I have just been having a look through one of the issues of the Tightwad Gazette compendiums which I bought years ago - I have all three of them although I know that a bind-up is available as a single volume. The one I was looking at had been published back in 1995, about 17 years ago.
Amy Dacyczyn wrote a newsletter for six years on a monthly basis, whilst raising six children. She had a clear set of goals in mind, and the books are well worth reading (from the library, of course!). I found her books inspirational at the beginning of this journey to live well on little, and still have them all together on the bookshelf; they are invaluable for a boost now and again.
The thing which is so useful is that whilst there are plenty of tips, AD talks about the bigger picture. She is more of the "teach a man to fish and he can feed his family for a lifetime" school of thought, so the ideas are broad reaching and fundamental. The recipes are few and far between, for example, but the Master Muffin recipe is excellent. She puts together a guideline for how to balance a selection of ingredients in order to create your own muffin recipe, based on what you have in stock, what is cheap where you live, and what your family likes.
Watching an interview with AD here, made after she retired from the newsletter to concentrate on family life, she seems content and happy, her kids are older and some have left home, but she is still passionate that this is the best way to live.
Putting it at its most simple, I gleaned these rules from our earliest studies of her work, and these are the ones we still use:
- Save money - save as much as you can, as often as you can!
- Spend less than you have - set a budget and live within it - don't spend what you don't have.
- Watch what you spend - record your spending, and keep track of what you are spending on what. Look for patterns, change the patterns if they are not good ones! Check for deals on everything, buy when sales are on!
- If you can do it yourself, it will save you money - so we would grow vegetables when we can, not buy prepackaged vegetables and salads, no ready meals, no takeaways; we also decorate the house ourselves (although it tends not to be that often!). The FH and UJ also practise this principle in their gardening and DIY, saving screws from salvaged wood, recycling items for new purposes, etc. Making cakes and bakes from scratch is a given - I wouldn't buy a packet mix for a cake.
- Combine to save - combine journeys so that each mile makes the most use of the petrol pound, so to speak. Do all the shopping, library and banking visits on the same day that you have to go to town for the piano lesson, for example, rather than going back on a separate occasion. Combine ownership with relatives - we have the use of a cement mixer, a set of draining rods, a holiday home, and a rotavator, even though we don't actually own any of them. Similarly, we would lend out anything that a friend or relative needed to borrow if we had what they needed. Combine uses - don't acquire gadgets which only do one thing! Multi purpose items are far more cost effective and useful.
- Get creative - make things. Make gifts individual and special so that it doesn't matter that they are home made, they become hand-crafted! Don't pander to snooty relatives and friends who turn up their noses at such offerings. If home made jam is acceptable to HM The Queen, it is good enough for Aunty Joan...
- Make your own rules and stick to them: Rules can vary between the price you are willing to pay for a family holiday, and how often, to your take on overnight school trips (they are a no for us - saves arguments and shocking prices for short trips). But it is key that they OUR rules and we are not swayed by either the media or so called friends trying to persuade us to do something we don't want to do. The girls know that we have a family rule that they do not go on school trips which involve overnight stays - so they have not been to a gallery trip to Liverpool, on a New York half term trip, on a battlefields trip, etc. We have done galleries in Cambridge instead, and she didn't study History at GCSE so the battlefields wasn't missed, and New York? Well, New York will still be there when they are old enough to decide for themselves. And that rule is not entirely financially motivated.
- Don't automatically buy it new. Look for a bargain. When we lived in a town and walked everywhere, I was always popping into the myriad charity shops that were everywhere! I dressed the girls, myself and the FH mostly in charity shop finds, as well as buying other bits and pieces like duvet covers, bedspreads, books, jigsaws, etc. The FH has a pair of Church's shoes worth over £200 which set him back about £4 from a charity shop. Those were the days. Now we live so far from town that when we go to town, we are usually armed with a list of things to do already that there is no time to potter around the half dozen charity shops. That sort of thing is best done several times a week, I found, popping in on the off-chance to see what had come in. That doesn't work for us now, so our charity shop finds are fewer, although I love a good browse when we are on holiday. Our shopping strategy has changed somewhat: I now keep a mental list of who needs what, and I watch online sales closely. When Hawkshead announce a sale, I know that perhaps the EFG needs a new fleece, and I look to see what might be on offer; I remember that Asda's George trousers fit the YFG well, so we notice when they have a sale on and pick up a pair on offer. Shoes are our biggest problem with their wide feet and I am still working on an effective strategy for those, until we move the beach somewhere hot and they can go barefoot permanently!!
These strategies and rules have kept us in the black for the twenty years we have been together. I am fortunate in that I married another tightwad-type and not a spendthrift. Perhaps having a similar attitude and outlook on life has helped more than anything else, because it has meant continuous support and encouragement in the whole project all these years. If I had had to do it alone, and been fighting someone who wanted to spend as much as I am driven to save, I think it would have been impossible. Well, perhaps not impossible, but much much more difficult.
Do we live a miserable, small life, though, with no joy and not a scrap of fun? No. Not at all. We have holidays and days out, we go to the cinema (Tesco Clubcard vouchers), we buy DVDs and have technology (ipod and Kindle, laptops etc), we do gymnastics, the EFG is starting Hockey club this week, and none of us starve! We run two cars, live in a 4 bedroom house, and support too many chickens and half a dozen rabbits. There are other ways we could cut back but choose not to at the moment.
It is all about moderation, appropriate behaviour, and keeping it all in perspective. It is a challenge, a game, on one hand, but I do not in any way make light of the seriousness of the situations of people who have to do this to scrape from one week to the next. Part of me is saving like mad to keep a safety net in the pot so that I can avoid that situation when the time comes. The plans are in hand but things take time to happen and we can't see the future - we have to trust that we are doing our best for the people we care about and love.