USA Today has been following seven "Frugal Families," who they've teamed with "industry experts" to help them save money. What they've learned and done hasn't, so far, been earth-shattering. But how can this help your budget? Here's an evaluation of some of their tips and tricks (with the best advice from WalletPoppers):
  • Saving money on gas. It's good for the earth to turn off your car when you're idling at a drivethrough, or to stop accelerating so wantonly, or to inflate your tires. But these tricks will only save you a few dollars here and there; not the stuff to change your fiscal fortunes. Far more sensible is the instruction to use public transportation and to carpool. A few more tips (from a family who spends about $10 a month on transportation): give up your car entirely and switch to biking, walking and public transportation. If that doesn't work, cut out all but vital trips and combine those as much as possible (getting your groceries the same day you have a doctor's appointment nearby, for instance).
  • Saving money on food. Stop eating out? Brilliant, and it'll save you a ton if you've been reckless with the fast-casuals. Invest in a slow cooker? Yes, slow-cooked food is ready when you get home, meaning you'll be less likely to cheat with convenience foods. Cut down on organic food shopping? This one isn't quite so sensible; I'd choose, instead, to join a grocery co-op or start a buying club (small, grass-roots food co-ops buy directly from farmers or mail-order sellers, meaning you have to plan your shopping more carefully, saving money twice on the per-pound cost and the food waste). You don't have to shop at Whole Foods or a gourmet market to get quality, healthy food. Also, try a CSA, or grow your own.
  • Cutting back. Families in the group got rid of the iPhone; reduced a satellite package; cut the lawn; picked a cheaper mobile plan; and parked inefficient cars. All of these are sensible options, but I'd go further by cutting out cable altogether; putting an end to salon treatments and cutting hair and painting nails at home; reduce from land line + cell phone to a single option, if possible; take lunches to school and work; brew coffee and tea at home instead of buying it out; reduce or eliminate classes and sports for children; and reduce or eliminate expensive entertainment (like theatre, movies out, and tickets to conventions and car shows).
All in all, the frugal families are saving money, but they could go way further. The lessons on communicating about your expenses, paying cash instead of credit, and planning ahead are all fabulous ones. Don't forget, however, to work harder at living within your means; as we're all learning, our jobs and credit lines can vanish seemingly overnight, and the sustainable option is to live on the money that's in your bank account (or, if possible, less).

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