Category Archives: simple living

Frugal Substitutes: The Master Chart

The idea of finding frugal substitutes for expensive wants turned from a comment, courtesy of reader and commenter Debbie M, to a full-fledged post at grumpy rumblings.

Here’s the excerpt from that comment, and I’m called out to name my list of frugal substitutes, an idea inspired by the book “Your Money or Your Life.”

Debbie M says:

“And then there’s also strategizing about what makes you happy. If you want to feel pampered, do you need to visit a tropical island? Or would you be just as happy with an in-town spa or fancy hotel, a massage, a facial, or, in my case, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a good book?”

…And maybe oilandgarlic can share a list of Frugal Substitutes! We can always use more of those!”

And I said:

“I’ve been meaning to respond with my frugal substitutes but I could probably do a whole post. The gist of it is that I try to figure out WHY I want the big indulgence. Am I stressed? Do I want to try something new? In the past, I would assume that the best way to satisfy my want is a spa day or travel. Now I realize that I can satisfy that need for pampering in multiple and often cheaper ways. I could do a at-home facial. I could buy flowers and put a slice of lemon in my water. I can put on relaxing music. I could convince my husband to give me a massage.”

So without further ado, here’s my handy dandy chart (sort of tongue-in-cheek), and please feel free to share your own frugal substitutes:

substitutes

Story Of A Purse

I’ve never thought of myself as a purse lover.  When I look through magazines, I don’t really get excited about the new “it” purses.  I never aspired to own designer purses.  I have exactly 3 purses for work — 2 in black, and 1 fabric/brown for summer and spring, plus a few smaller ones for weekends but my “collection” would certainly not peg me as a purse aficionado.

Now for the confession which you probably could guess was coming… I splurged on a beautiful black leather bag. This is now one of my 2 black work bags.  I bought it partly because my other black bag had seen better days and I thought I needed another option.  I also loved the design and quality of this $400 bag*.  And it was on sale. And I had gotten a small bonus which I promised to use for a splurge rather than saving it as usual.

I had been eyeing this purse for weeks (months) and it was not going on sale.  It had gotten excellent reviews online regarding its quality and versatility.  I had small hopes that it would go on sale or if it did, my color would be sold out.  Of course I think that the purse may become a permanent part of the designer’s line-up as it seems quite popular. 

I’m glad I bought it.

The reason for my lack of expensive purses is not that I can’t afford one or that I don’t sometimes admire nice-quality purses.  It’s just that other than the workplace, I can usually be found running errands at decidedly normal places like Walmart, Costco, Target, CVS, and the occasional fast food joint.  I have seen women carrying expensive purses into McDonalds, for example, but it seems like an odd juxtaposition to me.  I feel like I should be dining at a nice restaurant, not throwing my beautiful leather bag on a vinyl dining booth seat.

In other words, my beautiful bag doesn’t seem utilitarian enough for my simple lifestyle (and one that involves messy toddlers, too!)  I’m wondering if others have this same thought as I do.  Do expensive purses fit your lifestyle, or do you not even consider this?

* After a 20% discount and some credit card rewards, the total was about $330 including taxes.  Shipping was free. Still high for me!

Fees, Fees, Fees

My girl friends/family and I generally don’t talk about finances.  It’s not really about privacy; it’s just that we have so many other things to talk about! However, I wish that we did share financial insights once in a while, so I’m sharing it on this public space.

I touched on this topic before but there’s a new law going into effect that makes it easier to see fund fees in your 401k plans.   With non-401k mutual funds, you can compare fees but many people ignore the impact of fees on their returns.  Once a year or so, I use the free “Instant X-Ray” tool on Morningstar to analyze my funds and compare fees / returns with similar portfolios.

The bottom line is that the fees associated with mutual funds can decimate your savings.  Choosing no-load and index funds make a big difference in retirement.

This is my public service announcement for the week!

Alone Time

The other day, a casual acquaintance asked me about alone time, and when I said exercise or my lunch break, she gave me this ‘look’ which clearly meant that those 2 activities didn’t count.

To me, getting some exercise is a great feat in and of itself.  Getting to read a book, even if it’s in the middle of a work day, is also a great stress relief.  After work, it’s family time and if I’m lucky, I get in some couple time and see old friends.  My goal is to focus more on career this year so any other extra time will probably be taken up with chores, cooking or career-related activities/reading. There’s just zero time for “me” time, as in hobbies or whatever “counts” as quality me time.  This brings me to the question. What does count as “me” time? Is it shopping by myself, rather than with friends? Reading on the weekends?  Taking a walk by myself? Going to a spa by myself?? I could take a class I suppose. I guess I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do and if I should schedule “me” time?  

I’m not saying that my acquaintance is 100% correct; after all, the early parenting years are extremely busy. However, I wonder if I’m shortchanging myself and asking for burn-out because I don’t take time for myself.

My Attempt At Doing What Successful People Do On Weekends

Time management expert  and author Laura Vanderkam has a new e-book called “What The Most Successful People Do On Weekends” (read review from House of Peanut here).  I haven’ t read it yet but the gist of it seems to be how to be more productive on weekends.  I tend to emulate or strive for simplicity and personal happiness even if it’s not the same as what “successful” people do.  I believe successful people are defined by the author as typically Type A high-powered & career-minded people who are successful in their fields.  Therefore, I’m not the target audience!

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t get good advice from books like these (and I’m sure I will once I read it..).  One of the tips from the author’s blog at least is to  plan an Anchor event on the weekends.  This anchor event should be something fun that gets you and/or your family out of the house so that weekends are more memorable and not all about chores and puttering around.

For several weekends, we’ve accidentally followed this advice.  The first weekend was very simple and not super planned-out but it was a Saturday morning excursion to a nearby park.  The next weekend was a music concert for kids at the library on a Saturday morning.  The third weekend included a date night on Saturday.  I admit that doing something fun on Saturdays, when I normally would be puttering around the house, was a good change for our family.  We tend to put off the fun stuff; if we don’t do it on Saturday or plan something, nothing fun gets done.

At the same time, those weekends felt harried, too.  The music concert took out a good chunk of morning.  We still had a lot of stuff that needed to get done.  On top of regular stuff like meal prep, cooking, putting dishes away, multiple diaper changes, and more,  I managed to do some gardening and a quick wipe-down of the kitchen and bathroom, including the dreaded chore of cleaning the tub.   My husband was busy, too, but we were too busy to notice each other’s chore duties!

After all these memorable, fun weekends, I need a chill-out weekend to decompress and do nothing!

How do you manage your weekends? Are you on board with the idea of planning fun or do you prefer to have unscheduled time, or a little of both?

Frugal Opposites?

I’m beginning to think that my husband and I are frugal opposites, not in the classic saver vs. spender situation, but we’re frugal in such opposite ways that we still somehow disagree on spending (and saving) priorities to some extent.

First off, we are both fairly frugal.  However, I am more willing to spend money when I think it saves time, like on like housecleaning, moving or computer tech help and the like.  My husband is more of a DIY-er especially related to household things like dishwasher installation, property fixes, etc..  even if it can take him a lot of time and it’s not always easy to figure out. And I guess since he’s more of a DIY-er in aspects that he’s good at, he’s also hesitant to spend money in areas just to save time (since in theory we could tackle housecleaning, for example, on our own).  After having kids, he did come around to hiring housecleaning help and I guess he was never completely against it; he just saw less reason for it than I did/do.

If any spending is remotely related to career or career-advancement, he will spend the money (or want to), while I still like to weigh the return on investment.  This is a tough one because there are countless job-related spending opportunities from books to classes to conferences.   As for measuring ROI, how do you know if that networking event or conference will result in leads and work? I tend to give it one-shot and that’s it.  Say, I attend one conference but if I don’t get much out of it, I won’t go to ANY ever again. My husband wouldn’t rule out all conferences that way; he would look into another conference or would still be open to returning to the same conference after some time has passed.  Since work-related events are often costly, this can become  a sore point.  I think I usually “win out” but I wonder if I’m holding him or myself back from true career opportunities.   He’s been creative at networking on the cheap (with real results) and I do try to be open-minded about pricier opportunities but I still have a hard time justifying that spending.

I have a harder time pulling the trigger on purchases in general.  My husband doesn’t really pay attention to small-item purchases but hesitates on big item purchases (like furniture or appliances).  I guess I believe that little things add up and this is why I still use coupons, look for  sales to stock up on household items, send in rebates, and pay attention to recurring expenses/bills.  I know that my husband doesn’t really understand why I call our internet/cable/phone provider every year.  However, one year, I knocked down $40+ per bill ($480 annually) and I’m pretty proud of that!  

Our different spending habits haven’t been a contentious issue, however, because we do always talk about big purchases.  Even if we don’t always agree, both of us have a say.  I also think that it’s been a fairly even split in terms of who “wins” in the final decisions.  In many cases, we reach a compromise by setting a budget that we both feel comfortable with, delaying the purchase a bit, or not spending at all, without the other one holding a grudge.

Are you and your significant other opposites in terms of spending/saving?  Are you both frugal yet still have different spending habits?

What Won’t You Pay For?

I love reading magazines, from money to fashion/design to family/parenting, to the point that I could easily subscribe to a dozen.  However, in the interest of saving money and reducing temptations, I limit myself to 3 or less at a time.

Despite my love of magazines, I haven’t paid for a subscription in years, not since getting my first free subscription via expiring airlines miles.   After that, I realized that there are a few ways to get my fix for free.  This works for me because no magazine is a must-have for me.  I enjoy Real Simple and Self, but as long as I get any glossy lifestyle magazine, I’m pretty happy.

In addition to airline miles, which I can never seem to redeem for travel, I have also gotten free magazines via online surveys.  I don’t waste too much time on these but I’m part of a consumer panel and I actually enjoy giving feedback so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.  Over the years, I’ve gotten 15 – 20 free subscriptions from Lucky to Smartmoney to Martha Stewart Living.

Another way I’ve gotten free magazines is via purchases.  It’s not so common but Harry & David had a promotion — offering a free subscription with X amount purchase.   I had to email customer service but it was really easy and I think I got Sunset or Martha Stewart Living magazine. I also got a free issue of Dwell from an online furniture/decor store.

Right now I have 3 magazines coming in — 1 via surveys and 2 via Recyclebank participation.  I’m still not sure how Recyclebank works (or makes money) but I get points for reporting my recycling so I figure why not participate.

Anyway, this post wasn’t supposed to only be about ways to get free magazines. I was just wondering if other people had similar experiences.  One friend finds it hard to pay for designer jeans because she used to get it for nearly free via a work connection.  Another friend hates to pay for parking. Do you have something (or things) that you just can’t bring yourself to pay for?