One woman’s frugality is another’s Rolls Royce.

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And those who were seen dancing
were thought to be insane
by those who could not hear the music.
Friedrich Nietzsche

  Over the last six months, the issues of frugality and living within one’s means have clearly been at the forefront of my thoughts, pretty much on a daily basis.  I’ve not only been thinking about how frugal and moneywise I can and need to be for my own sake, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the relativity of those ideas.  One person’s frugality is another person’s lavish lifestyle.  Your perspective on money is influenced by so many factors, among them your socio-economic background growing up, your values, life experiences, local norms and lifestyles, susceptibility to advertising and peer pressure, education, and on and on.

I have had some really interesting conversations with people about my yearlong debt repayment and no spending plan.  Some people look at me with pity and wonder how I’ll survive.  Others seem to light up and say- wow- I should really do that!  And then they usually go on to describe particular things they spend their money on that they feel they should curtail.  That is the moment when I start to realize we all have so many different ideas of what is important to have in our lives, and what we’re willing –or not- to sacrifice in pursuit of greater financial independence.  For some, going out to eat or see live music on a regular basis brings them enjoyment, and they’re willing to pay the money for it and skimp somewhere else in their lives.  For others, buying quality, organic ingredients is worth the extra bit of money to cook great meals at home.  It really is a matter of consciously thinking about your priorities, what brings goodness into your life, and leaving behind those things that aren’t really worth the time, energy, money, and sometimes your health to have.

So, to get back to our varied perspectives on the meaning of frugality…  I’ve made up a list of examples of ways that I have been saving money on everyday things.  Some I’ve been doing for years, while others I have begun doing (or not doing) just this year.   I realize some of these things won’t be for everyone, as our lifestyles and values may differ.  For example, to some, carrying a reusable bag to the store or reusable coffee cup to the coffee shop for your morning latte is just a pain in the ass.   To others, it’s just a regular habit they don’t even think about once it is an established behavior.   I just think it is important to share as a way to get folks to think about their own choices and see that the “norm” isn’t necessarily normal.  I’m not trying to get up on a soapbox, though I know it kind of sounds that way.  I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but rather I’d like us all to question our own “norms” and see if they could be improved upon.  I just think that overconsumption and consumerism without thoughtfulness is a huge part of most issues the world is dealing with today, including, but not limited to economic disparity, environmental devastation and ever increasing health problems.  While my impetus for this whole project was to rid myself of financial servitude, moving toward greater sustainability and the health of the planet are equally important to me.

So, without further ado, here is the list:

1-I do not buy or use paper towels or tissues.  I use rags to wipe up messes and hankies (that’s what they’re called where I’m from, so shush! 😉 to blow my nose and just wash them when dirty. Yes, I draw the line at toilet paper (recycled!), don’t worry.  And yes, it does mean you are using water to wash them, but honestly, I don’t go through so many rags that I’m doing extra laundry-I just throw them in with whatever else I’m washing.  And it just feels better than thinking about all the trees I’m throwing in the trash every time I use a paper towel.

2-Washing dishes- don’t fill the whole sink with hot water right away…just enough to scrub dishes clean.  And don’t start rinsing until you have the sink full of scrubbed dishes!  Then rinse with COLD water! Saves water and energy needed to heat the water.  This is an example of something that can be sooo obvious to some, and a revelation to others.

3-Bring a reusable coffee mug with you to get your latte! (Or mate, or tea, or nonfat-double-grande-soy-no foam-sugar free-mocha…whatever gets you going!)   My favorite local coffee shop has set an awesome example by not even offering to go cups!  Instead, you can borrow a mug of theirs, or buy a Mason jar for a buck to take with you.  Brilliant! I have gotten into the habit of just bringing a travel mug wherever I go.  Actually, that’s not entirely truthful.  These days, I brew my own coffee at home.  Hazelnut lattes are now a luxury that I indulge in only occasionally.  I’m sure the local baristas aren’t happy about that, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do!

4-Don’t buy bottled water!  Not only are you creating more plastic waste when you do, you are wasting money and the water is not guaranteed to be good for you!  This study by the Natural Resources Defense Council has shown that on average, unless you live in a toxic dump or something, buying bottle water doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting better water than what comes out of your tap.  The FDA’s rules (which regulate bottled water companies) are not as stringent as EPA rules (which regulate municipal drinking water), so in most cases, you’re better off just turning on your own faucet.  Just as I do for coffee, I bring a water bottle or two with me and fill it up as needed.  If you buy two bottles a day for $2 a piece, that adds up to $60 a month $120 (Oops!–This may be partly why I have been so crappy at money management!) you could be putting to a much more productive use, such as -you guessed it- paying off debt!

5-Plan your cooking or baking on cold days, or later in the day to warm your house instead of turning the heat up.  Kill two birds with one stone! Alternatively, as my mom used to say, if you’re cold- PUT A SWEATER ON!!

6-Instead of going out to eat for socializing, host a potluck.  This works especially well for those of us with friends that really know how to cook! My favorites are sushi potlucks-everyone pitches in at least one or two ingredients, and you have fun rolling a bunch of different combinations of rolls.  For a lot less cost per person, you can try a huge variety of rolls, and have fun at the same time.  Granted, I do live in coastal Northern California where we have a ridiculous abundance of fresh seafood and produce, but if you get creative, you can make it work no matter where you live.

7-Sell your car!! Avoid buying a car!! Or at least stop driving it so much.  I know this isn’t always feasible, depending on your line of work or where you live, but I seriously encourage you to rethink your car use.  This isn’t only a matter of environmental sustainability or cost, but of your own health. And often when we tell ourselves it isn’t feasible to walk or bike or bus, it’s more a matter of laziness and our  indoctrination into the ubiquitous U.S. car culture.  This is where that issue of “norms” not being normal becomes so apparent when you sit back and take a good look at it.  I could go on, but someone else has already laid out all the reasons in a much more entertaining way than I ever could, so I HIGHLY encourage you to check out this kick ass blog post and this one! (Just do it, you’ll thank me, I swear!)  I do have a disclaimer with this one, however.  I confess I have a company truck that I use for my job.  I get to take it home with me every day, and I don’t pay for gas or maintenance (score!).  I don’t own a personal vehicle, however (see my previous post) and while it can be a pain at times, overall I think I am happier and healthier without one.  I’ve been a bit lazy in the bicycle department, but my next goal is to get my lovely Trek road bike back in shape so I can, too.  Biking really is a miraculous all-purpose method of fitness and transportation, and once I get back on, I know I’ll be hooked again.

Have you read those posts yet? Yes? OK, continue reading below.  No? Go back and read it!! I mean it!

8- Seriously think about starting to make your own bread.  Or tortillas.   Or refried beans.  Whatever food(s) you buy prepared from the store that would actually be way cheaper and healthier to make yourself.  Again, I realize sometimes your time is more important than money.  But if you plan ahead and start simple, I bet you’ll thank yourself.  For example, one loaf of good quality bread such as Franz Hazelnut (my favorite) can cost over $4!! All for something that would cost you pennies to make!  Minus the hazelnuts, of course-unless you can forage for them for free! This brings me to #9…

9-Grow or forage your own!  I’m sure you’re all well aware that food costs have been going up lately, and it looks like that will continue to be the case.  But if you have even a little bit of space, you can grow your own veggies, fruits and herbs.  I have a modest-sized garden that is about 10’ x 8’, and I am currently growing raspberries, two types of kale, three types of lettuce, tomatillos, dill, sage, oregano, borage, mint, strawberries, tomatoes, celery and at least  half a dozen different types of flowers (for the birds and the bees).  Even with a small deck or fire escape, there are ways you can grow even a bit of your own food if you get creative.  And, if you feel confident in your plant and mushroom identification skills, you can go out and find some delicious, nutritious food for FREE! (Again- PLEASE be sure you are absolutely confident in your abilities here, or go with someone who does, as there is potential for fatal mistakes otherwise.)  Even if you only add a few dandelion greens to your salads or omelets, you can add some nutrition and variety to your diet for relatively little effort.  If this is something you want to learn more about, the best book I have seen thus far is Nature’s Garden, by Samuel Thayer, which I found at my local library.  It was a happy surprise, for two reasons – it was exactly the type of book I had gone to look for and as it happens, I knew the author when we were both in high school.  The intro alone is worth the read, but be sure to check the whole thing out.  I have yet to buy it, given my no spending policy, but it’ll be on my Christmas list!

10- Speaking of libraries- use them!! I know this seems a bit old-fashioned in this era of the internet, smartphones and the like, but I’m sticking by it.  Public libraries differ in quality and quantity of items available, but most still provide a lot of great reading material for free.  Most will also have DVDs, saving you money at the rental store or on Netflix or online subscriptions.  I’ll admit, they don’t always have the best selection, but I do end up watching – and enjoying- some movies that I otherwise wouldn’t have given a second glance.  My local library also has a free table of magazines they no longer want to keep, so I find some gems occasionally, even if they are a little out of date. (Magazines are also great for crafting…more on this in future posts.)  If you’re a shopaholic and book lover, going to the library can satisfy both urges, as you never know what you’ll find there, and you don’t have to pay for it!

OK, that’s a start.  I have many other ideas, so I’ll just keep sharing them in future posts.  Some may sound a bit like overkill or completely obvious, depending on your own habits and lifestyle, but think of it this way- just like paying back a debt penny by penny, then nickel by nickel, everything adds up, and if it doesn’t hurt, why not?  I bet that if you pick one or two things from this list and just try them for a month, they’ll become habit, and you won’t even think twice about it anymore.  Just like taking responsibility for our own financial well-being, we sorely need to take responsibility for our impacts on the planet and the others we share it with.

I want to hear your thoughts on this…

What are you willing to sacrifice (or not) to have a better financial life?

What are some creative ways you pinch pennies?

What’s your favorite free find?

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Bet ya thought I quit, huh? Nope, not me.

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” Mike Ditka

I kinda feel like the Energizer bunny right now with this blog.  Just when I think I’m going to throw in the towel, I come right back beating that silly drum…

So yes, it is now the first week of June and the beginning of the fifth sixth (!) month of my year of austerity, financial re-education, creative frugality, monetary responsibility, yadda,yadda,yadda, and I am finally getting around to writing. Oh well, life happens, at least I’m back, right?

Actually, despite having fallen off the blogging wagon, I have to admit I am pretty damn proud of myself.  I did some number crunching just to get a bigger picture of where I’m at, how far I’ve come, and how much further I have to go yet, and it feels pretty damn good.  While I still have a ways to go, I have made a very good start, and I feel like I have made some good changes in my thinking and habits when it comes to money management.  Of course, there is always room from improvement, and I have a lot to learn.  But for now, I’m going to take a minute to toot my own horn, cuz, well, I earned it, and sometimes you have to take the time to stop and acknowledge what you’re doing well and pat yourself on the back.

So, I made a little list of accomplishments from these past five months.  Here goes-

1-Made all my payments in full and on time every single month.

2-Just made my 4th payment on my U.S. Department of Education student loans…with 5 more to go to remove it from default status.

3-Kept detailed income/expense record for 6 months now, so I know where every single penny is coming from and going to.

4-Have consistently found ways to pinch pennies here and there, including making my lunch to bring to work today.  No more last minute trips to Subway or my favorite and crazy delicious but insanely expensive coffee shop/café for my work day lunches.  No more buying granola or tortillas or bread when homemade is most definitely cheaper, healthier, and most importantly-tastier! (I’m even starting to prefer my own cooking to going out to eat.  I can’t help but finish a restaurant meal and feel unsatisfied, thinking, “…and I paid HOW MUCH for THAT?!”  Don’t get me wrong, I love a great dinner out, but these days I am having too much fun experimenting with food at home, and quite frankly, the area in which I live has a dearth of quality restaurants.)

5-Started a piggy bank with which to painlessly and regularly put a few bucks away for guilt-free spending money.  If I have a buck or two in my pocket after the farmer’s market or I raked in an extra $5 from recycling, I just put it straight in my cute lil’ piggy bank (actually a decorated oatmeal container) and don’t allow myself to touch it.  (Actually, I peeked a few weeks ago, and I had over $50 saved up already!)  This isn’t just any spending money, however.  I plan to use it for specific things, such as a trip home to see family in Wisconsin next month, or a new pair of shoes, etc.  I feel like I’m attempting to reprogram myself to limit impulsive buys and save up for planned expenses.

6-Started setting specific goals to strive toward for each month.  While I have tried to avoid a strict budget, I have decided I need to set some sort of guidelines or limits on my grocery and unnecessary spending.  For example, for June, I am aiming to keep my grocery spending below $400 for the month and my “wants” spending to $70 or less.  I have written these goals on a piece of paper and pinned it to my wall calendar, and keep a regular tally of what I’ve spent already so I have an idea of how much I have left to spend.  After the limit is reached, I’m S.O.L.  I think seeing it so visually every single day will help me keep it in mind more often and help me learn to plan my spending and be less impulsive.  So far I think it’s working.

7- As of today, I am roughly halfway through paying off my old credit card debt.  I have paid off $4915.22 since last fall, with $4931.14 left to go.  At the rate I am paying this off, I should be done by December.  Once that goal is reached, I will shift focus to paying off my student loans.  I am still paying the minimum on those, but since the credit card has the highest interest rate, I decided it was best to knock that one out first and then start paying as much as possible on the rest.  (I no longer have a credit card, by the way.  I cut mine up many years ago when it finally became obvious they were doing more harm than good for me.  Someday when I can trust myself to use one, IF I can get one, I’ll likely use it to help regain a better credit status–by making the occasional purchases with it and paying the full balance EVERY month.  I ain’t stupid, despite what my money predicament may indicate…)

OK, are ya ready for THE BIG ONE?!

8- After five full months of penny pinching, some setbacks and such, and with the help and support of my awesome Mom, I have managed to pay off a total of $4548.71!!!   I am a little behind where I had hoped to be at this point, but I have to say I feel like it’s still a huge improvement over my previous situation, and it is a big morale booster to see the actual numbers and to see progress.

While I have made some great progress, I do feel at times like I am failing.  Logically, I know that isn’t true, but it’s a hard feeling to beat when you’re in it, so I am making a deliberate attempt to focus more on not quitting and just getting back up and starting again every time I fall off the wagon, so to speak.  Cliché or not, the key really is to JUST KEEP GOING.  Just the fact that I am seeing major changes in my approach and attitude toward spending and saving is proof that I am making progress.  It’s just a matter of reminding myself of that.

Whether or not I am hitting every one of my goals on time, I think that something even more important is happening for me that ultimately will contribute to my longer term success.  The first few months of this year, I felt energized and motivated, and then that started to fade a bit, and I was feeling deprived.  But over the last month or so, I have noticed a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction every time I am faced with the temptation to spend and I decide NOT to. Of course I still have my moments, but instead of feeling left out or deprived every time I decline an invite to go out on the town or I avoid the thrift store splurge, I feel proud and energized just thinking about how much closer I am to being debt-free by using the money I would have spent to pay a bit more on my debts.   And, as luck would have it, I happened to find another great blog post from Mr. Money Mustache that speaks to this.  Check it out if you can!

Here’s to another 7 months of progress for me! Cheers.

Oh, since I opened with a Ditka quote, this diehard Cheesehead MUST end with this:

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”   Vince Lombardi.

True dat.