Lately I’ve been thinking about frugality quite a bit. It must be a combination of the fall harvest time and business being slow that makes me focus on ways to make money and stretch what we do have even further. I was interested to learn when we visited Vermont a few year ago that frugality is specifically mentioned in the Vermont Constitution. Frugality is a worthwhile goal for all of us no matter where we live.
That frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep government free.
Here is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and links related to thinking about money, frugality, frugal choices we make, and where I find frugal inspiration right now.
The Relationship Between Time and Money
One of the key ideas in books such as The Complete Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your Life is to be aware of the relationship between time and money. One way is to calculate your hourly wage that you are “earning” when you decide to do something that will save you money.
For example, pretend that you have the opportunity to make a ten minute stop at a grocery store where you can run in and out to pick up some loss leader items that will save you a total of $5 over the normal cost of those items. A lot of people will think it’s not worth their time to stop and do that for $5. I think it is. If you think about it, $5 for 10 minutes is comparable to $30 for 60 minutes (or 1 hour). Most people would be happy to earn $30/hour. That’s roughly the equivalent of a $60k/year job. But it is actually even better than that.
Why? Because to have that $5, you would have to work more than ten minutes. Don’t forget Uncle Sam’s cut! You would actually have to earn more like $7 or $8 in order to take home $5 to spend. That’s why spending $20 on a pizza is a lot more than $20. It is more like $30. It is also more than that because if you made a pizza at home for $5, you would have the $15 to invest in something else. Have you ever seen the charts of what just an extra $15/month will save you over the life of your home mortgage? The average person who takes out a 30 year mortgage and makes no extra payments on the principle will end up paying 2.5 to 3x the amount of their mortgage by the the time they pay off their house. But adding that $15/month to your mortgage will make a difference.
Cutting Back Versus Making More Money
I’ve mentioned that I frequent the Homesteading Today discussion boards. Lately there has been a discussion about cutting back vs. making more money. Now granted you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip and there comes a point where you may HAVE to make more money. But too often our first instinct when the cash flow gets tight is to think – we need to make more money! Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Maybe there are a dozen small changes you can make around the house that will be more profitable than actually going out and working for just a few bucks an hour after taxes and work-related expenses (gas, clothing, etc.).
Speaking of Homesteading Today… Every month the Countryside Families forum has a thread of Tightwad Tips/Frugal Things Done Lately. There are often many good tips on there. Some of them are really radical and go too far for me. But for anyone struggling with the cost of gas right now and the increase in heating this fall, some of these tips could really be a gift from God. If you find them interesting, you can do a search on the forum and find them for every month for many years.
We have a programmable thermostat and I would never be without one again! We turn our heat down quite a bit at night in the fall and winter to save on energy costs, but have it programmed to come on about a half an hour before we want to get out of bed. By the time we get up, it is very toasty in the house. In fact, I find it hard to linger in bed very long because it is so warm with the heat running! So an added bonus is that it helps me get up on time as well.
Returning Things You Don’t Need
One way we save money is that we always return things we don’t need. If we overbuy supplies for home improvement, we take them back. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the average home has hundreds of dollars worth of items that could be returned. But people either don’t think about it or they don’t realize how much it all adds up to so they don’t think it is worth their time. It’s worth our time to do it!
Storing Onions in Hanging Nylons
Here’s a funny but interesting one. I mentioned before that I was experimenting with storing my onions hanging in nylons in the basement. Wow! What a great method! I should have done this years ago. It works great! Simply purchase inexpensive nylons and tie them in the leg of the nylon one at a time so a knot separates each one. When you need one, clip one off the bottom. They last so long this way with the air circulating around them.
Taking Online Surveys
I’ve long been interested in online companies that pay you to take surveys. I signed up with several over the past few weeks and so far it has been interesting. I’ve taken about a dozen surveys and while we won’t get rich from this, a little extra money here and there never hurts. Plus I get to do it from home which is a key point for me. I’m not sure how long I will do this, but part of being frugal is being willing to try new things.
Deciding When Good Enough Is Good Enough
Another key to frugality is deciding when good enough is good enough. Sometimes it it worth it to pay a lot for a top of the line item. For me, one such item is shoes. I don’t buy cheap shoes. They hurt my feet and now with a history of back problems, I am even more cautious about what I wear.
On the other hand, when we bought our house, David’s father found a used Maytag washer and dryer for us. They are from the early 80’s and are a basic set (compared to all the doodads and bells and whistles they come with today). They were in excellent shape, very clean, and the price was only $175 for both. We decided to take a chance on them and David’s dad actually talked the man down to $150. We’ve used them now for 4 years. We’ve had the repairman out twice (one time it was our fault!) and the cost has been minimal. In fact, the repairman told us that these were some of the last Maytags to be made by the Maytag company and they are almost always worth repairing because they are made very, very well. That is in direct contrast to the horror stories I have heard from many people who have purchased the newer, high-end Maytags the past five years who have had nothing but trouble with them. In our case, good enough has definitely been good enough!
Tracking Your Spending For a Year
Last year was the first year we tracked all of our spending. What an eye-opener. If you’ve never done this, start this month and do it for a year. It is highly instructive.
We determined this year we were going to try to reduce our spending by 50% in several areas. So far this year we have had a lot of success. Granted there are a few months left, but I don’t anticipate any big spending binges in any of these areas in the next ten to twelve weeks. We’ve reduced the following categories by these percentages:
Books, Music, and DVDs: 61%
Clothing: 63% and 48%, respectively
Eating Out – Entertainment: 49%
Eating Out – Work: 96%
Eating Out – Work Overload: 92%
Vacation and Travel: 50%
We have still spent money in all these areas and honestly don’t feel deprived (except maybe the travel one). But with some discipline and desire, we have been able to make some pretty significant changes in just a year.
I hope these ideas inspire you to make some changes in your own life!