A while back I told you about The Tightwad Gazette. I warned you that I’d be sharing more jewels of wisdom from this oldie-but-goodie, and today I’m dishin’ Dacyczyn. She wrote an article entitled “Seeking the Minimum Level,” which describes practical ways of scaling back our usage of everyday items in the name of pushing the ‘ol budget that much farther. The article resonated with me because it was so straight-forward. By consuming less, we not only spend less but we also waste less. It’s a win-win-win-win. Today I’m sharing the piece with you. I’m excited to see what you think about it! (To save space, I may have omitted a paragraph or two. The integrity of the article is intact, I promise!) So without further ado… Amy Dacyczyn, people. (Give her a big round of applause!). Or applesauce. Whichever you feel like.
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People are creatures of habit. We do things because we have always done them that way, or because our parents always did them that way, or because a teacher taught us that way, or because an “expert” said to do it that way. We seldom challenge why we do things the way we do. As a result we persist in expensive behaviors purely out of habit.
To form new, frugal habits, develop an awareness about all the small actions you do every day. Explore new ways to do things… seek the minimum level. Scale down step by step until the process does not work satisfactorily for your standards. Then bump it up one level.
What you wash dishes, do you always fill the sink to the top? Do you always put a two-second squirt of soap in the dishwasher? See if a one-second squirt will work. When you wash laundry, do you always put the recommended amount of detergent in each load? (Isn’t it handy the way the manufacturers provide you with a plastic scoop in each box so you never think about using less?) Think about how dirty each load is and add detergent accordingly. Often a half scoop will work as well.
Do you use an inch of toothpaste because a brush has inch-long rows of bristles and every toothpaste ad you’ve ever seen portrays a neat, full, bristle-length swath? Experiment to see if a 1/2″ swipe of toothpaste works as well. (Or make your own!)
When you shampoo, do you experiment to find the least amount that will work? If you pour a quarter-sized dab in your palm, try a nickel-sized one.
When you are baking, do you always set the timer the recommended time? Maybe your oven thermostat is high and your oven bakes faster. Try checking for doneness a few minutes early. Do you follow recipes exactly or do you experiment? In baking you can try using less sugar, eggs, and oil. Find the point where you notice a significant taste difference, then increase the sugar/eggs/oil slightly.
When you eat and drink, do you always fill plates and cups full? Maybe a partial cup of coffee or a smaller portion would satisfy you as much. If you have a chocolate craving at the checkout line, do you really need the extra-large size chocolate bat? Maybe a small peppermint patty would satisfy you.
Most important, when you establish your budget, do you always spend the allowed amount, or do you try to spend less on the areas of your budget that are flexible?
When you seek the minimum level, you may be breaking old habits. Give yourself time to get used to the new lower level. It may take a few months to adjust so that the change feels comfortable. And at that point, try the experiment again.