Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Surviving on a VISTA budget

I recently brought up the experience of life on food stamps and thought about the other ways the meager VISTA stipend has encouraged me to change my habits. In case any other aspiring VISTA happen upon this, I'll share what I've gained this year to save a couple of bucks and gain a lot of experience.

1. Make your own cleaners.
There are a bajillion different recipes online. That's a literal number. I counted. Like here. Or here. Or here! If you notice there are many reoccurring ingredients, so basically, you can make a BUNCH of different cleaners, with only a few different things. Some of those ingredients are food stamp items (vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, etc), so that saves you a little cash too. As an added bonus, they are less harmful to the environment and any little ones or animals that may be in the vicinity. If you're really an overachiever, you can even try a DIY Swiffer.

Yes. I did make this. It's fabulous. But I put mine on a paint stirrer instead because I didn't want to have to buy a handle. 

2. Use
People are getting rid of stuff and they want to give it away. Some of it's junk, but when you get that rare gem you know it was worth sifting through the dirt.

3. Trade with friends
Let's say your a crafty individual. You can sew, patch, or whatever. You have a friend who is handy with cars, but walks around with missing buttons and hole-y clothes because they don't know what else to do. You replace the buttons and repair the rips in an appropriate number of items, they change the oil in you car. It cost you a little time, but saves you both a nice chunk of change.

4. Thrift.
This sounds obvious, but it's important to remember. Especially when you only have  to live somewhere for a year but you have to furnish an apartment, or stock a kitchen, or whatever. I went to the dollar store and thought I was so smart for buying a bunch of kitchen stuff for a dollar a piece... until I got the the thrift store and noticed way nicer stuff on sale for 10 cents a piece. Lesson learned.
You can brave the sea of stuff. 
5. Utilize the dollar store.
I know this clashes a bit with my previous statement, but there are somethings you just don't want to buy used so the dollar store is a good alternative. I am particularly fond of the office supply section.

6. Make it fresh.
It's tempting to go to the frozen food section and load up on a bunch of hot pockets and frozen pizzas. But a person can only take so much before they start feeling like a walking tv dinner. I've learned throughout the year that, like cleaners, it's way easier to keep some basic pantry ingredients around an make your basic food items. You'll be more inclined to experiment, plus your stomach will thank you for saving it from the preservative monsters.
You can do it! I believe in you! 
7. Borrow
Usually a VISTA is only going to be in one place for a year and then they pack up and head back wherever it is they came from, or off into the wild unknown. You don't need to acquire a bunch of stuff to get by and you definitely don't need to pay for it. Ask your coworkers if they have any extra stuff you can borrow, like an old vacuum cleaner they don't use very often any more, or an extra piece of furniture they've been storing in an unused room. My supervisor posted that her VISTA needed a bed for a year. Within a few hours, an awesome super comfy and sturdy bed was delivered to my little apartment. Not everyone may be that lucky, but obviously it doesn't hurt to ask. Along those same lines, share with other VISTAs. If they are an avid baker but you only need one cookie sheet this one time for this one treat... you see where I'm goin' with this.

8. Walk, bike, or use public transportation
Public transportation can be a little tough in Montana, since there really isn't any unless you're in some of the bigger towns, but most of the smaller towns have everything easily within walking distance. Heck, use it as an excuse to dust off those rad purple roller blades that were all the rage back in the day (What's that? I'm the only one waiting for roller blading to make a come back? I see...) Whatever your preferred method, avoid using your car as much as possible. You'll save on gas, plus with your new fresh eating habits you might just become a lean, mean, VISTA machine.
You know you thought these were the coolest thing ever. Because they are. 

I'm sure you're thinking to yourself These are mostly common sense suggestions. But you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget about these types of things when suddenly you are forced to be more careful about your budget and spending habits. It's easy to get in to a financial panic of some sorts and deny yourself what you need because you don't think you can afford them. It's not an easy budget to keep. But it's definitely manageable, and will help you keep budgets and utilize frugal habits long after your year of service.