For the past 5 to 7 years the economy has been quite volatile. Everywhere you turned you saw a house with a foreclosure sign on it. The number of people claiming bankruptcy was rising quickly. And even though interest rates have been at an all time low and the price of many homes dropped to an all time low, many people were unable to afford them because they were either suddenly unemployed, or were simply finding it difficult to make ends meet.

If you’ve read the news recently you would get the impression that the economy is beginning to do better. Mortgage rates are starting to rise. Homes are selling for more money than they were last year at this time.  In fact in some cities purchasers are facing bidding wars again, which means they either pay more for the house that they want, or walk away.

Even though we are seeing signs of improvement, the sad reality is that people all over North America are still struggling with their finances. Some are working 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet.

Others are still searching for a job to replace the one they lost 4 years ago. It is sad but true that many families are still finding it difficult to put food on the table and clothes on their back.

Maybe you never come in contact with these people, but they still exist. And they worry everyday about where their next dollar is going to come from, and how they will make it last.

Whether you are still really struggling with your finances or you feel like you are starting to recover nicely, here are some tips that will hopefully make it easier for you to make each dollar go further.

15 Ways to Stretch a Dollar

Swap Instead of Shop

Nowadays there are so many products that you can swap. You can swap clothes, toys, tools and books.

Ride Your Bike Instead of Driving

Are there days where you drive just for the sake of convenience? Could you walk or ride your bike instead? Not only would you save money, but you would stay healthy too.

Borrow a Book Instead of Buying

Even though this is said time and again, how many people actually do it? Instead of logging on to Amazon to buy that next book, head to the library. Or, ask a friend what they are reading and if it sounds interesting, ask if you can borrow the book when they are finished reading it.

Play Games at Home Instead of Going Out

Whether you have little kids at home, teens, or you just want to hang out with your buddies, setup a games night. If you have enough people, do mini tournaments to create a competitive, fun atmosphere.

Make Your Own Pizza Instead of Ordering In

When most people think of ordering in they think of pizza and Chinese food. While I love them both, dinner for just the 2 of us usually costs between $30 and $40. But for just a few dollars we can make a nice large pizza at home instead.

Use Your Cell Phone for Emergencies Only

If you are seriously looking for a way to stretch a dollar, give up your cell phone. Cell phones and all the fancy plans that come with them are costing you a fortune. And even though the cell phone companies lead you to believe that you have to have the latest and greatest one out there, you don’t.

Cell phones are not a necessity. In all honesty, all you may ever really need a cell phone for is if you have an emergency away from home. So in that case, get a cheap cell phone, with no extra features, and use a pay as you go plan.

Keep Your Vehicle Clean and Well Maintained

You can drive your vehicle for years with very few mechanical problems if you maintain it well. And by keeping it sparkling clean inside and out, you will never feel like you are driving an older car.

Plan Out Your Trips Before You Leave Home

Instead of driving around in circles everyday or going back and forth to the same place 3 times, plan out your days. Make a list of where you need to go. Head to the place that is farthest away first and then stop at the other places on the way back.

If at all possible, plan all your errands and appointments in the same day, so that you are not going out everyday, except to go to work. This will save you gas and I bet it will stop you from eating on the run too.

Always Shop With a List and Look For the Lowest Prices

If you live in the US, and you are not already shopping at Big Lots, then you need to find one and check it out. They have brand name grocery items and household and beauty items that are deeply discounted. They also have bedding and small kitchen appliances.

They sell toys at great prices, as well as Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations. And no, there stuff is not expired. It is all brand new stuff that you would find in any department store, or grocery store, but for a fraction of the price.

In Canada you can find the same amazing deals at Liquidation World.

Once you go you will wonder why you waited so long.

Buy Generic Prescriptions

Not everyone needs prescriptions, but if you do, and you need to pay cash for them, always ask the pharmacist if they have an equivalent generic brand.

Be Creative with Your Baking

When you really need to stretch a dollar one of the places that you can reduce your spending is on groceries. Do you have eggs, flour, salt, sugar and baking soda in your pantry? Make some muffins and serve them for breakfast or for snacks.

Bake your own bread. Make a double batch of Oatmeal cookies and freeze them. This way you will always have snacks on hand and there will be no reason to buy a cupcake or a muffin at the local coffee shop. For the price of that cupcake you can make an entire batch of cookies.

Spend a Day in the Park

Need a break from life but there’s no money to go on a vacation? Spend a day in a local park, walking around and enjoying the scenery. Sit on a bench and people watch. Pack a picnic. Enjoy the time away from your home and your job.

Learn How to Sew

Years ago people would sew their own new clothes and mend their clothes instead of shopping at the mall. Sewing can be tricky, but once you practice your skill level will rise and you may find that you enjoy sewing some clothes for your family.

In fact, it may become your favorite new hobby. You can also have fun sewing curtains and making decorative pillows for your family room. My husband sews and is quite good at it.

Make Your Own Gifts

Christmas is only a few months away. Instead of saying you can’t afford Christmas this year, look for ways to spend less. Keep it simple, but still enjoyable. Create a list of gifts that you can make at home, and as you see the things you need on sale, you can buy them now, and then get to work on making them in December.

Turn Off the Lights and The Water

Everytime we get our monthly utility bill at $320 a month (includes water, gas, electricity, and city garbage pickup) my husband keeps asking me why it is so high. Is it because I do laundry too often? Or maybe it is my 20 minute showers in the morning. I don’t know. But it sounds like it is up to me to find a way to use less water.

About 19 months ago we decided that we were sick and tired of struggling with our finances, so we slowly began following the above suggestions. I wouldn’t say that our finances are perfect, but doing these really does help us get through each month without worrying too much about money.