The latest news is a bit discouraging: between the housing crisis and continued high unemployment rates, families are struggling to provide the most basic essentials such as shelter, food and clothing.
Frugal living is not just a fad, it's a way of life. When hard times hit, frugality becomes a must-mode.
The good news is, it's never too late to practice frugality, whether you're in hard times or abundance. If you are among the fortunate and have additional funds to play with, start saving NOW. The most difficult time to practice frugality is when you're experiencing an abundance of funds. Certainly, it's easy to wave away thoughts that you could become unemployed or suddenly fall into hard times, but many will attest to how quickly and easily abundance can change to instability in a crisis. Saving now will keep you from panic later.
During a dearth of funds, you can do better and feel better by embracing a frugal lifestyle. Truly, you don't have to feel you are "going without" if you adjust your paradigm to frugality. Life is easier and more simplified when you realize you don't need a lot of stuff to make you happy. Life has enough in it to fulfill, you don't have to go to a store to buy fulfillment.
Furthermore, there are so many free and substantially lower priced options for recreation, food, clothing, rent and mortgage, etc, to enable you to modify your lifestyle and reduce your payments, purchases, extra-curricular activities and fees. It takes time to sit down and research and figure your options, but it's worth every second of that time.
Here are a few examples:
Rent and Mortgage
Everyone wants to live in big, beautiful homes and big, beautiful apartments. Everyone wants to live like the Joneses (even the Joneses, who recently had to downsize). The truth is, there's a big difference between want and need. Living frugally and simply means readjusting your expectations and being okay with not competing with others.
Our home is "cozy"; sure we'd love more space (but we love our mortgage). During very tough times such as layoffs and illness, we never worried about paying on time. In a few years when the kids are in college, we won't have to downsize. Thus, think big picture rather than more square feet.
Also, consider refinancing. Originally, our finance rate was a 7.5% VA loan. We refinanced a few years later at 6%. The mistake we made was refinancing another 30-year loan, which meant starting fresh with interest-heavy payments, rather than principle-heavy payments. Recently, we refi-d again with a 15-year, 3.75% loan. Our payments went slightly higher (78 dollars a month) BUT, we'll pay off our loan much sooner and our payments are weighted to paying much more principle than before. In the end, we'll save $67,000 from our previous loan. We chose to cut out other money-draining "wants", such as eating out and buying retail, in order to finance our home investment.
Food is a big bill. Next to mortgage or rent, the biggest bill. The most costly way to eat is to eat out at restaurants. Eating out is fun and convenient, but you pay much for that convenience, including that 15% tip you pay just to have someone serve you dinner on a plate.
Eating at home is not only frugal, the act cultivates family richness and fellowship. There's a distinct difference in how our family relates to one another when together we set the table, make our own dinner and eat at home. Our dialogue is engaged on a much deeper level when eating at home. Most importantly, we save alot of money, by shopping for bargains, loss leaders, buy one get one frees, and sales. I pay myself that 15% tip for my hard work.
We all want to have fun, but there's expensive fun and cheap fun and free fun. The key is doing your homework and finding alternatives. Expensive fun is pricey vacations--save those for when you have abundance and you've saved enough for crisis times. The extra is used for vacations. Cheap fun can include the dollar theaters such as the one we have here in Raleigh, Carmike Blue Ridge 14 Cinema (which features films in between initial release and DVD rentals) for only $1.50-$2.00 a ticket! Caution: the extras such as food, soda and popcorn can be expensive, so budget those into your evening, or eat before you go and share a popcorn and soda.
Free fun can include parks, museums and free area concerts which all can be found with a bit of googling. In Raleigh, we have wonderful museums such as "the Smithsonian of the South" Museum of Life and Science, the Art Museum and the NC Museum of History. Park systems offer hiking and picnicking galore, fresh air and sunshine, and outdoor partying and recreation, all for free. The NC Symphony Summerfest offers free concerts for the public each year on Fourth of July, and also offers other concert venues free for children 12 and under.
It bears repeating over and over, retail is antithetical to frugal living. With so many discount, thrift and consignment shops open to the public, there are a hundred ways to find great bargains on clothes. And, don't discount (pun intended) yard sales for everything, including clothing. Its a win-win: you help others who are trying to clean out their homes and raise money, and you get some great bargains for a fraction of what you'd spend on retail.
Reprint from June, 2011. All rights reserved.
Sharon L. Cece © 2013