What does the word “Frugal” mean to you?
Some people think of frugality as being cheap, but to me they are two very different concepts.
Being cheap is about always spending the least amount of money possible, with no thought given to quality, utility, style, or enjoyment. A cheap person would buy shoddily made shoes that will fall apart later, neglect to give a tip to the waitress, or eat poor quality food simply because it is inexpensive. The only question a cheap person asks themselves when making a decision is “What costs less?”.
Being frugal is about carefully considering your priorities and then making your spending choices to conserve your money and live within your means. I like to look at it as “Saving money on the things you don’t care about, so that you can spend money on the things you DO care about”. A frugal person looks at purchases for both their immediate cost and their long term cost. I love to use shoes as an example. I’ll spend $80 on a pair of good shoes that will last for several years and make my feet feel good rather than buy $20 cheap shoes I’ll have to replace in 6 months and have no support for my feet.
Obviously from my description (and of course the blog name) you can tell that I consider myself a frugal person. Let’s delve into my philosophy just a bit more. If you are going to save money on the things you don’t care about so you can spend it on the things you DO. . . that means you need to think about your priorities! What do you care about?
I’ll tell you something. It’s not my job to tell you how to live your life or what your priorities should be. I’m very libertarian that way. As long as you are living within your means (remember how I mentioned that?) then it’s up to you what you spend money on. Now if you aren’t living within your means, that’s a completely different story–then you really need to think in terms of how many expenses and how much debt you have, what necessities you must spend on, what you have left over (if anything) and where to go from there. We are blessed. Hubs and I had a lot going in our favor with middle class families that started us on our way respectably, and then we both worked hard, lived with a frugal philosophy, avoided debt and are in a pretty good place.
In our case we care about some big things, like having minimal debt, having an emergency fund and putting away money for retirement and college. Some of the other things we care about are our motorcycles (not cheap, but one of hubs favorite hobbies), eating good quality and tasty food, taking vacations at the lake in the summer, being able to eat out a couple of times a month and occasionally going to the theater, having music lessons etc for the kids and myself, being able to spend time with extended family and help take care of them if necessary, and I’m sure many more things.
Wait, what? Motorcycles? Vacations? Eating Out? Aren’t frugal people supposed to tell you never to eat out?
These are the things we enjoy. Hubs is a motorcycle guy, it’s his hobby and his “happy” place. Our summer vacations at the lake have increased our family bonding and given us priceless memories and good times. And yes, we enjoy eating out when the mood strikes us (like last night when the kids were at grandma’s and we decided to make it a date night).
That’s where we get to the other half of the equation–the part that says “Save money on the things you don’t care about. . . “. I firmly believe we can afford these things because of all the other ways we save money in our lives. What are some of these ways?
1. Once we buy furniture, we pretty much keep it. We saved up as a newly married couple for our bedroom suite and living room suite–and we are still using them. I might be tired of my 14 year old plaid sofa, but it’s built like a tank and it’s in perfectly good shape (the cushions are amazing still) and matches the decor in the den. I’m not going to spend money to replace something just because I’m a bit “tired” of it. Likewise I can think of at least 15 pieces of good quality furniture that were given to us by family members who no longer wanted them. Luckily our house is rather classic in style and so are the items we’ve been offered, so it all looks just fine. If we really NEED something we buy it, but once it’s purchased, it’s going to stick around for a good long time!
(note–our house does NOT look like a hodge-pod college student apartment–it actually looks well put together and classic.)
2. A significant portion of our wardrobes have been purchased second hand. First of all in many cases I think some of the older, classic items were made of better quality materials as little as 10 years ago (have you noticed how thin denim has become?). Second of all, clothes can be purchased so inexpensively second hand–and you can find all kinds of recent styles and brands. Older items that are of a “classic” style happen to go with my personal style, so that works as well. Even my teenage girl enjoys going to Plato’s Closet and picking up name brands like Aeropostale, GAP and Hollister at a fraction of the price of new. Sure, I buy some things new–a couple of “on trend” pieces to mix in with what I’ve already gotten, or a wardrobe basic that I want new and of good quality (think LL Bean Turtleneck that will last me 10 years).
(note: While I may not be a fashion plate, I also don’t look any different than anyone else I see out on the street. And my teen IS a fashion plate and is quite happy with her wardrobe, although she does enjoy hitting the sales racks at major retailers at the Mall and purchasing an occasional full priced item. Buddy is 11. He doesn’t care.)
3. I cook most of our food from scratch. It takes longer, but I know exactly what is going into my food, and it’s cheaper since ingredients are usually less expensive than prepackaged meals or eating out. Speaking of which–those meals out aren’t TOO frequent, we try to reserve them for fun occasions, not just “too lazy to cook”.
(note: My husband’s comment to a friend who stayed to dinner and was raving about my meatloaf “We eat good around here!”)
4. I’m a smart grocery shopper and keep a deep pantry. I buy store brands, in bulk and on sale. We keep the “running to the store for a last minute ingredient (which oh by the way is always more expensive at that place right around the corner) down to a minimum. We’ve purchased 1/4 of a steer, 1/2 a pig and hubs brings home a couple of deer in the fall. I buy flour, sugar, wheat berries, and rice in bulk. Sure, it’s more expensive at first (over $400 for a half a steer for example) but when you do the math for price per pound, you are saving a TON.
(note: Having a lot of stuff on hand is convenient. It’s a total shock when we are actually out of something)
5. We try to grow or make our own on many things. I have a large garden and grow a lot of our own vegetables, then can, freeze or dehydrate them. I try to bake my own bread. I make my own pizza. I use oil and a brush instead of nonstick spray. We make our own wine (which after you’ve paid for the initial equipment outlay brings it down to between $3-$6 a bottle!). I make powdered laundry detergent and use vinegar for a lot of cleaning (although I do use other products as well). I use olive oil instead of moisturizer and rubbing alcohol instead of deodorant. We buy popping corn and make it on the stovetop in a popper instead of buying microwave popcorn. Hubs does minor repairs and electrical work. I use refillable water bottles instead of buying bottled water (although we do use some for trips etc).
(note: Something to remember with DIY–you are trading your time for the money you save. Some things are worth it, some are not. Only you can decide!)
6. We simply DON’T buy a lot of things. We rarely have soda in the house. We don’t have a lot of candy or chips. If what we have is good, even if old, we keep it (hence hubs and I both using 3 year old cell phones). We cancelled cable and just use netflix for tv now. We have older cars, an older TV, and the kids got our older computer to use (I did purchase a new one for work). We are even using my husband’s grandfather’s cast iron sprinkler, his hoe and his spade–they are a hundred years old and work just fine! Our kids don’t have cell phones, tablets or laptops (part of that due to my philosophy on screen time). We try not to buy much fuel oil and only 3 tons of wood pellets by keeping the heat low enough to need sweaters in the house during the winter.
(note: My philosophy fits right in with a quote I heard on a TV show the other day “People have a habit of confusing the word “new” with “improved””.)
I’m sure there are plenty more examples of things we’ve decided not to buy, items we purchased second hand, and things we do ourselves.
Finally, do I think you should do this too? NO. Well, not exactly. You need to act based on your own priorities. You may not care about motorcycles or vacations, but having fashionable clothing is important to you. Or you could care less about eating out and theater, but would be miserable without your favorite TV shows. Only you can decided. What is important here is a thought process. Have you ever really stopped to think about it this way, in terms of family priorities? If not, you may find that you are spending more money than you mean to on things that YOU don’t really care about.
So what do you all think? I know folks don’t comment on blogs as much as they used to, but I’d really like to hear some of your thoughts on all this, and on other frugal topics you like to see me address.