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.
This Is What Frugal Looks Like: Amy Reads
For me, frugality is all about being in control of my money and spending wisely. It is so easy to fritter away a few dollars here and twenty dollars there. I try to be frugal in some areas of my life so that I can spend more for my big priorities. I like to think of our family’s budget as a gauge of our priorities. Since being healthy is really important, we spend more on organic food. However, we cut corners on other things (our ‘eating out’ budget, for example) in order to balance the budget.
For big purchases, we try not to lock ourselves into high monthly payments. For example, our mortgage is a lot less than what you’d expect as a ratio to our income. Sure, we could “afford” a McMansion since housing is relatively cheap in our neck of the woods, and sometimes we daydream about a bigger house, but I love the flexibility that comes with a smaller mortgage. There are always emergencies and unexpected expenses in life. When you spread yourself too thin on the ‘must pay’ bills, it gets hard to address the unexpected. For day to day stuff, I guess one thing is that I try to always buy the store brand. Usually, I don’t need to buy a name brand of trash bags or pasta or coffee. What’s funny is now I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of store brands. For example, I feel like I’m splurging when I buy Target’s store brand chips or granola versus Kroger’s.
When I first started getting serious about paying off my debt, I went on a homemaking spree. I made our crackers, bread, pizza crust, and pasta. I canned all our tomatoes and jam. I made all our cleaning products and laundry soap. I even tried to make my own yogurt. I really only bought the basic staples at the grocery store. In debt-reduction mode, one side benefit was that I was so busy making things on the weekends that I didn’t have time to go shopping! However, it got a little out of hand, and I drove myself a little bit crazy. At one point, when I had turned our kitchen into a cannery and was boiling laundry soap, I had to ask myself what value I put on my time. So, I backed things down a bit. Still, it was a great experiment, because now I know which things are worth doing myself. For example, it seems crazy to buy all those specialized cleaning products at the store when I can do a great job with water, soap, vinegar, and baking soda!
One long-term goal is to stay out of credit card debt. We’ve paid off all our cards and will have our home equity loan knocked out in six more months. After that, we’d like to send an extra payment to our mortgage each year and max out our retirement plans. My husband would like to semi-retire early, so we want to invest money to help him do that. I had to think long and hard about long-term goals. Did we want to stay in “deprivation mode” for eight or ten years just so that we could pay of my (very large) student loans and my husband’s office mortgage? I think you have to balance debt management with lifestyle choices. For us, being debt-free is not necessarily the holy grail. However, we do want to spend less than we earn, save more than average, and avoid high-interest loans like credit cards.