kathlene_hepburn_web.jpgWith the current economic upheaval projected to last for the next four or five years, we a nation must balance our budget and so it is inevitable that we have to cut back on our national spending.

When that happens, less money starts coming to the state from the federal government.  That, in turn, will mean less money coming to our county from the state and down the line it goes.

Consequently, each of us will be affected, as there will be less money to go around.  But it is not too late to plan ahead to minimize the impact. 

As a senior citizen living on a fixed income, there are questions I have asked myself.  What questions must you and your family ask yourselves? What can you do without and still have a good quality of life?  How can your family reduce your monthly overhead expenses?  Do you really need cable TV? I live without it and perhaps you can too. I use my old TV with a converter box and antenna and receive more than 30 channels, giving me a lot of viewing options at little cost.

Another savings for me is using the public library for books, magazines, music CDs and movie DVDs, the computer and the Internet. You can use the library computers for two hours each day and that includes the Internet. Get a library card.

Use what your tax dollars are paying for.  There is also free entertainment sponsored by our county and state parks and recreation departments, and our county commissioners.   Some museums have a free admission day once a month.  Check the newspaper’s E-vents Calendar for details and dates.  This is another way to reduce your family monthly budget and live within your means.

I also decided to clear the grass from my lawn and plant a vegetable garden. First lady Michelle Obama is leading the way with a vegetable garden at the White House. With the drought this year, food prices will rise, meaning higher prices at the grocery store. You can help yourself and your family if you plant a vegetable garden and grow your own vegetables and fruits. 

Use the federal, state and county agricultural extension offices and the public library as resources to help you get the information you need to start your garden and plant fruit trees. There are books and magazines at the library and at the state and federal departments of agriculture. If you live in an apartment, you can still plant a vegetable garden by using containers on your patio or available yard space.

If you live in an area that permits farm animals, raise your own chickens, turkeys and rabbits to add to your food source. They need little space and feed and they mature quickly.  

This way, you have to go to the grocery store only for items to make bread or buy bread, butter, spices, salt and other condiments. You can learn to preserve vegetables and fruits for later use if you have too many by canning them.  You can learn to make tomato sauce, paste and ketchup, pickles, jellies, jams, mayonnaise and mustard from items from your own garden.

Beans and eggs are good, inexpensive, sources of protein.

Think organic.  Think green.  Involve your children in the entire process. Let this be a learning opportunity for all and one that is satisfying and reaps great rewards.

When it comes to getting around, walk, ride a bicycle, take the bus or the train and save on transportation costs. Can you really afford that expensive car which uses a lot of gas? Should you perhaps change to a less expensive, more fuel efficient pre-owned car? 

Shop for clothing and household furnishings at thrift shops.

Can you refinance your home for a lower mortgage rate and lower the monthly payments? Should you rent and reduce your housing cost? 

The idea is to become as self-sufficient as you can. That means living within your income and not borrowing money or using credit cards unless there is an emergency. Think about your family situation and plan to save for that rainy day that is coming soon. Think about what mama, grandma and grandpa told you about how things were when they were growing up. We need to learn and use those skills.

Call your family together and make a plan to start a vegetable garden and reduce your food expenses and debt.  Start now before prices increase or you lose your job or your situation changes.  Pay off as much debt as possible. Let living debt-free be your goal and self-sufficiency your password.

Kathlene Hepburn-Okehi is president and founder of a nonprofit organization serving families, youth and seniors in the Liberty City, Brownsville and Little Haiti communities.