Frugal Living – The True Secret to Budgeting

Getting Real With Sara Haley

There are a million and one articles out there on the internet that promise to give you the tricks of the trade to saving money.  From couponing to cutting your expenses, I’ve read it all.  And I’m sure you have, too.  But when it comes down to it, there is only one secret, and it’s not even a secret at all.  It all comes down to living within your means.  But what exactly does this mean?

Too many families and individuals live in an “instant gratification” world.  If you want it, get it.  Regardless of price, regardless of if you truly need it, just buy it.  Don’t have the money in your bank account?  No worries, there’s always the credit card or long-term financing!  These days, you can get a personal loan for just about anything.  From redecorating your home to cosmetic surgery, you can get money for pretty much everything.  The problem?  Each of these finance options come with monthly payments.  And interest.  And months, sometimes years, of paying them off.

You know what some of our parents, and grandparents, did when they wanted something?  They saved their money.  And if they didn’t have the money, you know what they did?  They didn’t buy it.  That’s right.  They went without.

I think a lot of Americans need to understand that their financial situations are likely a result of their own selfishness.  I’m reading some of these “frugal living” articles and I’m baffled.  To save money each month, they’re telling me I should lower my extra cable television channels.  To save money each month, they’re telling me I should cut the number of days I eat out at restaurants.  To save money each month, they’re telling me I should shorten my vacation or consider a stay-cation instead.  You know what I say to all this?

Baloney.

You know how I have saved money?  I don’t even have cable.  I don’t eat out much at all unless I can get a great deal on it or someone is treating me.  And vacation?!  I wish!!!

The problem with today’s families is they think that they are entitled to all of these things.  Take cable TV, for example.  Really?  For most families who have parents that work outside of the home for 40 hours a week, and then spend the evenings hauling their kids to extra-curricular activities after school and running through a drive-thru for dinner, the idea of even having cable is absurd.  Someone please explain to me when these people have time to even watch television enough to justify the hundred-something dollars a month just to have.

The key to living frugally is this: live like you’re poor.  You heard me.  Instead of trying to cut back on extravagant things you have become accustomed to, eliminate them altogether.  Let me explain this idea further.

I was married.  I was a stay-at-home mom to my daughter and step-son.  I left my husband for a number of reasons, and when I did so, I took my daughter and rented an apartment.  I was a stay-at-home mom that did minimal freelance work, and the idea of figuring out how to make it financially on my own was, well, intimidating.  But I did it.  I was dirt poor and knew it, and my purchases and bills reflected this accordingly.  I kept everything to a bare minimum.  Rent and utilities I couldn’t get around, nor could I get around my car payment.  But everything else was adjusted accordingly.  I didn’t get cable.  I didn’t even get the standard channels that “everyone” gets.  TV did not exist in my home.  I got bottom-of-the-line internet service because I needed that to work.  I borrowed a twin bed for my room, ate at a card table for months, and went without a lot of your common “luxuries.”  Why?

Because I had no choice.

That’s the difference.  When it comes down to it, I didn’t need a TV.  I didn’t need new clothes–I literally wore mine out.  I didn’t need XM Radio, Hulu Plus, McDonald’s, or any of those other things that most families just couldn’t live without in their lives.  My life was pretty bare bones, and I was okay with that.

As I built my clientele and was able to start supporting myself a little better, I slowly started adding in things that I knew my daughter and I would not only enjoy, but benefit from.  One month I started paying for Rhapsody music streaming, because it’s nice to be able to listen to some music while I work.  A few months ago, I finally rented out a garage at my apartment complex to store my daughter’s outside toys and to protect my car from the weather.  I found a gorgeous wooden dollhouse for my daughter at a fraction of the retail price from a Craigslist poster–and gave it to her for Christmas.  She plays with it every single day.  I started saving up for the things I needed.  Over time, I was able to buy a bed.  A kitchen table.  A computer desk to work on.  And I wasn’t afraid to buy used, either.  Why?  Again–because I had no choice.  I couldn’t afford to do it otherwise.

Things are going okay, a year and a half later.  I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my cupboard, and clothing in my closet.  And for that, I’m grateful.  I don’t rely on credit cards.  If I don’t have the money for it, I don’t buy it.  If it is not of value, I don’t get it.  If it is not something I will use regularly, I consider buying it used.  In fact, I rarely buy anything new.  I always use coupons when I shop for groceries, typically saving about 70% off of my grocery bill.  I have completely changed the way I look at most everything I purchase.  I ask myself one question when I’m considering buying something: do I really need it?  Unless it’s groceries, the answer is likely “no.”

This, my friends, is the secret to living a frugal lifestyle.  It’s a different take on the whole “minimalist” attitude.  As long as you have everything that you need, you shall not want.  Everything else in life is unnecessary, clutter, and likely a waste of your money.

And you know what?

I still don’t have television in my house, and I sincerely do not miss it at all!

Modified Pennywise Shopping Strategies

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

For the past couple of years my husband has been doing all the grocery shopping.  Now I would still make the list, and he’d call from the store at least five times to check everything from size to brand, but shopping was his responsibility.  The only time I’d go to the grocery store was when I needed ten items or less for some specific reason.

I loathe shopping.  That whole hunting and gathering thing that is instinctive in all living creatures to some degree is very small in me, miniscule even.  I can get excited about shopping for books, but beyond that I only go into a store if I know what I want.  I’m not that woman who wanders up and down every aisle just to see if there’s a good deal on something I didn’t even know I wanted.  I have a list, I stick to the list.  I will not stay inside for more than one hour, and that is still a very long time.

Well, with the changing of the economy and our working situations, I now find myself in the role of the grocery shopper.  I have to make the list, and go shopping with my 3 year old in tow all before picking up my 7 year old from school.  This is new for me, and feels much like running a gauntlet.

In an effort to be smart about it I’ve been doing some research on the whole “extreme couponing” thing I’ve noticed many of my friends talking about (The Krazy Coupon Lady was very insightful).  Now I don’t think I’ll really be crazy about it, but in an effort to be more pennywise and to spend the least time possible grocery shopping I did find many tips and tricks.

Here are my modified pennywise shopping strategies as adapted from The Krazy Coupon Lady.

  • Register for on-line special updates with your grocery store.  I am a fan of Harris Teeter and have had a VIC card since they started the program.  Registering your card on-line with a specific store location also garners e-VIC specials which are based on what you buy frequently.
  • Make your grocery list/menu plan for the week based on what items are on special and add on non-special items only as needed to complete recipes.
  • Stockpile, but within reason.  For my family that means if there is a buy one, get one special on a food item that can be stored for later use make sure it is something the family will eat, and stocking a one month supply is more than enough.

I’m still adjusting, but my first grocery trip using just these strategies yielded me an out of pocket expense of $67.74 and saved me $26.79.  Since I budgeted a hundred dollars for grocery shopping for the week (please note we are a family of four in NC), I actually saved $32.26.  Hello, unexpected bonus!  That money is now being added to the Family Fun Fund that I just made up.  Here’s hoping I can keep it up.

Back to School Haircuts – Not a Place to Cut Corners

Please welcome MomsGetReal’s Newest Contributor…

Getting Real with Jennie Page

I know that everyone right now is writing about fun Back-to-School projects that they can do with their kids, and, being the reigning queen of all things frugal, I immediately thought about our garden project that we worked on this summer- which we built with all free stuff on we got Craigslist – and that story is coming, but not today. Today I am going to write about when you should NOT save money. Here’s what happened.

Yesterday I took my girls with me to the post office. I noticed a beauty school next door that had a sign — “Haircuts $8, Walk-Ins Welcome!” I also noticed that my 3 year old, Ellie, really needed her hair trimmed, and I decided that this would be an easy way to save some money over the $12 we normally spend. So in we went.

As Ellie was getting her hair trimmed, my other daughter, Maddie, decided she wanted to get her hair cut, too. Since it was going so well with my preschooler, I figured it would go well with the fourth grader too.

So Fanta (names have been changed to protect the guilty) surfaces from behind some unknown wall and takes Maddie back proclaiming “I really like to cut hair!” In retrospect, I’ve heard that same tone and phrase from many of the 4 year olds I work with at school. It should have been a sign.

Now, Fanta has really bright fluorescent pink hair, so my first thought is that she must be creative and daring. I tell her my daughter wants and A-line, and she looks at me blankly and says ”What’s an A-line?”

So my second thought is, she must be a newer student. I’m a teacher. I get that everyone needs chances to learn. But instead of running immediately for the door, I let her take scissors to my daughter’s hair, while in the back of my head, I’m applauding my efforts to save money by using the beauty school. Ellie is done, so we go back and sit by Maddie. That’s when I notice that Fanta calls the instructor over every 2 seconds and asks for help.

Instructor man seems OK, so instead of leaving, we stay and let him and Fanta hack up my daughter’s hair. The instructor was fascinating, as much for his over-processed hair as for his beautiful tattoos. Which is where I need to mention that I’m slightly fascinated by art, so I’m looking at his arms wondering if the tattoos come alive at night like the ones in The Illustrated Man. They were colorful and hypnotic, and I am pretty sure they told a story. I just don’t know what it was, precisely, but I think it might be something like “stare at my arms so you won’t notice what I’m doing to your hair.”

I also was completely distracted by some other students working on the mannequin heads and wigs. I had to keep explaining to Ellie that we were NOT going to do that to her dolls when we got home. So, decapitated mannequin heads, tattoos and Fanta distracted me from realizing that Maddie now looked like we had her hair cut in a garbage disposal.

Now, I’m a firm believer that for girls, hair is important — a lesson I learned in spades when I used my girlfriend’s red hair shampoo on my blonde locks and ended up with pink highlights for a few weeks. There are some things where you do not want to cut corners, and hair is one of them. I ended up making another appointment the next day at a different salon where they fixed Maddie’s hair — for $18. So the $8 hair cut ended up costing $26 plus tip. Maddie asked if we should have a yard sale soon to make up for it, and we probably will. Unless I can find something really good in the trash to sell to an antique store first — like the rest of that mannequin’s body.

Saving a Stained Shirt from the Trash Pile

Getting Real With Wanda Morrissey

Before

I have been on a real craft kick lately.  I’ve been surfing the net looking for new ideas that I can try. I discovered something called ‘freezer paper stenciling’.  Apparently, it’s been around for some time but I’m just discovering it now.  It looked so simple that I had to try it.  I’ve done two stenciling projects this way and I’ve got a couple more lined up.

One night while sharing zombie-like at my computer screen, I failed to notice that I was leaning on an uncapped pen and ended up with an ink stain on the oatmeal colored shirt I was wearing.  My initial reaction was that my shirt was ruined but then I thought that it would be a good chance to experiment with freezer paper stenciling.  If the project didn’t turn out, no harm no foul, the shirt was already ruined.

Starting simply, I printed out a picture of star.  I taped it to a piece of freezer paper and used a craft knife to cut out the shape.  The next step was to iron my stencil unto the shirt.  Freezer paper has a thin coat of plastic on one side, if you put the plastic side down on the fabric and iron over the paper side it’ll stick to the fabric, holding your stencil in place and eliminating the need to pin it down.

After

Then I got my fabric paint and painted over it.  I thought that one star would look out of place, so I added two more.  Once the paint dries, you just peel the freezer off.  Tada, a brand new shirt, sort of.

Considering this was an experimental piece, I thought that it turned out really well.  I used black paint which I think was too dark for the shirt but I needed it dark enough to cover blue ink.  And I should have put a little more thought into the position of the stars, you can tell it’s amateur work.  But all thing considered, I didn’t have to throw away a perfectly good shirt.  I’ll just save it for the days I’m bumming around the house or doing messy work.

Membership Does Have Its Benefits for the Frugal

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

In my quest to keep my kids entertained for the summer I have been on a hunt for anything with the word FREE listed in the price.  Through the local arts council I have found the free Sunday in the Park series of musical performances, First Fridays downtown, Wednesday lunchtime music in Center City Park, and Monday & Wednesday morning Fitness by the Fountain.  All that here in Greensboro, NC, but I know that if you check with your local arts council you’ll find similar activities, many family friendly.

While FREE is my preferred method of entertainment, I like cheap, thrifty, and low cost, too.  However, sometimes I forget the big picture value of memberships due to the high up-front cost.  Recently as part of a summer gift for my kids, their grandparents gave us some money to purchase a family membership to our Natural Science Center.  I was very excited about this because the Natural Science Center has two floors of exhibits with exploration theaters, play areas, the Omnishere Theater,  Animal Discovery Zoological Park, and all manner of educational programs and workshops throughout the year.  I mean, best gift ever, right?  Well, let me tell you, this is the gift that keeps on giving!

I’ve never paid enough attention to the membership shpeel before to know this, but the old adage is true.  Membership does have its benefits. Other than newsletters and advance notice of special events, there is this little thing called reciprocal admission to affiliates.  I’m talking up to a 50% discount on admission to other zoological parks, discounts at gift shops and in some cases FREE admission, like in our case, to the NC Aquariums.  But the list includes over 300 science museums nationwide as well as other Association of Zoos & Aquariums accredited organizations.

Let me put it mathematically.  One trip to the Natural Science Center would currently cost my two kids and me $22.  A family membership for two adults and ALL the children in the household under 18 costs $70. (we got a $5 discount for being local residents – who knew).  If I take the kids just twice more the membership will more than have paid for itself, and that doesn’t even account for my husband if he wants to come along.  Now we can make plans to visit the NC Aquariums, and other museums that had previously been off our list of consideration this summer.

This is a total win!

Summer on a Budget

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

As the days seem to speed closer to the inevitable summer vacation, it’s time to start seeing what’s out there for cheap, if not free.  So to really kick off my summer as Mommy Activities Director I did the first thing that all mothers do, I asked my mommy friends for ideas.  After asking around, doing some on-line research and playing tourist of my area I came up with some great resources.

  • Movies: Many theaters offer special summer movies that range from $1 to $2.50; a few even offer free showings.  Many theaters offer a kids value pack of some kind with popcorn, drink and candy.
  • Public Library: Check with your public library and get a membership if you haven’t already.  Public libraries offer way more than book lending.  Many have story times, and other great programs throughout the year for both children and adults.
  • United Arts Council: By checking with your local arts council you can tap into all kinds of activities going on in your area with local museums and other cultural events throughout the year, like music in the park.
  • Community Bulletin Boards: These tend to exist in grocery stores, local coffee shops, and some local restaurants.  Among the business cards and various for-sale ads are often flyers for local fun events that are area specific.
  • Churches: Even if you don’t attend regularly or even at all, many churches host activities open to the public that are kid friendly.  Ticket prices tend to be low and the money goes to a good cause.

Depending on your location and proximity to major cities, you may be able to find more opportunities if you look.  These are just a few that seem to be universal for anyone in the continental U.S.

Cheap Weekend Escapes

by Shadra Bruce

When your budget is shot, your kids are bored, and you just need an escape, it’s time to think outside of the box!  Here are some fun ideas for a getaway that won’t break the bank.

Spring is here, and lots of people are dreaming of hitting the road. Everyone likes to get out of town for a weekend now and then, if for no other reason than to enjoy room service and an indoor heated pool with no beds to make the next day.  With fuel costs becoming the most expensive part of travel, why not book a room at a local hotel?

Whether you and your family do nothing but laze by the pool for the weekend or literally become tourists in your own town, this is a fun and inexpensive option for a weekend getaway.  Bonus: no getting lost or having to ask for directions to get where you want to go.

If even the thought of a hotel bill is more than you want to contemplate, arrange a weekend house swap with a friend or family member in a nearby town.  They’re probably just as eager as you to get away for a weekend.  A little planning on your part and they’ll feel like it’s a hotel, too: put out fresh towels, put fresh sheets on the beds and leave a gift basket of fresh fruit in the entry way.

Have a vacation at home! Wake up and leave the beds unmade and the dishes in the sink. Cancel all the weekend chores, order out for pizza, rent a movie, and make some popcorn.

OK, so this is not the same as gallivanting off to Paris for the weekend, but it beats hearing “I’m bored” one more time, and the change of pace can lead to a change of attitude!

Couponing

Getting Real With Jennifer Poole

A few months ago I joined the couponing craze. I have always considered myself a bargain shopper but I wanted to try to save even more. Now I am nothing like the people you might have seen on the new show about couponing but I am still a bit crazy.

I now have a big binder filled with multiple copies of each available coupon including those I download off the internet. Each week I scan various ads to find the best deals on things I might need. The key is to try to double up on savings. So the item must be on sale and I have a coupon for it.

For example, last week Walgreen’s had granola bars on sale 2 boxes for $4. Normally they are about $4 for just one box so this is a great deal, especially since one of my teens loves to eat them everyday. I downloaded additional coupons for 50 cents off each box. So I was able to get 12 boxes for $1.50 plus I received $6 in register rewards coupons good toward my next purchase. And I have a very happy granola bar loving boy.

I have found couponing to be a roller coaster of emotion for me. I love it when I get a great deal. I get frustrated when they are already sold out of the item or I later find out it was on sale for an even better deal elsewhere. I love knowing I am saving money for my family and my lunches for the next three months (soup or frozen meals) have already been purchased. And there is the time involved. Working a full time job and part time job and running a household is enough of a juggling act before adding in the need to go to 3-4 different stores each week to get the best deals. It can become like Black Friday shopping every week and that can be exhausting. I just do what I can when I can and enjoy finding the bargain.

Online Shopping

There are so many ways to shop this Christmas. It has gone way beyond physically going to the store and braving the crowds. Black Friday was once a tradition for me but I have decided that getting up in the freezing cold, in the early morning hours, with millions of other shoppers just doesn’t have the same appeal it once had.

One of my favorite ways to shop is online. Life is so busy with the family, work, school, and homework that there doesn’t ever seem to be enough time in the day. Shopping online is something that I can do in the evenings after the kids are all tucked in for the night. There are so many ways to save shopping online. There are sites that will actually link you directly to the coupons and coupon codes. There are sites that will compare prices on an item for you. A lot of times stores have online only sales and savings. There used to be times that I would drive from one store to the next comparing prices. Or I would go to a specific store for an item that they would have sold out of. Shopping online has made things so much more convenient. In addition to the savings I enjoy on my purchase I also enjoy the fact that I am saving on the cost of fuel!

It is important to do your research before you purchase online. There are many things to consider in addition to the price of the item and whether or not you have to pay for shipping. It is important to shop around and compare prices. You also need to be aware of the time it will take for the item to arrive in relation to when you need it. One of the most important factors when you are considering making that purchase is to know the return policy. It doesn’t matter how much you save if you end up with an item that will not work and you need to return it. If you do your research, compare prices, and make an informed purchase you will learn to love the convenience of online shopping. Tis’ the season!

Brand or Price Loyalty?

Does anyone really have “brand loyalty” anymore? For myself, and others around me, there seems to be a more sensible phenomenon of “price loyalty” emerging. This method of determining the products that we purchase certainly goes along with the state of the economy we are living in. I have definitely found myself questioning if what I am looking at purchasing is the best price available, or if there is a different brand or similar item that would function in its place at a lower price.

Depending on the person and the situation, I think there are certain items that, regardless of price, we will choose to be loyal to our favorites. My mom, for as long as I can remember, drank Foldgers Coffee. My uncle is a Pepsi fan all the way. But there are certain products that the brand of the item just does not make that big of a difference. A lot of times if you really analyze your purchase you can even substitute one item for another or even find multiple uses for things.

One of the biggest items that brand loyalty is more of a luxury than anything else is, of course, clothing. Some of the brand name clothing stores are seriously ridiculously priced in my opinion! That is one luxury that I think a lot of people can’t afford or simply choose not to afford. I have certain brands that I prefer but if I can’t get them at the discount stores then I don’t get them. One of my personal favorites is Lucky Brand jeans. I found someone selling them online and I got 5 pairs for $80!! That is probably even a little less than I would have paid for a single pair at department store prices.

There are so many places and ways we can cut back and save money. You just have to identify what your priorities are and be a smart shopper!