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Maggie Jover: Save money when shopping by using ‘step down’ method

In this tough economy with high unemployment rates, flat wages and rising prices for many household expenses, many people are looking for “deals.”

Frugality is “in” and people at all income levels are seeking ways to lower their expenses so they can save more and/or repay debt. A good way to save money is to “step down” by finding ways to buy things inexpensively to get more for your money.

Like the smoking cessation product where nicotine is reduced gradually, “stepping down” reduces household spending in gradual stages instead of eliminating spending on an item completely.

To visualize stepping down, imagine a staircase with four steps. On the top step is the most expensive way to buy an item and on the floor below the bottom step is the least expensive purchasing method.

Here’s an example of buying pancakes for breakfast. The most expensive method (top step of the staircase) would be going to a “sit-down” restaurant and paying about $5, excluding a tip. The next step down would be to buy pancakes at a fast food outlet for around $3.

Go down two steps on the staircase and you might pay about $1 a serving for frozen pancakes at a supermarket and maybe 25 cents for pancakes prepared with a mix. At the “floor” of the staircase would be the cheapest method still: pancakes prepared “from scratch” (i.e., dry ingredients). Bottom line: stepping down provides a variety of purchase options ranging from the very costly to the most frugal.

Stepping down can also refer to the frequency or amount of a purchase as well as where it is made. For example, you may decide to eat out two or three times a month instead of five or six. You’re not completely eliminating what is obviously a pleasurable activity. You’re simply taking steps to reduce the cost. Or you might step down by eliminating an appetizer, drink and/or dessert when you eat out. Again, you’re still enjoying an activity, but doing so for less money (and calories).

The next time you need to buy something, consider stepping down by visiting a thrift shop or consignment store. You’ll not only find items at very attractive prices but you’ll be helping to support a local small business or nonprofit agency. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. You never know what you might find.

If you need help finding ways to reduce spending, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 940-349-2882. We will be glad to send you a brochure with more ideas, or visit the America Saves! Website at


MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.