By Kristine Thomas
Marilyn Brenden knows gas prices are soaring higher than ever. She has watched the cost of basic food supplies such as bread, milk and eggs continue to increase each week.
Brenden, 59, who lives with her mother, Lillian Brenden, 92, doesn’t waste her time worrying – instead she uses it to discover ways to save money
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Marilyn Brenden’s keys to surviving and thriving:
1. Think creatively
2. Develop multiple income streams
3. Focus your energy on action, not worry
4. Never pay full price
“Both my parents grew up during the Great Depression and I have copied many of their techniques for living frugally,” she said. “I grew up on a farm so I learned how to be self-reliant and how to grow food in a garden and to can foods and make jams.”
She knows many local families are feeling strapped as they figure out how to cope with recent price increases for day-to-day expenses while their paychecks remain the same.
“Most people don’t have enough flexibility in their monthly income to absorb the dramatic increases,” she said.
A plan must be made in order to face the issue.
“The first thing people have to do when times become financially hard is reprogram themselves on the way they think about money. People need new strategies to deal with rising costs.”
An outreach coordinator consultant for Trinity Lutheran Church and the owner of MC Resources, a consulting business services provider, Brenden has endured tough times. She left her 22-year career as a teacher to pursue a dream of attending the seminary.
“I went from having a top salary as a teacher to a situation where I had no income and student loans,” she said. “It forced me to learn to live drastically different.”
She’s adopted a simple strategy for making do during economic hardships.
Her motto is “Focus your energy on action, not worry. You are not alone.”
Brenden has also had to deal with two bouts of cancer during times when she had no money.
There was a time, she said, when she couldn’t sleep at night and was in a state of panic because she was worrying about how to pay medical bills or her insurance.
“I decided I had a choice on either to use my energy worrying or use it to find creative solutions to my problems,” she said. “I decided not to spend time worrying and to believe I could invest my energy in a positive way.”
She spent hours surfing for Web sites on how to live frugally or find bargains. She found Internet sites for help getting free or low-cost furniture, clothing and other needed items and found information on where people could receive gifts by filling out surveys.
Brenden has a 43-page booklet called How to Live Practically Free on Absolutely Nothing, and teaches classes at Trinity Lutheran Church as a way to share what she has learned as well as learning from others.
“I am always looking for ways to make money go as far as I can make it go,” she said. “I live frugally so I can donate money to my church and other nonprofit organizations.”
Dressed professionally in a suit, Brenden confessed her clothes came from a consignment shop.
“I am not embarrassed to buy my clothes second-hand because I like seeing the quality of the clothing,” she said. “By buying second-hand, I already know how the clothes will look after they’ve been worn and washed and where they will sag and fade.”
There are many ways to cutback or save money.
Here are some of Brenden’s tips:
Using credit cards to buy necessities such as gas and food is only digging a deeper financial trap that makes it harder to escape, Brenden said.
She suggests people stop making purchases with credit cards and focus on paying off the balance. She added that too often people buy things they think they need when actually they could do without.
Brenden suggests purchasing gas in the morning when generally the price is lower than it could be in the afternoon or evening. Before buying gas, Brenden compares prices by visiting mapquest or gasbuddy. She also uses gas station discount coupons. Customers spending $10 or more at Roth’s grocery store receive a 3-cent per gallon off coupon and by spending $50 or more at Safeway, customers can get a 10 cent-a-gallon discount.
“I was recently driving in Salem and it seemed like every time I blinked the prices went up,” Brenden said. “I noticed gas prices were higher near the freeway entrances and major intersections.”
She also suggests people walk, carpool or take public transportation when they can and to combine trips.
Save for a rainy day
Any “windfall money” Brenden receives is automatically put into her saving account. Windfall money is any income that is unexpected such as the recent government tax rebate.
“But,” she said, “that’s not the best or total saving strategy.”
Saving needs to become a habit, she said.
If you can, ask your employer to take automatic deductions from your paycheck each month to be sent to your bank or credit union, she advised.
“Automatically deduct at least 70 percent of the dollar amount you intend to save every month,” she said. For example, if you intend to save $100 a month, have $70 automatically put in a savings account. Brenden recommends it be in an out-of-town bank in an account that doesn’t have a debit card.
“Not being able to easily access the money makes it more likely the money will stay in the account,” she said.
If you don’t have automatic savings, make the first bill you pay every month be to your savings account.
Brenden suggests the other 30 percent of your monthly savings be deposited locally and used for recurring expenses like car insurance or unexpected needs like car repairs that can’t be covered out of one’s monthly paycheck.
Look for bargains
Brenden visits thrift stores to look for clothes, surfs the Web to find bargains or free items and knows where to find good deals. She travels once a month to Salem to shop for less expensive staples and is always on the lookout for restaurants that offer discounts, coupons and free birthday meals or treats. She also tries to shop at places that donate a percentage of the purchase price to her favorite local charities and her church.
Keep things in perspective
When she had cancer for the second time and couldn’t work, she decided to make good use of her time. “I give myself 10 minutes each day to worry and when the time is up, I can’t worry anymore,” she said.
She invites people to visit her website at for tips on how to save money.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t discover a new way or thing you can do to save money,” she said.