Saving money is easy: Don't eat. Don't drink. Don't buy clothes, have children, drive a car, go out to movies or stay home and use up the heat.
Don't, in other words, live what most of us consider a life.
Our readers have a better idea -- or rather, better ideas -- for how to make do with less, rather than making do totally without. Respondents to The Sun's recent SUNDIAL survey on how to get by during these tough economic times offered tips ranging from the practical to the creative to the tried-and-true on cutting back on food, clothing, entertainment and other expenses.
"I think the days of excess are gone," said one respondent, Sonja Uveges, an owner of a consignment shop in Owings Mills and, quite naturally, an advocate of recycling of all sorts. "We hear stories every day in the store, people saying,'I never thought I'd be shopping in a consignment store, but my husband lost his job.' "
Ms. Uveges' suggestions on saving involve a constant recycling of clothes, toys and furniture -- if you're done with it, sell it now while it still has value to someone else and use the money for something you need.
"It's a great thing to teach kids to recycle -- if they want a new toy, tell them to gather up old ones and sell them so they can buy the new one," Ms. Uveges said.
The big stuff
Budgeting expenses to the dollar every month is how Mike Morsberger and his wife were able to buy a house within a year of their marriage and, more recently, start planning a future for their 2-week-old baby.
"The first of each month, I know exactly where my two paychecks and her two paychecks go," said Mr. Morsberger, director of development for Calvert Hall College. "We each have a cash allowance, and if you spend it all by the 15th, you're out of luck for the rest of the month."
The first year of their marriage, the couple lived mostly on his salary, socking 90 percent of hers into a savings account. "A year later, lo and behold, there was money for a house," said Mr. Morsberger.
He and others recommended abandoning or using only in emergencies those all-too-convenient credit and money machine cards.
"It was hard, but I just had to cut my credit cards in half," said Murphy Smith, a nursing assistant at Mount Washington
Pediatric Hospital who lives in Baltimore. "I used to owe $600 to $800 sometimes on them, and I was just making the minimum payments every month."
He has kept one major card for emergencies and has found that if you give yourself a chance to think twice about buying something, you end up buying more wisely.
"I'm more conscious of what I'm spending money on," Mr. Smith said.
Re-sale is cheaper than retail. And, for babies, cloth is cheaper than paper, said Tracy Hooper, an anchorwoman for a weekly cable news show and the mother of two with another on the way.
"I started off with a diaper service, but that was really expensive and you had to keep dirty diapers in your house for a week," she said. "So I went to Sears and spent $50 or $60 on diapers and pins and rubber pants -- and that was it."
Ms. Hooper, who also makes her own baby food, does a load of laundry every night, but after 9 p.m. under an energy management program with BG&E.
Flea markets and garage sales are great outlets for children's clothes, several readers said. "When [my children are] done with [the clothes], I clean them and resell them," one reader said.
Other readers suggested discount shoe stores and, if you can, sew your own clothes.
Food eats up a big chunk of many budgets, and respondents offered ways of cutting eating expenses from the very start.
"For mothers and babies one of the best things is to breast feed," one reader said. "It is a waste to spend money on formula."
And once baby is ready for solid food, the savings can continue: Lisa Gettings and other readers suggested grinding or mashing meats and vegetables, freezing them in ice cube trays, then microwaving the cubes come mealtime for the no-teeth set.
"When I had my first child, I thought there was something magical about jars of baby food," said Ms. Gettings, a research associate at Shock-Trauma and a mother of two who lives in Owings Mills.
She also makes her own TV dinners. Instead of buying ones for her 2 1/2 -year-old child, she puts kid-sized portions of regular adult food into sectioned dishes and freezes or refrigerates them for later meals. That's particularly helpful for days when the family of four ends up eating at different times, she said. "Plus, it's more nutritious."
Eating at home, of course, is more economical than eating out. And there are ways to save on your grocery bills, as well.
"I go to the grocery story every two weeks -- I find if I go [more frequently], I buy things I don't need," said Ms. Hooper, who lives in Towson. She practices the "perimeter" mode of shopping -- go around the edges for the necessary produce, meats and dairy products, venturing only occasionally into interior aisles with the less-vital packaged products.