The Top Seven Ways to Survive the Recession

May 6, 2009

Gone are the happy-go-lucky days of the early '00s. The overtly gaudy “let’s max out our credit cards on shiny things” bling craze of the early 2000s gave way as the global economy took a nosedive, and in its place a new thrift-conscious mentality has emerged. Now stretching every dollar to its maximum potential has become paramount. To that end, there can never be enough economic survival tips when your bank account is suffering from account balance anemia.

7. The End of Impulse Buying


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Getting into the mentality of saving money is similar to the way nutritionists teach people how to eat healthy. First and foremost, you have to control your impulses. Consumer advertising is designed by companies with the help of psychologists to disarm your ability to logically consider purchases.

As a result, we are drawn to the newest, latest, and greatest gear we can get our hands on, even though sometimes we don't even really know why.

But if you can actually hold back for a minute and really ask yourself “Do I really need this?” and assess whether or not that purchase is actually worth committing to (and if it's going to really make a difference in your life), you’ll probably find yourself with a lot more money in your pocket and a lot less useless crap strewn around your apartment.

6. Learn How to Cook


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This goes anywhere from just straight up Top Ramen to homemade chicken fajita wraps. Unless you start cooking up one pound filet mignons every night, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll save a ton of cash by eating at home rather than going out or ordering delivery.

The math speaks for itself: If you spend $10 a day eating out, that’s almost four grand a year just to get a greaseburger and some fries for lunch and/or dinner. But it’s nearly effortless to cut that cost in half by just buying food at the grocery store and making your own lunches and dinners. So get yourself a copy of the Frugal Gourmet and go to town. Plus, you'll save a ton of cash on bypass surgery down the road!

5. Ride a Bike


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What's faster than walking, somewhat cooler than rollerblading (impossible, we know), and cheaper than driving? Your old Huffy 10 speed!

If you live in a urban area, this is really a no-brainer. You'll nix car payments, car insurance payments, and repair costs in one sweeping move. Not to mention that you can burn off that beer gut for free instead of paying for a gym membership you'll never use anyway.

And since being “green” is totally hawt right now, you might even score some neo-hippie tail out of it. Just make sure she brings a bike of her own so you can both get back to your place. Otherwise she's gonna be riding basket.

4. Reevaluate Your Bills (Reduce Energy Costs, Change Cell Plans)


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Has it been a while since you actually looked at your bills? Now might be a good time to do so. A lot of monthly fees, like for instance, cell phone plans and cable bills, can be negotiated down if you’ve been with a provider for a while.

The thing to remember here is that these companies really want to keep your business, especially right now. Set a few minutes aside and call each of them.

Use the phrase “times are tough.” Then explain to them you’re thinking of switching companies because you’ve found cheaper rates elsewhere, and watch the "customer appreciation" specials come rolling in.

While we're on the subject of bills, getting a broad overview of what's really going on with your finances can be a really eye-opening experience. Programs like Mint can really help you get a better idea of where your cash is going and how you can save more of it.

3. Buy in Bulk


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Initially, buying in large quantities when you're on a tight budget may seem counterintuitive. But there are things you’re always going to need that never expire. 

For instance, it’s doubtful you’ll ever stop using toilet paper (we hope). Same goes for other non-perishable items, like soap, water, shaving cream, etc. These are items where buying in bulk actually makes a lot of sense, because you’re going to use the stuff sooner or later – why not just buy them at a reduced per-item price?

Don't let the sticker shock deter you -- do the math. It'll soon become clear that buying 30 disposable razors at Costco is actually a lot cheaper than buying them in packs of 4 elsewhere. The key is to remember that these are things you're going to use sooner or later, and that the money is going to come out of your wallet either in one large chunk or in several, ultimately larger, chunks. So take the hit now and you'll be thanking yourself later.

2. Craigslist is Your Friend


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I cannot over-emphasize the importance of mastering the art of Craigslist. The impact it will have on your wallet is simply massive.

For instance, let’s say you’ve managed to drop your cell phone in the toilet. It’s a paper weight now. So what do you do now? Buy a new cell phone at AT&T for full price and get forced into another two year contract? Hell no.

You jump on Craigslist, find a used phone for 30 bucks, throw your SIM card in it, and you’re on your way. Speaking of which -- if you’re one of the many people who’ve accumulated a pile of old cellphones -- instead of throwing them away, snap a photo of each one and post them on Craigslist. It’s free and twenty dollar bill is always more useful than a redundant cell phone collecting dust in your junk drawer. That goes for pretty much anything of value that you no longer use. Craigslist is free, so there's no reason not to list things you no longer have a need for.

Another nice feature of Craiglist, since most people loathe the idea of haggling, is that you can score crazy deals on things simply by utilizing the old axiom of supply and demand.

When you contact someone about a post and you’ve established that the post is legit and the item is what you want, name your price and say you’ll buy it today. Cash always talks. Make sure to meet in a public place (or at the seller’s home if it’s something that needs to be tested out beforehand) to minimize the dodginess of the whole transaction.

As with any purchase, “buyer beware” is paramount, but when you’re sitting at home with a perfectly awesome PS3 for half the price you’ve paid at Best Buy, you’ll quickly realize that a little bit of effort goes a long way when it comes to bargain hunting.

1. Do It Yourself


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Embracing a DIY ethic is the truest test of your ambition to save money. but if you want to jam econo, why pay people to do things you’re capable of doing on your own for free?

This is especially applicable to vehicle maintenance. In nearly every automotive repair, the bulk of the cost is the labor charge for installation (usually between $65-100 an hour).

If you’re feeling confident and you have a decent set of tools, get yourself a shop manual and start doing the work yourself. If you’re less confident about your skills as a mechanic but well aware of what parts a mechanic would need to fix your car, you can avoid the shop markup by simply going to Kragen or Pep Boys, buying the parts yourself, and having the shop install them for you.

Now that you’re feeling pretty handy, you can fix that dead computer of yours, get the faucet to stop dripping and finally fill that cavity. Now you’re a regular spendthrift!

Did we miss anything? Leave your favorite cost-cutting tips in the comments!