Why Be Frugal?

DSC_0687This might seem an odd question from the Frugal Goddess, but it is worth asking. Being frugal means more effort and often deferred gratification. There has to be a pay-off or nobody would do it willingly.

There are really three groups of frugalistas. The forcibly frugal are too poor don’t have a choice. This group  grew much larger in the USA during the crash of 2008 and is still growing. Sadly, the rest of the world has always had a large population in this group. For the forcibly frugal, there is no need to ask why. How is the question. How to feed a family, how to obtain shelter, how to survive.

The middle class frugalista understands the concept of deferred gratification. There are many, even in this over-heated consumer environment, that are willing to do the work to achieve a dream. This group understands the relationship between prudence and success. To be middle class is an exercise in compromise. A person with a moderate income can make choices, and satisfy some desires, but not all. For this group, a consistent frugal lifestyle means home-ownership, college for the kids, and the opportunity to do a few really amazing things like travel to the world. If this type were to go on impulse, all the surplus would be frittered away on trips to the mall, and they would have the debt-load of the average American family. For these frugalistas, frugality really does make their dreams come true.

But it does something more as well. It creates a deep sense of peace. It is well known that money problems are one of the biggest sources of stress in our culture. And that money fights are one of the biggest causes of divorce. Frugal people avoid all of that. And if the parents are frugal it sets a very good example for the whole family.

Though it may seem that we are through, there is actually one more type. The members of the voluntary simplicity movement tend to be very well off. Maybe even rich enough that waste is a mere inconvenience, not a life-threatening disaster. But this group is interested in a green life-style, and in a sustainable solution to the “human” problem. This involves avoiding waste and conscious values-based spending. That is the very definition of frugality. This group has a very different problem from the first two groups. The first group has no problem staying frugal, it is staying alive that concerns them. The second group may have temptations, but a commitment to a greater reward will keep them on track. But, for the voluntary frugalista, it is commitment to an idea of what is right that drives the frugal lifestyle. For them, the answer to the question “why be frugal” is an intellectual one. But, even so, there are rewards other than virtue. The voluntary frugalista gets the benefit of self-knowledge and clarity. This translates to more time doing the things that are truly rewarding, and less time spinning in circles.

Whatever your current financial situation, a frugal lifestyle is worth it.

If You Want to Save Money Take Safety Seriously

Safety is Frugal

The other day I read an article about frugality where a young woman told a story in which her tires were bald and unsafe, but she didn’t want to spend the $400 to get them replaced. She seemed to believe that this was the frugal approach, but she couldn’t be more wrong.

Safety violations waste money whether they are at home, at work, or on the road. Every year millions or maybe billions of dollars are wasted cleaning up messes that could have been avoided with some simple safety precautions that were skimped on. Remember the gulf oil spill? If regular maintenance is good for the wallet, then taking safety precautions is mandatory to keeping you finances in good order.

It is not hard to imagine all the ways that skimping and procrastinating on safety measures can bring hardship. It might even cause death or serious injury to you aor someone you care about. Those bald tires might cost you an accident that totals the car. Or they could cause a deadly accident. Taking care that your equipment is in order isn’t just frugal, it is essential to good citizenship.

So don’t stint on tires, checkups, fire protection, or proper gear for your activities, such as helmets for bicycling. Whatever it cost in money or time to stay save is actually a bargain. So take some time to evaluate in the next couple of days. Make a few lists: home, car, work, hobbies, and any other place you spend time. Write down all safety issues and make sure that everything is in order. Check the batteries in things. Check the fire extinguisher. If there are items that aren’t up to snuff—fix them now. And breathe a little easier.

How Much is Enough? Six Tips for Knowing when to Stop

If You Don't Know what you Want You'll Never Have Enough

The question “how much is enough?” is at the very heart of a frugal life richly lived. It is the backbone of frugal abundance. We live in a culture that resists the concept of enough. For the inhabitants of the “developed world”, the answer we must give is that no amount is enough. The economy we have created depends on MORE, and just enough is considered an ill.

But sensible people trying to live a good and pleasant life know that this is hog wash. Too much clutter in our material possessions or our time leads to a frenzied life where we don’t fully use or enjoy the things we have. So what is the cure? Try these six simple tips to get back to a state of happy balance:

  1. Before you bring in ANYTHING new, look at what you already have and ask yourself what the purpose is. Do you already have something that will accomplish whatever it is you are trying to do? For example, if you want to make crepes, do you really need to buy a special pan? Or would the cast iron pan you have work just as well. This also applies to time—before you add something to your schedule STOP and ask yourself why.
  2. Do you know the real cost of the things you want to acquire? Don’t forget to add in the cost of maintenance, repair, and auxiliary doo dads that you will need to make it work. When it comes to your time, remember to include travel and preparation time. These are things you need to know before committing yourself. If you don’t think it through you may bite off more than you can chew and end up with TOO MUCH.
  3. Where are you going to put the new thing? If it doesn’t fit in your house it won’t fit in your life. The same goes for new activities. When are you going to do the new activity, including prep, practice, and travel if applicable? Things without places create clutter and eventually misery.
  4. How does the new thing fit into your value system? If you don’t know, don’t buy it till you find out. You only have so much time, money, and physical space. If you let in a bunch of stuff that does not serve your value system, it just becomes a distraction. It also drives out the things that are in harmony with your values, and therefore robs your life of meaning to one extent or another. For example, if your values include bonding with your loved ones with a real sit down dinner, adding a lot of early evening activities is actually a form of clutter and will soon become TOO MUCH.
  5. Have a plan for buying things and committing your time. If you put the big pieces in first, such as travel or buying a house then the smaller decisions become easier. If you know that forgoing a new outfit will get you closer to a trip you want to take it removes some of the sting of saying no to yourself. This also works when dealing with family members. If you all agree that going camping is important it will help when you have to nix the new sneakers. Well, maybe not every time, but it will certainly help.
  6. Now apply these guidelines to what you already have. Do you need to purge anything? Cancel anything? Get rid of any time commitments, memberships, or subscriptions? Does all that you have serve you and your values? Be honest, and then start making a pile for charity. And don’t be too quick to fill up the spaces that get opened up. Open space and breathing room are essential to a happy life and a sign that you have just the right amount.

Try these six tips to create a life that is the right size for you. Not all of them will be easy, but the results will be worth it.

For more on this topic check out these links:

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/09/23/frugality-in-a-consumption-crazed-society/

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/08/30/false-economy/

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/11/01/time-and-money/

Start Saving Money Today–Avoid The Five Biggest Money Wasters!

 

What's Emptying YOUR Wallet?

Several years ago I clicked on a link about wasting money. On the list were several items that seemed very subjective, such as owning of houseplants, or reading magazines. I started searching for more such lists, and found that they all had subjective items on them. No one suggested that having children should be on the list, but some did list pets. The one thing all of these subjective items had in common was that each of them had some intrinsic value. And to the person who values an item it is not a money waster. The other thing about these list was that none of them caught ALL of the real money-wasters. You know, the things that nobody could possibly value. The financial losses that have no bright side. So, here is my list of the true money wasters.

  • Fees or fines for things that are avoidable. This includes parking tickets, tow-away charges, moving violations, and anything else where you run afoul of the law and have to pay when you get caught. What can you do about it? Park somewhere legal, leave earlier, stay sober or find another way home, and obey all traffic laws. It may be inconvenient sometimes, but not as much as paying a big fine or worse.
  • Unused memberships. The biggest offender is the gym membership, but there are others. Are you paying for an online subscription or premium service? You might be paying and not be aware of it, as in the case of 3rd party billing for “premium downloads” that can attach to your cell phone bill without you even being aware of it. To avoid this money drain, take a look at all the things you pay for automatically. Look closely at all your bills to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you aren’t using it, get rid of it. And next time you are tempted to join or subscribe to anything that costs money, think twice. Ask yourself if you have a bad track record. When and how will this new activity fit into your life? Can’t figure it out? Don’t do it!
  • Bank overdraft charges. I am not referring here to charges just to keep an account, though you probably can find a free one if you look. I am talking about what they charge when you write a check you shouldn’t. This may also apply to using your debit or credit card when the money isn’t there as well, though many states now have laws which force the bank to simply decline the card if there are insufficient funds, instead of paying the item and charging you an over-draft fee. To avoid paying any overdraft fees, set up overdraft protection with the bank or simply never go over what you actually have available. It might be a good idea to leave a small cushion just to make sure.
  •  Late fees. If you have any control at all over your cash flow you can avoid late fees. The problem may be that you procrastinate. Procrastination is fine in some situations, but not when it’s costing you. On the other hand, you may be late because you income has dropped. If it is in your monthly budget you should be able to pay for it. If you can’t then you must get rid of it. It may not seem fair. It probably isn’t. But this is the system we live with. If you have experienced a downturn in your financial situation you may start with a pile of bills and get rid of the services one by one. First the premium satellite for your TV, then the memberships to things, all the way down to the car if need be. If you know the difference between a need and a want you’ll know what to do.
  • Disorganization. This causes waste in many ways. It may be buying duplicates of things because you can’t find the first one. It may be massive food waste because you can’t tell what is in your refrigerator and cupboards. It could be paying higher prices because you don’t plan ahead. The only solution is to do an honest evaluation. If you know you are wasting money and overspending because you are disorganized, sit down and think about it. Are there areas where you are doing fine and others where you are suffering from disorganization? Or are you pretty much a mess across the board? Either way, start by trying to get a good friend to help you work on it. It may take a professional organizer in the end if your issue is severe. Just start today if this is you.

There are other behaviors that contribute to wasting money, but these five are the most common offenders. The good news is that all of them are fixable. Just think what you could do with the money you save.

Cheap or Frugal? What’s the Difference Anyhow?

 

So many times when I tell people about my writing I get a strange response. “oh—I don’t like that word-frugality” they say. “I don’t want to be cheap” Or sometimes “I don’t want to live in a poverty consciousness.” It is easy to see where these ideas come from. The shift in our value systems as a culture has given the honorable qualities of frugality and thrift a bad name. At this point for many these words are bundled up with other words such as miserly, stingy, and cheap.

But this was not always the case. The founders of the United States had a very different view—hence all the wonderful sayings about frugal living from the best minds of that era. For example “A penny saved is a penny earned.” and “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” both from Benjamin Franklin. They did have a word for cheapness back then—they would have said miserly, but they knew the difference between miserly and frugal or economical. The question posed in this post would never have arisen back then.

Today is a different story. In an atmosphere where things and experiences (that can be purchased) have taken the place of actual connections with people to large extent and going into debt is the normal way to get our needs met and our wants satisfied it is hard to imagine the value of delayed gratification. It is to the advantage of the market to make us believe that frugal is the same thing as cheap.

It is true that some behaviors are “cheap”. For instance—going out to dinner and ordering the pasta instead of steak is frugal. Not tipping the waitress is cheap. A frugal person would not go to a place where they can’t really afford to be there. The same with going out with friends and “forgetting” your wallet. A frugal person would just suggest a less expensive form of entertainment to begin with. Or they would save up for a big night out and thoroughly enjoy it, knowing that spending their time and money that way was the best use it could have, and without guilt. That is the true meaning of frugal abundance. It is to know what you want, and then going about making proper provisions to get it.

A cheap person only has one way of interacting with money—hoarding it. A frugal person is adaptable and responsive to the environment. They are willing to spend when appropriate while getting the best value for their money. This may mean that they are slower to reach for the wallet. This is not the knee jerk reaction of the miser, but rather the behavior of a self-aware person living with-in their means. In the end, it is the big spender that experiences lack, and his frugal sister who lives in prosperity.

Your Routines Could Be Making You Broke

 

Coffee and the Paper

Habits—everyone has them. Even the most freedom loving among us have some kind of daily and weekly routine. There are good reasons for this. One of them is biological. Our bodies are designed to run in a rhythmic fashion.  Our sleep patterns, for example, cause us to cycle on a daily basis. The second reason is psychological. Our minds are designed to categorize information. Huge amounts of undifferentiated data are just too much to process. Habits and routines are one of the ways we dial the information overload that comes barreling into our consciousness every day. In and of themselves habits are neither good nor bad.

If you are trying to manage your money and cut your expenses you must create the right habits to give you a push, and defeat the habits that cost you. The first step is to identify your current routine. Let’s start in the morning: You roll out of bed, and then what? For many people the answer is to get a stimulant such as coffee into their system as fast as possible, often coffee in the western world. How do you get your coffee? How much does it cost? In addition, many of us eat breakfast, and according to nutritional experts all of us should. So, how do you handle that, and how much does it cost?

To do a good audit, pay attention to your routines for a few weeks. Each time you identify one, ask yourself if there is an expense associated with it. Remember to multiply the cost by how often you partake in the habit. For instance, the cost of to-go coffee should be multiplied by 365 if you do it every day. Do this exercise on the daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly levels.

Once you know what you are doing now, it may be time to tweak those habits. You may be shocked at how much money is leaking out of your sieve without you even being aware of it consciously. Changing habits, especially those that are deeply engrained, may take quite an effort. But it can be done. If your money wasting (and often unhealthy) habit is one known to be tough to break you may want to get some help from a support group. If it is something like smoking you may need medical help. But, with the right plan in place virtually any habit can be defeated.

You may also have some good habits, walking each morning for example. Don’t forget to include these. Knowing you are doing some things right will improve your morale. You may also want to make a list of habits to integrate into your life, such as making a healthy breakfast at home each day, packing a healthy lunch, or socializing outdoors instead of expensive indoor venues. Developing a little habit such as making your bed a certain way each day can anchor your day at no cost to you except a few moments of your time. These are the habits that enrich us and bring order to our lives.

Everyone has 24 hours each day, and we all fill them with habits. With a little work your habits can make you richer, healthier, and more fulfilled.

Happy Holidays and a Big Roll Out of Frugal Fun in the New Year!!

Happy Holidays from the Frugal Goddess

My regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting lately. This is because I have been working on some great new material which I will be rolling out starting with the new year. I have been talking about the concepts and tactics of a frugal life with folks from all over the place, getting an idea of what would be most useful now. There are still many who associate frugality with lack. I will continue to work on eliminating that myth.

As I look about the world at the close of 2011 I see so many people struggling with the economic side of their lives. The struggle continues despite the occasional uptick in the market or spurts of prosperity. The Frugal Goddess writes to the forcibly frugal who may be facing even more dire circumstances in the coming year. She writes to the increasingly small and increasingly squeezed middle class, and to boomers hoping to be able to enjoy their golden years. She even writes to the voluntarily frugal—those people of means who are drawn spiritually to a live of sustainability, simplicity, and justice.

The philosophy of frugal abundance is based on the idea that prosperity is based on more than just money alone. We must each look into our own hearts to determine what is most important and then go about crafting a life based on our deepest values. Material wealth may be a part of that mix, but for most of us it is not at the center.

The entire system of frugal abundance is based on knowing and understanding your resources on every level, and then maximizing every resource available. It is also about understanding the flow of energy through your life so that nothing is wasted. We start with the outcome in mind and then figure out how to get there using every resource available. These resources are not limited to money but also include our connections to others, our own talents, and numerous ways we have of interacting with the world.

So, dear reader, I wish you a loving and peaceful end to 2011. And I hope you will stop by often in 2012 as the Frugal Goddess continues to help you connect your values to your wallet. And if there is a subject you really want to see get tackled please make a comment or email me and let me know. Blessings to you all!

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