This is What Frugal Looks Like is a series that highlights different ways that people can be frugal in their lives- after all, frugality doesn’t have to be drastic or just about clipping coupons. Frugality can be fun and easy. Each respondent answers the same four questions.
Today’s interview is with Amberture.
Amber writes: I am 25, engaged, and living with my fiance in an expensive neighborhood literally across the river from DC and a few blocks from the Pentagon. We both hate commuting and so choose to live close even though rent is high on our one bedroom apartment and prices are through the roof at the fancy grocery store down the way (Harris Teeter). I work as an editorial assistant for a union and take pictures, write stories and travel a lot (a week out of every month, sometimes more) to cover various events.
I don’t write about frugality anywhere. My website is photography-related.
What does frugality mean to you?
I am constantly telling people things that I “won’t do” because it’s “cheap, not frugal.” Not everyone seems to be able to differentiate between the two. To me, frugality is about valuing what is important to you, personally, and ruthlessly cutting spending on everything else. It’s also about guarding a level of comfort so “lifestyle inflation” doesn’t eat into your dreams. My fiance and I plan on taking a six-month sabbatical within four years during which we plan to travel a big piece of the world. If we keep the spending down every day, though small measures, we can continue to take these trips for the rest of our lives. We’re also saving for a wedding, possibly a house, and building up large emergency funds.
Our wedding is a good example. We’re trying to keep the whole thing under $5k, which I’ve discovered is incredibly hard to do. We have to sacrifice on location but we don’t have to cut back on food, liquor, decorations, or, perhaps most importantly, the guest list. The cheap wedding would be to find the cheapest “wedding” place available and pay $15 or $20 a head for everyone. The food, service, and ambiance would be sorely lacking and it probably wouldn’t even be less expensive than our DIY wedding. I believe frugality demands creativity, resourcefulness, and an open mind in a way that being cheap doesn’t. A cheap person always wants the least expensive option. A frugal person tries to find a way to make it themself.
What is something that you do that is ‘typically’ frugal?
I’ve been reading frugality blogs for some time now and I’ve adopted a great deal of “techniques” that save us money and keep trash out of landfills. We wash out our Ziploc bags (…unless they’re too nasty), reuse food storage containers from takeout, wash and reuse pickle and jam jars, grow our own herbs. I also coupon and play the “drugstore game” with CVS and Rite Aid. I shop at three different grocery stores to take advantage of really great deals. If we’re cooking a big meal, I’ll go to the least expensive to pick everything up. Otherwise we normally walk down the hill to the Harris Teeter to get a few things for the next few days.
I also plan meals around the ads (meats) and what we have from our CSA (veggies). The CSA (community shared agriculture) isn’t particularly frugal but I feel good about buying local and we definitely get more veggies than we would normally buy which forces our diets to improve and limits the amount of meat we buy since if we have to eat a whole squash, there’s not going to be room for a bunch of ribs.
What is something frugal that you do that is unusual?
Probably the most outlandish thing I do in my frugal pursuits in dumpster-dive in the recycling bins at my apartment. We don’t live in a huge apartment so it’s not a great undertaking most of the time but generally I can pick up 3 or 4 extra sets of coupons on top of the ones I get in my own subscription. I wouldn’t buy multiple copies of the paper (at $1.50 a pop!) so this is a nice way to get the toiletry items my little family needs. We also donate a lot of the stuff I get for free from the drug stores. Sometimes people throw out perfectly good magazines and such and I’ll take anything that looks interesting and dÃ©coupage with it.
Another thing that may be unusual is that our main form of entertainment is walking. We generally walk to either the library or the Borders nearby. Some weeks the TV doesn’t come on at all. Every now and then we get bored of walking the same routes to the same places but then we’ll take a break and want to head out again in a few days. Washington, DC also has an endless number of free things to do – I try to keep us busy with museums, lectures, etc.
What are some of your long term goals that being frugal will help you to accomplish?
Like I mentioned, we’re planning on a big trip and possibly buying a house in the next few years. I don’t think we’ve figured out exactly what we want to do in the future. It may involve moving to a more rural area and having a small farm, setting up a photography studio and business, and maybe kids. But we’re both very sure that the actions we take today in terms of saving and living well within our means will enable us to do whatever we decide we want to do. Skipping expensive meals in restaurants actually allows us to enjoy the meals we do have *more* than we would if we went frequently. It’s a special treat instead of an expected thing. We go out to eat somewhere nice every month or two but we almost always have something to celebrate and it always feels like a special occasion.
And I think that’s an important part of frugality as well. I don’t sacrifice everything I could (mostly because I don’t have to) and I am so grateful and happy with my life. My travels with frugality over the past year or so have definitely shown me that the security of having a sizable emergency fund and paying off my student loans feels a lot better than a trip to the mall.