Frugal-hacking my way through a month without pay.Posted by Donna Freedman on Feb 27, 2012 | 41 comments
Two dates for you:
February 7 – The last direct deposit for my day job
March 11 – The earliest I can expect to get paid again
I’m not saying this because I feel sorry for myself. For reasons I’ll detail below, I’m doing fine. I’m bringing it up to remind other freelancers – and fully employed folks – to get creative about meeting your needs.
The last paycheck was for my final personal finance column for MSN Money, which I turned in on Jan. 25. On Feb. 21 that column morphed into Frugal Cool, a daily frugality blog for MSN Money. In the interim I’d scheduled my first no-deadline time off in four and a half years.
What kept me calm during my visit to no-salary land? A series of frugal hacks. Spend any time on the PF blogosphere and you’ll see plenty of posts on the tactics I’m about to list.
They’re nothing new. But they sure are effective.
More than one way to work
Second income stream. Usually that means a side hustle, i.e., a second job you can do on occasion (pet-sitting) or part-time (editing, retail, bartending). In my case the second income came from my staff-writing position at Get Rich Slowly, which published three of my pieces in January and paid me in the second week of February.
Extra work. Although I’d sworn to slow down, two freelance gigs came up that I just couldn’t refuse. They took relatively little time (maybe three hours total) and will bring in $550, probably by the third week in March.
More extra work. From time to time I do online surveys. Last week a survey led to being chosen for a focus group, which meant signing on twice a day to answer questions and respond to other participants’ thoughts. The organizers suggested allowing at least an hour a day. Piece of cake – and a $60 fee is en route.
Still more extra work. I used to manage the apartment building in which I live, and still do odd jobs as needed. When snow fell over several days last month, I swept and shoveled the front and back entryways and the sidewalk that winds around the building. The owners took $125 off my February rent. I look at that as being paid to exercise.
Staying busy, eating well
Selling stuff. For at least 18 months I’ve had two boxing programs and two small plastic sports action figures sitting in my living room. Just never got around to putting them up on eBay. During my vacation I listed all four and to my utter shock they brought in more than $1,200. That’s a nice payday substitute. (Went right into my savings account, though. I figure if I need it to pay bills I can always pull it back out.)
Using rewards points. When I wanted to see the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of “Gotterdammerung,” I paid with a movie gift card I got for free by using points from a rewards credit card. The same credit card got me $25 in scrip to Panera, so I was able to treat myself to rustic bread and good bagels during my time off.
Pantry challenge. Since late January I’ve bought only milk, fruit, eggs and a few vegetables. The rest of my ingredients came from the cupboards and freezer.
Shopping the sales. Any ingredients I did buy were loss leaders. That’s the way I generally shop anyway, but I was doubly determined not to splurge on $2.99-a-pound grapes if I wasn’t getting a paycheck that week.
Cheap fun. Long walks to do my shopping and also to exercise – free and useful/healthful. That six-hour opera movie was the equivalent of three regular films. I printed out a free pass to a movie screening. With luck I’ll also catch a free preview of “Salmon Fishing in Yemen” this week.
I’ve had the option of getting free films from the library or from my Amazon Prime membership. Mostly I’ve chosen to spend my time reading, writing, cooking, helping sort items for Superfluity, catching up with my daughter and with friends (flat-rate national calling on my home phone), and luxuriating in short naps. Oh, and recovering from a gall bladder attack and doing follow-up doctor visits. Nobody parties like a Jersey girl.
Nipping and tucking
Again, none of this is new. But taken together, these tactics form a multi-layered approach to intentional living.
Sure, I have an emergency fund. But why tap it if I don’t have to? I’d much rather nip and tuck my budget until the money starts coming back in.
Economizing doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on life. If you’re in the market to trim expenses in general or need to go to the frugal mattresses to meet a specific goal, I hope this spurs you to think about similar tactics.
Readers: Have you had to cut expenses due unemployment, underemployment, or the rising costs of food and fuel? What tactics do you use for short- or long-term savings?