Tag Archives: frugality

Frugal Substitutes: Less Tongue In Cheek Version

A few months ago, I created a fun chart about possible frugal substitutes.  The idea was that you can replace pricey wants like vacations and massages with cheaper options that fulfill the same need.  Looking back, the intent was good but I’ve totally ignored my own advice for the past few weeks!

I went on a short trip.  I bought a new computer. I got a massage. I went shopping. I bought some clothes and a new purse.  AND I keep browsing online shopping sites.  In short, I have been choosing expensive wants instead of examining the reason behind my sudden desire to buy, buy, buy.  The only possible exception is eating out but my husband and I did some of that, too.  It just hasn’t been a budget buster because we still eat home most days or tend to choose inexpensive places when we do go out.

I cannot justify my choices but I really needed a vacation!


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:


Living The Rich Life

I thought it was time for me to address the cost of moving to our new rental house.  We’ve had time to adjust and suck up the high costs associated with moving from movers to new appliances to starting up gas, trash, utilities and water.  We’ve benefitted from this move in countless ways that I feel it’s well worth the extra cost, to the tune of doubling our previous rent.  That’s right, doubling, while our income has stayed steady.   Fortunately, a welcome flood of freelance income has taken the sting out of the increase but I know that at some point we have to re-evaluate our budget.

I’ve been playing with numbers for months and the most obvious hit is to our savings, which should become zero if we don’t want to spend more than we earn.  However, I’m not cutting out the 401k contribution because it does reduce our tax bill and we do need to continue saving for retirement. 

To be honest, our move into a nicer neighborhood has me feeling like the family in the TV Show “The Riches” starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as crooks who assume the identity of an upper-middle-class suburban family.  The funnier thing is that this new neighborhood is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. It just has better schools and nicer parks than our old area.  Both areas were / are safe and quiet.  Both areas probably had the same median income and were / are middle-class, although this one seems to be a tad more solidly middle-class.

I think what really makes me feel “rich” is that the house itself is bigger and newly renovated.  After many years in our old house, things get worn (naturally) and are not replaced.  I’m sure that if we stay long enough, this house would also look more worn-down; however, it still has better basic fixtures overall than our previous rental.  The old place had linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom, plus the cheapest windows you could possibly buy.  The new place wins out just by having tiles and nicer, new windows.  I guess I’m not too hard to please in the area of decor!

Truthfully, I don’t know how long we can manage on this higher rent.  We may have to downgrade in a few years, hopefully not too soon, and find a townhouse or apartment.  For now, we’re enjoying this new place. 

I also have a feeling that I will really appreciate every day here… I’ve read that  most people get used to their status/situation so happiness from things, including houses, diminishes over time.  However, I think I might be able to appreciate this place and all its advantages for a long time.  Here’s why and I hope you have the patience to read my washer/dryer story.  For many years, my husband and I did not have a washer or dryer.  We usually waited as long as possible before we hauled 4 – 6 loads of dirty clothes and linens, spending hours in a dingy, ugly laundromat on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, we killed time with books or web browsing but we generally didn’t trek too far and the other restaurants near the laudromat were equally dingy and depressing.  At any rate, it certainly felt like we had to base our schedule that day around laundry, not the same as doing laundry at home.  And while I have said how much I hate doing laundry, I should clarify it’s more than I feel the division of laundry should be equal and not all on one party.   In spite of my dislike for this chore, I’ve always appreciated having our own washer or dryer.  What I’m trying to say is that while I might get used to this house, years of living in a tiny space and enduring a long commute will likely make me appreciate this new living environment much longer and even forever!

Things I Let Go When Low On Cash

With a newborn in the household, Grumpy Rumblings (#1) asked “What do/have you let go when something new takes a lot of your time?  Answers varied from socializing with friends to exercising to reading/writing blogs.   For me, lack of time often equals spending money as an attempt to gain back time, or just keep sane!

Here are some ways I spend more money during time crunches:

1) Hire house cleaning help!

2) Hire gardening help

3) Get car washed

4) Eat out more often (since I’m too tired/busy to make lunch or go grocery shopping

5) Shop online for convenience (although I still check prices)

6) Stop comparison shopping, counting on Target/Walmart to have fairly decent prices

7) We have also hired a nanny to help us during busy or transition times.

Although I would argue time is always scarce, there are times when saving money becomes more important.  It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition of course.  However, I think many of the things I let go are the direct opposite of my earlier list.  Here are things I give up when low on cash:

1) Eating out at work

2) Snacking at vending machine (bring my own snacks instead)

3) Online Shopping for clothing, shoes, purses etc..

4) Hair cuts (this gets delayed until I can’t stand it any longer)

5) Car washes (Dusty brown is the new black)

6) Netflix (or some kind of media/cable)

7) Expensive gifts (I really stick to my budget at times like this)

8) Going out with friends/family (I decline get-togethers or suggest cheaper options)

9) Less organic foods

10) Expensive fun like international travel, massages or amusement parks (truth be told, I haven’t had facials or massage or travel in years…but these are things that I gave up in my 20s/30s when necessary.)

11) Tech upgrades (computers, phones, etc..)

12) Gym membership (home DVDs are good enough…)

13) Mindless spending (like walking out of Target with excess stuff not on my list)

I do still stock up if I catch a really good sale on household goods or needs.  So far, I’ve never been at the point where I didn’t have a big enough cushion for stocking up but I’m sure that can happen.

What do/have you let go when you’re low on cash?

The Real Balancing Act

Funny about money’s post about delayed gratification got me thinking about the real balance in life and it’s not the difficulty of balancing family and work during the early childhood years; it’s the delicate balance between wants and needs as you get older!

When you’re young, you can delay gratification more easily because you have time on your side.  It’s really hard to do for many people but you can tell yourself that you have time to buy that expensive purse or take that dream vacation.   However, as you get older and start seeing friends and family get sick or pass away, I imagine it would be much harder to deny yourself life’s little pleasures.  At the same time, you may be reaching your peak earnings, which isn’t as high as you expected, or playing catch-up on retirement savings.  Or you may even be at retirement age and while you want to spend freely, it’s harder when you don’t see money coming in.

Right now, in my 40s, I am balancing my spending and saving needs in an okay fashion.  I have young kids so a lot of spending is on their needs/wants.  At the same time, I think it’s important that I buy clothes or shoes or purses that I really like, once in a while, so that I don’t reach old age and flip out (spend like crazy) when I can least afford to.

Do you think it gets harder to delay gratification when you get older?

Vacation Tally

  1. One book
  2. One exercise class
  3. Two Movies
  4. Two Family Outings (including the beach and live music concert, both firsts for the kids)
  5. Two tubs of sweet organic strawberries
  6. Two chores completed (that I’ve been putting off for weeks…)
  7. Three Meals out
  8. Four loads of dishes (loaded/unloaded)
  9. Six loads of laundry*
  10. Six tantrums (I didn’t count but I assume once per day…)
  11. Six glorious days of sleeping in!

As you can see from the six loads of laundry, things did not always go as I planned.  I wanted to exercise more.  I would have loved to get one extra organizational chore out of the way and off my mind.  And of course I wanted to unload fewer dishes!  On the second day of my staycation, my husband had to remind me to enjoy myself.  It was a much-needed reminder as I was focusing on the pitfalls of staying home (laundry, dishes..) and not the fun part (sleeping in, kids, family time)…

* I did not tally my chores against my husband’s. Two of those loads were my clothes (he does his own) while the other four were baby/kid clothes.  To his credit, he did some kid-proofing, changed air filters, took out the trash a few times, also unloaded dishes, probably cooked dinner a few times, and took care of the dogs, a chore I hate!

Wardrobe Revamp..Or Choosing Material Things Over Experiences

Right after I “saved” money on my summer vacation, I spent money on a wool sweater that I won’t be wearing til fall or winter.  I can run through all the justifications…big sale, good brand, free shipping, merino wool, polka dots…but it really makes no sense.  If it fits as well as it looks online, I’ll be happy.  However, it did make me set a clothing budget budget.  I’ve held off replacing many items over the past year and it’s been getting hard to find work-appropriate summer clothes. It’s also time that I replaced some worn-out shoes.  For what it’s worth, I haven’t bought anything for myself since January 2012 and have gone up a size.*

Despite my desire to revamp my wardrobe, I did imposed some guidelines to keep my spending in check:

1) Keep A List: I assessed my clothing needs and decided to keep a list (with budget next to each item) in my wallet at all times.

2) Really Assess Your Closet: As I mentioned in #1, I actually looked inside my closet to see what I needed/wanted.  After my first assessment, I came up with a fairly long list plus a target spending amount in each category. For example, I am willing to spend more on shoes than blouses.   However, I quickly busted my budget on one pair of shoes!  I re-examined my closet and realized that I didn’t need to buy everything on my list.  I could boost my summer work/play wardrobe just by using what I got.  1) I have two summer-y items hanging in my closet for months because they need ironing; and 2) I should finally wear a summer dress that I bought last year!

2) Work/Play: In the past, I had a clear division between casual and work clothes, which definitely increased my spending. Since my workplace is fairly casual, I’m spending on clothes and shoes that are good for both work and play.

3) Frugal Substitutes: Rather than replacing every item that is now too small or past its prime, I’m trying to figure out if one item can do 2 jobs.  Example:  Three of my work skirts were no longer presentable — a dark denim skirt,  black pencil skirt and gray A-line skirt.  I replaced all items with a more basic straight gray/navy skirt.  It’s very versatile and something I can wear to work or for a night out.

4) Remember that higher price doesn’t always equal higher quality! While I do think some designer brands look and feel better, it doesn’t always mean that their items will last longer.  Pricing also reflects brand perception and higher store mark-ups. Plus, I’ve found that many items I have from Target and Old Navy have hold up for years when taken care of.  Update: I do have to give kudos to my one pair of high-end designer shoes, a brand I never heard of but just looked up and realized that these cost on average $400-500.  I got it for close to $100 and you can definitely find them on sale or online for the $200 range.  Anyway, it’s an Italian brand, great-quality leather, comfortable, well-made and beautifully designed and has held up extremely well over 8+ years. My only concern is that this has become my go-to heels now that others have come and gone. I need to get a second pair just to give these a break and get another 8+ years out of them.  Or try to find the same pair on Ebay.

5) Buy What You Love: I spent a day mulling over the purchase of those cute shoes.  It went on sale so I took it as a sign to buy even though it was still above my original price point.  I made adjustments to my budget by cutting out other wants.   At the end of the day, if you don’t love it, it’s not a bargain.  Tip: Some retailers offer price protection so if you’re not sure you got the best price, go to the www.priceprotectr.com and sign up for a notification if the price drops within 7 days on the item you just bought.

* It’s strange to be a bigger size  on pants and skirts only, while still being smaller for blouses and tops.

How do you manage your clothing budget?  Do you set a budget or just buy what you want/need?