggers. I added those.

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avatar Jeremy

Actually, shopping at “less fancy” grocery stores is going to cost you money in health over time, not to mention supporting industrial agriculture.

If you stay away from prepared foods, there’s not a significant price delta in eating local, organic, and free-range over stumbling around in Safeway eating whatever falls into your cart. I stopped going to my local Safeway since there’s nothing there I’m entirely comfortable with eating.

Learn to make your own food, visit the bulk bins and the farmer’s market, and try to not eat things that come in boxes.

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avatar Twiggers

Sorry I respectfully disagree. I do NOT need to shop at Whole Foods and pay twice as much for my chicken or other groceries as compared to another grocery store. When I’m broke and out of work, a chicken is a chicken is a chicken. I’m going to choose to pay my rent over having an organic free range chicken.
The vegetables all come from the same place….when you live in the Midwest in the middle of the winter everything is coming from Chile or Mexico. It doesn’t matter what store I shop at.

I’ve compared meats at the regular grocery stores vs. stores like Walmart/Meijer/Target and there is little to no difference in the quality. The labels on the fruit are the EXACT same as well, yet I’m paying $4.00 for a fresh pineapple at the grocery store and $3.00 at Walmart/Meijer/Target.

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avatar H Lee D

The organic foods at Safeway aren’t any better or worse than the organic foods at Whole Foods. 100% organic is (supposedly) 100% organic, regardless of where you buy it.

Unfortunately, many of the farmers markets around here are people who buy fruits/veggies in bulk then go down to the farmers market to sell it — that stuff isn’t any better than what’s in the grocery store.

I do disagree with Twiggers, though. Chicken and organic chicken are not the same. They might taste the same, but what you’re actually putting into your body is not the same.

I consider eating organic to be part of “preventative healthcare.”

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avatar AnnJo

Question: What is the clear-cut, unbiased, methodologically sound, scientific evidence that proves that eating organic foods versus the well-washed, conventionally grown version, will have any significant health effect?

Answer: Good luck finding it!

To paraphrase the old saying; It isn’t what you don’t know that will cost you extra money, it’s what you know that isn’t so!

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avatar H Lee D

There is clear-cut evidence that pesticides, when ingested, are carcinogenic.

There is clear-cut evidence that even when well-washed, fruits and vegetables still contain traces of pesticides.

I am 33 years old and have had cancer once already.

I don’t require further evidence.

avatar AnnJo

H Lee D,

I’m sorry for your cancer experience and hope you are fully recovered.

However, the “evidence” you cite is meaningless. Yes, it is true that well-washed conventionally grown produce does (sometimes) test positive for traces of pesticides. So does organically grown produce, sometimes.

But, no, those pesticides that the EPA has determined to be carcinogenic to humans are not in use. And even for those, most of the evidence of carcinogenicity comes from studies of persons (or animals) with high dosage exposure, far above the trace residues found on the produce you would buy at the store. And one of the most basic principles of toxicity is that it is virtually always dose-dependent. In other words, the amount matters.

There are some pesticides where the potential for carcinogenicity in humans is undetermined, or possible but not certain, that are still in use. By definition, that means the evidence is not clear-cut. On the other hand, both organic and conventional produce contain biopesticides or naturally occurring pesticides. Think basil, mustard, mushrooms, celery – all high in substances found to be carcinogenic in rodents and therefore possibly carcinogenic in humans.

In fact, where organic crops are chosen to be planted for their natural pest-resistance, they may be higher in biopesticides than conventionally grown ones.

So eating organic is no real protection against dangerous pesticides, just a lot more expensive. The placebo effect of organic may be worth it to some people, I guess.

avatar Sublingual

Um, how is everything (other than Formal Education) higher than preventative health care? The whole point of preventative care is to prevent bigger bills (or, say, inability to work or death) down the road…

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’re voting yay for the things that should be removed from the budget.

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avatar Sublingual

Oops–time for a do-over ;)

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avatar velvet jones

This is a little tough. Some things are obvious to keep (preventive health care), some…not so much because it’s about what you really value. I may perceive dining out as important, so I’m willing to completely cut out netflix, books, new music, etc. Have to be careful not to cut out too much, then you’ll be miserable and unable to stick to your budget.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

That’s the beauty of the YayBoo. Fill it out with your personal opinions, and see what the impact of the group is.

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avatar Grant Baldwin

I was thinking about this the other day as I was looking over our monthly budget. We have no debt other than our mortgage but there are a lot of places we could trim down in a worst-case scenario. It’s not like we’re living extravagantly by any means, but I mean cutting back on things like savings, investments, or college funds.

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avatar chuckiesd

It good. Most of the thing must be remove to survive. Not this year, maybe forever. Removing most item that we should not have to good for us save more money.

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avatar Stephanie PTY

Consumer Reports just posted an article on how to save on dry cleaning: http://blogs.consumerreports.org/home/2009/03/dry-cleaning-laundry-care-labels-national-cleaners-association-cashmere-linen-silk.html?EXTKEY=I91ECON&CMP=OTC-ConsumeristLinks

So maybe that will help cut costs a little, without sacrificing the cleanliness of your clothes! :)

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avatar Green Panda

I enjoyed going through the list, I realized that we could cut back on some magazine subscriptions.

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avatar T

A lot of these things depend a lot on your situation – for example, depending on how many hours you work, how much you’re paid, and the possibility of overtime, maid or yard service might make more sense. Similarly, “new cloths” can depend on whether they’re work necessary or not….

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avatar Twiggers

I approached it as if I was unemployed! We’re currently doing fine and wouldn’t cut out a lot of that stuff right now….but if hubby lost his job all that stuff could go!

Honestly, if you were out of a job ALL of that stuff above could go. We could all live without it if we had to.

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avatar Rassah

More people need to vote Yay on Vacation. Hopefully that will mean that when I take my vacation this Summer, airlines and hotels will be desperate and give me great deals.

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avatar SimplyForties

LOL – plus your vacation spot will be less crowded!

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avatar megscole64

Interesting list.

I’d cut our cable before Netflix. Our cable bill is ridiculous. We already don’t buy a lot of new clothes. Rarely buy new books. My only magazine subscription is business related (and a write off).

I love the gadget though. Fun.

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avatar H Lee D

What is frustrating for me is that hubby and I already don’t spend money on many of those things. We don’t have cable or Netflix. Our cell phone is on a contract (and breaking the contract will cost more than we’d save by changing to a pre-paid right now). We don’t drink coffee or alcohol; we don’t get the newspaper. We do all of our own housework and yard work. We only dry clean formal clothes (which we wear for concerts as performing musicians). Our last vacation was camping. We buy books with gift cards and credit from trading in old books. We don’t have long-distance on the home phone (just use the cell phones, where it is included in the price), and neither of us is in school.

So the “easy” places to cut corners already don’t exist. Fortunately, as teachers, we’re not yet impacted by the current economic mess, though we’ve both been told already that we’ll be making less and paying more (for benefits and state retirement) next year, and that some of our additional stipends will not be paid again.

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avatar Saver Queen

H Lee D – if you don’t spend money on these things, where would you consider making budget cuts if the need arose?

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avatar H Lee D

The need arose two years ago when I went through cancer.

We ate more simply and ate out less (we eat out once, maybe twice a week).

We drove less. At the time, we could have gotten away with owning only one car, but circumstances prevent that now (my husband is a traveling teacher and drives during his work day every day, and I work 15 miles further than he does, so him dropping me off isn’t a good option.)

If we really needed to, we could use the A/C less (in Phoenix?!?) and change our bill pay so that we used less electricity. At the time, though, there was no way I was going to be housebound in a hot house.

We could reduce saving for home and car repairs.

We could spend less on household items, though our “household” budget is pretty low to start with.

There are always corners that can be cut — we just don’t have most of the quick “easy” ones. Actually, I’m looking at trying to find a second, part-time job to offset our upcoming loss in salary next year. (We’re both teachers, and we’ve both been told we can expect a 10% pay cut next year as well as increase in cost of benefits (or loss of benefits that will end up costing more – my husband is losing his dental plan, for exmaple).)

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