Monday, March 24, 2014
Ten Facts About Today's Frugalites
I've so enjoyed getting to know some of the bloggers who live frugal lifestyles. When I started my newsletter twelve years ago and later my blog (seven years ago), I wanted to share my life knowledge of how to stretch a single income in a double income world, simply because that information was rare. Tracey McBride, Mary Hunt, and Joni McCoy were the only ones with current information besides Amy Dacyzyn. I felt strongly that my own personal experience could be a help to others. As the economy went downhill these past few years, I've seen more and more bloggers who are just starting out as frugalites or who suddenly realized they too had skills the blogging world at large could use to acclimate to the new normal of high costs and lowered incomes.
I'm a huge believer in never thinking you know it all. I learn something new nearly every single week, sometimes every single day, about how to save money, time, energy. I've also noted that we frugalites have some common strategies, things that we all do, in order to stretch our dollars.
#1: We create multiple savings accounts. Many practicing frugal lives set money aside for ordinary expenses that come along routinely but not monthly. Things like car maintenance, annual fees such as taxes or tags, insurance renewal fees, etc. As one blogger tagged it, "pre-funding" is one way to make a manageable task out of these routine fees while leaving the emergency fund for true emergencies, like repairs for vehicles or home that arise unexpectedly.
It's not necessary to open several accounts if you're very disciplined but if you're not, especially when just starting out, it's best to have funds in an account that is not easily accessible. You have to plan ahead to remove the funds when they are needed, can't just tap into them for any old whim. Often there are other accounts set up for funding retirement or college or both. Then there is the big savings fund wherein enough money should be set aside to cover anywhere from 3 to 12 months of living expenses.
It's sometimes frustrating to try to fund multiple accounts, but it can be done over a period of time. I've found that few of our annual fees require a large deposit on a monthly basis, generally no more than $10 at most (ours are pre-funded with twice monthly deposits). I suggest the emergency fund be your primary focus first (at least $1000 per most experts), and then set up the others as you hone your skills.
#2: Frugal families have a working pantry. Buy on sale, stock for future needs, re-stock when items go on sale again. That's the principle many of us live by to keep our food costs lower. Pantries are as individual as the household they're in, but anyone can save money simply by stocking up when items routinely used are on sale, set aside enough to last until the next sales cycle and restock as needed. I learned this principle while working in central supply at a nursing home. It was a given we were going to use certain items over and over again each month. I started stocking up when items went on sale, ordering just a bit more than we'd need for that month. At first our home office was upset that spending costs appeared a little higher than usual...then they watched as our costs overall began to shrink, which increased their profit margin. Suddenly I was the smartie in the group.
I brought that same idea into my home and began to build a pantry and fill a freezer. I see the pantry/freezer as another 'emergency fund'. If unemployment hit we could eat at least 3-6 months from what we have on hand with money spent only on fresh produce and dairy. I'd really like to have that figure at 12 months of basic foodstuff.
In the days when we were struggling hard, my stock up time was tax return time. We knew the children would be home all summer long and we'd be faced with the hungry horde during those days. We'd choose a good sales week and hit the store, stocking up on luncheon meats, pastas, and such that we could freeze or store. It was a huge savings not to have to increase our grocery budget hard in those summer vacation months of the year.
Many frugal homemakers have learned to use coupons/sales combinations to save money and feed their families for far less than you can imagine. Some forage/harvest wild foodstuffs as well as garden to stock their pantries and freezers. I haven't gardened in years, but I do what I call a harvest at home. I save end pieces of bread, put up fruit that is fast approaching it's prime, save root ends and tops of carrots, celery, onions to use to make stock, etc. I do buy a few specific items to put up for the coming year from a local farmer's market. I've learned to use what I have to expand my pantry/freezer goods and cut costs. Most frugalites have similar skills that are adapted to their home and family which works for them. We follow the rule that there are no rules, simply new ways to explore savings.
#3:We work to pay off debts and stay out of debt. We've lived on one income for about 17 years now. In those 17 years we've paid off all our debts and have lived debt free for the past 7 years. I do not consider the payments made on our car a 'debt' since we borrowed from ourselves to buy it. We worked hard to replace that money. Despite having no raise in six years, increased food and other costs, and more recently a 'raise' that subtracted money from our paycheck, we kept up the hard work. In 3 years we repaid it. Most recently we borrowed from our account to pay for the back porch. I'm being really ambitious with that loan. I want to pay if off by the end of this year.
We were consistent in our efforts to get out of debt those first ten years we lived here and it meant going without a great deal that others took for granted. It meant waiting when we really wanted an item. When we had extra cash we paid extra on our debt load and we didn't go out to eat more than once or twice a year. That was reserved for our anniversary, or family birthdays. We got creative when we wanted special things like a vacation (we used spare change saved for a year or sometimes two, rented rooms with kitchenettes so we could prepare meals 'at home', etc.). We didn't shop for fun or recreation. We didn't go to the movies at all.
When someone would suggest that we deserved to lighten up a little and do something that cost more than we were willing to spend, we suggested that we thought being debt free was the most important gift we could give ourselves and that it was the best example we could show our children.
#4: We live within our means, even if it's below our wants. When we decided to buy a home, we went out and looked and looked and looked. Finally we determined just what it was we wanted and we found a home that had the floor plan we desired. It was absolutely gorgeous: roomy, sunny, the latest in finishes, a bedroom for every one. And that was the house we bought... Uhm... No! Love the house? You betcha. Could we have afforded the home? Maybe. If everything went just right and we both worked all the overtime we could stand. However, we were fairly certain we could have just as nice a home for a good bit less. It took another year of looking but we found this home at a price that seemed far more reasonable to us. It has the exact floor plan of the home we loved but with fewer bedrooms and no den. The finishes were a little lower grade but we were able to upgrade a few things without paying thousands more. It wasn't ideal but it was reasonable. It meant we could pay the mortgage off more quickly.
Just at first we felt a little crowded but as the older kids grew up and moved out we 'fit' it a bit better. Because we bought the home we did, I was able to become a stay at home mom while our youngest two were still in school.
We do the same with our vehicles. We buy what fits our needs best. Living in a fairly rural area, with work and most destinations 30 miles or so away, we lean away from gas hogs and buy cars with a reputation for good service and sturdiness (bumpy country roads demand that) as well as good gas mileage. Yes, we dream now and then of a luxury truck, but we've seen the benefit of the cars we own. We drove our old Honda for six years and then turned it over to Katie who is still driving it. She'd like a new car, too, but knows that her car is reliable and likely to go for a few years yet.
#5: We don't mind buying used. I love to watch the Duggars on TV. One thing that I see over and over again and hear consistently from Jim Bob and Michelle is 'Buy used and save the difference." There's a lot of good stuff in that statement. John told me this week that new vehicles lose 30% of their value the moment that you drive them off the lot. That means if you bought a brand new car, drove it out of one driveway exit and in the other and decided to trade it in, you'd already have lost over 1/3 the value of the car due to depreciation. You'd owe more than you could sell it for. The same is not true if you buy used.
I realized some time ago after a disappointment with a furniture purchase that buying used allowed me to buy better furniture than I could afford new. Many real wood pieces now grace my home. I find myself culling pieces. Sad to say, many of the pieces we find ourselves getting rid of were purchased new! We've replaced them with better quality used pieces.
#6: We are always learning new skills. Frugalites have a heart to learn new skills that will save money and enhance their homes. Baking, sewing, construction, mechanic work: if they can Google it, see it on YouTube, read about it, they will learn to do it. Many frugal folks garden, can, freeze, preserve their harvest thanks to a willingness to learn. A few years ago I decided to fly by the seat of my pants and 'upholster' a chair. I confess I looked at the how to videos and illustrations and then I winged it. No one who walked into my home ever said "Oh a DIY job, huh?" It wasn't perfect but it looked neat enough and lasted years until I pulled it off last year.
My youngest son has no problem building or refinishing furniture, Katie learned to sew, Amie to knit and my oldest son has been doing some fairly pricey home repairs and updates himself like installing tile, back splashes and molding, not to mention building wood pieces for home and family, like my lovely new mantel. Not one of them were taught to do these things. They learned on their own, by trial and error.
#7:We keep items in good repair. Good stewardship has a middle name, "Frugal". Truly frugal people realize that the best investment is to keep things in good working order. We don't skimp on routine maintenance for home, vehicle nor appliances. We may have taken item #6 above to heart and learned to do some of those routine maintenance tasks ourselves. We're smart about them though, too. If we can't do it, know that it's beyond our current skill level, we have no problem hiring the work done. That's why we have those pre-funded accounts set up!
We have the names of skilled folks on our list to call when we need advice or work. My youngest son does a good bit of the mechanical work on our vehicles, my brother is a skilled carpenter and does many of the major home reno and repair projects. We do not get these services for free, but we know when we ask either of them to do these jobs we're getting quality, meticulous work that will stand the test of time.
#8. We make things from scratch. If it can be bought at the grocery as a specialty item, we will soon learn how to make it at home at a cost savings to us. Every now and then we can't make it more cheaply but we can make it taste better and we'll happily settle for that improvement on occasion. Ultimately most frugal kitchen cooks want food to taste good, look good and be good for the body as well as the pocketbook. We study nutrition guidelines, use good common sense and purchase good quality seasonal ingredients to insure we get the very best that is available on the market. And we learn quickly how to keep those basic seasonal ingredients from being endless repetitions, too. We have a repertoire of tried and true recipes as well as a file of to be tried recipes when the season rolls around once more.
#9: We learn how to have fun in frugal ways. When our kids were younger and five strong and the budget was so tight it started squealing before the last check was written for bills each pay period, we learned that we had to be creative about having fun. We found free museums and parks to go to, carried along picnic dinners, drove along the scenic route and just plain had fun.
We couldn't go to the movies, but when the video store sent out coupons for free rentals we'd get six or seven films we'd all been wanting to see, make up a homemade pizza, brownies, finger foods and have a marathon movie weekend. We'd watch films all weekend long, sometimes watching favorites twice, and never get out of our pajamas.
We did old fashioned things like make ice cream, put together puzzles, or play board games. We would invite friends over for pot luck meals and have them spend the day on July 4th, the Sunday before Christmas, birthdays. We celebrated holidays, all of 'em from Valentine's Day right through to Christmas. We didn't recycle for the environment, we recycled and used saved items as decorating and craft supplies. Many frugal families do the very same thing.
We even made mealtimes an event. Sunday dinners were especially nice with a whole roasted chicken or a beef roast (good for leftovers all through the week ahead) and our table set prettily with tablecloth, flowers (usually from the yard) and china. But weekday meals were fun too. I studied the calendar and if it was National pancake day, that's what we had for dinner! We celebrated all sorts of fun days and sometimes we just attempted to have an international based dish once a week. Mealtimes were enjoyed and looked forward to. I laugh now to hear the kids repeat stories told at the dinner table and then they will add, "Remember? We had burgers made from kidney beans that night!"
Yes, we did take the occasional vacation or have a meal out. Vacation was a once a year or every other year event, often a long weekend but we did it and made sure it was memorable for the kids when we did.
We didn't have a meal at McDonald's just any old day. We saved up and went out to a nice restaurant. If we vacationed we carried food from home and cooked meals in the room. We allowed rules to be broken on those vacations. The kids could eat whenever they were hungry. Honestly? It wasn't too scary. We always stayed near beach and in places with a pool so the kids spent most of their time in those two areas and not in the kitchen, lol. Meals when we traveled were picnics at parks along the way, a habit John and I keep to even today because we enjoy it so and it brings back happy memories of our days with the children.
Part of our fun was the relaxation of rules for special days. Christmas Day the kids were allowed to have as many sodas and sweets and snacks as they wanted. Usually we'd made a world of cookies to give to friends and kept a few for ourselves. I found my children ate heartily but were never greedy with the privilege of having all they wanted. They enjoyed the freedom but they saw no need to be gluttons.
#10: We live simpler lives. Being frugal is work, sometimes hard, sometimes repetitious, but it's real work every day. Frugal people however, do not have to work hard all of the time. There's a stopping point in each day when we can lay aside the work of the day, put up our feet and enjoy the leisure of rest. We can read, watch a movie, listen to music on the radio, blog. We're not caught up in the need to work extra hours in order to pay off a debt, we're not caught up in a myriad of activities that require an investment of time and money and energy we don't have to spare. As families we tend to be together in the evenings, at least all in the same home if not in the same room.
Even as adults my children are not prone to leading hectic lives. They believe that leisure is the just reward of those who work hard and they take advantage of it. I find this to be the truth with most frugal folks. Wisely they realize that work will wait on them and because they are not as pressured to earn they have the time to enjoy life.
This is what I've gleaned from my own and others frugal lives. Frugality is a worthwhile pursuit and has many rewards.