When Goerz met a potential client about some freelance work recently, she freshened up her outfit with a $10 designer blouse from a consignment shop. Instead of going to a salon for highlights, she squeezes lemon juice into a spray bottle, dilutes it with water and squirts that onto her hair -- a $1 trick she learned as a teenage lifeguard.
Food had been a big part of Goerz's budget, so instead of spending $10 on lunch every day and going out to dinner four nights a week, she's cut back to two homemade meals per day -- a late breakfast and an early dinner. Her diet is more healthful now, and there are other benefits: "I can wear clothes from three years ago, when I was on this huge fitness kick. Suddenly, I have a whole new wardrobe."
Goerz still goes out with friends once or twice a month, but always economizes: "My strategy for going out is to eat only half of what I order and bring the other half home. Then I turn that into two more meals, since I keep fluffing it up with more rice or something else." Goerz laughs as she says this, aware of her extreme thriftiness. "I stretch everything," she says.
A close circle of friends helps compensate for the spartan privations. One friend who loves to cook hosts a weekly Monday dinner for Goerz and half a dozen others, who usually show up with a couple of bottles of fine wine -- one remaining indulgence. Many of Goerz's friends are also out of work, and even those with good jobs seem to have caught the thrifty vibe.
"Even people who don't have to cut back are doing it," she says. "It's a new kind of consciousness. They seem to be thinking, 'I don't need all this.' "
Most Americans can live without the proverbial daily latte and a few other niceties, but economic data and anecdotal reports suggest that it's a much bigger struggle to accept permanent lifestyle diminutions, save considerably more and break with familiar spending habits.
Goerz attributes her transformation to lessons learned from other crises she survived: getting laid off in 2001 amid the dot-com bust, a recent family death, getting robbed while traveling alone in India seven years ago.
Still, she's not sure how long she can live on a reduced income. Her health insurance premium recently quadrupled, to almost $400 per month, after a government subsidy expired. She lives with three roommates, which keeps her rent at an affordable $871 per month. But she craves her own place, which would obviously cost more.
"I have this niggling fear that I'm screwed," she says. "Will I ever be able to buy a home or a car? That's my biggest motivation to succeed financially: to get my own place."
Goerz fosters an outside hope that the debut of her documentary might lead to paying work in the film industry and a fulfilling new career. But she also knows that she may end up back in corporate America, sacrificing some of her freedom for comfort and stability. So she's also looking for jobs in her old field, hoping to find a perfect fit.
Even if her income goes back up, however, she hopes that her new lifestyle sticks. "I'd want to save money like crazy," she says. "I'd like to experiment with keeping my frugal ways."
Today, that sounds like a novel idea. Tomorrow, it might be mainstream.
This article was reported by Rick Newman for U.S. News & World Report.
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