The Year of Living Frugally

The medications and lotions were past their prime, but admittedly so was I.

Published September 23, 2011 6:59 PM
3 min read


The medications and lotions were past their prime, but admittedly so was I.

By Robin Jovanovich

The dreaded day had finally arrived to commence a domestic savings plan — “retrenchment” as it was more delicately described by Jane Austen in “Persuasion” — in earnest.

Admittedly, I’d had years to think about cutting back — and plenty of how-to advice on the subject from my significant other. But it wasn’t until I became eligible for senior discounts that I realized time was of the essence.


With all those people in government and on Wall Street making seriously stupid decisions without consulting me or the other 320 million Americans who could add and reason, it would be no lead-pipe cinch. No matter how hard I saved, they spent, bailed out, made off with money we’d all actually worked hard to save and acted surprised when people like Bernie made off with even more.  


My plan was to reduce, reuse, and recycle where no woman in the 21st century had gone before.


I started with the small economies, like using up all the travel shampoo and lotion bottles I’d accumulated over the years. No need to rush out and spend a bundle on skin products when you’ve got a suitcase full at home. Granted, some of the contents had dried up and a few of the potions had taken on an off-putting smell over time — 15, 20 years — but I squeezed out the last drop from over 200 bottles and extricated the last dollop from every jar.


When that didn’t do me in, I figured that finishing up over-the-counter medicines that were recently past their prime was doable. As long as the expiration date was 2008 or later, I risked it.


Those medications and lotions were past their prime, but admittedly so was I.


Some savings came quite unexpectedly. The nice young man down the street who’d expertly weeded and trimmed my garden last summer didn’t show up this summer. As a result, my garden has become unruly, but I added over $250 to our little bank account.


If the plants could survive my mishandling, why not the trees! By eliminating the five-month tree-spraying program, I’m proud to say that I have another $1,000 to my credit. Is this what they mean by money falling from trees?


Putting pen to paper, I came up with another surefire cost-savings plan. Every day that I didn’t buy a Chai tea latte at Starbucks was a day I’d save $3.87, plus tip. I cut my habit back to once a week and was happy to report back to the provider-in-chief that with the $1,500 I would save annually we could begin to plan that European vacation.


“Not so fast,” he replied. “When the Dow gets up to 15,000, we’ll talk.”


So, I found other ways to save. I pushed “Report Spam” upon receipt of emails from retailers I’d been cozy with in the past. I decided to stop giving to any national political organization — especially the coffee, tea and me, me, me parties — until they did something for the greater good. Based on the evidence of the last few years, I’m in no danger of writing a check anytime soon.


By checking labels I discovered that the coffee we like, while ridiculously overpriced, is $2 less per can at June & Ho than at D’Agostino. Another reason to shop super-locally!


And believe it or not, I have saved countless more dollars by avoiding trips to Costco, where I used to routinely buy perishables in quantities that even a family of eight would have had a hard time finishing before mold and worse appeared.


There have been those unanticipated expenses, however. In a moment of weakness, I adopted a dog. While she’s brought great joy into our lives, whatever I’ve saved at Starbucks I’ve spent on dog toys, replacements of chew-proof dog toys, dog chews, and new eyeglass frames to replace the ones she chewed when she was out of dog toys.


For the first nine months of the year, I’m pleased to report I’ve probably saved $10,000 on things I really wanted to buy and might have actually contemplated buying in headier times.


Rather than discard the geraniums I’d brought inside last winter, I replanted them outside this spring. They have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in hard times, surviving droughts and floods and the occasional under- or over-watering.


And they are facing more hard times, based on the umpteenth breaking-news report that we’re headed into yet another recession. I’m going to give those geraniums extra tender-loving care and hope they make it through another winter with the living room thermostat set at “some like it cold”. I haven’t explained that to the dog yet. I’ll let her chew on it.

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