Tag Archives: saving money

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:


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?

Money Books: YMOYL vs. All The Money In The World

There is no real “battle” between the much-acclaimed “Your Money or Your Life (YMoYL)” and the recently published “All The Money In The World (ATM)”.  In fact, they probably spring from the much of the same philosophy and focus on our relationship with money.  However, I think reading these back-to-back inspired me in completely different ways.

First some background…My natural frugal tendencies is often in conflict with some entreprenuerial impulses.  In general, frugality wins.  It’s not to say I  haven’t ventured out into more entreprenuerial territory but it’s definitely outside my comfort zone.   I have enough on my plate with my full-time job, commute, family, and other priorities in life.  Excuses aside, I sometimes wish I devoted more energy and money to earning more instead of just saving money via sales, negotiating and couponing.

“Your Money or Your Life” resonated with me because it largely supports an ‘alternative’ view of living, one  that is miles away from the rat race.  After finishing this book, I felt strongly that we should move to Italy with our kids.  I am ready for the next phase of my life, whatever that may be.  My husband is tired of life in the U.S. and we have always wanted to raise our kids in Europe, with Italy being the logical location.  While there are many cons, from economic woes to healthcare crisis, we felt that our kids would benefit from Italian culture and heritage.  

“All the Money in the World” appealed to my long dormant entrepreneurial side.   It made me question my choices and wonder if I should have been or become more focus on earning more, even if that means staying in the rat race.  That’s not to say ATM is the opposite of YMoYL.  In fact, ATM’s author is very entrepreneurial and has found her dream career, one that is lucrative enough and flexible for her and her family.  Much like YMoYL, she asks us to re-examine our choices in spending and questions whether our spending is aligned with our values.   The difference, is in the details.  While she cites examples from readers and other sources, I was most struck by examples from her own life.  In the chapter “Ode to a Ziploc bag”, she talks about our tendency to spend more as we get used to higher standards of living.  In one example, she recounts splurging on a $21.99 toy train for her son.  He has more than enough trains just as so many of us have enough shoes, clothes, electronics and other “toys”.   At what point is it enough?  However, what struck me more most about this example was that she could afford to spend that amount.  I want to spend on my kids without worry.  Would we be able to do that if we move to Italy and essentially start over?

My conflicting responses to these two books is probably more indicative of my state of mind than the intended messages.  I think both books have value and will make you examine your own money beliefs.

Book In Progress: All The Money In The World

After finishing “Your Money Or Your Life” (YMOYL), I felt the need to continue my mental shift toward money and decided to read All The Money In The World by Laura Vanderkam.  The author herself was kind enough to email me a PDF of the book despite knowing that I jot down my ongoing thoughts rather than write a full review.  Note to self: I would like to write a wrap-up of my thoughts on YMOYL but that may not be happening soon, or ever!

Here are my random thoughts after reading the first few chapters.

I like her clear, concise writing style.  “Your Money or Your Life” felt more warm and fuzzy; the tone of this book is more like your most practical best friend.

Chapter 1 “What Else Can That Wedding Ring Buy?” — The author  uses the cost of a wedding ring as a springboard to discuss “opportunity costs”‘; in other words, what can you do with the same amount of money.  Is it more worth while to buy a $5,000 ring but can’t afford cleaning help or date nights when you have kids years later?  Obviously some people can do both, but as someone who is now carefully watching household expenses after kids,  I’m 100% sure that the wiser decision for us was to skip the diamond ring and have the money to get cleaning and nanny/babysitter help!

Chapter 2 “Don’t Scrimp More, Make More” — The main point of this chapter is to illustrate how you can make a bigger difference in your quality of life if you focus on making more money instead of scrimping every penny.  I generally agree, however with huge caveats.    I think go-getters and people who have “succeeded” often make the assumption that savers have less ambition; if they would only build up their skill set, they could make more money instead of clipping coupons and cutting cable, etc..  While I can see the reason for that assumption, I also think that it’s not the complete picture.  I have good friends in both camps — those who are more natural go-getters/entrepreneurial and those who are not.  While both can have similar educational backgrounds, go-getters are usually more skilled at two very socially-valuable skills: networking and selling themselves.  Time and time again, I see my go-getter friends succeed while the others lose out on jobs, deals, etc… Does this mean you shouldn’t try if you’re not a natural at these socially-valued skills? Of course not. It is very possible to greatly improve at these skills and it is possible to compete and “win” since a variety of factors also come into play in any given situation.

For those who succeeded or are more entrepreneurial, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would “waste time” and scrimp through life.  What I think gets forgotten is that it gets extremely disheartening to be second-choice or third-choice. After a certain number of years, it’s better (for some people) to focus on other things besides job/career/money success and focus on saving money, even it is doing something as mundane as coupon clipping (!) And while I still can’t imagine going to extremes for couponing, saving money is something within everyone’s control and hence more appealing to many.

I do have a tip to add for those who lean towards scrimping. Learn to negotiate!  Negotiate your salary is most important but you can also save when you shop, buy a house, buy a car, on cable bills, on medical expenses, etc.. Doing this often and doing this well will make a bigger difference than cutting coupons.

This book can be helpful to many but I think it’s most useful for those in their 20s/30s with entrepreneurial leanings.  If you find ways to make more money and be smarter with your financial resources, you’ll go a long way and the sooner you learn those lessons the better!

Back to reading…

Financial Independence And Co-Dependence

As I get close to the end of “Your Money or Your Life”, I alternate between feelings of inspiration and depression, for lack of a better adjective.  Chapter 8 of YMOYL focuses on the cross-over point, when you reach financial independence and reap the rewards.  There are many success stories which are inspiring. Some people quit their jobs to volunteer, spend time with family and friends, and/or travel.  Those are the kinds of stories that I expected to read.  However, many people take a sabbatical and then go back to work.  The point is that choosing to work is very different than having to work. 

At the same time, I get somewhat depressed, or deflated, when I think of taking that next step and the consequences.  The big “What ifs” pop in my head.  I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life but I can’t imagine feeling so free mentally in regards to finances.  I am used to a steady paycheck with paid vacations;  I imagine that financial worries would seep into my muddled head.  We’ll see how this plays out….

Financial independence is harder to achieve when your spouse is not onboard.  My husband is just not interested in reading or discussing finances.  I have told him about my readings but I doubt he’ll ever read the book himself. 

Like it or not, our financial lives are intertwined.  I don’t believe in separate finances, other than some fun spend money, because it all comes out of the same pot in the end.  When we don’t jointly focus on our household spending now, we both end up spending more.  Luckily he has adjusted to my frugal tendencies over the years even though he thinks I’m a bit obsessed.  Our backgrounds are so different that it’s hard for him to imagine a life where you can’t fall back on your parents as a last resort.  Even when he worries about money, I feel that he believes things will work out.  I don’t think like that.  I imagine worse-case scenarios.

I guess I really need to pay attention to Chapter 9, which talks about managing your finances.  I also lined up another finance/lifestyle book for reinforcement and ideas. Next up: All The Money In The World.. I really hope that I can reach a place where I view money as a tool and not be so paranoid.

Have you crossed over to true financial independence? If so, what’s your story?

Inspired by Your Money Or Your Life

I’m reading Chapter 6  of Your Money or Your Life entitled “American Dream on a Shoe String” and I have to say it’s been the most inspiring section for me, so far.  I’ve read a lot about similar topics but it’s nice to see it laid out in one chapter and focusing on the big picture rather than giving tips.  Tips are useful but the author’s point is that this type of information can get very outdated quickly, and you can find tons of good tips on frugality blogs.

I got a lot out of this chapter although for very different reasons.  One reinforce what I’ve known for a long time and the other was a new way of looking at things:

What I’ve known forever is Stop Trying To Impress People.  I’ve written before about keeping up with the Joneses, or the mythic rich couple next door, and it’s a losing battle.  As the writer notes, “If you stop trying to impress other people you will save thousands, perhaps millions, of dollar.”  It’s not just about money and conspicuous consumption.  That’s because the desire to impress can affect all areas of your life from big purchases to career choices.  Unless you dig deep, you may never do anything that really brings you true satisfaction.

The more eye-opening statement for me was Meet Your Needs Differently.  This means that instead of relying on retail therapy or exotic vacations, you find affordable substitutions to satisfy your needs.  For example, a big trip abroad may mean different things for different people.  Maybe you want to a break from routine or want some downtime. Maybe you really like to try new things.  Once you figure out your real need, you can find a frugal substitute that can satisfy that same need.  You can get that break just by staying home from work. You can get downtime by hiring people to clean house and and do your chores for one day.   If you crave something new, you can take a foreign language course online or try out an exotic cuisine.  That’s not to say you should never take that big trip but just make sure you can afford it!

Two of my favorite indulgences are spa days (massages, facials) and traveling.  Both things are not very do-able for me at this time.  However, if I analyze why I love these things, I can probably find frugal substitutes.   For example, if I go to yoga, I get time for my self and relaxation, which are two of reasons I love spa days.  I may have to get better about mimicking the pampering aspects of a spa.  Some things that I can do is take a long bath with lavendar oil,  do a steam/facial at home, buy flowers, drink water with lemonade and play calming music.  

As for traveling, my favorite parts are meeting new people and trying new cuisines, both of which is very do-able in multi-cultural Los Angeles.  I like the feeling of seeing new things and it may be time to explore new neighborhoods.

As I progress with the book, I feel myself more reluctant to spend.  At the same time, I have been rationalizing the purchase of pricier skin products because those are important to me.  My husband made two lunch dates and the old me would have been a bit upset at the increased dining out expenses in the same week (and I had made separate plans too!); however, socializing with friends is a priority for us and I won’t sweat it.

On the other hand, I have been spending way too much on eating out at work. I’m going to make an effort to make simple sandwiches.  One favorite that is easy to make is toasted wheat bagel with sliced tomatoes, arugula and tuna in oil, plus a little mayo (avocado optional).  I just have to watch out for food waste, which negates all my money-saving efforts!

Update: I took a peek at the Madewell website.  I am so tempted…so many cute dresses, sweaters and tops on sale!  I don’t need anything but I do want a summery canvas bag, which of course is not on sale.  Help!

Your Money Or Your Life: Resistance!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, right now I’m reading “Your Money Or Your Life”, a best-selling personal finance book.  Because I’m not organized enough right now to review, I’m jotting down my impressions as I go along. 

So far I’m getting a lot out of the book.  At the same time, I’m a bit resistant to some of the messages.  I suppose some push-back is natural and human.  I know that in the end, I’ll probably embrace a new way of looking at things and my relationship with money.  However, I just like to play Devil’s Advocate sometimes.

Acceptable Lifestyle? For example, while the writer really emphasizes lack of judgement about your past choices and lifestyles, I can’t help feeling that only a certain frugal mindset is really acceptable, and that approved life does not include gadgets or Starbucks.  Maybe I’m wrong and this feeling will pass as I dig deeper into the book. 

Most Chores suck:  There’s the implication that you’re paying for cleaning help, gardeners, cooking and other chores because you don’t have time due to work.  I know that’s true in many cases, including for our household. At the same time, I hate certain chores.  I’d much rather be selling widgets than mopping floors.

Life Energy Fuzzy Math:  I still haven’t calculated how much time I spend working in order to live a certain life, or my “real” wage once you factor in drycleaning, commuting, eating out etc..   I definitely agree that much of my spending is directly or indirectly related to work. However, I think the writer attributes way too many costs simply to work, like vacations, nicer clothes, and wine just to name a few.  I would like to travel even if I didn’t work.  I wouldn’t spend as much on clothing or drycleaning but it’s not like I wouldn’t like new clothes for my daily life.  Working or not, I would spend just as much on good wine!

Now on to the good…

Spending Personality Revelation!   I thought I was really good with money (well, I got good with money in my 30s..) However, after reading the early chapters, I realize that I’m just as much a slave as a Wall Street Broker/yuppie who must keep up with the Joneses.  I attribute security to money, so much that I’m unwilling to take risks.  I have a tendency to underspend or hoard money with spending bursts that have little to do with my ideal life goals.  I’m going to really ask myself the tough questions and try to align my spending better with my dreams/goals. 

I’m having a lot of trouble answering the questions about fulfillment and what I would do if money wasn’t an issue or if I had one-year to live.  I think I’ve forgotten my childhood dreams, too, and the ones I do remember are not aligned with my goals today.

Back to reading…