Friday, January 25, 2008

Frugal is as Frugal Does

The word frugal means different things to different people. To some it could mean clipping coupons and to others it can mean turning off lights, turning down the heat, carpooling to work, only shopping when it is absolutely necessary, etc. To me, it falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

To me, living frugally means that if we don't need it, we don't buy it. Sounds really simple doesn't it? But it does take some work and planning. Lets take school clothes for instance. At the end of July and the first part of August every year, the retailers release a massive campaign of ads telling us that our children will be ridiculed if they do not have a new wardrobe to start the new school year. I don't buy into that. I go through the kids closets at the end of the previous school year, take out anything that is too small or no longer wearable, and replace only the items that have been removed. I also do this after Christmas. You can get end of season sales for spring and fall clothing for next to nothing. If the weather isn't right to wear it yet, put it back until it is. I am fortunate that my kids are not clothes hounds or fashion slaves. For the school supplies, I stock up big time when the sales hit. This usually happens right after Labor Day in our area. School has been back in session for a couple of weeks and the stores have a ton of stuff to get rid of to make room for the Holiday season. And my kids usually wind up needing more paper or pencils or whatever again by Christmas anyway so I have it on hand for when they do.

Another "...don't buy it" at my house is soda. Just the cost of soda probably saves us $50 a month. We drink tea. Or Kool-Aid. Or water. And of course, coffee. Even when sodas are on sale, they cost way too much. If you look at the cost per ounce of that stuff, and the amount of sugar, you will just cringe. Tea will give you antioxidants, you control the amount of sugar, and it doesn't leave a sticky feeling in your mouth after you drink it. It costs me about 80 cents to make 2.5 gallons. The same amount of soda will cost you about 5 bucks and that is if you buy 2 liter bottles. If you buy it in cans, it will cost about $7. Not worth it. And we won't even talk about 20 ounce bottles from the corner store. Geesh!

The thing to keep in mind is that Frugal is a lifestyle, not a once in a while thing. And you don't have to think of yourself as a tightwad to do it. If you visit thrift stores, discount markets, flea markets and garage sales, that is being frugal. If you clip coupons and only buy the things you need and not everything you have a coupon for, that is frugal. If you don't fall for the marketing that tells us we have to have the newest, biggest, best of everything, new item on the market, that is being frugal. If you carpool to work instead of driving that massive SUV you got conned into buying, that is being frugal, ...sort of.

If you do all of those things and then some, Great! The thing to keep in mind is that you have to figure out a system that works for you and your family and live by it. Some people just don't have access to flea markets. That is what Ebay is for. Some people, myself included, are shaped funny and have a hard time finding clothes that fit off of the clearance racks. So learn to sew. Some people have such a hectic lifestyle they do not have time to shop for bargains. Hogwash I say! Can everyone say "clearance rack?"

You have to make the decision to save money. It won't just happen. And it has to be a family thing. It won't do you any good if you save $200 a month in groceries then turn around a buy a new TV when the old one still works. Everyone in the family has to be on board. If even one family member doesn't want to do it, it can sabotage the whole thing. Make a plan. Even have a jar that you put your saved money in and take a nice vacation or something to reward all of your hard work. Just don't get into it every time you need a couple of dollars for the drive thru. You will be amazed at how quickly that jar will fill up. And as you get more used to frugal living, you can shave off spending in more places. You might even wind up with enough money in that jar for a down payment on something really big.

You just have to keep in mind the big picture. Why do you want to be frugal? Do you have a goal in mind or do you just want fewer bills? What would you do if you got laid off? Would you have enough savings to get you thru until you could find another job?

Make a plan. Live it. Make it your own. And if the Joneses look at you funny, laugh back because you do not have to worry about paying for all the useless stuff they have bought.

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