Frugal New Year: Ideas to help offset rising housing and food costs

Sarah Hysjulien, a Tri-Cities resident who teaches budgeting classes, knows the recent spike in grocery prices can weigh on household spending.

About a week ago, Hysjulien went to a store to buy a free-range chicken and found only two, for $16 and $17 each.

“I just left,” said Hysjulien, an STCU community development worker. “I thought, ‘I can’t spend that on a chicken.’ They were free-range chickens, okay, but still, there were only two in the crate, and that’s what they cost.

Hysjulien says there are still strategies for spending less despite inflation, and even saving a little. Grocery prices rose 6.4% in the past 12 months ending in December, the biggest increase since 2008, according to a price index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sticking to a budget may seem grim, but Hysjulien says running out of money causes real stress. If food prices, rent hikes, and other costs are stretched, track spending for a month to find “leaks,” such as streaming apps you wanted to cancel or the daily purchase of coffee, she said.

Many banks and credit unions offer online budgeting aids. You don’t need to be a member of the STCU to use its free online budget tool. You can find several free budget apps for your smartphone, Hysjulien said.

NerdWallet recently listed the best budget apps, including Mint, Goodbudget, and Fudget.

“When I was much younger, I thought budgeting drained all the sunshine from the sky when in fact it’s quite the opposite,” Hysjulien said. “It makes you more free because you’re not under that weight of financial constraint all the time.”

Think of a budget as a roadmap across the country to get home — get to the end of the month with money — then keep a spending diary for several months. Reduce purchases of small “wants, not needs” such as lunches to save up to $100. Slowly build an emergency fund.

“Stats show that 47% of Americans couldn’t afford an emergency $400 without putting it on a credit card, borrowing from family, or selling something,” Hysjulien said. “That’s nearly 50% of Americans living on the brink of disaster because they don’t have an emergency fund.”

Frugal ideas

• Rely on Washington State University extension programs as well as libraries for a wide range of resources, including topics on how best to store and freeze food, prepare frugal meals at home and other budget stretching ideas.

• Use free trade groups such as Buy Nothing on Facebook that are set up by neighborhoods for porch pickups. Often people offer to donate extra clothing, household items, pantry items, or even fresh produce they have grown.

• Make it a family game to see how many days you can use food in your pantry and freezer before shopping. “Every time you walk into the store, you’re going to spend money,” Hysjulien said. She won’t go to Costco without a list and a mindset to avoid impulse buying.

• Try strategies such as meatless Mondays and make extra portions for dinner and eat leftovers for lunches.

Storing and growing food

You can find methods for growing food as well as tips for making errands last longer through WSU Extension, said Anna Kestell, education coordinator at Spokane.

Lately, “Mostly what I hear is how do I take care of what I buy at the grocery store?” Kestell said. “They bring products home and ask, ‘What’s the best way to store them so they don’t have to throw them away?’ We have all kinds of background material.

An example covers the best tips for freezing fruits and vegetables.

Kestell is now hearing requests for gardening lessons.

There are tricks to growing food indoors if you’re short on yard space, such as year-round microgreens that use potting soil, seeds, and a small pot or plastic container. deep with drainage holes. After sprouts appear, it can be kept indoors near a window.

“A family in an apartment with a balcony isn’t going to grow all of their food, but they can certainly grow a tomato plant and a bowl of lettuce in their kitchen.”

The office, at 222. N. Havana, plans to have in-person support and classes this spring and summer, including sessions on how to preserve what you grow or buy. Among the courses, “Beginning Gardening” starts at the beginning of March. Each three-hour lesson costs $15.

Vegetable seeds start and classes start later in March. You can also look for seed sharing at libraries or between neighbors, Kestell added. “If you buy a packet of zucchini seeds, that’s enough for your whole neighborhood.”

Some families buy or borrow a FoodSaver to seal bags for freezing food. It helps if you find meat on sale and have freezer space, Kestell said. For produce, consider canning or dehydrating.

Plus, master gardeners teach for free at libraries, so check library calendars. For general plant questions, you can call the Master Gardeners at (509) 477-2181, Kestell said. The group’s plant clinic is currently closed but is expected to open from March to October for walk-in visits.

For food safety or food preservation questions, see the website, call Kestell at (509) 477-2195 or email her at [email protected]

Free at the library

The sometimes-forgotten library card means free access to bestsellers, cookbooks, journals, and guides for home repair and DIY projects. Search the Spokane County Library District Catalog for “frugal” to find multiple pages, spokeswoman Jane Baker said. To make cost and quality comparisons, you can tap Consumer Reports, she said.

A service for borrowing items from its “Object Library” was temporarily taken offline during the pandemic and then for an update to the reservation system, but will come back online early this year, it said. Baker. You can borrow items such as sewing machines, Instant Pots, telescopes, and stuffing kits.

Other resources:

• Hoopla to stream movies, music, audiobooks, e-books, comics, and TV shows.

• Flipster for popular magazines.

• Digital versions of automotive repair manuals and small engine repair manuals. The Home Renovation Reference Center does the same for homeowners.

• Help Now is a free program with live tutoring for elementary through middle school students. Job Now offers online job coaches and resume help.

• A seed library allows people to check vegetable and flower seeds.

• Internet access; mobile hotspots.

• Workshops on health insurance and small business, as well as classes on hobbies and personal interests.

Hysjulien said she sees more people seeking frugality and budgeting.

“A lot of people have been out of work for the past two years, so they’re aware of how quickly life can change, and I think they want to be more proactive,” she said.

“Look at house prices now. Young people are going to have to start putting money aside each month. They must start thinking about it quite young.

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