There’s a big movement towards frugality afoot these days. It probably has something to do with our declining economy, record unemployment levels, and the increasing price of food, but only the wisest families are paying attention to these things. The rest of the folks are blithely going on as they always have, wondering why on earth they keep spending more money each week at the store.
If you are just beginning to move towards a thriftier lifestyle, you might be looking at the big picture. You could be asking yourself things like, “How can I save money on my car?” or “How can I pay less for that new laptop?” These are all fine things to do – paying less is great, but shopping for a bargain is actually not the key to a frugal lifestyle.
Living a life of thrift and frugality is all about the little habits. It’s about your mindset. Saving money on enormous expenditures is great, but it is the small daily actions that add up and change your life. Truly frugal people absolutely LOVE saving money. Embrace these daily habits and make them your own. You’ll soon see an incredible difference in the way you look at pretty much everything.
- Frugal people use everything right to the last drop. If you go to someone’s home and notice that their ketchup bottles are upside-down in the refrigerator, their toothpaste tube on the bathroom counter is tightly rolled and held in place with a clothespin, and the contents of the liquid soap pump look mysteriously watery, you may be visiting a fellow frugal person. We don’t like to waste stuff, so we use things right to the last drop, until there is absolutely no life left in it. We use rubber spatulas to get one more sandwich from the peanut butter jar. (I even have a special skinny rubber spatula that I purchased for the express purpose of scraping out containers in the kitchen.) We extend our dish soap with a little bit of water. What others throw away, we see as a personal challenge. I don’t know about you, but I get a little rush seeing how many more bangs I can get for my buck when using things that most folks would consider empty.
- Frugal people like to stay home. Going out costs money. I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I don’t have the daily temptations that folks do who go out to work. First there’s the peer pressure. In my old workplace, I was one of the few people who brought my lunch. Each day, the other ladies would spend half an hour deciding where they were going to go for lunch together. Then there are transportation costs and incidentals. Thirsty? A bottle of water is just $1. I’m not saying that you need to be a hermit on a mountaintop, trekking into the village on foot once a year for salt, sugar, and a box of oranges to offset scurvy, but you don’t have to go out every single day. If you have the day off, why not enjoy your home and your family instead of heading out to an activity that is going to cost for admission, refreshments, and a snazzy item from the gift shop?
- Frugal people don’t spoil their children. This may not make you popular now, but later, your kids just might appreciate it. When my kids were in public school, I was astonished at the cost of various activities and events. There were $40 field trips, $5 “pizza days”, and special $50 hoodies with the school emblem. As a single mom with two kids in school, there was no way I was just forking out the money for this stuff. So, when the girls came home with forms and asked for money, I made a list of extra chores they could do around the house to earn the money for the activity. If they didn’t feel it was worth a little extra work for them, I certainly wasn’t going to hand them my hard-earned cash for it. They learned the value of work, the relationship between work and getting stuff, and that sometimes, what they paid for just wasn’t worth the effort of earning the money for it. As well, they came to appreciate special meals and activities more. I recently took them on a vacation for Christmas and splurged a little. I was touched by how appreciative they were and delighted as I saw them take steps to keep expenses down, like packing a picnic in our little hotel kitchenette instead of planning to eat out all day. When a child is constantly given everything, they grow up to be less satisfied, and they’re a lot harder to make happy. Those are the kids who grow up to be the adults that trade their cars in every two years and keep remortgaging their homes for things like pools and pricey vacations. It is far more loving to raise your children in an atmosphere that encourages thrift, productivity, and personal accomplishment instead of a silver platter environment.
- Frugal people have productive hobbies. What do you like to do for fun? Does it use up resources or produce them? Productive hobbies should teach something, create something, repair something, or improve something. Think back to the days before television. People worked hard all day long, producing food, cutting wood, cooking, hunting, building…it was a full-time job to survive and thrive. In the evenings, by candlelight, they could stop and put their feet up for a while. Books were not widely available like they are now, so families passed the time by performing stitchery, carving, making furniture, mending things, and creating items that made their lives more pleasant and beautiful. Sometimes a family member would read aloud, play an instrument, or sing. Time was of value and not to be wasted. Most of my hobbies are relatively productive. Sure, I’ll watch a movie on Amazon, but while I do, I’m crocheting a Christmas present, mending clothes, or making some small item for our home. I like to grow vegetables and flowers. Chickens make me happy.
- Frugal people don’t shop as a form of entertainment. When you shop as “something to do” you are bound to spend money on something you don’t need. I have daughters, and they really don’t love my theory on this, but we shop when we need to get something. We don’t just go hang out at the mall. If it’s time to buy some school clothes, I allot a certain amount of money and time, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I do the same thing with Christmas shopping. The mall is fraught with ways to drain your money – you get thirsty and buy a bottle of water or another drink. You weren’t hungry but the smells from the food court are so tantalizing you can’t resist. That display in front of the store has doohickeys that are ONLY a dollar.
- Frugal people save pennies throughout every single day.. Frugality is a way of life for us. It isn’t saving money on the big things. It is eagerly grasping hold of the challenge of doing everything less expensively. It’s automatically calculating the lowest unit price. It’s making things instead of buying them. It’s choosing to use your own creativity instead of the party supply store’s when throwing a birthday party for your child. It’s putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. These small daily actions add up to enormous savings and allow you, unlike the greater majority of our society, to live within your means.
- Frugal people put aside emergency funds. When times are tight, being taken by surprise over a sudden necessity is sure to turn your budget upside down if you haven’t prepared for it. This is why frugal people keep a rainy day fund and a fully-stocked pantry. Then, if the refrigerator groans and breathes its last, if the car grinds to a halt 50 miles from home, or if a family member needs to go to the doctor, it doesn’t put you in a situation where you must be faced with deciding whether to deal with the emergency or keep your electricity on.
- Frugal people cook from scratch. One of the most certain ways to destroy your budget is to eat food prepared by other people. Think about it: whether you buy it from a restaurant or from a box on the grocery store shelf, someone spent time making that food. And you are paying for that! Those pouches of pre-cooked rice, those rotisserie chickens, that bag of take-out food, or that just-add-water and heat for 10 minutes meal from a box all include the cost of someone else’s labor. If you don’t know how to cook from scratch, there are simple foods you can start with, like soup, steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, and chicken breast. Get an old-fashioned cookbook for simple instructions to make basic foods.
- Frugal people do things the low-tech way. There are simple ways to save money that don’t show you an immediate return. Things like hanging your laundry instead of using your dryer. Things like putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. Things like taking it easy in the hottest part of a summer afternoon instead of cranking up the air conditioner. Things like using solar lights as night lights. The list could go on and on, but by reducing your dependence on electricity and natural gas (or whatever your heat source is) you can save hundreds of dollars per year.
- Frugal people repair things. We live in a society of planned obsolescence. Most things aren’t made to last a lifetime anymore, and our society is happy to just toss their doo-dads in a landfill and go get new ones. Frugal people fix things. We mend our clothes, we repair our appliances, we fix broken furniture, and some of us even do unheard of things like darning our socks. We don’t immediately think about replacement. Our first step is always repair.
Real frugality is all in your head.
Hard-core frugality is not just making a choice to buy the generic brand of laundry soap instead of a jug of Tide with scent beads. Hard-core frugality is buying the ingredients to make 5 times the amount of laundry soap for half the price of that name-brand detergent, all the while LOVING the fact that Proctor and Gamble are not getting your money.
Being a black belt in frugality takes creativity and an optimistic outlook. It should never be some grim, sad thing that you have to do. It should be something that you choose to do. By finding joy in your non-consumerism, you will be far more successful at it. It becomes a game that you win if you can do something for free that others spend money on.
When you feel like you require less, then you are happy with less. This means that you have to spend less time working at things you may not truly enjoy to pay for the things that you never actually needed in the first place. This means that the money that you have goes a lot further and that your life feels a lot more satisfying.
When you finally cross that line between resenting the fact that you have to strictly budget to embracing the fact that by being as thrifty as possible, you have achieved freedom you never dreamed of before, you’ve made the conversion. You aren’t just acting with thrift until things get better. You, my friend, are one of those truly joyous frugal people that others look to for inspiration.