Hard times

Look. High gas prices are here to stay. And those prices are not going to change in November—not to a great extent, anyway. The thing about corporations is that they are bottom-line creatures: Sometimes these giant energy conglomerates care about percentages, other times they care about whole numbers. In other words, the percentage in profits may wax and wane, but they are unlikely to allow overall cash inflow to drop below record highs. So, if and when gas prices do come down, don’t expect your corporate grocery store to drop its prices.

Not for a long time.

Average consumers simply must take matters into their own hands. Many of us have actually lost purchasing power from where we were three years ago—the costs for food, fuel and fun have increased at a higher rate than our salaries. (That’s another “F” word: inflation.) And those who are dependent on tips in the service industry have taken an even larger hit because people are cutting back on travel and tourism.

So here are a few common-sense methods to get more bang for your buck. Some could be considered less than sustainable, but at this moment in time, the difference between you and foreclosure may come down to situational ethics.

Drive less. When it comes to habitual trips to the store for needed items, take a piece of tape and stick it to a piece of paper, which you will affix to the refrigerator. On this “note paper,” you will include grocery items that you run out of in the course of the week. We’ll call those “notes.” Then, one day a week, you will take those notes and add them to a “list.” Notes plus list equals “shopping list.” One trip a week for shopping. The really hard up or truly organized may be able to do a once-a-month trip to the store, the way our pioneer ancestors did.

Shop online first: For example, 24 3.75-ounce cans of Bumble Bee Sardines in hot sauce will cost $30 plus tax plus gas if purchased locally. Amazon.com will sell the same product for $21.78 and deliver it for free, providing you purchase more than $25 worth of “Super Saver Shipping” items. Sure, the UPS truck uses more fuel to deliver to your door, generating more greenhouse gases, etc., but remember, in order to help save the world, you have to survive yourself. When a cheaper alternative does not exist, walk to your locally owned grocer.

Use the dryer less. The clothes dryer is one of the most expensive appliances to operate in your home. You’ll save money by hanging your unmentionables off the apartment balcony.

Finally, turn off the air conditioner in your home. Close the windows and draperies during the day to trap the cool air and open them at night. But remember, these are hard times, and burglars come in open windows. Better keep some protection at hand, and remember, if you are required to defend against an illegal home invasion, those burglars may have change in their pockets. Be prepared for opportunity.