Penn State expert offers tips for economizing when income drops

November 05, 2008

University Park, Pa. — If balancing your household budget is getting harder, you should consider ways to economize, reduce your costs and cut wasteful consumption, said a financial literacy expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Economizing means managing your family resources — including money — to get what you need and want," said Marilyn Furry, associate professor of agricultural and extension education. "Learning to substitute, to conserve, to cooperate and to find free goods and services will help your family balance income and outgo. There's a Depression-era saying that can be a concise and to-the-point definition of economizing: 'Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.'"

Furry offers several strategies for making the most efficient use of your income:

— Substitute. Use lower-priced goods and services whenever possible. "Have the family develop the habit of asking, 'What can be substituted that would do the job for less money?'" she said. "Eat at home rather than in restaurants. Cook from basics rather than buying prepared meals. Become a thrift-store shopper. Do more at-home entertaining rather than going out to be entertained."

— Reduce waste. "Find ways to make products last longer and keep food from spoiling before it's used," Furry advised. "Keep your family's health, skills and possessions in good condition. Get the most out of each car trip, each load of laundry and each dollar spent on clothing and furnishing. You can make conservation a day-to-day practice by all family members."

— Cooperate. Use food co-ops, baby-sitting co-ops, car pools and similar groups to share resources and reduce cost to each family. "There are many forms of co-ops, both formal and nonformal, available to you to share your family's time and talent with others as a means to stretch resources," she said.

Furry urges consumers to take advantage of the many goods and services offered free or at low cost by community, county and state agencies. "Libraries, parks, musical events, health clinics, walking and biking trails and low-cost classes to increase skills are examples of the many public and community resources to extend your family income," she said. "Ask yourself how you can use public services for your family welfare, education, health and recreation."

Furry has worked with Natalie Ferry, retired coordinator of special program initiatives for Penn State Cooperative Extension, and Cathy Bowen, associate professor of agricultural and extension education, to create a series of 11 fact sheets titled, "Bouncing Back When Your Incomes Drops."

"The series was created to help families that have to make adjustments in meeting basic needs when there is a job loss or some other event that causes an unexpected loss of income," Furry said. "Also, people who are entering the workforce for the first time -- welfare-to-work program participants, for instance -- could use some of the publications in the series."

The "Bouncing Back When Your Income Drops" fact sheets are available at online. Single copies also can be obtained free of charge by Pennsylvania residents through county Penn State Cooperative Extension offices or by contacting the College of Agricultural Sciences Publications Distribution Center at (814) 865-6713 or by e-mail at For cost information on out-of-state or bulk orders, contact the Publications Distribution Center.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009