I’ve noticed that a lot of financial information is long on theory and short on practicality…

Including you.

… including me. I plead the newness of my online scribbling in return for your tolerance and patience.

It is granted. Now scritch my chin.

I really don’t like the general “reduce your debts, save money” platitudes of theory and generalities. Theory and generalities are nice, but they don’t actually help you save money when you’ve got only $150 to stretch between debt payments, food, transportation, and clothing. If I’d known *how* to reduce my debts and expenses, and save money back a few decades, I’d already have achieved my early retirement now. Specifics help with your immediate situation. Once you’ve got those problems under control, then you can start looking at theories and generalities to improve your *overall* situation.

That’s one of the reasons why I like The Complete Tightwad Gazette. It offers very specific ideas to help cut costs *right now*, and free up needed money to attack those debts. Unfortunately, it is also out of print the last time I checked. if you can pick up one of the volumes in a used book store, or on Amazon, do it. The ideas in there are worth several pounds of gold at today’s prices.

I do want to add some specifics from my own background and experience.

With that in mind, let’s assume that you need some cold-weather clothes and you’re on a very tight budget. What do you do?

Least Expensive Options:
Get needle, thread (preferrably heavy-duty denim thread), and some old clothes that you haven’t donated. Pick a set of “yard work” clothes. Take apart the old cast-offs, and sew them onto the yard work clothes as layers. Chances are you’ll only be able to add 1-2 layers of cloth. But it will help keep you warm.

Desperate tactics: Trash bags + duct tape. Wrap your arms and legs, then use the duct tape to keep it on – make sure you leave enough slack for joints to move. Beware!! Sweating in cold weather can kill you. If you are sweating under all your clothes, you need to take a few layers off or slow down your physical activity level.

Go to your local shelter/support center. Pick up a coat and/or pants that are one or two sizes too big for you. Wear layers under them to help keep you warm.

Borrow from family or friends, using the same principle as above – get clothes that are a size or two too large.

Beware of damp clothing – from sweating, rain, or melted snow. There are some types of clothing that will still keep you warm when wet, but they are also harder to get and more expensive. Cotton clothes in environments that are cold and damp are known as “death cloth”, because their insulation value goes negative when they are wet – it will actually cause you to lose more body heat and result in potentially lethal hypothermia. I’d go into more detail, but this post is about finances, not camping.

Low Expense Options:
Charitable Organization Shopping.
Thrift Store Shopping.
Make It Yourself.
There is an initial cost in certain tools, ranging from negligible (needles, pins, scissors) to a significant ouch (sewing machine). There is also an additional cost in time. But, if you cancel your cable T.V., you can save the money and pay for a low-end sewing machine within 7-9 months. After some practice, you’ll be able to preserve and repair your existing clothes for little to no cost, you can make new clothes for yourself at greatly reduced cost, and you will be developing a marketable skill.

Military Surplus Store Shopping.
Okay, some information about military surplus stores. I have a heavy-weather coat, an Air Force Arctic Jacket, that has been my main thermal comfort provider in icy weather for over twenty years. I paid $30 for it. It’s ugly (what do you expect from olive drab green?), people stare at me when I wear it, and people hate me when unzip it half-way and laugh at the wind-driven sleet making everyone else shiver.

Pookah likes her new comfy-nest-coat.

I also purchased a set of fatigues. They are incredibly durable and useful for yard work. Plus, they fit over most of my other clothes.

Wool socks, glove liners (2 pairs, so one set can dry out while I’m using the other)), gloves, and steel-toed boots. I’ve probably spent close to $200 in various military surplus stores. This gear has lasted for *years*. Purchasing it all new from your local seasonal store would probably run $800-$900. Best of all, I can get dirty with it in the yard (or getting a car unstuck from mud/ice), toss it in the wash (except for the boots – those require a little extra care), and it comes back out ready to use.

If you haven’t guessed by now, you may safely assume that I love shopping at military surplus stores. I get to combine frugality with high quality goods with recycling with it’s just plain cool to actually have an honest-to-Creator-of-choice piece of good old U.S. military paraphenalia in my possession while I’m doing stuff. Makes me want to go camping out in the wild primordial scrub.

Related Sites:
(You may notice that a lot of these sites focus on wilderness survival. That’s because being able to improvise protection from the weather is a *big* help when you’re really down on your luck. Good clothing styles are meaningless if you spend every night shivering in the dark.)
Les Stroud Online
Wilderness Survival
Wilderness Survival Guide
Sewing at Allcrafts.Net
American Sewing Guild
Epinions.Com – Sewing Machines

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