As many are painfully aware, the Census Bureau announced Thursday that the overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, or 43.6 million people.
"The numbers are just starting to show up for 2008 and 2009," says Randy Hardy, vice president of Chicago financial advisers Clune and Associates. "2010 could be even worse."
With one in seven Americans reaching the poverty level, more and more people are entering crisis mode. Experts say in order to survive, lifestyle changes are essential.
"The average household spent $2,700 on food purchased away from home in 2007," says Laura Rowley, Yahoo Finance Expert and author of "Money and Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life." "If you can cut that by one-third by eating at home and bringing leftovers and snacks to work more often, that's $900 a year."
And don't think you have to do this alone. Involving the whole family not only creates unity in a time of crisis, but also helps bring in more savings.
"I used to have to pay a quarter when I was a kid every time I left the lights on," says Hardy. "We suggest that clients have some rules about electricity, or leaving games and computers on.
"Also, decide if you really need a land line AND a cell phone, and evaluate whether your cell phone usage matches your current plan."
Cell phones aren't the only big expense with a household -- often it's the cable bill that can really add up the most.
"Americans are paying an average of $60 for cable a month, and many watch only a few channels," says Rowley, who also dishes out money advice for moneyandhappiness.com. She suggests either cutting back to basic or calling the cancellation department to say you're considering eliminating your service. "This department has the best deals on hand to keep you as a customer," she says.
And if you think you're too good for coupons, get over it.
"You can register for free at a coupon site such as couponmom.com," says Rowley. "It publishes weekly lists by state and store, showing the best deals."
Here's another idea: Have you changed your showerheads or faucets lately? Rowley says you can cut back your water bills by 25 to 60 percent if you do. "Low-flow aerating models are $10 to $20 each. Look for a model that's 2.5 gallons per minute or less."
Here are five more tips to scaling back your costs and surviving the current economic crisis.
Buy in bulk and eat out less. "Items sold individually are marked up at alarming rate," says Rowley.
Refinance your mortgage. "Currently, rates are at historic lows," says Hardy."If you haven't done so already, this is a good time to revisit the largest expense to most families."
Don't dry-clean your clothes. "Households spend an average of $1,500 a year on dry-cleaning, and 65 percent of the clothes are washable," says Rowley. "Use the delicate cycle and cold water with a gentle fabric care product."
Get generic prescriptions, which can cost up to 40 percent less. "Use warehouse clubs," suggests Rowley. "Many people don't realize that by law, the warehouse clubs must fill prescriptions of non-members."
Take public transportation. "Think twice about driving to work," says Hardy. "As gas prices remain high, it should pay to use Chicago's extensive public transportation system."
And even though we're in the highest poverty rate since 1994, Rowley says it can inspire people to support one another, be creative and make the most of what they have.
"Four in 10 adults with younger children say the recession has brought their families closer together, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center," says Rowley. "And a survey by Yahoo Finance found 46 percent of Americans are spending more time playing with their kids in response to the downturn.
"At the very least, difficult economic times can help us refocus on what really matters—family, friends, good health, and the joy of simple pleasures."
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