The D. C. Department of Recreation doesn't buy checkers any more. Instead workers chop old broomsticks into little discs and dip some in red paint, some in black.

The Department of Environmental Services won't buy new shoes for garbagemen this year the way it used to. Instead, the old shoes will be taken to a vocational school and resoled.

Youngsters in three city homes for delinquents are being sent home for weekends with their families-so the city can avoid having to pay overtime to workers at the centers.

The city's budget crisis used to be just a matter of abstract figures on a balance sheet. Now the reality of the money crunch has filtered through city agencies, triggering a search for any expenditure that can be trimmed.

Some of the cutbacks, such as frequent delays in garbage collection because of a squeeze on overtime, affect thousands of Washington residents. Others such as recruiting sport-loving volunteers to supervise playgrounds instead of paying workers to do the job, are creative money-saving measures that officials say should have been taken a long time ago.

The emphasis appears to be on making the cuts as shallow but as widespread as possible, spreading the burden among the departments instead of concentrating on a few.

It's also an approach designed to anger as few constituents as possible. Officials say Mayor Marion Barry demands reports on how many residents will be affected by each reduction.

City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, Controller Al Hill and Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's general assistant, have been meeting each morning in Roger' office to review every purchasing request submitted by city agencies.

Barry generally reserves for himself the job of dressing down the department heads who parade into his office burdened with folders, graphs and charts. "You're over your spending limits," he tells them. "You've got to stay within the numbers. What can you cut?"

The impetus behind all this financial juggling is a potential deficit of up to $170 million this fiscal year. Officials have all but admitted that this year's budget will not be truly balanced. paper clips and stamps to new heavy machinery.

Among the cutbacks that will be felt by the most people are those in the Department of Recreation, which provides a range of services from maintaining playgrounds and swimming pools to offering outings for senior citizens.

Department workers used to take senior citizens on frequent shopping trips to Baltimore. "Now we just take them to the other side of Washington," said department director William H. Rumsey. "We just can't afford the gas and a driver for all day." Rumsey said he has issued an order banning all department travel outside the Beltway.

Half the floodlights at Turkey Thicket Recreation Area in Northeast are dark, Rumsey said, because the bulbs -- which cost $60 apiece -- have been removed and redistributed to other playgrounds that have no bulbs at all.

The department is replacing torn-down tennis court nets with chain-link fence at such locations as Taft Recreation Center on South Dakota Avenue NE. "The only people who complain are the so-called tennis pros," Rumsey said. "Most people think it's kind of novel."

Playgrounds are being issued six baseball bats instead of 18. Employees are being evaluated on how well they keep track of basketballs and other supplies. Basketball hoops torn down by players who slam-dunk the ball are being left unrepaired -- the players, the department reasons, can fix them themselves. Table tennis players at recreation centers are issued only two balls, and must chase them if they roll away. Badminton shuttlecocks are not replaced until they become frayed at the edges. Slowpitch softballs that start to rip at the seams are being taped and re-used.

The department's summer camp at Scotland, Md., used to offer youngsters a choice of dinners and desserts. "Now there's no choice," Rumsey said. "The snack is Jello, crackers or popsicles, instead of ice cream, pie or cake."

The department's arts and crafts program, strapped for supplies, has developed "trash art." Said Rumsey, "It's amazing what you can create with nylon stockings, egg crates and milk cartons."

Last week, the garbage at 40,000 to 80,000 households throughout the District of Columbia was picked up at least a day late, according to a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Services. The delay, the spokesman said, resulted from a ban on overtime that Barry imposed in March but only now is being strictly enforced.

In the past, if sanitation workers did not complete their routes during their regular shifts, they worked overtime. Now, anything that doesn't get picked up during regular hours has to wait until the following day.

The department has made other economies, according to acting director William F. Johnson. New garbage trucks and street-sweeping equipment costing a total of $375,000 have been delayed at least until the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The department also couldn't afford to buy new $50 uniforms -- including shoes -- for its 900 sanitation workers this year.

"we used to spend five dollars apiece on shovels for the street sweepers -- the shovels wear unevenly against the concrete," Johnson said. "Now we cut them off square and continue to use them. In good times, we didn't do that."

Instead of allowing inmates at the D.C. Jail and Lorton Reformatory to take as much food as they want on their first trip through the chow line, the Department of Corrections plans to institute "portion control" to help cut its $4 million food budget. Inmates still will be allowed seconds, but they will have to go back through the line to get them.

William D. Goligntly, the Corrections Department's assistant director, said he also is considering switching to metal eating utensils instead of disposable plastic. But "security factors" may make this idea unfeasible, he said.

Inspector Isaac Fulwood, director of financial management for the Metropolitan Police Department, said the department is continuing a fuel-saving policy that requires patrol officers to park their squad cars and walk a beat for at least one hour on each shift.

The department is considering putting even more officers on foot or on motor scooters instead of in gas-guzzling patrol cars, Fulwood said. The department will present a full plan to Barry later this week.

Fulwood said the department already has begun to shift its patrol priorities to emphasize responding to violent crime. "If you have a minor accident, the police officer might not be there in two minutes," he said. "It may take five minutes, or more."

Office supplies and furniture are scarce throughout the city government. The secretary to planning director James O. Gibson waited weeks for a filing cabinet. According to Carole Baker, spokesman for the department, the secretary finally got a cabinet from another office -- and then got enough file folders for it.

The transportation department used to fill the gas tanks of city cars routinely at the District of Columbia government's central gas station. Now workers only fill the tanks halfway. To the department's surprise, "We discovered that we had cut gasoline consumption 15 percent [10,000 gallons] last month compared with a year ago," said H. James Spelman, assistant director of the department.

James Buford, director of the massive Department of Human Services, said he has been trying to reduce the agency's spending on overtime. He said recent figures showed the department would overspend its overtime allotment by $3.2 million if cutbacks were not made -- leading to such actions as the weekend furloughs for youths at the city homes.

Staffing levels at some facilities, such as the department's Bureau of Alcohol Treatment, have been reduced so that workers can be put on night or weekend shifts, decreasing the need for overtime, Buford said. Only one of the three 24-hour alcoholic treatment faclities is now open around-the-clock.