Buy-it-once strategy

No Job is Secure

Not to scare you, but rather to suggest planning ahead and putting aside some savings. Back in the 1990s, I had a job that felt very secure and stable. Management put effort and money into developing the employees. They paid for my BS in business. We had good health insurance, life insurance, 401k with company matching, tuition reimbursement.

Life was grand.

Then someone far up the executive ladder had an idea. They sold off the part of the business I worked in and shifted to providing telemarketing services. I watched the company go from roughly 500 managers and 5,000 full-time employees with benefits to 500 managers and 5,000 part-time temporary workers with low wages and no benefits.

We felt secure, but in fact our jobs were never secure.

Think about limiting or reducing the bills you commit to long term. If you had to pay your expenses on unemployment or disability benefits, you’d probably be working with half your existing check. Can you pay the core costs of housing, utilities, food, and transportation on half your income?

Maybe your next car should be less expensive than you can currently afford, so you can still afford it in the event of a drop in income.

Avoid buying appliances on credit. Pay once, and you still have the item even if your income drops. Scratch and dent stores sell brand new appliances for far less than department stores do. Many of them are no more damaged than they will be anyway after a month of real life use.

Maybe the luxuries you’ve come to take for granted could be partly traded in for a regular deposit to a savings account. Being able to survive a layoff feels even better than a spa weekend or a weekly poker game.




52 Weeks – CFL Bulbs, Is It True?

In 2013 I put a CFL bulb in my reading light in the living room. Fourteen watts vs. sixty, and I think I can see even better. They burn much cooler too, so that will save a little on the a/c.

I had it in my head that CFL bulbs cost a lot, but the prices have gone down since I formed that idea. I saw them on at less than $2 a bulb. They are said to last as much as ten times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs, and use 50% to 80% less electricity.

On the other hand, when I went to buy some, I read the reviews on It seems that in real life the cheaper bulbs may not last very long at all! I learned from the reviews that their claimed ten year life might actually be less than a year in practice. So I searched on “complaints CFL bulbs.”

  • I learned that you’ll have better luck if you buy Energy Starrated name brand bulbs.
  • They do better in places where they will stay on for long periods.
  • It’s better not to use them in a recessed or enclosed fixture.
  • They don’t do as well where there is vibration, such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  • You need special bulbs for fixtures on a dimmer switch, even if you don’t use the dimmer feature.
  • An ordinary light that stays on for hours is the best place to use them.
  • The used bulbs must be disposed of as hazardous waste because they contain a small amount of mercury. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s have collection centers for them.

After two years, the CFL bulbs in fixtures that stay on for long periods are still going strong. The ones in the bathroom light burned out.

Several people told me that it costs more to turn a florescent or CFL light on every time you enter the room than to just leave it on. I looked into it. This is old news from the ‘70s. The old style ballasts used a lot of energy. Modern fluorescent lights use only a tiny bit of extra energy on startup, compared to the energy used to leave it burning.

Frequent turning on and off can shorten the life of a bulb. But again, for modern bulbs this effect is very, very minor. According to Scientific American and, a rule of thumb for modern fluorescents, including CFLs, is to leave it on if you will be out of the room for less than five minutes.

“What I Don’t Have to Spend, I Don’t Have to Earn”

About half the time when I say that to people, they stare as if what they heard me say was, “Erndampt, ag rojabrane.” I’ve tried saying it in different words, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit a person’s mindset.

If I arrange my life so that I don’t have to spend $60 a month on dry cleaning, then at least theoretically, that’s $60 I don’t have to earn that week. Of course when you have a steady and sufficient salary, you’re going to earn anyway. In that case, what you don’t have to spend, you can save up for something bigger that you want, like a vacation or early retirement.

When you’re relying on intermittent and unpredictable self-employment income, and your health isn’t reliable either, not-spending is a wonderful way to handle gaps in income. This is great for people who are retired, disabled, temporarily out of the work force for personal or family reasons, etc…..

If working overtime hours is putting pressure on your health or your family life, perhaps you could not-spend instead of working yourself into the ground.

For hundreds of examples of ways to not-spend (and still live a normal life), see my book, Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely.

Challenge Me!

My book is all about finding useful, affordable alternatives to the things modern life has conditioned us to believe we “have to” buy.

Think of something that costs money that you don’t know of an alternative for. Challenge me to offer an alternative by leaving a comment on this or any other post. Please include the word “challenge” in your response.

Disposables – Coffee Filters

Though I don’t drink coffee, I know many people who do. For decades, I just assumed that of course one had to use paper coffee filters in the coffee maker. When I bought coffee makers for my rental rooms, I became aware of the existence of permanent, metal, coffee filters. Some coffee makers on come with the permanent filter in them. You can also buy them separately.

No more having to buy filters over and over and throw them away. The metal filters are easy to wash and very effective, and they last for years.

52 Weeks: Week One: Disposables – Picnicy Stuff

Plastic utensils, moist towelettes, paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, how did people eat quickly on their way somewhere, or go on a picnic, for all the years, centuries, before these conveniences were invented?

They took the real stuff with them, is how, and brought it back home and washed it as usual.

Convenience is great, and the older and more tired I get the more I understand why people go for it. On the other hand, I have more time than money, so it does me no real harm to use real utensils and dishes and eventually* wash them up.

When life calls for me to take a meal with me I use an insulated bag, possibly with a small blue ice in it. The beverage goes in a stainless steel water bottle. I wrap flatware in a cloth napkin and put the food in whatever reusable containers are suitable. A scrap of cloth, dampened, in another small container, works as a moist towelette. After all, moist towelettes are just a disposable substitute for the good old damp cloth people had always used.

My intention here is not to campaign for never using disposables. My hope is to let people who are trying to spend less and save more implement one more way to do that.



*I’m not among those noble people who wash dishes after every meal. That might be an argument for using paper dishes, but no. Because there are other people in my household to be considered, I daren’t fill up the sink with my dishes. I rinse them and put them in a dishpan off to the side on the counter. Because they aren’t sitting in water, they don’t develop a stink. When I’m ready to wash them I fill the dishpan with hot soapy water and leave it to soak until the water has cooled off enough to be comfortable for my hands.

52 Weeks to Effective Use of Money

This year, I’m going to take a new topic each week to blog about. Ways to spend less while still living a normal life. Ways to earn some extra money without undermining the quality of your life. Efficient strategies to use the money you have to its best effect. Money I don’t have to spend is money I don’t have to earn. Money I don’t use on boring “everybody does it” stuff is money I can spend on things that really matter to me.

This week is paper products and disposables, because so many Americans use so many paper and disposable products, it’s likely to be useful to many. I recently saw an article that re-defined paper products as not just paper towels, etc., but also paper checks, wrapping paper, anything made of paper.

With the natural progression of technology, I rarely use paper checks anymore. When one more provider starts accepting online payments, I won’t need checks at all. Ordering checks through the bank usually costs more than ordering them online. If you search on “order checks online,” you’ll find many companies. Most of them offer a discount for your first order. If you order from a new company every time, you get the new customer discount each time.

Wrapping paper alternatives can be fun. A receiving blanket makes a suitable wrap for a baby gift. Perhaps a kitchen towel for a housewarming gift. Dollar stores carry themed or colorful plastic tablecloths that can be great for wrapping large or awkward gifts. How about a red-checked tablecloth wrapping picnic supplies or the ingredients for a great Italian dinner. Reusable gift bags and gift boxes save resources and don’t have to be paid for over and over. One year I made Christmas bags from cloth, with drawstrings. If the whole family is on board with this, they can be used year after year and become part of the tradition. Just about any box can be painted, decorated, or covered with cloth to make an original and reusable gift container.