Sunday, February 08, 2009

Frugal thoughts

I am trying very hard to think frugally, act frugally, be frugal.

Bah humbug.

"Frugal" isn't exactly the life of the party, you know? For all of my desire to adapt frugality as a part of my lifestyle, I'm under no delusions. Frugal is not a synonym for fun.

I want to believe that it's worth it. Today, it's not feeling worth it. Today, it's irritating, at best. I was at the West Side Baby fundraiser tea, and I was mad that I couldn't donate a nice chunk of money. That is a ridiculous thing to get mad out, seeing as how I could have been thinking "I am so grateful to have food for my family and how we do not lack for basics." THAT would have been a more mature, and appropriate, response.

And we're watching our grocery money. And struggling to figure out gifts, etc. Bah humbug!

But I'm committed. I really am, even on the difficult days. Apparently the honeymoon phase is over because I'm thinking "two more years of THIS?!"

Yes. Two more years, and then we'll be free to live less frugally and still get ahead.


My notes are not valid for too many people in the world, not because people have their finances figured out but, to the contrary, too many people in the world live in poverty. I am trying to remember that my form of "broke" is others' form of greatest wealth: my baby never sat in a dirty diaper because we were out of diapers; we have never missed a meal due to scarcity; we live in a warm, comfortable home filled to the rafters with amenities and comforts. Plus, we have easy access to clean air and water, safe streets, libraries. We have excellent medical care.

I don't delude myself into thinking I'm poor. And my notes don't apply to poor people, who cut corners WAY past the point I'm naming here. But maybe they'll help some other folks who are struggling to make ends meet in the middle class.

So here are a few thoughts on maintaining frugality:

- Cook from scratch. In this way, you get healthy food much cheaper. Chicken stock is made from chicken bones, vegetable scraps, carrots and onions. No waste, no packaging. Spaghetti sauce, granola, bread, stirfries, sandwiches...all are cheaper if you make them yourself.

- Turn down your heat; turn off lights as you leave the room. In last year's rising energy costs, by lowering our heat, our bill actually went DOWN by 15% even as others' bills were rising.

- Stay out of stores. Really. When I go shopping I'm as tempted as the next person, trust me. Every time I go shopping, I put something in my cart that I don't need. (Last time it was tortillas, which we will use but I don't have a plan for....which is pretty good as impulse shopping goes. When it's a new outfit, or a nice bottle of wine, it's spendier.) When I go into stores, I get messages that say "buy, buy, buy!" It's amazing to me how little I think about wanting particular items until I go into a store.

- Set your budget and don't deviate. This might seem obvious, but it takes some real discipline. Today, knowing that the WSBaby folks would have a very good reason why I should donate more, I wrote out my check in advance, based on what I could afford and NOT what I wanted to donate.

- Pay cash. I have read this in SO many places (including Dave Ramsey, Your Money or Your Life, and others), and it's true. Debit cards have a way of making us forget it's real money; we're not told how much money is left until payday each time we buy a latte and a croissant. But when you open your wallet (or your cash envelope), you can't help but face the truth.

- Call around to see if you're getting the best deal on your auto and home insurance. I couldn't believe how much we saved on comparable policies - when we'd purchased the policies they were economical, but over time they'd become less so.

- Same for phone service: call around. We ended up going with Vonage: for $25/month we get our long distance, caller ID, call waiting, etc. The quality of the connection is not perfect - sometimes it is great but often the quality is spotty. We're getting used to it, and I don't regret the switch. (One note: cable phone companies like Vonage operate on different systems than the "regular" phone companies. Our Qwest package was only $25 per month, too, but it had a lot of taxes and fees so it was closer to $40/month, even without long distance. With Vonage, there are no taxes and fees, and long distance is included.)

- Stock up on items when they go on sale. I try to buy most things fresh and make things from scratch, but despite my best intentions I do need to buy chicken stock, or canned tomatoes, etc. Now I only buy them on sale, but keep extras in the pantry.

- Improvise. Today our coffee pot broke. (Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!) We immediately started looking up new ones on the 'net, but then we realized that we'd rather buy a really nice one and find it on sale, and we need to do research and shop around. We remembered that we have two small french press coffee makers, and we'll use those in the interim.

- Borrow, and lend too, of course. (Not money, stuff!) When we dug our garden last year, we didn't have a pitchfork. We borrowed one. Yesterday we loaned a neighbor a dish in a size she didn't own. It's ridiculous to think that we should have one of everything when we use these things so infrequently. Be a good neighbor: loan out your things, and borrow others, returning them promptly and in good condition.

- Don't use disposable anything: paper plates, paper napkins, paper towels, paper cups, plastic forks, one-use water bottles, etc. You are paying not only for their use, but for the privlege of throwing them away.....and you have other things you could use instead. Have old fashioned picnics with your own dishware. Use rags. Individually, these items don't cost much....but add up their usage over a year....

- Use the library for entertainment. You can get movies and CDs in addition to books, all for free. You can also go to lectures, or see free concerts or children's programs.

- Go outside. Walk around your neighborhood and talk to neighbors. Go to the beach. Walk in the woods. Snowshoe. Watch the sun set. Work in a garden. Play in a park. Visit a botanical garden. Go for a romantic walk under the stars. Run along the boardwalk. Sit at a pond and feed the ducks. Go on a puddle stomp. Picnic. Sit on your deck for your morning coffee. All free, or close to it, and all lovely.

- Speaking of coffee.....make it at home, and take it with you in your stainless cup. Calculate how much you pay for your home made latte, and then how much you pay for one at a shop. (My apologies to C&P for this one - you know I love you and your coffee!) My personal rule has become that I only go to coffee shops as a destination where I intend to hang out, where I'm paying more for the ambience than the coffee (and the coffee is just a nice bonus).

- Set a budget for eating out and stick to it. Often at church we like to go to Elliott Bay Brewery with friends; we didn't want to give up this lovely, fun, social activity on our budget. Instead, we created a per-person budget for the meal that allows us to have the meal we all enjoy so much without breaking the bank. (This means no drinks - we all drink water, and that saves some empty calories as well as some cash.)

- Or....instead of going out for a meal with friends, go out to Happy Hour, or meet for coffee instead of a meal, or dessert, or a glass of wine. Being social outside your home doesn't mean you need to spend a ton of money.

- Fix what you have instead of replacing it. (I have a crock pot on the fritz; I'm going to figure out if the local "small appliance repair" can attend to it without me spending a fortune...)

- Figure out activities you love and buy an annual pass for them. For me, this is the Seattle Art Museum. I get so much benefit from my membership, because I LOVE going there. My membership pays for itself many times over because of the frequency with which I use it. (We usually are members at the zoo and aquarium, too, but with Tessa in school we aren't going as much and our membership has lapsed....)

- Stick to classic clothing instead of trendy items. I don't think I'll ever regret my long black coat, but that orange blazer that seemed so fun isn't exactly getting a lot of wear.

- Podcasts. I LOVE listening to Podcasts on my iPod. I regularly listen to The Dave Ramsey Show to inspire me to keep on the frugal/debt reduction path, even though his personality drives me nuts. For fun, I listen to This American Life, the CBC program On Writing, The Moth, and others. I stay up to date with President Obama's weekly radio address, and the NPR Story of the Day. I use guided meditations from the Australian Meditation Society. I catch up on missed church services with their podcasts, too. The possibilities are endless, and when you're bored with one podcast there are zillions of others to choose from.....and they are FREE!

- Did I mention "stay out of stores"? This is so, so true. Worth repeating. I forget how tempted I am when the temptation is removed from right in front of me.

- Practice the rule "no impulse shopping." When you just HAVE to have it, don't tell yourself "no." Instead, say, "In (x) days, if I still want it, I will check out my budget and make it happen." If it really was important to you, perhaps it's worth working into your budget, and then you really can go buy it. But odds are, three days later, you'll have completely forgotten what it was, let alone how much you wanted it. Tessa and I remind one another, "No impulse shopping!" and I can't believe how much money this policy saves me, without feeling deprived.

- Skip the wine. (Sigh.) It is better for your health, and for your pocketbook.

- Thrift stores. My "new" Kate Spade purse (okay, it's probably a knock-off) gets me tons of compliments and it was $10. I found Tessa some slim cut Gap jeans in her size for $1, too. You can get useful, practical items for pennies on the dollar.

I'm running out of steam to write this, so I'll stop there. I write as much to remind myself as others....I am committed to this idea. I will not give up because I am determined to live a debt free life. Determined.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice!! Thank you so much :o)