2009 Money moves: Cutting the consumerism habit

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The best way of all to make money in 2009: Don't spend it.

My dad, always decades before his time, starts chuckling when he sees commercials or newspaper advertisements claiming to teach you how to save hundreds, or thousands, of dollars(!!). He has a better way that can save you even bigger: don't buy the item in the first place.

Over the past few years, my family and I have been working hard to reduce our consumerism and re-assess whether we really needed that flat-screen TV (we don't). Here are some great ways to start:
  • Sell your car (or park it) and bike, bus or walk instead. It's extreme. But it's really hard to bring that must-have new toy home if you have to haul it yourself. And you're far less likely to go to Costco or Target for entertainment if you have to take two buses to get there.
  • Stop watching TV (or at least cut off cable). The more you watch, the more you want. My family watches most of its TV on Hulu.com; the commercials are far fewer, thus, we have lots less to desire. And whatever you do, don't watch those home improvement shows.
  • Have an enormous garage sale. You'll be thrilled with how much you make, and the empty spaces left behind could be good for your soul.
  • Next time something is broken/lost/runs out, try to go without (or borrow a replacement). We've done this with cell phones, paper towels, DVD players, and our dishwasher. We even went for two fall months without our furnace when the control panel broke; we all wore sweaters and used extra blankets and survived fine (until the cold snap hit and we bit the bullet).
  • Really do your research about the environmental effects of your purchases. After I wrote an extensive piece on surfactants, I stopped using shampoo (I use an all-natural soap to wash my hair); after I learned about how cleansers affect aquatic life, I switched to white vinegar for all my housecleaning. Buying fewer single-purpose products really saves money, and my conscience.
  • Celebrate thrift. I think of myself as a savvy thrift store shopper, always finding amazing things for a pittance. I'm proud of my finds, especially for my kids, as keeping three little boys in pants and t-shirts is a big task.
  • Make it yourself. Most of my family's most cherished gifts are the handmade ones. The blankets my mother and I made for the boys when they were born. The hats I knitted for the entire family. The applesauce my mom canned. The gorgeous mosaic my sister made in an old birdbath. The huge spice rack my husband made of scrap lumber one happy day. There is a place for buying stuff -- I buy a lot of yarn, for instance, and books -- but it should be a special exception, not an everyday occurrence.
  • Buying is not entertainment. This isn't a what-to-do so much as a how-to-think. But in order to change your buying habits, you'll have to change your habits, and your attitude. My family used to take a Sunday afternoon drive to Costco, for fun. In high school I was not alone in my go-to adventure: a trip to the mall. Even now my husband often must be dissuaded from grocery shopping as sport. And we don't take the kids unless it's unavoidable. I meet friends for coffee, or knitting, or the occasional dinner; but almost never do I meet friends for an afternoon of shopping (unless it's the farmer's market, and that's just sustenance).

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