How to Save Money When You Don’t Have Much to Begin With

It seems like finances—personal, corporate, and government—are big news these days. I can’t click over to CNN without reading some story about the current financial crisis…or the custody battle of some celebrity. Obviously both topics that require careful consideration by the American public.

But I digress, the quality of news on CNN is a topic for another day.

Today I want to talk about finances, and in particular those articles that promise to tell you how to save money and usually offer some tantalizing tidbit about how some family saved $25,000 by just making a few changes to their lifestyle. I always click open these articles and begin reading, looking for a new way to save, only to find out that the family being profiled saved that money by cutting out their $10,000 a year coffee buying habit, only buying 15 couture dresses this year instead of 20, and using their Audi for routine errands instead of taking out their Ferrari when they just need a gallon of milk.

Very wise moves indeed.

But completely irrelevant advice to me.

If I had $10,000 to spend on coffee, then I probably wouldn’t have much need to worry about how to save $25,000. And if I owned a Ferrari would I seriously even blink when gas prices skyrocketed beyond the gas pump’s meager price telling abilities? I think not. But then again, I’m not rich, never have been, and almost certainly never will be, so I don’t have any firsthand experience with how difficult it must be to swim in cash (DuckTales, anyone?).

So since I find these how-to articles so irrelevant to my life, let me share here with you five of my own tips for saving whatever cold, hard cash you can find under your couch cushions or rolling around the floor of your 1996 Nissan.

1. Spend all of your free time deep in the backcountry.
It’s practically impossible to spend money while you’re in a tent in a forest in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any stores, and there’s no entertainment beyond the annoying people sleeping a few trees down singing loudly about pickles well past midnight. And those bears nosing around outside, they don’t want your dinero. They’d rather just have your hot dogs.

2. Develop your own special form of ADD.
See the preview for the movie. Get excited about the movie. Then remember that movies are long—two plus hours long. And during that whole, long time you’re expected to sit still and be quiet. Realize there is no way that’s going to happen and put your $10 back in your pocket (or better yet, the bank…but not all in one bank if you happen to have more than $100,000 because man, I hear those things are dropping like flies).

3. Convince yourself that coffee tastes like dirt. (Because it does.)
No one likes to consume dirt (unless you have pica, and then, really, you should get that checked out, because consuming dirt is totally not normal). If coffee tastes like dirt to you, you will not buy it. You will not spend any money (no less $10,000) on coffee consumption. When that well-meaning but budget-busting co-worker stops in your office and asks if you want anything from the coffee shop, you can say no and really, honestly mean it. Because heck if you want to consume dirt, there’s plenty of it to be had for free (see backcountry).

4. Become allergic to shopping.
Imagine, for one moment, a mall: the crowds, the racks and racks of clothes none of which contain the right size, those horrific fluorescent lights, that loud music, the perfume stench of department stores, the cookie place that looks like it should be so tasty but really isn’t. Did you not just break out in hives thinking about it? Me, I almost needed an epi-pen. You, not so much? Well then, fine, go ahead and spend your money to look trendy and cool; I’ll just be thankful that I’m still the same size I was ten years ago…and that every now and again fashion comes full circle.

5. Have no real idea how much money you make.
Remember when you were sixteen and worked at the zoo and made $5.75 an hour? Convince yourself that that’s still the case. Remember when you took the time to figure out just how many hours you would have to work to pay for whatever it was you wanted: a new paint job on your rusty old car, a Wendy’s value meal, tickets to the Tori Amos concert? Do that again, but calculate everything as if you still only make $5.75. Decide then how much it’s worth to you. When you turn 100, go ahead and check your bank account. Do a happy dance when you find out you’re a millionaire. Then spend it all like there’s no tomorrow (because, come on, let’s face reality, at 100, there’s a fairly high chance that’s true).