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Quick Basics for Those Learning to Live Poor

My degree is in Literature and Education, and I have been writing for Hubpages for over eleven years.

Things aren't going well. There have been...economic issues (I'm poor. I'm a poor person.). Over the years, I've learned things (not fun things) to make ends meet. If you find yourself in the same situation, I hope that you can learn from my experience in some way. These items may seem random (because they are), but I've tried to limit myself to advice that can be as close to universal as possible.

Don't worry—your rich friends don't come here.

Don't worry—your rich friends don't come here.

Learn the Cheapest Places to Buy Things

I'm the type of shopper that automatically memorizes prices on products I buy often and automatically calculates per pound unit pricing in my head, but that isn't practical for everyone. An older version of this article mentioned several brick and mortar retailers, but at this point the answer to finding the lowest price is Amazon or more often than not. However, someone living in an urban area with a large number of retailers in the immediate vicinity can be more selective and use retailers that undersell online retailers in specific product lines.

  • Assuming there are no reservations about generic products, food is generally cheapest at Aldi, but even they can be undersold by traditional grocery stores on items that routinely go on buy one get one sales as well as on meats that are weekly specials. Aldi does have their own weekly meat sales, and there are actually times when their products are still less expensive than buy one get one free name brand products at other grocers, so for one stop grocery shopping that is the place to go. For a family, bulk sale price clubs like Sam's or BJ's can be worth the investment, but that does require making purchases in large quantities. If you require delivery, Wal Mart's food prices are often competitive with Aldi's. In general, food is not a bargain on Amazon.
  • For someone as poor as I am, respectable clothing can usually be found at Goodwill or The Salvation Army. If new clothing is a priority, there's Wal Mart, or Amazon and if you're comfortable buying clothing online.
  • Cleaning supplies and kitchen needs actually are cheapest at The Dollar Tree.
  • Couponing does work, but product choices are dictated by the market, and that can result in unwanted or unneeded purchases. It's also incredibly time consuming, and often results in horrifying transactions for already stressed out cashiers.

Never Buy Single Servings of Anything

It's always cheaper to buy in bulk. It's a cliche that is almost always true. There are limits, of course; it's rarely a good idea to buy more of something than will actually be used. Still, for the most part it costs an incredible amount of money to buy single servings of drinks, snacks, and just about anything else instead of full size packages. To use a simplified example, it's fairly common for employers to have soda machines in their employee break areas, and it's common for those drinks to be $1 each. In that case, purchasing a soda each day with lunch will cost $260 a year. Buying soda by the case and on sale should cost, at most, 50 cents per can. That's a waste of roughly $130 per year just to have a soda at lunch. If you're carnivorous, the same idea can also be applied; instead of buying lunch meat, which comes with a remarkably high price per pound, buy fresh meat (which is also healthier) in bulk when it's on sale. Butchering the meat at home and freezing it in two to three day portions (contrary to what several fast food restaurants claim, freezing will not adversely affect meat- particularly if the freezer temperature is kept on a milder setting) will save several dollars per pound. Cookies, candy bars, breakfast cereal, motor oil- the same thing is true for all of them: never buy single servings.

Speaking of sodas...



Knock It Off with the Sodas

There are numerous health reasons to do this: soda provides either empty calories or a chemical (aspartame) that is very unhealthy, it's potentially dehydrating and at the same time causes water retention, and it is the most likely cause of tooth decay. To the point of this article, however, is the fact that there is a (relatively) free liquid dispensed by faucets, and that liquid is a natural energizer that doesn't stain your teeth. After what happened in Flint, Michigan, using a filter is advisable, but even then it is going to be significantly less expensive to drink tap water than to buy soda or bottled water.

Prepare Your Own Meals

I eat for less than $4.50 per day on average, and I have a healthy and filling diet. However, regularly dining at restaurants would at least triple that amount. To be clear, this doesn’t include heating frozen dinners in the microwave; that is another example of buying individual servings, so the unit pricing still isn’t great, and for the most part those meals also happen to not be particularly good for you. The most common sources of protein—beef, chicken, pork, eggs, peanuts, and beans (oats and pasta also have surprising amounts of protein)—are almost always available at affordable prices and can often be found on sale, and the same can be said for seasonal produce. Packing a sandwich for lunch and learning to make a few simple meals at home can go a long way to stretching a tight budget, and you will essentially be paying yourself to prepare your meals.

The free, ad supported version of Peacock includes remarkably few commercials.

The free, ad supported version of Peacock includes remarkably few commercials.

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Cut the Cord—and When You Do, Be Efficient With Your Use of Subscription Services

Cable and satellite charges are out of control, and it's really a luxury item anyway. Switching to online subscription services should result in savings of at least $50 per month. However, if those subscriptions aren't managed closely, the change won't save very much at all. Netflix ($15.49 per month for the most common plan), Hulu/Disney ($13.99), HBO Max ($9.99 or $14.99), Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 as part of Prime or 8.99 individually), Paramount Plus ($4.99 to $15 per month), and Peacock (free to $10 per month) are all monthly services that, unlike cable, have no charges for connection or disconnection. If a service isn't being used, it should be canceled at the end of the month. Because most of us are binge watchers, there's probably no reason to carry more than one at a time. Carrying the six most prominent services would cost over $60 per month, which completely defeats the purpose of cord cutting from an economic perspective.

  • Services that stream live television, like YouTubeTV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling, fubo, Vidgo, and AT&T TV are essentially the same type of service as cable or satellite acquired through a different conduit, and their costs are very similar. That type of service is really only necessary for sports fans. However, if all of the sports a subscriber follows are out of season, there is little reason to carry one of those services.
  • Keep in mind that, depending on geographic location, broadcast networks are free with an antenna. Online, there's also Freevee, Tubi, Pluto TV, the Roku Channel, the most basic version of Peacock, and multiple other free, ad supported streaming services, and recent episodes of most current network television shows are available on the network's home page or app for free with a one day or one week delay. There are seemingly infinite other streaming services worth trying as well, and most offer free trials of one week to one month.

Ride That Horse Until It's Dead

Hold onto your car (and everything else that is still able to perform it's central function adequately) for as long as possible. Car insurance and property taxes decrease substantially over time; as long as the cost of repairs are less than the amount new car payments would require, keeping an older, fully paid car is significantly more economical that buying the newest model (this applies to everything else as well, including technology). Unfortunately, this isn't really feasible advice for many of the cars made in the last few years; much of the new technology that has been installed is designed to make it so that only the manufacturer (and their dealerships) will be able to make most repairs, and once a car's warranty expires those repairs become ridiculously expensive. That makes older model cars that much more valuable, and should also be taken into account before deciding to buy a new car. Overall, if it's not broke, don't try to replace it.

"He's so practical!" is exactly what everyone will say.

"He's so practical!" is exactly what everyone will say.

Whenever Possible, Don't Pay Interest

Interest is simply extra money being paid for an item. Rent to own purchases are looked down upon as something only people that are bad with money do, but paying interest is almost exactly the same thing; interest is an additional fee that is paid until the item is actually paid for. It's virtually unavoidable with homes, but for everything else, even cars for the most committed, it is tremendously economical to save up to purchase a product with money upfront instead of buying on credit.

Don't Keep Up with the Joneses

This is one of the hardest things about being poor, but technology, fashion, cars, and everything else are far more expensive when they're first introduced than they will be a year or two later. Believe it or not, you're not less valuable as a human being if you don't have the newest thing, and you're life isn't going to be instantly, substantially more enjoyable with a slight upgrade of your cell phone.

I just paid a substantial amount of money for a slightly better toy that only I will interact with.  Who wants to touch me?

I just paid a substantial amount of money for a slightly better toy that only I will interact with. Who wants to touch me?


David Lowder (author) from Concord, NC on May 02, 2021:

Thank you L.M.

L.M. Hosler on May 02, 2021:

Lots of good practical advice which I have lived by for years. As another poor person, I don't know any other way of living.

Great article.

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