Top-down Strategy

The Archeology of Adapting to a Lower Income

Every time I think I’ve reduced spending as much as humanly possible, I find another level of non-spending below the one I’m currently in.

They say that dirt goes on one layer at a time and comes off the same way. That’s why it takes several tries to clean a neglected baking dish or crudded-up bathtub.

When adapting to a lower income, don’t make yourself crazy thinking you have to change everything at once. If you can, great. If it gives you a kind of emotional bends, slow down and do one thing at a time. Start with what’s easiest. That way, you’re cutting the things you care least about, and so it hurts less.

Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely has a large range of ideas for spending less. Take what you like and leave the rest.


“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.

52 Weeks: Clothing – the Closeted 80%

Supposedly most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. That seems likely to me. There’s always an outfit that’s the most comfortable, or makes you feel like you look good. There will be garments that would be great if they were just a little bigger or smaller. If it didn’t itch around the neck. If it was the right length, made of a different material, or matched anything else.

A few years ago I made it my mission to stop wasting 80% of my clothing spending. When I find a garment that’s the right size, fit, and material, I buy one of every color. My current wardrobe seems diverse, but when you look closely, each of the ten tops are the same style and brand. Because they are different colors and patterns, the casual observer thinks they’re different. The three black slacks and three tan slacks will go with all the tops. And voila, I’m dressed and ready with no decisions to make. There’s also no nagging guilt over neglected clothes that I spent money on but never wear.

I put clothes away at the left side and wear them from the right. If a shirt or slacks lingers on the right side of the closet, I know there’s some reason I haven’t wanted to wear it. Maybe it’s time to alter it. Buy something that will go with it. Or donate it. Perhaps demote it to the cleaning cloth basket.



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

52 Weeks: Laundry – Dry cleaning

A top-down strategy for spending less to have clean clothes is to consider what you buy.

Sometime in the 1980s it occurred to me that dry clean only clothes kept costing me money and trouble over and over again. Not only did I have to pay someone else to clean them, but I had to make a special trip to take them to their little clothing spa vacation.

I stopped buying dry clean only clothes. I put the ones I had through a wash and dry cycle. Most of them survived, and I saved some money and effort.

Nowadays we have Dryel home dry cleaning product for the clothes you must have or don’t want to risk in the washer. Of course some jobs or special occasions require clothes that really must be professionally cleaned. If they don’t have an actual spot, consider hanging them to air out at home and wearing again. Or, maybe they could just be pressed. The dry cleaning chemicals take a lot out of clothes, so just pressing can make them look sharp with less damage.

For me, I just don’t even consider buying dry cleanable clothes, no matter how great they look in the store.

I’ve also stopped having clothes that must be hand washed. It’s too easy to end up with a basket of them nagging me to take care of them, and finding I just don’t get around to it. For my clothes, it’s sink or swim in the washing machine.

The “top-down” strategy is one in which we make a decision at the moment of purchase that saves money going forward. Perhaps buying a car that costs less on insurance and takes a cheaper size of tire. Maybe no dry-cleanables. Energy-efficient appliances. Could refrain from buying something that’s going to need to be fed batteries all its life. There are many examples.


Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.


Prepping – For Taxes That Is

When Federal income tax was first instituted in 1913 the form was three pages long, the instructions only required one page, and that’s all there was to it. Ah, the good old days. Last year I filed a tax return that was 22 pages long.That was my own silly fault for having so many different tiny streams of income, each requiring its own page or pages. Lucky for me I actually enjoy keeping records and since I got bifocals I don’t have a problem filling out forms. If you itemized deductions or if you have a business with deductible expenses, you kind of have to keep records even if you don’t enjoy it.

The first thing I did was get in the habit of saving all paperwork and receipts that I would, or even might, need for taxes. I have a file folder for it and just drop them in all year long. When tax time comes I have a messy stack of papers, but I have them all and I know where they are. Failing to prepare for an unpleasant task doesn’t make the task go away, it just makes it harder. If it’s too late for this idea to benefit you this year, act today to make next year better. Designate a spot for any and all tax-related paperwork. A file, a box, a drawer, wherever it will be easy for you to put the papers as they come in.

Recently I made Excel spreadsheets that mimic the tax forms that I use. I can enter income as it comes in and deductions as they happen. At any moment I have a snapshot of what my tax situation is shaping up to. This is helpful for making decisions that effect one’s taxes. It tells me if I need to start saving up to pay self-employment taxes. When it’s time to fill out the forms, I just move the numbers from my spreadsheets to the forms.

Plan ahead and act on the plan.

A New Financial Start

Maybe you spent a bit too much over the holidays. January sometimes brings on a sort of financial repentance, and a desire to use money more effectively in the new year. My book can help with that. Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely deals with the need for financial change from both directions – spending less and earning more. Maybe you have friends or relatives who spend too much, or want to get out of debt. The book would make a nice gift for them, or just tell them about it. Want to retire early? Take a fantastic trip? The strategies in the book can help you move toward any financial goal.

It’s available on in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Wonderful review

I am so moved by this review. “Tightwad Gazette of the 21st Century” is exactly what I wanted people to think about it:

“Great book!, February 18, 2014

By Lita McRiley “Sorlina”See all my reviews

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This review is from: Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely (Kindle Edition)

This book is jam-packed with tips, ideas, and strategies for saving money. It’s the Tightwad Gazette of the 21st century… internet addresses for DIY help, encouragement for readers, personal anecdotes, this book has it all. To top it off, it’s delivered in a light, easy to read style that isn’t preachy or judgmental. A very helpful, and enjoyable, read!”

The Tightwad Gazette has been the “bible” of thrifty living. My hope was to make it the ‘old testament’ and mine the ‘new testament’, and it seems I have succeeded.