Friday, May 22, 2009

You can't afford to be poor. Avoid it now

Rats. I wish I had written this.

It's a Washington Post piece by DeNeen L. Brown outlining how and why our neighbors below the poverty line pay many dollars more for stuff that those of us who are merely financially inconvenienced can buy on sale. If you've been there, you know.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution and elsewhere have been watching this situation for a long time. The progressive leaning Center for American Progress estimates some 12 million more of us will get an unfortunately first-hand look at the problem in the next 12 months unless unemployment trends improve a lot faster than anyone expects.

Our own individual personal solutions to that problem are obvious. Don't become poor. Doing that with really limited resources, like when you are out of work, is possible. Not easy, but possible. The trick is building a cash reserve. You may not be able to build a big one. But you only need enough to buy a little more time.

Here are some things that have worked for me since September.

First, write down everything you spend. That helps you identify stuff you really don't need to buy, of course. And that, in turn, will help you map out a workable budget if you haven't already. But for me, it also helps curb spending. I really have to want something to go to the extra step of logging the purchase.

Second, give yourself a pay cut. Again it's a budgeting aid. The only way I can think of to save stashable cash, realistically, is to hold spending to 5 percent or 10 percent less than what's coming in.

Third, plan your spending carefully. There are lots of ideas how out there. But, for example, we're stretching our sub-$50 a week grocery budget noticeably by planning how to use leftovers, building menus around supermarket loss leaders, buying store brands instead of big names, and stocking up on staples when those are on sale.

And, goofy as it might sound, buy gas often. We try to not let our tanks drop below half full. Again, what you are really buying is time - to take advantage of the best price you see on the way to wherever you go normally, or to ride it out a little longer if other expenses run high. That beats scrounging change from the cup holders because you are really, really low.

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