In my early days of radio, gas was over $5/gallon.  My car payment was $300.  So was my car insurance (different blog for later.)  My rent and utilities were well upwards of $500, as the roommate thing didn't work for me, having tried it with several friends.  On top of that, I was in the midst of learning a very important lesson about using credit cards.  Oh - and did I mention I worked in radio??

Those days were one of the greatest gifts I could've received.  I was forced to depend on myself to be resourceful when it came to bringing in more cash (okay, I was a mobile deejay at night,) while also making the absolute most of every dollar I spent.

Rubbing magic Aladdins genie lamp
BrianAJackson via Thinkstock

The following is a list of ways I made it work and felt pretty damn good about myself when I did:

Oil Changes and Car Maintenance 

Cheaper and less time-consuming than paying someone.  Besides, I don't want to trust just anyone to turn a wrench on my car.  There are many reasons why that oftentimes doesn't turn out well.

While your oil is draining, that's a great time to jack up the car and rotate the tires.  These services are best done every 3000 miles.  Funnel the old oil back into the new oil jug and take it to O'Reilly's to recycle, then recycle the jug yourself.  Keep the oil drain pan somewhere off to the side.  (There's another thing I spent $7 like a decade ago and haven't replaced yet.)

While swapping the tires, shine a flashlight around under your car and look for leaking fluids or grease.  If you see a lot of either, call a trusted mechanic and set up an appointment.  (If you need one, message me.)

Winterizing your vehicle is a must this time of year, too!  Spend $5 on an anti-freeze tester.  Every fall, suck a few drops of juice out of your radiator, read the tester, and adjust accordingly - which you hardly ever have to.  But it's better to know, than to have your engine block burst because the water inside it froze and expanded.

Also part of winterizing is a visual inspect of belts (you want no cracks) and hoses (no bulges.)

I should know:  I've driven the same Toyota Celica since 1999, and I honestly would be surprised if it broke down on me anytime soon.

This is also important to me, because I would rather

Buy One Awesome Car and Hang Onto It

I know, I know, this is a personal choice.  I personally, generally despise most vehicles built after the late '90s.  Why?  First of all, they're ugly.  What the hell ever happened to freaking style?  Don't sling me some angry, oversized lug and try & convince me it's worth $60,000 because it has a TV in the dash, its own wi-fi capabilities, and an instrument cluster you really should have a pilot license to operate.  Hey:  If it takes you more than a minute to know how to operate everything in the vehicle, that might have something to do with all the distracted driving. 

Geez, that was quite a rant, huh?  Anyway - I really, really enjoy having zero car payments and next to no repair bills.  Unless your car is just toast - either because you didn't maintain it, or because you bought a piece of garbage in the first place - to me, in this age of nearly all cars having a lifespan well over 200,000 or even 300,000 miles (mine is pushing 400,000, so I recently repainted it,) a lifestyle with ongoing car payments is overly extravagant.  I know:  Not a popular opinion.  Still, I've done that for quite a long time, now.  Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!!!

Lawn Care

This one is debatable, because Scotts, Tru-Green, and some others offer some tempting prices.  But even then, you stand to give those guys $5-700 a year.  Heck, spend $15 on a soil tester at the hardware store, do what it says, and you'd be surprised, because I have been for sure!

Oh, and don't totally write off the Tru-Greens of the world.  When they call and try to sell you something?  Ask them exactly what they do to your lawn, and take notes!  I did that this year, and wowsers!!!  I get compliments on our house's curb appeal all the time.  So, it's not just for me, it's for others, too.


I don't know about you, but my hair is hard to deal with.  It grows super thick and curly.  Long gone are the days when I'd try to sculpt a style out of a book at the barber shop.  Also gone is a good 90 minutes of your time every time you go to a barber.

I spend $15 on an electric razor, and attachments, at Walgreens.  No, I don't buzz my hair (although you could.)  I keep it at an acceptable length, and if I still don't like it, a little sculpting gel goes a long ways.

If you're a woman, call the local beauty schools.  My lady gets her hair done by students for less than $20 and looks like a million bucks afterwards!

Providing a Gym

I did the gym thing for years.  Their music.  Their sweaty equipment.  Their slimy showers.  Their old, flabby, naked stuff flopping around all over the place, sometimes accompanied by creepy faces.  Aaaaand, it only ran me anywhere from $20-70 a month!

And, up to an hour of driving time per visit.

This may come as a surprise, and a lot of it depends on your diet, but we generally don't need to "pump iron."  We DO need to exercise vigorously and regularly, however - and our own body's weight is our best piece of workout equipment.  I have a large workout room in my house (due to the fact I don't.... need... two... living rooms?)  In it?  An exercise ball, an abs roller, one 35-pound dumbell, a yoga mat, a stack of workouts I've printed off from everywhere (including the almighty Men's Health Magazine,) a tall fan, and something to play great music.  Boom.  Gym.

Been going this route for four years now, and I actually am more pleased with the outcome than I ever have been before.

Making Coffee

I'm just gonna say it:  I can't BELIEVE people not only spend $5 on a cup of coffee, of any flavor, but also make it part of their daily routine!!  I know, you deserve a treat, you do, I absolutely realize that.  But how much more enjoyable is it to sit in a drive-thru or stand in line countless minutes per week, than to brew it up before you leave the house, and put it in an adorable, tall cup you picked out yourself - and can reuse for years?  Ever look at the coffee aisle at King Soopers these days?  It's amazing!!!  A month's worth of Starbucks for seven dollars!!!  Dazbog, Pike's Peak, Green Mountain, oh... I don't know about you, but that makes me feel treated.

(So does having a couple drinks in the evening, also at home, and oftentimes not the big-name brands of stuff.)

Not Throwing Food in the Garbage

I still forget how much people do this.  Until... My kids tell me all the stuff their friends dump in the trash at the school cafeteria... Or, we go out to eat with friends and they take three bites off their steak and let the waiter take it away.

We, on the other hand, tend to split a plate at Mexican eateries, for example, because by the time you munch on chips & salsa while sipping on a drink (okay, a couple,) half a fajita plate?  Is perfect!

We also seldom buy off the kids' menu.  We'll usually let them split a regular plate as well, and divide that expense by three or four.  And they love it just the same.

There are numerous reasons throwing away food is just sad, I don't care how long it's been accepted in our society.  If nothing else, friend, why not get it to go and give it to that next homeless person you see on the corner?

One of the big reasons we don't throw food away at home is because we:

Plan Shopping Trips

My wife loves couponing, and that oftentimes takes upwards of $20 off a two-week grocery bill.

We grocery shop every two weeks, typically, but first, we write down recipes for the nights we plan to be at home, usually with enough extras to provide leftovers... for lunches.  Then again, I enjoy our stuff more than fast food, most days.  When I do go out, it feels like a treat, as my mother taught me it should.

Bonus:  Buy double, or enough for a month!  Make double recipes, freezing half... then, in two weeks, you're set for... wait for it... another two weeks!!!

Buying Clothes Thoughtfully

I took a financial course years back that changed my life, and I've already shared some of what I've learned in this blog.  But I was surprised to see they encourage you to budget $300/month for clothes for yourself.  Do you do this?  If so, why?  I honestly don't know!  I spend a lot of time looking around before I buy something I feel good about, and most of the time, it's nowhere near being worn out after a year, two, sometimes up to five years!  Then again, to me, the most attractive style is one that each person feels is truly them.  I skip logos and stuff, and look for tasteful colors combined with comfort.  Not sure on the whole $300/month thing.


I mean, don't be stupid about it and short yourself.  But, there's a lot to be said for being a flowing river rather than a dead sea.  Naturally, I give money to causes I have researched and trust, and only when I feel peace about it.

Bonus:  Refinance Your House

If you own a house, call up your mortgage lender every now & then, and make sure your interest rate is as low as it can be.  We recently dropped our payments about $150/month.

Bonus Bonus:  Screw Credit Cards

This was a hard habit to get out of back when, and today that just baffles me!  Okay, okay, we keep one around for "just in case," but not for shopping sprees.  Plus, using a card every now and then, and paying it off right away, keeps your credit score looking ah-mazing.  Turns out my dad was right:  If ya can't afford it, ya don't need it.  (No promise it'll be easy all the time.)

What I Like About All The Above

It started with seeing the value in life's needs - gratitude, rather than stupid, worldly pride which serves zero purpose.  And it ends up with money in savings to travel, snowboard, go on memorable date nights with your sweetie, buy movies and music and cool stuff for your house... and the more you save yourself, the more secure you can be financially.  I have known my share of wealthy people, and most of them say they make sure they can account for every penny.

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