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How One Woman Lives Debt-free — and Well — on Less Than $35,000 a Year

By Chloe JonPaul

chloe-2I challenge you to live well — for less.

Women’s magazines and the Internet abound in time-saving tips and devices. This article is simply meant to share ways I live well while saving money, in order to help jump-start you into action with a gentle push in the right direction.

Bargain or Wallet-Buster?

 Shopping… at the mall, on the Internet, or by catalog is a tantalizing adventure that many people, especially women, thoroughly enjoy. It can be disastrous for the person on a fixed income.

The majority of men and women entering Second Adulthood don’t have unlimited resources to indulge themselves with carefree shopping. Wealthy women aren’t necessarily elegant just because they have more money to spend. One can exude elegance wearing thrift shop clothes if she knows how to pull it off. Good taste has nothing to do with how expensive something is.

The last time I purchased a dress in a department store was in 1992 when I had to attend a wedding. Most people know me as the thrift shop queen.  I have appeared on TV and at many other functions in my thrift shop garb and have always gotten compliments.

Those catalogs that come in the mail can be real temptations to buy items one really doesn’t need – be it clothing or household gizmos to make life easier. One little trick that works like a charm is to cut out the pages with items that appeal to you; clip them to the order form and then place them in your pending file for at least a week. That “cooling off” period will help you determine whether you really want or need those items.

Amazon.com allows you to place items in your Wish List. This way, you can put things on hold for a few days before placing them in your shopping cart. It is an excellent tool for self-control over what you spend.

Shopping, like drugs and alcohol, can be an addiction for some people who seek to compensate for other things missing in their lives. If it is a serious problem for you, then seeing a counselor for help is something to consider.

Yes You Can!

Here are some great ways to reuse and recycle, all of which work extremely well for me:

  • Water your plants with left-over water from your pet’s bowl
  • Re-use aluminum foil and plastic wrap more than once. Wipe clean, dry, and store on a paper cardboard roll saved from paper towels (Your parents probably did this with foil during the Depression, it\’s still effective now.)
  • Use the paper napkins from the dinner table to wrap up the gunk in your kitchen sink
  • Use that coffee filter more than once if you’ve only made 2-4 cups the first time
  •  Put that old toothbrush to use for small scrubbing tasks
  • Rinse out your plastic zip food bags and re-use them

 More Savvy Shopping Strategies

 When shopping at the supermarket:

  • Don’t fall for those “Buy three for $ •• 5. Ask for the sale price for one item. You can still get the sale price for one at most stores
  • Buy fruits in season or you’ll be paying for transportation costs that have skyrocketed
  • Just buy food. Period. Non-food items can be purchased elsewhere at much lower prices
  • Avoid buying portion-controlled snacks. They are very expensive and you can make your own portions from a larger box using plastic food storage bags
  • Think twice about buying food enhanced with supplements. You’ll save money by purchasing the same supplement in pill or capsule form

 When shopping for electronics:

  • Select a no-name brand. For cameras, DVDs, and TVs the difference in price is substantial while there is little difference in quality or performance
  • For more information on the different brands, log on to cnet.com and click on “compare prices”

When shopping for clothing:

  • Don’t thumb your nose at thrift shops or hospital shops run by the ladies’ auxiliary. You can find quality clothing for a fraction of what you’ll pay in department stores
  • Visit the $15 Store  –

 Can You Spend a Day Without Spending?

 I personally challenge myself to refrain from buying anything 2 days a week.  I lack nothing, live comfortably but I get a certain satisfaction in knowing that I have this much self-control.

 Lights Out!  Chill Out!

Another big waste of money is your use of electricity.  LED lights are big energy savers and help keep down my electric bill.  I keep lights on in the room where I happen to be – nowhere else.

My thermostat is set at 64 degrees in winter and 78 degrees (AC) in summer.  If I have company, I adjust accordingly.  Many of us have lived in the days before air conditioning so what’s the big deal?  There are other ways to keep warm or cool.

 And by the way…

  • I sold my house, a 3 bedroom/2 bath ranch, to my son several years ago and continue to live here as the caretaker.  I realize that not everyone is in a position to do this but I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to do so.  I pay for my utilities and occasional yard work.
  • When I calculated my expenses for gas and electricity for 2012, my electricity bill for the year was less than $375.00 and my gas bill was less than $800. Yep!  It’s true! Yep!  It’s true!
  • My car?  I’m driving a ’97 Saturn that now has about 164,000 miles on it.  I get it checked out periodically and have had to replace a few things but I am not going to invest in a new car.  If this one dies before I do, I’ll settle for a cheap used car.
  • My retirement pension and Social Security benefits add up to less than $35,000 a year and I still manage to save money after my monthly expenses.  I eat well but I don’t have to be in restaurants all the time.  Starbucks? Nah!

Now some of you will say: “But don’t you have any fun?” You bet I do!  As a world traveler, I’ve been on all 7 continents of the world; I enjoy good music and literature, and I have pursued my passion for writing with 4 books now on the market. I work out at Planet Fitness at least 3 times a week.  I enjoy gift-giving and donating to my favorite charities.  Last but not least, I have lots of fun with my 3 wonderful cats.

So… Are you ready to take on the challenge of spending less?  Try it; you’ll like it!

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