Increases in the cost of living are as regular as breathing in and breathing out. Ever-climbing prices for gasoline, food, electricity and insurance challenge us to maintain our standards of living.
So we recently asked St. Petersburg Times readers how they are adapting. The responses showed a lot of common sense — no surprise there — and a can-do attitude.
"Since the economy first turned south,'' wrote Dave Ennes, 71, of Brooksville, "we've tracked our spending habits by preparing a month-to-month cash flow schedule to see where the money goes and to determine where to cut back and what to eliminate."
From his e-mail, here are the changes he and his wife made:
• We joined a Medicare Advantage Plan that charges no monthly premium for Medicare parts A, B and D. The result is a huge cash savings to our monthly costs. All the doctors and medical services we've ever needed are in the plan.
• We no longer make impulse purchases. We make a grocery shopping list and stick with it. We buy house labels and generic products.
Finding store brands that please the taste and the tummy is a trial-and-error process. It will save money in the long run . . .
(The Taster's Choice column in Wednesday's Taste section regularly rates store brands.)
• We water the lawn only on assigned days (at present, once a week) and never water after sufficient rainfall has occurred. Our monthly water bill has plummeted.
• Gift giving is limited to the youngest grandchildren and then, one gift and a card.
• We plan our driving so that several tasks can be accomplished in the same trip. Doctor, lab and grocery shopping are scheduled on the same day. Discretionary travel has been mostly eliminated because distance travel and vacationing no longer fit into the budget. Emergency and absolutely necessary travel is put on a credit card and paid off rapidly.
The skyrocketing cost of gasoline is also one of the problems being addressed by Jason McCord, 59, of Treasure Island.
"We live on one of the barrier islands, so when we do have to go to 'town' we make several stops, put off going again until we have several more stops to make.''
One of those trips, the semi-retired financial adviser said, is to "the open-air market on Wednesday in St. Pete Beach, behind a grocery store,'' McCord said in an e-mail.
He and his wife, a retail store manager, "go into the store first to check prices on fruits and veggies, and then go to the open-air market. Whoever has the best price, buy from them.''
Finally, McCord figured a way to cut electrical usage:
"Install a timer, available at hardware and home centers, on your water heater. We run ours three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Only on unusual occasions will you need to turn it on manually and then wait about 20 minutes for hot water. Why heat water all day and all night?''
In her handwritten note, Barbara Proctor was more succinct, though she has witnessed much history.
"I have lived almost 90 years,'' the Clearwater resident wrote, "and I believe we are living in times worse than the Great Depression.''
Mrs. Proctor related that she had been "a schoolteacher who made $1,000 in her first year, with a $50 raise her second year. When I retired in Florida in 1984, I made $20,000.''
Now living in a retirement home, she explained:
"To save money, I sold my car, do not own a computer, do not use any credit cards and do not even have a cell phone.''
Telephone usage was also mentioned by John "Ed" Evan, 65, of Seminole. In his e-mail the retired banking vice president wrote:
"Went to a prepaid cell phone (from a 'plan' through which we had over-purchased minutes).''
Other cost-cutting moves he and his wife, Gladys, 69 and also a retired banking executive, undertook included a detailed review of their auto and health insurance:
"We considered deleting (at the next renewal) unnecessarily high coverage limits (switching from 'stacked' uninsured motorists coverage to 'unstacked').
"We recognized an elderly retired Medicare couple is unlikely to qualify for a large settlement from an uninsured or underinsured motorist liability suit. (We no longer have loss of income, and have limited life expectancy.)''
In the same vein, he recognizes the depressed real estate market has reduced the value of many homes. "I reviewed our homeowners insurance, to reduce coverage to today's realistic replacement values.''
Considering the gloomy economic forecasts, this advice from your neighbors is a reminder that even the most common household expenditures can be the source of noticeable savings.
Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at (727) 893-8496 or [email protected]