Whether you are flush with cash or struggling to make ends meet, stretching your dollars is one way to make the most of what you have. If your income is high, spending less means having more cash left to save and invest. At the other end of the spectrum, stretching your dollars may mean the difference between covering your bills and missing payments.
Food is one of life's basics. Any money you can save on food expenses represents a triumph. Eating out is one of the great unnecessary expenses of modern living. Make your morning and evening meals at home and carry your lunch to work. To go further, stick with low-cost protein sources, such as dried beans, peas and lentils, as well as products such as tofu. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Use frozen vegetables when you can. Safeguard health, as well as budget, by minimizing your intake of high-cholesterol meats. Eat pasta and nutritious whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, barley, teff and oats. You may need to step away from the familiar, but feeding yourself and your family on a budget is doable.
Clothing is also near the top of the necessity list. Skimping on these purchases does not mean showing up in cheap, ill-fitting attire. Off-price retailers carry quality merchandise that was sold to them at a discount. The designer or manufacturer may have made too many of an item or made minor errors in garment construction. Off-price stores also sell past-season merchandise from pricier retailers. You can find clothing for 20 to 80 percent less than retail prices. Shopping end-of-season sales at regular stores can also yield great bargains. If you are skilled at sewing, create some of your own clothes with discount fabric.
Saving money can be green. Reducing your energy expenditures is another way to stretch money. Turn off lights and televisions when you leave the room. Unplug appliances and device chargers when not in use. Flush your hot water heater to pump up efficiency. Perform routine maintenance for your furnace. Keep your home thermostat at 65 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and 70 degrees or higher in summer.
You have to stay in touch with the outside world, especially if you are looking for work to improve your financial outlook, but economize in this area as well. Buy telephone, Internet and TV service in a bundle from your telecommunications provider. Choose a cell phone plan that includes no more minutes or services than you need. If you rarely check email on your smartphone, eliminate your data plan. If you don't need unlimited minutes, choose a plan that provides a few hundred daytime minutes instead. There are even websites that can help you decide how to downsize your cell phone service. Eliminate any cable channels that you don't watch. Cutting corners does not necessarily mean lowering your standard of living. It just means finding ways to maximize your income.
D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.