cheapest car ownership strategy featured

We have a love/hate relationship with our cars.  They can mean freedom, opportunity, adventure, and even self-expression.  On the other hand, cars also mean debt, frustration, and anxiety.

I have pretty much always needed car for my occupations and lifestyle.  I appreciate the practical, comfortable service of a well-engineered machine, but my affection for cars goes no further.  I have put a great deal of thought into my cheapest car ownership strategy, and I hope you can benefit as well.

Note: The examples shown are based on generalities.  I did my best to pick average costs for all of the different factors involved.

What not to do: example X

cheapest car ownership strategy example
“Why do I feel like I have lost 9 grand in the last ten minutes?”

The worst approach to car ownership is buying a nice, new car on borrowed money every five or so years.  Nevertheless, millions of people follow this approach.  You will be paying the most to sales tax, depreciation, loan interest, and insurance.  The amount you will save on repairs and maintenance is negligible. As example X shows, you will be spending thousands more every year than is necessary to get from point A to point B.

This example is based on buying a $25,000 car with $1000 down.  It assumes that you pay the average interest rate for a five-year term.

total new car cost

Estimated car value after five years: $10,049

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,800

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it is almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a car, you are required to carry certain types and levels of insurance, so you have less wiggle-room to customize your policy.  Generally speaking, the higher the value of the the car the greater the insurance premium.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $180

Based on Consumer Reports (see the graph below), the maintenance and repair costs on a new vehicle are incredibly low.  This estimate assumes some services are provided as part of a purchase agreement and warranty.

Annual ownership cost: $5758.676

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,959 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $2,883.38
  • Depreciation: $14,951
  • insurance: $9,000
  • maintenance and repairs: $900 

Cheapest car ownership strategy: example Y

The cheapest car ownership strategy is to buy an economical, reliable used car in cash, but let’s start by assuming that you must finance a vehicle.  For example Y you will be buying the same car as in example X but as the second owner.

Example Y is based on financing a used car with a value of $10,049.

used car costs
Note: The interest rate on the loan is higher, which is typical for a used car loan.

Estimated car value after five years: $4,459

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,100

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a used car, you are still required to carry certain types and levels of insurance.  We can assume for this example that the lower value of the car means a lower insurance premium and obviates the need for gap insurance.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $545

Based on the Consumer Reports graph shown below, you can expect to spend four to five hundred dollars more annually for your used car over this five year period.

Annual ownership cost: $2,966.76

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,003.43 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $1,167.36
  • Depreciation: $4,438
  • insurance: $5,500
  • maintenance and repairs: $2,725

In sum, even when including the additional repair and maintenance costs, you are nearly cutting your car ownership costs in half.  You are saving almost two thousand dollars a year by driving a used vehicle.  At the end of the five years, you can use your car’s remaining value (about $4,500) and the ten thousand dollars that you saved to buy your next car in cash.

False arguments that “they” want you to believe.

car dealer
Photo by Brian Teutsch

As example X and Y show, there is no economical advantage to buying new.  The people perpetuating these false arguments are either trying to sell cars or trying to justify why they should have a new car.  If having a new car is important to you, go ahead, but do not argue that is financially sound.

“Trade in your vehicle while it still has a decent value.”

They best time to sell or trade in your vehicle is never.  There is no magic year when selling is best.  Mailers from a car dealership explaining why your make and model is suddenly and magically more valuable have an obvious ulterior motive.

The most dangerous time for depreciation is when your car is young.  The longer you run your car, the lower the rate of depreciation (e.g. A twelve-year-old car is not worth much less than an eleven-year-old car.)  Instead of trying to cash in on the remaining value, it is better to sock away the money you are saving by delaying.  The money saved and its interest will be greater than the depreciation.

“The interest rate on a used car loan is too high.”

used car loan rates graph

It is true that used car loans have higher interest (as this chart shows), but the difference can be in the hundredths of one percent.  Example Y above includes an increase of .2 percent (greater than the typical difference in a five-year loan).  The difference in your loan would have to be incredible to consume the money that you are saving buy buying used.

“Your older car will cost you so much in repairs that you are better off with a newer vehicle.”

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

People who point to maintenance and repair costs as a reason to re-buy are ignoring the cost savings of owning an older vehicle.

This argument does make sense to a point. It is easy to imagine that a very old and unreliable car would spend so much time in the shop that it no longer serves its purpose in you life. On the other hand, as the graph shows, the costs of maintaining older vehicles starts to level off over time.  Even if your car is averaging $1000 in repairs every year and you are spending $500 in car rentals, it is unlikely that the costs will counteract your savings.

According to Consumer Reports, the most expensive 10-year-old cars are made by BMW and have an annual repair cost of $1,125.

Big Ways to Save on Car Ownership

1) Lose less to depreciation.

Depreciation is the biggest problem with buying a new vehicle. Robert Sinclair of AAA explains, “Depreciation accounts for almost 40 percent of the cost of owning a new vehicle, more than $3,000 per year.”

cheapest car ownership strategy depreciation
Car value lost from year to year.

Everyone is a victim of car depreciation.  Cars are almost always a liability rather than an investment.  The key is to minimize your liability buy buying a vehicle that has already passed through the steepest decline in value.

According to, the sweet spot of used car ownership is found by buying a car that is 2-3 years old and driving it for 2-4 years.  This allows you to dodge the massive, initial depreciation drop and still get some value when you sell or trade the car later.  This makes sense for people who want to drive new-ish car most of the time, but it is not the cheapest car ownership strategy.

I would argue that the “sweet spot” is found buy purchasing around the five-year mark. A five-year-old car can easily provide you with another five years of reliable service.  The longer you can keep it, the less drastic the depreciation will be every year.

2) Pay less interest on your car loan.

cheapest car ownership strategy interest rates

Interest rates are still low compared to historical averages, but that does not mean that you should be excited about paying interest.  Even if you have excellent credit, carrying a car loan adds thousands of dollars to the cost of the car. In example X we added almost $3,000 to the cost of the car with only a modest 4.21% interest rate.

The less money you have to borrow, the less you will be paying in interest.  Paying a hefty down payment might not be in your plans, so you should buy the cheapest car that will serve your needs and borrow less money.  They buyer in example Y pays less than half the interest paid by the buyer in example X (even though the interest rate is slightly higher).

3) Find a way to exit the car lending cycle and start earning interest instead of paying it.

car loan cycle
Photo by Jack Rice

If you purchase a used vehicle as shown in example Y, you can put the money saved into an interest bearing account.  In this case, almost $300 a month.  This money should go to an automatic savings account labeled “CAR FUND.”  If you cannot put aside the entire amount, make sure that you are putting aside some of the savings every month.  Even fifty dollars a month will add up over five years.

Your “CAR FUND” will diminish or even eliminate your next car loan.  If you cannot buy you next car in cash, you will at least be able produce a larger down-payment and borrow less.  If we think about this process in five year cycles, you have to borrow less each cycle until you are paying cash.

When you buy your next vehicle in cash, you have broken the car debt cycle.  You are saving even more than in example Y, because you have eliminated loan interest from the equation.

4) How you can stop worrying about the cost of repairs.

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

A key element of the cheapest car ownership strategy is your “CAR FUND.”  One of the functions of the car fund is to help you stop worrying about repair costs.  If you are setting aside hundreds of dollars every month, a $500 dollar repair or even a $2,000 repair becomes a lot less scary.  Take the money for the repair from you car fund, and remember that you are still beating the system in the long run.

In addition to paying for you next vehicle in advance, you are obviating the need for car repair insurance.  Car repair insurance companies are simply preying upon people who are not so well prepared.

5) Buy a cheaper car to pay less sales tax.

If you live in a state with no sales tax, kiss my bippy.  For the rest of us, the easiest way to minimize sales tax is to spend less money.  The buyer in example Y is saving a thousand dollars in sales tax right off the bat.

Sales tax is a regressive tax.  It impacts the poor more than the rich.  If you want to combat the regressive nature of sales tax, be smarter and spend less.  I would not mind being in a position where paying 7% more for a Lamborghini meant nothing to me, but that is not my current position.

6) How much you will save on insuring a lower-value car?

It is impossible to generalize about how much can be saved on insurance by buying a lower value car.  There are more factors to calculating your premium than in launching a space shuttle.

Your age, gender, the type of car, how much you drive, where you live, your parking conditions, and even the color of your car makes a difference.  Suffice it to say that you should buy a practical, safe vehicle with a lower value.

The estimates in examples X and Y were quite conservative.  The annual saving for my example Y was only $700, and it is likely that the savings would be more.

7) Buy a car with proven reliability.

car mechanic

Whether you are buying new or used, you can reduce car ownership costs buy buying a well-engineered vehicle, but how do you know if a car will be reliable?

In this regard, the used car buyer has a distinct advantage.  The data for the model and year in question has already been compiled by Consumer Reports, AAA, Edmunds, and others.  Conversely, when it comes to a brand new car, the jury is out on how reliable it will prove to be.

When preparing to buy a used car, I recommend purchasing a one month membership to Consumer Reports. (You can easily cancel once you have made your purchase.)  They will give you the data and rating for the exact model and year you are considering.  The $7.95 that you spend will give you peace of mind and might save you thousands.

8) Buy vehicle with a low overall cost of ownership.

Again, Consumer Reports can help.  In addition to helping you calculate what you can expect in repairs, Consumer Reports can give you a complete cost-of-ownership picture regarding fuel economy, depreciation, and more.  SPOILER ALERT! Pick-up trucks are the segment with the highest cost of ownership.

9) Follow the maintenance schedule.

cheapest car ownership strategy reliability

Preventative maintenance will save you money in the long run. A forty-dollar oil change can save you a $4,000 engine rebuild.

Preventative maintenance is not mysterious.  The owner’s manual will tell you exactly what to do and when.  I would suggest that after the oil change increments, the most important mileage number to remember is 30,000.  If you buy a used car, go ahead and get the 30,000-mile service regardless of mileage shown. (You do not know how faithful the previous owners were.)  Now you can rest easy and return to your previously scheduled program.

10) Own fewer cars.

This is obvious, but many households never take the time to consider whether or not they could get buy with one less car.  Think about it, four grand a year buys a lot of Uber rides.  Furthermore, being a one-car household means less paperwork, less maintenance, less environmental impact, and less headaches generally.

11) Keep your car as long as you can.

Imagine that you are the buyer in example Y.  You have completed the five year cycle.  Your car is worth a few thousand dollars and you have a few thousand saved up in your car fund. Time to go buy a car, right?

Whoa there, Spendy McSpenderson! I congratulate you on your accomplishment, but let’s not be hasty.  Cars are lasting longer than ever and modern safety requirements were in place ten years ago.  If your ten-year-old car is still safe, comfortable, and serving your needs, why not keep it around a while longer and allow that car fund to balloon?

Every year extra that you can keep your paid-off car is pure gravy.  You have plenty of money saved (in case the car gives up the ghost) and your savings are earning interest. Furthermore your insurance costs (liability only) are minimal.

Small ways to save on car costs

12) Join a rewards program or use coupons for oil changes and regular maintenance.

Don’t just pull in to the first lube place you see when the odometer rolls over.  Take a minute to print out a coupon.  Hey, ten bucks is ten bucks.

13) Do not pay for repair insurance.

Insurance in all forms is a societal rip-off. Think about it.  If we all put our premium payments back in our pockets, the collective amount saved would be greater than the collective pay-outs.  After all, the insurance companies have to get theirs.

While we may not be able to escape the necessities of car insurance or health insurance, we do not need to add travel insurance, water heater insurance, milk spoilage insurance, or car repair insurance.  By creating your “CAR FUND,” you are creating your own car repair insurance underwriting.  When a repair comes up, take the money from your car fund, and I will be very surprised if you deny your own claim.

14) Give your car spa treatments.

Spend some quality time with your used car.  Vacuum the mats, polish the headlight lenses, spray some fa-breeze, and armor-all the console.  Not only will you make your driving more pleasant, you will also reduce depreciation.

15) Spring for neat accessories.

Use accessories to make your used feel special.  When I bought my used Subaru Forester (even though I really wanted another truck), I bought a roof rack, some cargo mats, a dog gate, and some fun odds and ends.  This made me feel as though nothing I could buy would suit my needs as well as what I had configured.

16) Drive less.

Make your car last longer and spend less on maintenance and repairs by driving less.  This can be as simple as planning your errands thoughtfully or taking the train on an upcoming trip.

17) Say goodbye to trucks.

For me, this was a tough pill to swallow.  Trucks are more expensive to register, less economical to fuel, and depreciate quickly.

18) Some maintenance you can do yourself.

When you go to Jiffy Lube et. al., they will tell you that you need a new bulb, air filter, wiper blade, etc.  Make a note of their suggestions, but do not buy the replacements there.  Instead, go to the auto parts place and buy what you need.  Anyone can change and air filter or a wiper blade.

  • Easy: wiper blades, headlight bulbs, air filter
  • Medium easy: oil change, new brake pads, new battery, tire rotation, new fuel filter
  • Not very easy: transmission rebuild, adding hydraulic lifts, installing supercharger, inventing the flux capacitor.

19) Argue with insurance companies.

Every year I drop in to my State Farm agent for a visit.  It is pleasant for no one.

I beg. I rage. I plead. I weep. I argue. I delay. I pontificate.  In the end, the agent gives me a better deal just to get me out of his sight.  Is my dignity worth two hundred dollars? The jokes on them, my dignity is worth much less.

20) Buy tires at Costco.

You can save a lot by buying your tires at Costco.  They include a road hazard warranty, free balancing, free rotating, and nitrogen filling as a benefit to buyers who retain their membership.

21) Don’t smoke.

We have already established that depreciation can be the greatest cost in car ownership.  One of the worst ways to accelerate depreciation is by smoking in your car.  One National Institute of Health study found that smoked-in cars sold for thousands less than there smoke-free comparables.

Conclusions on the cheapest car ownership strategy

You do not need to be a math genius to figure out that a brand-new car is a poor investment.  Do not allow scare tactics, erroneous claims, or fatuous vanity to sway you.  Be intelligent and independent in making the car ownership decision that makes the most sense for you.

If you need more reasons to resist putting your money into an insidious industry, check out season 1, episode three of of Adam Ruins Everything. (The full episode is available on Netflix.)  Do not fund this despicable industry more than you must.

Do you have an addition for the cheapest car ownership strategy? Are any of my calculations or estimates off-base? Did I miss something important? Please, leave a comment.


making arrest
Photo by Elvert Barnes

If you find treasure where others see trash, take a few minutes consider trash picking laws. Are you breaking the law when scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, or trash picking?  Maybe.  It depends on where you are picking, what you are taking, and your methods.

You are breaking no federal laws by trash picking garbage that was left in a public spaceHowever, you may be breaking local laws that exist in a some areas.  Furthermore, some locales prevent the taking of certain types of garbage (like recyclables).

When you are trash picking, it is much more likely that you will get in trouble for breaking other laws, like laws about trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, or parking.

It is always good to know where you stand legally, so here is an explanation of trash picking laws.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Trash picking and the law

Trash picking is legal (federally)

trash picking and federal law

If you are a trash picker or dumpster diver, you will be pleased to learn that the Supreme Court has defended your right to go through and even take other people’s trash (sort of.)

While there have been no cases about trash picking directly, there have been cases on the legal standing of garbage.  The most important case in this regard has been California v. Greenwood.  In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the police had the right to pick through and take from trash left on public space.

In the 1984 the Laguna Beach police department picked through Billy Greenwood’s garbage to find evidence of drug trafficking which they consequently used to gain a search warrant.  After searching the home, the police found lots of marijuana and cocaine.  Greenwood’s defense argued all the way to the Supreme Court that searching his garbage violated the fourth amendment as illegal search and seizure.

The court decided that that garbage left for collection is in the public realm and loses all rights of privacy and property.

Criminals take note, this view has been upheld in subsequent cases.  Your garbage may not remain silent and may be used against you.

Local trash picking laws

trash picking laws and recycling
Is this scrapper committing a crime?

While the Greenwood case tangentially protects trash picking on a federal level, some areas have local prohibitions on trash picking.  You might think that everyone wins when something useful stays out of the landfill or recycling center, but policy makers may not share that view.

Recyclable materials may be off limits

For some municipalities, recycling means big money.  When scrappers, can collectors, or passers by take the intended recycling, the city or its contracted service loses money.  Even though the value of recyclable materials has fallen in recent years, these materials may be jealously guarded.

recyclable materials value chart

Some municipalities have ordinances that make intended recycling the property of the city.  In one extreme 2010 case, a New York City man and his aunt were each fined $2000 for taking a discarded air conditioner from the curb.

It is unlikely that law enforcement will take the time to pursue people taking recycling.  Nevertheless, if you want to obey the law, check your local laws or just skip taking recyclables all together.

Undesirable behaviors and identity thieves

trash picking local laws
Photo by raymondclarkeimages

Some locales have laws to prevent trash picking in any form. Even if the item is not recycling or protected by privacy or property laws, trash picking may be off limits.  The laws are mainly in place to prevent nuisance behaviors and identity theft.

These laws can be controversial. Nobody wants someone “salvaging” their personal documents. Furthermore, nobody wants a bunch of noise in the middle of the night, strangers hanging out on the sidewalk, or a mess to clean up.  On the other hand, it seems sinful to prevent the salvaging of serviceable items that are destined for the landfill.

Whether or not you personally feel that these trash picking laws go too far, they are on the books in many places.

Related laws that you might be breaking

Even if trash picking is technically fair game where you are, there are many other laws to consider.  People who get in trouble for trash picking are usually fined for one of the following issues.


trash picking and trespassing

Garbage on or in private property remains the private property of the resident or entity.  Even if you are a 90-year-old grandma grabbing cans from the garbage at the car wash, that garbage is protected by privacy and property laws.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, garbage in the public realm is fair game, but how do you know if the items are in the public realm?  If the garbage is by the side of the house, in a garage, behind a fence, or in a locked container, it is clear that you will be trespassing. But what about when garbage placement gets vague?

Public or private space?

We can talk about tree lawns, road verge, alleys, easements, and curbs, but the key legal term to understand here is curtilage:

“Curtilage includes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling, and it counts as part of the home for many legal purposes, including searches and many self-defense laws. When considering whether something is in a dwelling’s curtilage, courts consider four factors:

  1. The proximity of the thing to the dwelling;
  2. Whether the thing is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
  3. What the thing is used for.
  4. What steps, if any, the resident took to protect the thing from observation/ access by people passing by.”

-from The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law

Our physical spaces are complex and varied, and different cities have different rules regarding spaces like sidewalks.  When it comes to curtilage (the protected private space), both the physical space and the intentions of the owner are factors.

To avoid trespassing, simply ask yourself two questions:

  • Do I have a clear, legal right to walk there generally?
  • Are the items clearly being left for disposal?

Invasion of privacy

identity theft
Identity thieves will try anything. Photo by Gale

I have already noted that some municipalities have laws preventing all forms of garbage picking over privacy concerns.  Even if such laws are not in place, a resident or entity retains privacy rights for any garbage within the curtilage of the property.

Privacy rights and property rights go hand-in-hand when it comes to trash picking laws.  If the previous owner has placed the items in public space (beyond their legal curtilage) for intended disposal, they have no legal expectation of privacy.

People may not want you to know that they still read Boy’s Life magazine, eat six cans of spam a week, or never dust their dresser drawers, but privacy rights do not extend to garbage on the curb.

I may not like it when someone takes my picture in public, but their is nothing that I can do about it. Similarly, I may not like it when someone looks at my old furniture on curb, but I have waved my privacy rights and any expectation of privacy.

Health and Safety violations

In rare cases, trash pickers have been fined for health and safety violations.

In Birmingham, Alabama, several men were fined after collecting trash for disposal when the neighborhood trash was piling up (due to unpaid sanitation bills.)  The officials argued that the men did not have the required training or equipment for the disposal. Even though the trash had been sitting around for weeks, the officials claimed that the men were creating a health hazard.

This unusual case aside, if you are salvaging items, make sure that you are not inadvertently creating physical or biological hazards.  If you are leaving dangerous debris or potentially spreading pathogens, a fine is justified.


trash picking laws and littering

Some people think that you must take possession of an offending item before you can be guilty of littering.  Based on most littering laws, this is simply not the case.

One example (California)

“374. (a) Littering means the willful or negligent throwing, dropping, placing, depositing, or sweeping, or causing any such acts, of any waste matter on land or water in other than appropriate storage containers or areas designated for such purposes.”

Ownership or possession has nothing to do with it. If I pick up a piece of garbage in the park to read the label and then put it back where I found it, I am still littering.  If you are physically leaving, placing, or scattering garbage when seeking trashy treasures, you are littering.

Let’s say I break apart an old desk to salvage the drawers for another purpose.  If I do not properly dispose of the remaining debris, I am littering.

Disorderly conduct / disturbing the peace

There are many reasons not to pick trash in the dead of night.  One reason is that you might be breaking laws regarding disorderly conduct and/or disturbing the peace. In one extreme case, an actual garbage collector was sentenced to jail time for doing his job too early in the morning.

Disturbing the peace is a legal catch-all that is defined as “infringing upon or frustrating someone else’s right to peace and tranquility.”  As you can tell, this is a very vague definition. (My neighbor’s Dallas Cowboys flag frustrates my tranquility on a daily basis.) Laws regarding disturbing the peace and the degree their enforcement vary widely from place to place.

The most important thing to remember is to be considerate.  Make minimal noise, do not stay long, and do not leave a mess.


Loitering laws are controversial because they generally target the less fortunate.  A poor person and a rich person can do the exact same thing with very different reactions from shop owners, police, etc.  If you are picking trash, you will not get the benefit of preference.

Some loitering laws focus on the absence of activity (hanging around) whereas other laws focus on undesirable activities. (“But officer, I do have a purpose. I am begging for money and then gambling with it.”) Most accusations of loitering are baseless as the offense is hard to prove.

Even though you may be within your rights to be where you are, why invite a hassle? The easiest way to avoid any concerns about loitering is by going about your business expeditiously.

Related link: A Guide to Legal Loitering

Illegal parking / loading

No matter how great the prospective find, do not commit moving or parking violations.  The money you were trying to save will disappear in a flurry of carbon paper and bureaucracy.  Take your time, park legally, and load responsibly.

Conclusions on trash picking laws

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This is my understanding based on my experience and research.  You are responsible for checking your local laws.

The take-away here is that much of the time scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, and trash picking is perfectly legal.  You must make sure that there are no local laws prohibiting your activity and that items that you are taking are in the public realm and intended for disposal.

On the other hand, you must keep other laws pertaining to trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, parking, etc. in the front of your mind.  It is easy to imagine law enforcement officials using these other laws as a way to curb a legal behavior (trash picking) that has been causing complaints in the area.

For my part, I love finding cool, free stuff, and I feel that it is important to battle our society’s wasteful tendencies whenever possible.  However, I do not want to break any laws nor upset anyone in my community.  The solution is for me to get my free stuff while obeying trash picking laws and acting conscientiously.

I decided to do a deep dive on this trashy subject after writing a post on curb surfing.  If you would like to get my tips, please check out my other post:

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Did my post on trash picking laws help you out? Did I miss the mark? Do you want to share your experience? Please, leave a comment.

tao of cheap

Discovering the Tao of Cheap

I recently came across the concept of the three jewels of Taoism accidentally.  The monk training “Grasshopper” in season 1, episode 8 of Kung-Fu (1973) refers to the three jewels, the second of which is “…frugality, that I might show generosity to others.”  This allusion encouraged me to investigate Taoism as I consider my own Tao of cheap.
teaching the tao

I had a vague concept of Taoism as a sort of minimalist, ascetic, transcendental philosophy, but I had never taken the time to investigate further.  After reading the Tao Te Ching, “The Way of Virtue Book” written by the sage Loazi in the 6th century BCE and visiting some helpful websitesI realized that the text offers great insights on the philosophy of being cheap.

It is true, as “Grasshopper’s” master teaches, that frugality enables generosity, but the value of the Tao Te Ching regarding simplicity, avoiding materialism, and seeking contentedness goes beyond this principle.

What is Taoism, and what does it have to do with getting me what I want?

The Tao Te Ching has been translated into a gobzillian languages and has influenced artists, scholars, and leaders for millennia.  Although Taoism is considered a religion as well as a philosophy, the Tao Te Ching barely refers to matters of faith or the supernatural.  It is more of a playbook for a life of contentedness.

the birth of loazi
A painting in the Green Goat Temple in Chengdu depicts the birth of Loazi

It is kind of like the opposite of The Secret endorsed by Oprah, Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and others. The Secret is basically the concept of bringing your desires into reality through visualization and positive vibes.  The Tao, on the other hand, suggests that you eliminate desires to reach a state of naturalness that enables true contentedness (and, ironically, leads to what you might have desired in the first place).

The Tao teaches that striving not to strive will deliver that for which you would have been striving. (Say what now?)

The Tao and frugality

Since we are striving not to strive, what will we attain?  The idea is that attaining respect, money, happiness, etc., comes from not seeking respect, money, happiness, etc.  It is an appealing contradiction.

So if I want to be rich, all I have to do is strive not to be rich? Exactly.  Eliminating the desire to “be rich” ultimately facilitates the accumulation of wealth.  I would argue that possessing means is not exactly what our society means by “being rich.”  For many of us, “being rich” is more about image, materialism, and lifestyle than net worth.

Relate post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

Quotes from the Tao Te Ching regarding money

tao te ching calligraphy

The Tao of cheap and materialism

“Not to desire material things is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire them is to suffer the limitations of matter.”

If you are always looking for the better car, clothes, house, etc., when will you find contentment?  You are training yourself to be in a state of perpetual want. Practice taking joy in what you have rather than focusing on what you lack.  If you practice seeking the attainment of joy rather than practicing the experience of joy, you will rarely find it.

“Here are the four fundamentals of true spirituality: recognize simplicity, cherish purity, reduce your possessions, diminish your desires.”

Enjoy the simple pleasures of life.  Spend your life enjoying what you have rather than focusing on what you desire.  You may find that your desires diminish, or even realize that your desires were misplaced from the start.

Related link: Living well, spending less

“Trifles and dainties attract the passing people, while the Tao goes unnoticed.

When looked at, it is not much to see; when listened for, it can scarcely be heard; but when put into practice, it is inexhaustible.

The world will go to those who seek the Tao; they will find contentment, peace, and rest.”

“The way of Tao is simple – stop striving, defeat desire.  In the absence of striving, there is peace; in the absence of desire, there is satisfaction.”

Contentment, unlike material possession, is limitless. You can easily spend your life lusting for material possessions or luxurious experiences.  If you do so, you will experience a life of want rather than a life of plenty.  Not only will you misplace your focus on passing fancies, you may ultimately lead to your own anxiety and deprivation.

tao of cheap camping
A picture I took recently on a camping trip.  The view was the same from my modest tent as it was for my neighbors in expensive RVs.

Imagine a man who always seeks the best for himself.  He finances the best car, gadgets, house, and vacations.  He works at a job he hates in order to attain fleeting moments of satisfaction.  He ends up paying a great monetary and emotional cost.  Not only must he live with the anxiety of his debts, he fails to fully experience the luxury of his life as he continually turns his mind to what is next.

“Overindulgence creates waste. Hoarding invites loss.

The man who is content with what he has is not in danger of loss.

The great Way is very plain, so the proud prefer the bypaths.

When the palace is splendid, the fields are likely to be weedy and the granaries empty.

To wear jewels and silks, to flash your weapons, to eat and drink excessively, to store up wealth and treasure – this is the way of robbers.

Pomp is contrary to the Tao.”

As the Notorious B.I.G said, “More money, more problems.”  As Tyler Durden says in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.”  Once you have the biggest house, sweetest ride, and freshest threads, they bring you anxiety.  You must protect what you have or compete for whatever is next.

Our society does not celebrate modesty. You must decide for yourself that modesty and frugality (being cheap) are virtues. Modesty is not a crime. Your worth is not defined by what you have or what others think of you. Concentrate on doing what you love and enjoying what you have, especially the joys of life that are available to all.

taoism and frugality yacht
“Sure, this yacht is nice, but what I really need to feel good about myself is an island.”

Taoism and generosity

“The Tao has three treasures which the wise guard and cherish; The first is compassion, the second is economy, and the third is humility.

…if you are economical, you can be truly generous…”

When people think of those who are economical, cheap, or frugal they imagine miserly (from the same root at miserable) figures like Scrooge McDuck, Shylock, or Silas Marner, but being cheap, as the Tao suggests, is not in opposition to generosity.

In what ways can economy (being cheap and not having much) lead to generosity?

If you have spent less on yourself, you can spend more on others.  Will it bring you more joy to have the most luxurious car on the block or to show generosity and charity?

If you spend less time and energy striving, you have the time and energy to be generous with your time and care.  For example, the parent who spends less time at work can spend more time with their children.  Is the money or the time the greater gift?  Is it your concern for your child or your own ego that is really motivating you?

taoism and frugality

Related post: Best Homemade Gifts for Adults

“This is the Tao – it diminishes those who have abundance, and nourishes those who lack.

The human way is just the opposite – creditors take from those who lack and lavishes those who already abound!

Where are the wealthy who will use their riches to save the world?

The wise earn much, but claim it not for themselves. They accomplish much, but are not attached to their accomplishments.

They succeed abundantly, yet make no show of their success.”

The Tao is the great equalizer.  The Tao Te Ching suggests that you can feel rich without having to attain wealth or deal with its complications. Would you rather live a cheap lifestyle and be happy or live in luxury and be miserable? One who relishes in the simple joys of life has more than that rich person doggedly striving in opulence.

Applying the Tao of Cheap

I am not some kind of contended Buddha sitting in a pile of cherry blossoms writing haiku (although I do look the part).  I love stuff.  I love luxurious foods, neat experiences, tools, gadgets, and modern conveniences.  This is why I think Taoism is important for me to remember as I explore the Tao of Cheap.

Greed and materialism are innate.  I am no exception, but keeping these desires in check is healthy for my state of mind. We could all benefit from learning to be happier with less, striving for simplicity, and limiting our materialism.

The irony of the Tao of Cheap is that by striving not to strive and practicing frugality you find abundance.  You find abundance not only in the spiritual or mental sense but in the very real material sense.  You spend less on stuff and realize over time that you can buy whatever you want.  Further, your practice has diminished your desires to the point where what you want is quite minimal.

By combating your material desires and developing your Tao of Cheap, you have effectively increased your spending power in two directions.  You have more to spend but have less that you want to buy. The Tao of cheap creates an affluence of frugality.


There are many great reasons to be a thrift store shopper.  It is good for the environment, saves you money, can help a good cause, and is fun. Before you launch into hyperspace across the thrift store galaxy, here are some thrift store tips to start your training.

Thrift store tips summary

  • Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.  Know which stores carry what.
  • Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.  They range from vintage boutiques to random bin warehouses.
  • Thrift store tip 3: Top ten items to seek:  Weekend clothing, wooden furniture, and housewares top the list.
  • Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid: Items that can harbor bedbugs are no deal.
  • Thrift store tip 5: Process clothing: Keep items in a sealed bag until they can be treated.
  • Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.  Learn the promotion schedule or join the mailing list.
  • Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.  Be proud when your money goes to a worthy cause.
  • Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle. Return the favor by donating regularly.  Your closet and garage will thank you.

thrift store aisles

My experience

I started shopping in thrift stores because I had to.  Now I shop in thrift stores because I love to; you never know what you are going to find. I enjoy the challenge and knowing that I am shopping conscientiously.

Since I am so cheap and have no sense of style, it would be pretty natural for me to do all of my shopping at Costco, JCpenney, Target, etc.  However, I know that this type store and their short-lived products take a toll on the environment and the global community.  Thrift stores enable me to be cheap and responsible, which brings balance to the force.

Over the years I have completed my training by mastering thrift stores in Los Angeles, Vermont, and the Philadelphia area. My thrift store tips can take you from errant young-ling to the resale Jedi council.

Thrift store tip 1: Scout the stores.

When you pull up to a unfamiliar thrift store, you have no way of knowing if your are headed to the dark side.  This can be fun unless there are really some items that you need.

Spend some time getting to know the thrift stores in your area.  Reach out with your feelings (or use google maps.) Spend some time visiting the stores when you don’t need anything in particular.  You will discover that some stores emphasize furniture, tools, housewares, clothing, media, and so on.  This will save you time and frustration later.

thrift store books

Scouting thrift stores general rules:

  • Stores in low-income areas may not have the droids you seek.  This makes sense.  People in these areas are highly motivated to take the best items quickly.  Additionally, stores near affluent areas tend to get some pretty sweet donations.
  • Keep travel to a minimum by avoiding the outer rim and frequenting stores near places you go anyway.  If thrift shopping is hassle, you probably won’t do it.  If your interests or occupation take you to an area often, check out the thrift store landscape as it may offer better options than where you live.
  • Know thy self.  Do you expect everything to be processed carefully and organized or are you OK with sorting through a mess?

Thrift store tip 2: Know that stores come in four main varieties.

You may think thrift stores are not for you, but hold on my very young apprentice; a key thrift store tip is that there is a thrift store for every shopper.  After scouting the stores, decide which type works best for you.

1) Fancy Boutique

These stores are generally small, selective, and located in an area with a lot of foot-traffic.  They only accept items that are appropriate for their discriminating clientele.  They are very clean and well-staffed, but this care is reflected in the prices.  If you seek designer brands or stylish jewelry, these are the shops for you.  Examples include Green Street and The Cinema Glamour Shop.

2) Epic planet of savings

awesome thrift store 130

Every once in a while you find a huge thrift store that is also clean, organized, and loaded with kyber crystals.  They seem to show up in buildings that were formerly grocery stores. This is my favorite type of thrift store. Examples include 2nd Avenue Value Stores and Heaven’s Treasures.

Note: Some Goodwill Stores, Salvation Army Stores, and St. Vincent De Paul Society stores meet the criteria of an Epic Planet of Savings.

3) Run-of-the-mill thrift stores

Most Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul Society, and church basement stores are like the mines of Kessel.  They tend to smell a bit like a Ton-ton and be a bit scruffy looking.  They may have just what you are looking for, but patience you must have.

4) Bin warehouse

thrift store bins 120

As cheap as I am, my thrift store tip is to skip these options.  They usually take the refuse from another thrift store.  There is little-to-no organization and much of the inventory has missing parts or a defective motivator. I am sure many have had success in these thrift stores, but it is like trying to hit a womp rat in a T-16.

Many of these stores sell goods by-the-pound based on category. Examples include Goodwill Outlet and the Salvation Army by-the-pound program.

Thrift store tip 3: Top 10 items to seek

Once you become a resale padawan learner, you will discover that there are some things that are almost never worth buying retail.

1) Weekend clothing

Why pay retail for clothes you are going to wear playing softball or milking thala-sirens?  I am pretty rough on my clothes generally, so I expect them to get ruined in short order.  A thrift store shirt can catch a glob of mustard just as well.  If you find something that actually deserves some care, consider it a bonus.

2) Wooden furniture

We are not really looking for another set of IKEA bookcases. You will be amazed how many neat pieces from the past you will find. Old furniture is often better made, and wood furniture is easy to refresh or repair and won’t bring unexpected house guests (more about bedbugs later).  For this thrift store tip, remember that a couple of screws, some polish, stain, or paint can go a long way.

Thrift store furniture 120
Plywood dressers at particle-board prices

3) Housewares

Some people take amazing care of their plates, utensils, glassware, etc.  When these people die, their kids donate these items, and I reap the benefits.  Again, some this stuff is of much higher quality than you will find in Target.  When I found the potato masher of my dreams for a dollar, I knew that I had brought balance to the force.

thrift store housewares

4) Tools

Like heirloom light-sabers, good tools are hard to find and easy to lose.  Most thrift stores do not carry tools, but, when they do, I am on it like a Wookie in a butcher shop.  These tools are often better quality than you will find at the Home Cheapo.

thrift store tools 120
Even this tiny assortment of tools is worthy of my attention.
thrift store clippers
I got this hedge trimmer for seven bucks. Don’t be afraid to plug things in before you buy them.

5) Sporting goods

People tend to give up sports over the years.  For example, I had to stop throwing my shot-put in the park after “the incident.”

Before going to Dick’s or Modell’s, look for that baseball glove, bike helmet, or Tae Kwon Do target at the thrift store.  This is especially true if you have kids who are trying out different sports through the years.

6) Media

Books and records are my main targets. It is nice take a book on vacation and not have to bring it back. I also love finding weird kitschy albums to add to my very strange collection.

thrift store records 120
Rendezvous Polka.  What else is there to say?

Related post: Collecting Vintage Vinyl for Cheap Beginners

7) Kids Toys

You know that your kids can make any toy look used in about five seconds.  You also know that they are going to lose interest in it faster than you can say, “That thing’s operational!”  Follow this thrift store tip so that you can tell them to pick out whatever they want and abuse it however they like.

8) Jewelry

This is my wife’s addition to the list.  After scouting the stores, you will find that some have great selections of jewelry, especially if your tastes are a bit playful or eccentric.  You probably will not find anything with a hidden monetary value, but who knows?

9) Gag gifts

Every year I have to find a ridiculous item to serve as the trophy for my fantasy football league.  The thrift store is great for this type of thing. One year I found a massive, novelty stein (probably holds 3-4 gallons) to present.  Another year I found a huge trophy where the figurine appeared to be having a gastrointestinal episode. (Don’t ask me what sport it was signifying.)

Related post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

10) Vintage curios

I like to fill my home office with esoteric scientific instruments and antiquated instructional aids.  These are things that you are not going to find at Home Goods.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Thrift store tip 4: Top five items to avoid

This is predominantly a list of things that might contain bed bugs or other unwanted guests.  Bed bugs are the number one reason why people avoid thrift stores.  Heat treatment is the key.  Anything that cannot be easily put into a hot wash and dry or otherwise heat-treated is not worth the risk.

Link: Thrift stores and bed bugs

Stores may give items a visual inspection, but they do not treat for pests.

  1. Upholstered furniture

  2. Pillows

  3. Comforters

  4. Mattresses

  5. Things with many parts

    You may find a cool camping tent or a fancy cappuccino maker, but beware.  Even if the item was donated in complete and working order, the parts may now be lost in an asteroid field.  The odds of finding the right replacement parts at a reasonable price are approximately 3,720 to 1.

Thrift store tip 5: Handling clothing

I had a chat today with the manager of one of my favorite thrift stores.  I told her that I was a bit worried about bedbugs even though I had never had a bad experience.  She said that when she gets home from work, her clothes go straight into the hot cycle, and she has never had a problem.

Keep your newly acquired thrift store clothes in a sealed bag until they can be heat-treated in a washer and dryer or taken to the dry cleaner.

Thrift store tip 6: Know the promotions.

thrift shop entry 120

This can be a hard thrift store tip to follow.  Many stores do not have updated websites or clear schedules.  Most stores rely on posted notices and handouts at the register, so pay attention.  If the store has a newsletter or email list, sign up.

Case study: I went to one store today because they sell records for 97 cents on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I didn’t realize that they also had a one-day, store-wide discount of %35.  I proclaimed, “Coatee-cha tu yub nub!” (“Celebrate the freedom!”)

Thrift store tip 7: Know where the money goes.

Many stores use your money to do good.  I love that Goodwill Stores make an effort to hire people with special needs and that shopping at Salvation Army stores helps people recovering from addiction.  Whether you are helping a charity, church, or cause, feel good about where your money is going.

Thrift store tip 8: Complete the cycle.

This last thrift store tip isn’t about shopping.  Complete the cycle by donating often.  After all, who wants to bother with craigslist, clothing swaps, or selling on consignment? Furthermore, if you are sending items that are worthy of resale to the landfill, shame on you.

Keep a donation box in some out-of-the-way location, and make sure that everyone in the household knows about it.  If you itemize deductions on you income taxes, don’t forget to ask for a receipt when you drop off your goodies.

Conclusions on Thrift Store Tips

Whether you need or want to spend less, thrift stores are a great option.  You can help the environment and a worthy cause. Join me in following these thrift store tips, and together we will rule the galaxy (of thrift stores.)

Note: National thrift shop day is August 17

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

reducing the costs of fun clowns

When did having fun become so expensive?

Many people equate the amount of fun they are having with the amount of money they are spending.  Reducing the costs of fun does not limit your fun, just your spending.

Maybe I am just a product of my childhood.  Nowadays parents drive kids from horse camp, to gymnastics, to sculpting, to a soccer tournament and back again.  Back in my day, free time was spent bouncing a ball off the roof or finding novel ways to melt action figures (and snuff was only a nickel!)

reducing the costs of fun
Bullying with flare or old-timey fun? You make the call.

Fun doesn’t have to be expensive.  I actually did have more fun melting action figures than I did at horse camp. I challenge you to reevaluate your fun habits and think about reducing the costs of fun.

Ways of reducing the costs of fun

1) Go out mindfully.

After a tough day at work, it is tempting to go out and be entertained.  After all, you’ve earned it.  The last thing that you need is to make dinner and a pile of dirty dishes.  Better still, maybe you can hire a sitter, take in some entertainment, and take your mind off your troubles.reducing the costs of fun eating out

Woah there, Spendy McSpenderson, think about the costs!   Before you know it you have dropped a couple of Benjies on a week night and didn’t even get what you wanted.  The next day you’re over-tired, your wallet hurts, you realize that your babysitter is a kleptomaniac, and all you can remember is that your steak tar-tar was under-cooked.

Reducing the costs of fun doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out; I am just saying that you shouldn’t go out on an impulse.  Have a plan so that you will get what you want how and when you want it.  Take advantage of any good deals that your planning might enable.  For example, I know to look for an awesome pricks fixey deal that my favorite fancy restaurant offers occasionally.

A note on foodies: “Being a foodie” is not a hobby.  (“Oh, you like to eat good food three times a day, how unique! I want to learn more about that.”)  Despite your instagram feed, you are not doing anything.  Going out to eat regularly is the absence of doing something.

reducing the costs of fun food picture
This pat of butter is going viral.

2) Reducing the costs of fun at events

It is common for people drop a couple hundred dollars on tickets to a sporting event or concert.  This is fine, so long as it is worth it to you, but when it comes to reducing the costs of fun, you have options.

Saving on big ticket events

If you are determined to see the Backstreet Boys reunion tour, think about how you can cut the costs.

Shop around.  Check the primary market and the secondary market. Searching services like or can help in reducing the costs of fun.

Go to the box office and skip the service charges if possible.

reducing the costs of fun concerts

Avoid the pricey parking.  Take public transportation, carpool, or park far away and leave time for walking too and from the venue.  Besides, the hectic parking lot exodus tends to give me rage blackouts.

Take pictures instead of buying souvenirs.  They will last longer than a T shirt or foam finger.

Bring your own food and drink.  I like outdoor orchestra performances – the program doesn’t matter so long as I can overeat and fall asleep in the grass.  I also like Phillies games because I can bring in my own food and drink.  Just make sure to read the rules carefully about what containers and items are welcome.reducing the costs of fun outdoors

Cheaper events

It is fun to be part of a crowd witnessing a spectacle, but are there any events that you would enjoy that are cheap or even free?

Parades: My wife and I love going to parades together.  We have camped overnight before major parades, gone to weird esoteric parades, and participated in pet parades.  Parades are as fun as demonstration marches without all the bothersome caring and more pizzazz!reducing the costs of fun parade

Museums: When you are an old fart like me, museums are fun.  Whatever your into, there is probably a museum for it.  Most museums use neat events and performances to get people visiting, so join the email list for museums to keep track of neat events and promotions.

bigfoot museum

Minor league sports: My favorites are minor league baseball and hockey.  You can see some great games for next to nothing.  These smaller events usually involve less hassle.  If you take your kids to a minor league game instead, you might be able to get them the glasses and braces they have been nagging you about.

minor league hockey
Intermission fun at the Philadelphia Rebels

Community events: Most of your neighbors don’t want to talk to you, but the ones who will can be found at free summer concerts, screenings, ice skating, chili cook-offs, etc.

Professional baseball: I can see four Phillies games for the price of one Eagles game.  I love the Eagles, but I would still choose the four baseball games.

Opera: I had to put this in because I am an opera fan.  The last performance I went to was the Philadelphia Opera Company’s production of Carmen, and I got tickets for $15 each.  We went early to catch the brief lecture on Carmen‘s history.  It was definitely more memorable than seeing a movie.

3) Make something.

Making stuff is, in my opinion, one of life’s great pleasures.  Exploring your creative side is a great way of reducing the costs of fun.

I like to do little woodworking projects, but you might like photography, sketching, graphic design, sculpture, knitting, composing music, baking or whatever.

Related post: “Best Homemade Gifts for Adults

Related post: “Get Started Turning Pallets into Stuff

Related post: “Cheap and Easy Homebrew

4) Be a joiner in reducing the costs of fun.

reducing the costs of fun making stuff

I am not saying that you should become a colonial-era furniture builder. (You should become a joiner, it is just off-topic right now.)  I’m saying that you should get involved.  Find like-minded people and join in.  Think about volunteer groups, political organizations, recreation leagues, foundations, clubs, lodges, etc.

If you join a softball league, knitting circle, or Friends of the 18th Avenue Drain Inlet, you will probably have to pay some dues or help out it different ways, but think about all of the fun you can get out of it.

5) Re-think vacation.

People think about expensive vacations like they are buying memories – as if failure to take the entire extended family on a cruise will result in a one-week memory blackout for everyone in question.

reducing the costs of fun cruise

Memories are not made by corporations, they are made by people and a costly vacation is not always better.  You are not responsible for taking everyone somewhere pricey every year.  In fact, if financial stability is questionable, you are being irresponsible in not reducing the costs of fun.

Take the family on a camping trip to a National Park instead, and spring for a zip-line or high-ropes course on the way there.  Whether you are in an all-inclusive Caribbean resort or in a national forest wilderness area, the memories you make are up to you.

Reducing the costs of fun might mean having a stay-cation.  Stay-cations need not be lame, explore things in your region that you have never experienced.  Schedule something fun for every day of your stay-cation, so that you won’t feel like you are missing out.reducing the costs of fun hiking

Related Post: Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia

6) Spa yourself.

My wife loves spas.  She leaves a spa bruised, scalded, and with an idiotic grin on her face.  I don’t really get it, but I do get her ingenuity in bringing the spa experience home.  When she can’t go to a real spa, she and her sister set up a spa at home with big tubs, gallons of ointments, mimosas, foot massagers, etc.  They gripe about how cheap and useless I am and have a grand old time.

7) Reducing the costs of fun: exercise

Exercise can be fun in itself and increases your ability to do fun things generally.

If you feel like going to your expensive health-club is a drag, stop going, and cancel your membership.  Bicycle, take hikes, join a basketball league, start a rowing club, or join those Tai Chi weirdos that meet in the rec. room of your building.

8) The world is your playground.

The world is still free (for a limited time only). Enjoy it. Take a nature hike or walk around a historic district.  Play bocce ball in the park or take up disc golf.  Go stargazing or visit natural wonders.  Teach your dog to fetch or let her teach you.  Learning to enjoy the world is essential in reducing the costs of fun.

me hiking in yosemite
Me hiking in Yosemite

9) Perform a Hobby transplant.

If you absolutely love an expensive hobby, don’t give it up unless you have to.  On the other hand, performing a hobby transplant might mean reducing the costs of fun while keeping the fun itself:

Related link: “25 Most Expensive Hobbies to Have

Skiing or snowboarding becomes snowshoeing: I love snowshoeing and I can do it any time there is snow on the ground for free.  Snow shoes are really cheap and many recreation areas recommend free trails for snowshoeing.

reducing the costs of fun snow shoes

Golf becomes hiking/photography or disc golf:  If just walking around in natural beauty seems a bit listless, challenge yourself to take some great photos or to toss a piece of plastic into a net thingy.

Racquetball becomes free tennis or pickle ball:  I have never seen a free racquetball court, but my area is lousy with free tennis courts.  Maybe do racquetball only when the weather is poor.

Sailing your own boat becomes sailing a rented boat:  Why not have all of the fun of sailing without all the costs of owning a boat?  You can try different boats, skip the maintenance, and save a fortune on storage and transport.

reducing the costs of fun sailboat

Scuba diving becomes snorkeling

Ski diving becomes not ski diving: Just don’t do it, psycho.

Polo becomes lawnmower lacrosse: Admit it, lacrosse on a riding lawn mower makes as much sense as playing field hockey on a horse.

10) Turn your home into a…

Your home should be a place for fun.  Game nights and dinner parties are great, but don’t be afraid to think bigger.

Think about that guy you know who turned his garage into a sports bar.  Sure he spent a lot initially, but how much is he saving? (Nothing! Because his dirt-bag friends drink all the craft beer and leave him with Schlitz!) Ok, bad example.

Think about where you like to go and spend money.  Why not occasionally turn your home into a casino, restaurant, movie theater, concert venue, night club, ping-pong league, underground stick-fighting arena, karaoke bar, etc.  If your guests reciprocate, you will all be saving big.reducing the costs of fun dancing

Reducing the costs of fun conclusion

In reducing the costs of fun, you are not limiting your experience.  By reducing the costs of fun you are improving your financial health, or maybe spending the same amount on fun and just having more of it.  Cutting back in one category might mean that you can spend more on the activities that really excite you.

Any great tips for reducing the costs of fun?

cheapest car ownership strategy featured

Disclosure: This post is not for people who love cars.  If driving, admiring, or massaging your ride is one of life’s great pleasures, bounce now.  Nor is this post for people who are concerned with using their car to project an image of success.  This post is for people who feel that car ownership is a necessary evil, like flossing or making eye contact.

AAA reports that in 2017 the average annual cost of owning and operating a new vehicle was $8,469.  The average for sedan owners was the lowest, coming in at $6,354.  Owning a car does to your budget what working in a pizzeria does to your waste line. (I speak from experience).

Are you stuck in a hellish maelstrom of car costs?  Lenders are glad to hear it.  You start a new job, you get a new car (small down payment!), you spend five years paying it off, then you want to trade it in before it loses any more value, becomes unreliable, or damages your fragile image.  The auto industry, insurers, and state budget office are excited you will be starting the new car buying process again.

Newer post: Cheapest Car Ownership Strategy

Buying a new car:  Example X using

  • Car price:  $34,000 (paying $1000 down and $300 in fees)
  • Sales tax: $2,380 (PA 7%)
  • Total loan interest: 3,464.71 (5 years at 4%)
  • After five years you have paid: 40,144.71 (not including insurance, registration, maintenance, etc.) and the trade in value is now $15,640 (if the dealer is willing to give full value to get you into a new deal).
  • Five-year loss= $24,504.71

car loan interest

How can you get off the merry-go-round of interest, taxes, fees, and depreciation?  What if you could cut your car costs in half?  What could you do with an extra $4000 dollars a year?  Rethink your car ownership habits and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

Big ways to save on car ownership:

Buy a used car: example Y using

According to Consumer Reports, the average vehicle loses 64% of it’s resale value after five years. Do you think that a 2013 civic is 64% less useful than a 2018 civic? Let’s say you are on the other side of the equation in example X (shown above).  You buy a car that is five years old at a cost of $15,640 plus taxes and fees.  You give the same down payment and have similar loan terms (higher interest on used vehicles). Do you think that you can drive this vehicle for five years? (Of course you can; don’t be a weenie.)

used car calculator

  • The value of this car at 10 years old is about $6,940
  • Five-year loss= 11,830.83 (as compared to loss of $24,504.71 in example X)

True, the maintenance costs are likely to be higher, but will they be more than twelve grand higher? No. In addition, you will be spending less to ensure a car with a lower worth.  If you put the amount you are saving on your car payment every month into a car savings account, you will really be starting to break the cycle.

Follow these steps and break the car buying cycle.

  1. Buy your next car used (as in example Y).
  2. Put aside the hundreds that you are saving every month into an automatic savings account – a “car savings account.” (I use a Capital One 360 Savings account).  The interest rate is negligible, but you will be amazed how it adds up.  This money is for unexpected repairs and, ultimately, buying your next car in cash.  If you save $250 a month for five years you will have $15,000 (not including interest).
  3. Buy your next car in cash.  Let’s say you spend an additional $6,000 (from your car savings account) maintaining your used car from example Y. (Hopefully, you will spend less).  Take the $9,000 remaining in your car savings account and add it to the 6-7 grand the car is still worth.  Now you can buy a five-year old car in cash.
  4. Live the dream.  You are now saving all of the interest on a loan and you can move up to slightly better used car every five years.  Your payment (car savings account) will always be low.  Instead of paying interest, you are earning interest.

Own fewer cars.

one car family
Like a boss.

Is there any way you can be a one care household?  I am fortunate to live in a city with an excellent public transit system.  My wife takes the train every day and her SEPTA pass costs about $150 a month.  Her employer has even opted-in to a program where she can pay before taxes.  Switching from two cars to one will cut your costs (almost) in half.

  • Worst case: two new cars
  • 2nd worst case: one new car and one beater
  • 2nd best case: two beaters
  • Best case: one beater (You, my friend, are living the dream.)
  • Ultra: Being car-free

Buy a reliable car.

Consumer Reports is a must-use tool when it comes to buying a used car.  A lemon could turn your car savings account into a Chinese take-out savings account.  You can join CR for one month for $6.95 and access several used car tools and guides based on extensive data from repair shops and owners.  Once you have bought the car, cancel your subscription.  Seven bucks could save you thousands and give you piece of mind.

Buy a car with a low cost of ownership.

My doctor is telling me that if it tastes good, I should spit it out.  Well, if you think a car is sexy, spit on it.  Fully-loaded pickup? Sexy.  Monstrous SUV? Spit on it.  Classic muscle car? Hello, lovely. V-12 sports car? That’s hot. Elon Musk’s new vehicle that runs on rotten banana peels and emits only positive vibes? Damn sexy.  Consumer reportsEdmunds, and AAA can all help you identify the car that fits your monthly budget and keeps your sex appeal at a manageable level.  (Please, think of your neighbors.)

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

Minimize car insurance

Be proud of your piece of crap car.  Smile every time that you look at, and think about the money you are saving.  Shake your head bemusedly at the vanity of your neighbors.  My car is compensating (for the fact that I am superior to all other mortals).  Feel good about yourself when your crap car helps others feel good about themselves.  After all, what would Jesus drive? Think about it. (My car is so humble it makes a donkey look like a Lotus Esprit!)

You still win because driving a crap car lowers your insurance.  Furthermore, if your car is worth six grand, and you have fifteen grand in your car savings account, how much insurance do you really need?  You might decide to pay for liability insurance only and pass the savings into that car savings account.

Cars and longevity

Car commercials want you to reach your full potential and have a car that is worthy of your majesty.  (I have news for them; my full potential is represented by an ’89 Ford Escort hatchback.) Car dealers will tell you that your current car is a death-trap, and it is a miracle that anyone in your family can still hold a sloppy Joe.  Are old cars really shameful or even unsafe?  Do I really need a car that will start talking to me when the lid to my coffee drifts into the wrong cup holder?

Cars are lasting longer than ever before.  You can get even the most temperamental models to reach 200,000 miles.  Since the late 80’s, modern alloys have made engines almost supernatural.  Stop looking at your older car like a ticking time-bomb, that’s what THEY  (the gov’ment and the bourgeois pigs) want you to think.

Small ways to save on car ownership

Car Maintenance

Everyone knows that you should “protect your investment,” but as I learned from Rich Dad Poor Dad, a car is not an investment but a liability.  Poor people think that their car is an investment whereas rich people know that it is an unfortunate liability.  What you really want to do is minimize your liability.  Keep up with you car’s maintenance schedule, check the tire pressure (which also improves fuel economy), change the filters, etc.

Think about the 30,000-mile mark.  For many makes and models, the 30,000-mile mark is when you get some important components serviced.  I confess that I really only think about the oil changes and the 30,000-mile marks.  If you are faithful about the multiples of 30,000 miles (which is easy to remember), you will be doing better than most used car owners.

You can save money by doing some things yourself.  I do not want to mess around with borrowing specialty tools or wasting a Saturday, but there are some things for which I will not pay:

  • Changing air filters
  • Putting in a new battery
  • Rotating tires
  • Replacing wiper blades

Note: If you are getting a warning light, most Pep Boys, AutoZones, etc. will plug in their diagnostic deally and tell you what’s up for free.

Car spa

Love your piece-of-crap car.  When you start to feel down on “Ol’ Bessie,” give her some love.  Maybe car spa can coincide with your 30,000-mile maintenance.  Quality time together may get you through the “my-car-gives-me-feelings-of-inadequacy blues.”  Some polishing and fancy accessories may be just what the doctor ordered.

family car

Best products for car spa

  1. Armor-all:  Old plastic looks like, well, old plastic.  Think of all the UV rays it has absorbed!  Armor-all is cheap and will make the interior gleam (for a while).
  2. Turtle wax: Once your car’s exterior is clean, put on some paste wax.  When the wax has dried, polish it with a clean terrycloth towel.  You will be amazed at the difference.
  3. Upholstery cleaner: I always keep this on hand, since I have dogs.  You can’t unzip the covers and clean them, so this is the best you can do.  It actually works pretty well.
  4. Accessories: Roof racks, dog grills, flood lights, inverters, floor mats, leopard print seat covers – it’s all fair game.  They are a tiny expense compared to a new vehicle.

Arguing with insurance people

Unfortunately, I have a yearly appointment at State Farm when I go in to the office and make a scene.  I think I may get a Tony Award for this year’s performance (#mantradesdignityforlowerrate).  If you can visit an office for twenty minutes and save $200, isn’t it worth it?  Every time I go in and make everyone feel ashamed of belonging to the human race, I save a nice chunk of cabbage.


Do not own a truck unless you need to.  A truck with a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine will get significantly lower gas mileage than a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder car.  They are heavier and geared differently.  Furthermore, most states charge truck owners more for the privilege of registration.


That’s it.  Cars suck (money from your life).  Since I can’t get by without one, I want to spend as little as possible.  I could argue that I want to help the environment, but who would believe me?  Get from point A to point B without spending too many C-notes.

There are also un-quantifiable benefits to owning a piece-of-s#&t car.  I am reminded of when I used to blaze my abused ’91 Geo Metro (3-cylinder) down the Los Angeles freeway.  I would giggle with glee as the Benzo’s and Lexuses (Lexi?) cleared a path; they knew I had nothing to lose.  When I park my piece-of-crap car at the end of the subway line to go see a Phillies game, I do everything but leave the keys in the ignition. (The opossum living in the spare tire well is your problem now, sucker! PS. She answers to Irving.)  I think it was Kris Kristofferson who wrote, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Lastly, I used to (accidentally) live in a well-to-do neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I was struck (literally and figuratively) by the rich people who drove crap cars and careened recklessly though the canyons with their bathrobe belts flapping in the breeze.  They didn’t pin their worth to their mode of transportation and neither should you.

Am I way off base?

Did I miss something in my calculations?

Do you have any tips for spending less on transportation?

Please leave a comment.

willpower and spending featured

Willpower and spending

One of my Cheapist thrills is my public library.  I rarely set foot inside, but I download e-books and audio books regularly.  I have been listening to The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal.  She illuminates why our best intentions so often fall prey to our illogical impulses, including when it comes to willpower and spending.  The writing is accessible and applicable and the case studies are fascinating.

I was hoping for an advantage in controlling my diet, but McGonigal addresses a wide range of willpower challenges including spending habitsThe biggest take-away for me is that willpower, as a character trait, doesn’t exist.  There are behaviors and situations that help and behaviors and situations that sabotage.  When someone’s habits and life conditions enable them to make good choices, our perception is that they have “willpower.”

The people with “strong willpower” are just people whose behaviors and situation enable the logical, long-term thinking part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) to control decisions.  People who demonstrate behaviors that run contrary to their rational, long-term goals (based on the primitive mind and the brain’s response to temporary stimuli), have “poor willpower.” She encourages the reader to “become a willpower scientist” and to make themselves the subject of everyday willpower experiments.

Main ideas about willpower from Dr. McGonigal

Understand that different parts of the mind give different messages.  Imagine the motif of the angel and the demon sitting on your shoulders. You can change your behaviors and situation to give your willpower mind the advantage.  Following some key behaviors will enable you to have what we perceive as willpower.

brain illustration

Realize that almost everyone is totally oblivious about how they make decisions.  We think that we are free to make our rational choices, but researchers (and advertisers) have demonstrated repeatedly that this is not the case.  If a scientist can predict your decision with incredible accuracy by manipulating stimuli and conditions, how much choice did you really have? We interpret our decisions as a choice when it is often our hormones or primitive impulses calling the shots.

Think of willpower as a battery that can be charged or drained.  If your will-power mind becomes over-taxed or stressed, the impulsive mind takes control.  We celebrate people who seem to have an iron will, but, for most of us, this drive for “mind over matter” often backfires.

willpower battery

Dopamine is a fiend. It is an anticipation hormone, not a happiness hormone.  Pay attention to how willpower challenges induce anticipation.  Remove or avoid unwanted dopamine manipulations when possible.  We mistake the excitement of wanting for happiness.  For example, we are driven to eat some cake, but while we should be enjoying the cake, our mind is already preoccupied with getting another piece.  The cake does not deliver the happiness that the dopamine promises.  Pay close attention to what you are actually feeling.  Are you really getting satisfaction or just the constant promise of satisfaction?

Even though conventional wisdom tells you to “put it out of your mind,” don’t try to block thoughts, it doesn’t work. “Surf the urge” by stopping to think about what you are feeling, what you want, why, and what it will feel like if you act on the impulse.  Usually this kind of introspection will help you make the logical choice.

Beating yourself up for a setback causes increased setbacks.  Don’t say, “Well, I’m going to punish myself at the gym for this setback.” Nor should you say “Well, I’m a loser, I might as well eat the whole thing.”  You are a human being and you have challenges and setbacks like every other human being.  One setback (or even many) does not change your worth or what you want for yourself.

man who lost willpower

Use meditation (the willpower of denying distractions) to strengthen your prefrontal cortex.  I don’t believe in any kind of higher plane or transcendence, but meditation (especially if you think that you are terrible at it) actually changes your brains behavior.  Meditation can put your mind in the right frame of mind to make logical, long-term decisions.

meditating increases willpower

Use breathing (very slow and mindful) to manipulate brain activity.  The closest physiological signal that your mind is primed to demonstrate “willpower” is the what Sciency-ologists call heart-rate variability.  Very slow breathing actually puts your mind in the willpower zone.  I don’t really understand it, I’m not a seismologist, but McGonigal explains it well.

Stress, poor health, and tiredness drop heart-rate variability (the best physiological metric of willpower).  Exercise, sleep, and take care of yourself.  Deciding that your iron will can overcome poor conditions is a losing strategy. If you just drive yourself without taking care of yourself, you are sabotaging your mind.

Avoid unnecessary stress. You might think that you are avoiding stress (Isn’t everyone?), but do you like scary movies or CSI shows? How about those sensationalized investigative shows or even the news?  You may be enjoying the show, but it is putting your mind in a state to act on impulse.

scary news image

Find ways to increase your “I want” power.  Create reminders of your real goals.  What will it be like when you have started to follow the behaviors that you want to follow?  Can you envision the positive changes? How can you create a visual or consistent reminder of your thoughtful mind’s desires? This does not apply if your long-term goals include eating cake daily, declaring bankruptcy, and ruining your relationships.

Pre-committing works.  Telling others about your goal helps.  Establishing a irrevocable commitment helps.  For example, if you are going to run your first 5K, pay for it in advance, find someone to run with you, and tell others that you are going to do it.  You may feel like you are risking embarrassment, but you are much more likely to go through with your plans.


Social pressure works.  Despite what we may say or believe, we are profoundly influenced by the behaviors of people around us. Behaviors are contagious; realize that the people you spend time with influence your behavior. On the plus side, this works for good behaviors as well.

Don’t lie to yourself about what you deserve.  As Clint Eastwood said before shooting the town’s sheriff, “Deserve has nothing to do with it.” People say, “I haven’t gone to the mall all week, I deserve a new pair of spats.” (Yes, I hear people say that all the time.) Sabotaging your long-term goals because you have been working toward them makes no sense.  (But I have been so good this week!)

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

Don’t lie about your future self.  Your primitive brain is programmed to reward your current self at the expense of your future self.  This made more sense when humans were scavenging in the savanna and living day to day.  Your future self will not be happy to pay for today’s bad choices.  You might think, “I’ll eat out less when work isn’t so crazy; my future self will be happy to cook and do the dishes.” Your future self will not be happy cook and do the dishes, and work will always be crazy. Your future self will not be happy with the credit card bill from your past self. Your future self will not have more patience, time, money, etc.  Do your future self a favor and stopping using them as an excuse.

sink of dirty dishes

Willpower and spending habits

McGonigal relates many of her willpower examples to spending.  She addresses spendthrifts in some examples, but she also analyzes what is going on in the psychology of a bargain hunter.


I love stores like Harbor Freight, Ollie’s, Dollar Tree, Ocean State Job Lots, etc., because I feel that I am beating the system and thumbing my nose (literally) at all of the suckers spending more.  I must remind myself that when I am bargain hunting, I am psychologically identical to someone in a designer boutique.  My dopamine is firing.  I am being manipulated by “halo” words like “mark-down” and “close-outs.” A bin of factory seconds has the same effect on me as a glamorous Gucci installation on someone else. Am I thinking about the money I am “saving” and not about how much space I have left in the garage?  Is keeping the money (and my long term goals) worth more to me than the items in question?  Am I tired or stressed? Are the other crazed bargain hunters influencing my behavior? Will I be as excited about the deal when I get home?

Conclusions on increasing your willpower

Be mindful of your mind.  What is going on beneath your present decisions? Is your rational, long-term mind really making the choices? Is the deal, item, bad habit, or treat really that great or is has your impulse mind taken the wheel?

I have done a poor job relating how fascinating this book is, but if you want to be more mindful of your choices and behaviors, The Willpower Instinct offers amazing insight and is easy to read (even if you are not a Scientologist).

getting the most from your public library featured

Stop wasting money and get the most from your public library.

I am not sure what causes many of us to ignore our public libraries. Perhaps it is because marketers have done a wonderful job convincing us to pay for books, media, and downloads.  Public libraries offer the same opportunities for free but without the marketing.

I mainly get audio books for dog walking and driving and Ebooks for evenings, but there are many ways to get the most from your public library.

14 ways to get the most from your public library:

  1. Ebooks
  2. Audio books
  3. Virtual research libraries
  4. Hanging out
  5. Programs for adults
  6. Programs for kids
  7. Social services
  8. Meeting space
  9. Periodicals
  10. Events and exhibitions
  11. Downloadable movies, music, and comic books
  12. Free WiFi
  13. Borrowing movies and music
  14. Old-fashioned book borrowing

1) Ebooks

get the most from your public library ebook

Ebooks are a wonderful way to get the most from your public library.  This is especially true if you can be a bit flexible in your selections.  Do not be surprised if you cannot access every book by your favorite author.  You can sort by what is currently available or add yourself to a wait list (you simply get an email when your loan is ready).

Do not risk wasting money on something you won’t like or even finish.  Even if you are buying cheaper Ebooks, there is always a risk that you might not like it, and you cannot get a refund.

Life is too short to read books that you are not enjoying.  There are too many great books out there to waste any time.  When I am reading a book and decide to give up on it, I chuck it across the room (scaring my wife and the dogs.)  I had to stop doing this when I switched to Ebooks, so I keep a sacrificial physcial book that I hate to throw across the room (A Walk in the Woods) when needs must.

Now that I download books for free, I can chuck A Walk in the Woods across the room at will and have no qualms about it.  Three minutes later,  I am reading something that I enjoy.

I recommend having a dedicated e reader.  Reading on even a largish phone is simply not the same.  Additionally, there are two many distractions on your phone.  When I sit down with my e reader it puts me in the right frame of mind.

2) Audio books

get the most from your public library audio books

Most of us wish we had more time for reading, so audio books are great help.

I have always loved audio books, even in the olden days when we had to keep big stack of scratched CDs on the passenger seat.   Get the most out of your public library by downloading audio books to enjoy while driving, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or pretending to watch your kid’s soccer game.

3) Virtual research libraries

Whether you are working on your master’s thesis or supporting your conspiracy theory on how big oil got Friends cancelled, virtual research libraries can help.  You do not need to be at university to conduct scholarly research.  You might be surprised to learn that even small libraries provide access to excellent virtual research libraries.

4) Hanging out (get the most from your public library space)

hanging out at the library

Sometimes you just want a calm, comfortable place to hang out and read a magazine. Maybe your home is not an ideal environment for quiet introspection.  Think about your local library as a cozy coffee shop where you are not expected to buy anything.

Related post: Trimming Your “Starbucks Factor”

With the growth of online access, library branches have adapted their mission.  Libraries are less about borrowing and leaving.  Many libraries offer meeting areas, study zones, comfy couches, and little parks. It is a nice way to meet people in your neighborhood that you might not run into in another setting.

5) Programs for adults

Get the most out of your public library by thinking about your library as a senior center for people of all ages.  Whether you are trying to explore your creative side, meet interesting people, or engage in a favorite activity your public library might have a perfect program for you.

Related link: Free Library of Philadelphia programs

6) Programs for kids

get the most from your public library kid reading

Programming your kid’s time can get expensive in a hurry, before you sign them up for interpretive Tae Kwon Do, get the most from your public library.  I just checked on my branch’s page and they offer everything from homework help, to science labs, to culinary arts.  Kids programs have gone way beyond story hour.

7) Social services

More and more libraries are serving their communities with social programs.  They are helping people access healthcare, find jobs, learn languages, transition from incarceration, gain citizenship, and on and on.

Get the most out of your public library by learning about how programs like these can help you improve your life.

8) Meeting space

Many branches provide meeting space.  You simply sign up for a time and the space is yours.  Now your Living with Kleptomania support group can stop meeting at your house.

9) Periodicals

I love killing time at the library reading magazines to which I would never subscribe.  Let’s face it, the bass fishing news cycle does not require monthly updates.

10) Events and exhibitions

Get the most out of your public library by joining the email list and keeping tabs on upcoming events.  Meet filmmakers, experts, policy makers, artists, and authors.  See performances and exhibits.  The kinds of things you miss after leaving college can often be found at your public library.

11) Downloadable movies, music, and comic books

You might be surprised by the downloadable media access your library provides.  My library subscribes to Hoopla which offers music, movies, shows, and even comic books for download.

12) Free WiFi

If you watch your data usage like a hawk, take advantage of the free WiFi at your local library.  I have been known to sit on a bench near the library while I take a lunch break and watch cat videos or horror movies (depending on what kind of day I am having).

13) Borrowing movies and music

Many branches still offer media loans allowing you to cut down on the number of kid movies you have to buy or expand your musical tastes.

14) Good, old-fashioned book borrowing

When you invest money in a book, you might resolve to force yourself to finish the whole book before starting anything else.  Then you will procrastinate and watch re-runs of Bonanza instead.  Before you know it, you are illiterate, you can’t watch any movies with subtitles, you lose your job, and your spouse leaves you. (I’ve seen it a hundred times.) All of this because you didn’t want to take the time to get a library card?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Get the most from your public library by broadening your horizons.

Since you are paying nothing, you are more likely to try new things. You might investigate an activity even if you are not sure you will enjoy it. You might try books that you normally wouldn’t.

I confess that I have been listening to self-help books more than I used to (don’t judge me).  They don’t require the same level of concentration when walking the dogs as, say, War and Peace.

Video link: George Carlin on self-help books (Viewer discretion is advised.)

If you are not using your public library, you might fail to discover something that you really enjoy.

“Get the Most from Your Public Library” conclusion

Do you pay any taxes? I thought that you might.  Why would you not take advantage of a resource that you paid for?  Libraries have so much more to offer than physical lending. Give it a try, you might like it.

There are seven billion people on this world and many of them are creating fascinating content.  Much of this content is available through your public library; you don’t need to spend much on media if you do not want to.

Related post: Spending less on TV: How to survive cutting the cord

spending less on TV main

Should You Cut the Cord to spend less on TV?

It depends on what you value.  I think most people would like to spend less on TV, but many never take the time to calculate what they spend on subscription TV, streaming services, and premium add-ons.  Add up what you are spending and think about what TV is worth to you.

What does “cord cutting” mean to you?

Data show that more and more people are cutting the cord and ditching their subscription TV service to spend less on TV, but are they really “cord cutters?”  That depends on your definition. Does it include those dropping local cable service and picking up a subscription live TV streaming service? How about people dropping cable and picking up several a la carte services for non-live TV (Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, CBS All Access, etc.)?

Perhaps you are a hardliner and require the ritual murder of everything with a screen at moon-rise of the winter solstice. (Yes, I’m including you, calculator).

Spending less on TV destroyed TV
Photo by Robin Jacob

Unless you are seeking some kind of moral or intellectual authority, the requirements for calling yourself a “cord cutter” are immaterial.  What matters is finding the right solution for you.

Do you want everything but are mainly trying to spend less on TV?  How high is your tolerance for commercials?  Are your viewing interests very specific?  Are you trying to do something more enriching with your free time?

Now, more than ever, you can customize to fit your needs.

Different forms of cord cutting to spend less on TV

1) Switching to full-service streaming.

If you still want your complete, live cable TV, but would like to spend less on TV, there are several streaming options for you.  Consumer reports has a great article comparing the services and so does

  • Make sure your device will support the service.  Do you have a compatible smart TV or will you need an accessory for streaming like a Roku Stick?
  • How fast is your internet? You may find that the drop in audio-visual quality is a deal-breaker.
  • Check the channel package carefully.  Do your research to make sure that the package in question includes your favorite shows, teams, etc.  If you are a sports fan, make sure that the games you want won’t be blocked due to broadcast restrictions.
  • Consider the DVR features.  Cloud DVR (shows are saved remotely on the provider’s server) can add costs and get a bit complicated.  For example, Sling TV’s cloud DVR does not work on all channels.

steaming cable to spend less on TV

Whatever the advertisements may say, full service streaming replacements like Hulu with live TV and PlayStation Vue are not cheap, so you might decide it is better to keep your internet and TV subscriptions bundled and not spend less on TV.

2) Old-school terrestrial broadcast

Depending on where you live, a cheap HD antennae may meet your needs and help you spend less on TV.  (They can be as cheap less than $20.) This is especially true if you only care about the evening news, network shows, big events, or if you just turn TV on for occasional background noise.

Your smartphone can help you get the most out of traditional broadcast TV: the DTV Antennae app will help you position your antennae, and the Guide app replaces your cable channel menu.

What you might need:

HDTV Antenna

Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in a more substantial antenna (indoor or outdoor).  They range from $50 to $200 dollars.  Many claim to have a range up to 120 miles.  A smartphone app can help you determine where the broadcast towers are in your area (it is pretty neat and very simple).

save money on TV antenna app


Make sure that your TV is equipped with an HD tuner, or the signal will do you no good.  If your TV does not include an integrated HD tuner, you will have to purchase a separate HD tuner (they range in price from $50 to $100)

DVR (made specifically for traditional broadcast)

If what you want to watch is available through terrestrial broadcast, consider buying a DVR.  You can skip all of the commercials and watch the news whenever you want.  If you set the DVR to record the evening news and your favorite network show, you could be all set.

The DVRs made for recording terrestrial broadcast range from less than $50 to $100 and have various features.  The simplest ones let you set the channel and time but do not have a guide.

spend less on TV family time

3) A la carte digital services to spend less on TV:

Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime offer wide variety of shows. If you have more specific interests (old movies, British shows, baseball, etc. ) there is probably a service for you.  BuzzFeed has an article listing the more esoteric streaming services and their costs. This option minimizes commercials, but the cost of multiple services can add up quickly.

bollywood movies
Bollywood movies through Spuul

4) Hard core cord-cutting:

Perhaps you want to make screen time a thing of your past.  How much would your life change? What would you do with the savings? There is only one way to find out.

My “cord cutting” approach to spend less on TV

I love TV.  I love cable TV.  I have a top-of-the line Smart TV.  I love weird shows about sasquatch, alternative lifestyles, pressure cookers, and people falling off foam towers.  However, I don’t like wasting money (especially on perpetually renting a DVR from my local provider) or watching commercials.  I decided to “cut the cord” about a year ago, but I knew I would need to take a moderate approach.

We have had a Verizon Fios bundle for a while now (TV, internet, and home phone).  We kept our high-speed internet but dropped the home phone and TV service.  I picked up a $10 antennae and kept the Netflix and the Amazon Prime.  For me, these two streaming services are an excellent value and provide more than enough choices. We did not add any additional a la carte subscriptions, so we are spending less on TV (about $80 a month.)

I am still considering setting up a DVR to record antenna TV.

netflix to spend less on TV

Reflections on cutting the cord

The best part for me has been spending less on TV.  It has also meant that I watch a little less TV and far fewer commercials.  There are so many interesting things to watch on Netflix, Prime, and YouTube, that I don’t miss the cable shows.  I read more books, listen to more podcasts, and spend more time futzing around in the garage.

Related post: “If you are not using your public library, your life is a sham.”

The worst part of the experience relates to sports.  Subscriptions can overcome this problem, but I have been unable to watch the Phillies or Flyers regularly as they are usually broadcast on NBC Sports (formerly Comcast Sportsnet).  You need a subscriber password to stream NBC Sports, and listening on the radio is a poor substitute.  I could get a friend to give me their password, but I don’t really feel good about that.

I would still like to overcome the sports issue, but I am not planning to add a TV subscription any time soon.  Regarding commercials, I am now completely spoiled.  When I do watch terrestrial broadcast, I find the commercials insufferable.  Overall, I have been very pleased with spending less on TV.

Do you have some opinions or tips about cutting the cord?  Please leave a comment.

stadium vendor

This post argues that before starting a side hustle, you should economize.

Side hustles are great when they are started for the right reasons.  A side hustle can be a liberating and empowering venture, or an additional source of stress and misery in your life.

“Before Starting a Side Hustle” summary

  • The growth of Side hustles
  • Positive side-hustles and negative side hustles
  • Growing your cheapness side hustle

Before starting your side hustle, think about why side hustles have gained such popularity.

Moonlighting is nothing new.  People have always used side jobs to make ends meet or pursue an interest.  However, there are certain factors in today’s job market that have led to a widespread side hustle phenomenon.

The gig economy

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake (to your employer). There is no doubt that what it means to be “in the work force” has changed.  The 1% have commodotized workers like never before.  Workers know that finding a stable company that is willing to invest in them and protect that investment over time is unlikely.

Many workers now find themselves in the nebulous gig economy where even advanced skills are only valued on a short-term basis.

Job insecurity

People who feel like a disposable commodity feel great insecurity.  They could be “re-structured” right out of job.  Your position, company, or even industry could disappear with the stroke of a pen.

With this insecurity comes the growth of the side hustle.  Under such conditions, it is only natural that people want to reduce their risk by diversifying their income.

Stagnant Wages

before starting a side hustle wages

This chart shows demonstrates how the middle-class share of the national income has declined over the decades.  The middle class is shrinking, and wages have barely kept pace with inflation despite increased productivity.

Creative expression

Many people want to start a side hustle to express their creativity and ingenuity.  For many of us, our jobs are just what we have to do pay for the rewarding and exciting experiences of life. If your job is not as fulfilling as you would like, perhaps a side-hustle will give you the outlet that you desire.

Before starting a side-hustle, think about your reasons

before starting a side hustle photographer

Why are you thinking about starting a side-hustle? Are your motivations coming from within or without?  Do you just need to make ends meet, or is there a more meaningful drive?

Intrinsic motivations (the right reasons)

If you are looking for a way to reach personal financial goals, express your creativity, transition to a new career, or conquer new challenges, you are starting a side hustle for the right reasons.

These reasons are coming from you, not from stacks of bills or social pressures.

Extrinsic motivations

If your motivations are coming from without, your desire to start a side-hustle is based on fear, disappointment, need, anxiety, or loss.  You are not starting a side-hustle because you want to.

A person driving for Uber might be doing so for the right reasons or the wrong reasons.  The right reasons might be getting out and meeting people, saving for a special reason, or simply to enjoy driving.  On the other hand, a person might be driving for Uber after a long day a work when they would rather be spending time with their family.

Case study: Former Eagles football player Jon Runyan drives for Uber.  After fourteen years in the NFL and two terms in congress, he does not need the money.  He explains that he gets bored sometimes and likes helping people out.  He gets a kick out of it when football fans recognize him.  

Spending what you earn

Before starting a side hustle for the wrong reasons, think about why you need to make ends meet.

As a society we share a compulsion to spend everything that we earn.  Afterall, you earned it. I recently heard a statistic that 83% of American retirees would not be able to come up with $600 on short notice. (Sorry, I can’t find where I read this).  We have moved from “you can’t take it with you,” to “whoever dies with the most debt wins.” Article link: “This Is What Life without Retirement Savings Looks Like”

Some people who make $30,000 a year are able to save, and some people who make over $200,000 a year are living paycheck to paycheck.  The difference is spending.  Living within your means means living below your means.

online shopping

Case study: A friend of mine, a young teacher, was still living with her parents.  I was bit surprised, but I figured she had her reasons.  She was one of those Disney-obsessed people, and she spent her summers in Orlando telling people when it was their turn to go down one of those big water slides. (She probably just needed a break from hanging out with her parents.)

After knowing her a few years, I was excited for her when I found out she had bought her first home….in cash.  Suddenly, everything about her made sense.  Her teacher’s salary will go a lot further without mortgage payments.  Now she probably spends her summers in Orlando riding the water slides.  Good for you, Ms. H. (82)
Creative Commons photo by Sarah Ackerman

Get your spending in check before starting a side hustle.

The person who earns a decent income should only think about starting a side-hustle for two reasons.

  1. First, the side hustle is a desirable pursuit, challenge, or activity.
  2. Second, the job security at their job is questionable, and they want to diversify their income.

The reason should never be to “make ends meet.”

If you make a decent income, but are thinking about a side hustle because you can’t make ends meet, you are walking into a trap.  It is entirely likely that you will be working harder, spending more, enjoying life less, and still be living paycheck to paycheck.  Further, your greater spending has made your security even worse should either the side hustle or primary employment suffer a setback.

Unless you are really excited about your side hustle idea, take a long, hard look at your spending before you start.  There are some costs of living that you can do almost nothing about, but think about everything that you can control:

  1. Reducing your rent or mortgage by moving or sharing expenses (I know, no on wants to here that.)
  2. Reducing your car costs
  3. Changing vacation plans
  4. Controlling shopping
  5. Reducing communications costs
  6. Reducing home entertainment costs
  7. Reducing monthly food costs (Eating out less is a huge savings.)
  8. Switching out expensive hobbies (e.g.  snowshoeing instead of skiing, or hiking instead of golf)
  9. Taking on home projects instead of paying someone else to do them
  10. Making homemade gifts instead of buying them (83)
Creative Commons photo by

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Live well and hustle less.

Cheapists put a high value on their time.  Better living on less might even mean living full time and working part time. For most side hustles, you are essentially trading time for money.  Do you really want to trade that time?

Case study: I have driven for Uber, so I will use this in my example.  After taxes, car maintenance, gas, etc…, I made about $10 an hour driving for Uber.  Perhaps I spend four hours a week driving and bring in $160 a month.  Wouldn’t it be better to find a way to save that money and get my Saturday afternoons back?  Could I save $160 by making trips to a bargain grocery store, cutting off the cable, using a more economical vehicle, eating out less, etc.?  How much are my Saturday afternoons worth?

Creative Commons photo by Stock Catalog

Conclusions on being cheap before starting a side hustle

A penny earned is a penny taxed. Furthermore, a penny spent (in most places) is a penny taxed.  A penny saved pays no taxes (we’ll table discussions of interest income tax and capital gains tax for now).

Think about reducing your spending like it is a side hustle.  This is a job that takes very little time, pays no taxes, and can keep paying you forever.  If you can crack the puzzle of enjoying life on less money, you are setting yourself up for a life of comfort and security. Once you are used to spending less and are able to save, your security has improved in two ways: you have an emergency fund, and it will go farther when you need it.

Featured image: Creative Commons photo by Timothy Tolle