Cut Your Clothes Budget—Take Care of What you Already Own

 

 

Everyone wants to look good, and if you want to succeed out in the world the right clothes are a necessity. But it is not necessary to go out and spend large amounts of money on new duds every month. For frugalistas like us, it makes a lot more sense to take care of what you already have, and only replace things when they wear out. Follow these tips to keep your wardrobe in great shape and keep your money in the bank:

  1. Buy right to begin with. It is OK to have a few delightful dry clean only items in your closet. But always be aware of the maintenance costs when you are considering a purchase. If you work in a very conservative or style conscious profession you may need to get some dry clean only items for work. The rest of us can probably stick with wash and wear.
  2. Know the difference between “dry clean only” and simply “dry clean” on the care tags on your clothes. One is mandatory, the other is merely a suggestion. If is says “dry clean” you may be able to hand wash it gently and either hang or lay flat to dry. Heavier knits and other stretchable fabrics should be dried flat so the don’t get pulled out of shape by their own weight. Lighter, non-stretchy items may be hung up on hangers and left on your shower rod, or hung outside.
  3. Silk can generally be washed if has a light colored dye. The brighter colors may fade if you wash them. Cashmere washes nicely. It may even work to put them in the washer on gentle, then lie flat to dry. Wool should NEVER be dried in a dryer.
  4. Do separate your darks and lights to avoid ruining the lighter items. And pull everything out of the dryer as soon as it is finished to avoid pilling.
  5. Don’t over-wash. Every time you wash an item it gets a little more worn out. Just keep your clothes presentable. Don’t wash them to death.
  6. If you get a stain, try to remove it immediately. The longer it sits the harder it is to get out. Different stains require different treatments. One product that does the trick in most cases is Oxy Clean. Just apply to the stain and wet down. Soak for a few minutes before you wash.
  7. Get things taken up or in as needed. Especially if pants are to long. Hem them before the bottoms get frayed. You’ll look better and the pant bottoms won’t be ruined.
  8. Small tears can be usually be mended. If the tear is along a seam it is very easy. Otherwise you need to access whether it is worth the trouble.
  9. Take off your good clothes and hang them up when you get home. It is just to easy to start watering the garden or cooking dinner and then something might go very wrong. You’ll feel better anyhow if you separate work from play. Changing signals your mind that you are home.

If you follow these simple rules you will come out ahead and still look fabulous.

Here are some links to for more helpful information:

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2012/02/28/dont-throw-your-old-cloths-away-mend-them/

http://www.thefrugalgoddess.com/2010/08/28/what-about-clothes/

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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.

Frugal Romance-Dating on a Dime

 

A Bottle for Two by the Fire

If you are one of the millions of singles out there you face a lot of bumps is the road already. Going broke in the pursuit of a great date shouldn’t be one of them. We are taught in this culture that we need to spend a pile of money to capture the heart of our crush, or even to enjoy a little romance. But this is misleading. Spending too much can actually hurt your chance for dating success, and not just in the wallet.

Dating experts know that trying too hard (i.e. spending a bundle) can actually be a turn off in the early stages of dating. This is because it makes the suitor/spender look too eager at a time when the other party isn’t sure how they feel. So the less of a big deal the better for both parties. Attraction is built on small shared experiences and a little mystery.

A big splurge, say on a great but expensive restaurant or romantic getaway, CAN be very romantic. Just save it for the first anniversary. If you start of at that level of spending you will likely be expected to keep it up, and what are you going to do for an encore.

Another issue is the possibility that your intended partner is a frugal person that might actually be turned off by a large impressive display of consumer prowess. It is a good idea to know someone before you try too hard to impress them. It will save you from mistakes that cost more than just money.

So, what are you going to do instead? After the first coffee date which is a nice frugal activity, the options are many. If the weather is nice get outside. Taking a walk, either in the country or through an interesting neighborhood, provides a chance to converse. And the walking helps dispel any dating jitters. Or, for a longer get together, try a picnic. If you cook the food yourself it won’t cost any more than a normal lunch at home. Find a pretty spot and share a sandwich.

For the more active try riding bikes together or horses if you are in the part of the country where horses are common. Take a swim at the local swimming hole. Get out and dance at a community event. Many locales have free outdoor music in the summer. Check your local listings for all kinds of free community events.

If the weather is iffy go to a movie matinee. This will be less expensive and more casual than an evening show. Or go to a busy café and people watch. Or go play chess at a café that features chess sets. In the evening many cities have open mics where you can go hear a line-up of local talent for the cost of a beer.

The possibilities are endless. Pick out something so interesting you would do it by yourself and enjoy every minute. Then ask your crush to join you. It helps to find out their interests first though. It is how you treat your date and how the two of you feel about each other that create the sparks. So go get your local events listings, put on you thinking hat, and get ready to dial. Happy dating!

Making a Budget? Let Your Value System be Your Guide!

 

Reflect in Silence Before Deciding

What do personal value systems have to do with a frugal life? Everything! Your value system is the key to what you should spend money and time on, and where you can skimp without lowering your quality of life. When you make a budget, list your needs before your wants. Basic needs include shelter, food, potable water and water for hygiene, a bathroom, a way to do laundry, a small amount of clothing (enough to be cover your body and stay warm in cold weather), some kind of phone/internet connection, some form of transportation, education for the children, medical care, and some kind of entertainment.

Take your total income at this moment and assign a figure to each need. You may not have anything left when you are done adding, or worse yet, you may not even have all your basic needs met. This is true for many in this economy. If this is true for you, don’t despair. That won’t help. Try instead to get the uncovered needs met in some way that doesn’t involve money. Try barter or the gift economy.

But, if you are one of the lucky people with a surplus, you also have a potential spending problem. Unless you are very wealthy (and perhaps even then) you can’t buy everything on your list of wants at the same time. The process of values clarification will act as a beacon for your spending priorities. In the meantime, put the surplus away. You need to think and plan before you spend.

Many values clarification systems rely on a list of possible values and then ask you to pick the top three or five or maybe even ten. This is worthwhile to a point, but to practice values- based frugality you need to go deeper, and then you need to be very precise. The precision is a tool to help you translate a value, which is an idea, quality, or feeling, into a spending decision. When you spend you have to spend on a specific item, service, or experience.

Here is how it works—you discover that beauty is a quality you value deeply. Does that translate into buying a painting for your wall, or a trip to a beautiful place, or to getting your hair and nails done? What does beauty actually mean to you?

Or if you say you value the arts, which ones? Do you mean music, theater, or graphic arts? What is it that attracts you? Because you can’t buy “the arts”, but you can buy tickets to a concert or download some new tunes. Or, when you dive deep, you may find that it is actually creativity that you value. In that case, what medium do you want to use? That will guide you in your spending. As long as you don’t know what you really want, don’t make any big spending decisions.

Once you have done all the homework and know what you truly value you can start shopping. A frugal shopper always tries to get the best value for their money, but this does not mean buying the cheapest thing. It means buying the best tool for the job at the best available price. For example, if you have creativity as a high value and your medium is photography, it makes sense to buy a good camera even if it seems “expensive”. When you are spending in alignment with your personal values system, expense is a relative term. This is principle is not carte blanche permission to dump the whole budgeting process. If the photographer in the example buys an expensive camera and lenses, they may have to dial down the clothes expense or some other area that is not so important to them. That is why self-knowledge is so important to frugality.

One of the most common questions I am asked is about whether it is “OK” to go to out for coffee every day. The coffee habit is one often fixed upon by financial pundits as a budget buster. To discover the answer for yourself, look at your values. And then ask yourself WHY you are buying your coffee out. Do you buy a fancy expensive concoction to go and drink it while speeding down the freeway barely tasting it? Then it is likely a big waste. Make your own and use a commuter cup. But, if you are meeting you two best friends once a week and enjoying every sip, go ahead and get the jumbo chocalata supreme. It’s actually about friendship and connection. And that is a perfectly valid expense.

Here is some links for  books about values clarification:

http://www.amazon.com/Search-Values-Strategies-Finding-Matters/dp/0446394378/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316714970&sr=1-9

http://www.amazon.com/What-Matters-Most-Living-Values/dp/0684872579/ref=pd_sim_b3

Remember to try your library first, unless owning a lot of books is a high value for you!

Frugal Home Decorating-How to Make Your Home Comfortable and Beautiful without Breaking the Bank

Home Sweet Home!

To have a good life it is necessary to have a comfortable and inviting living space. Even travelers have to come home sooner or later. But the things that make a home into a haven can be expensive if you aren’t willing to invest the time. This is one of those things where the tradeoff of time and effort for money is most apparent. If you are willing to do the work of figuring out exactly what you want and then take the time to find alternatives to throwing money at the project, you will wake up one morning in love with your home.

Interior decoration, like fashion, is a place to really let your personality and spirit shine through. But, unlike clothes choices that are a relatively small expense and change with the seasons, your choice of home décor will stay with you for a long time. So take the time to really learn what you like. Go to the library and look at a bunch of magazines to see if your tastes run more to the antique, the modern, or something else. Take out a decorating book or two while you are there. Peruse the online home furnishing sites. You aren’t going to actually buy from these sources; that would be way too expensive. This is just to learn about your own tastes.

Once you get an idea what really makes your heart sing, it is time to start looking—in second hand stores, discount outlets, on Craigslist, even in the odd antique store for something really special. If there are built-in elements to the design you are looking for, such as cabinets, try a local cabinet maker. Sometimes they are really reasonable, and most would be happy to have your business. The same goes for all the fabric elements. If you fall in love with the comfort and style of an older chair, see about having it re-upholstered. A seamstress can also make window treatments, throw pillows, and much more. You may be able to trade with a skillful friend or join a time bank and trade that way. Of course if you are handy at either carpentry or sewing you could certainly do it yourself.

Paint is another really inexpensive way to add style to a room. Don’t be afraid of a little color. You would be amazed at how the right shade can change your mood. If you can paint at all do it yourself, otherwise have a paint party and buy everyone pizza.

By the time you have all the fabric and wooden elements created and installed you should have a stash of nice pieces from your second hand shopping expeditions. Try to get the bread and butter pieces for as little as possible to have some left over for a couple of really special things where it counts. Every room should have a focal point. You may want to save your splurge for that, or, if you can create an effect with something relatively inexpensive like paint, or if you can use something already in the room like a fireplace as your focal point that will free you up to get that great lamp or slightly pricy desk.

All of these ideas can be adjusted up or down to suit your budget. If you are voluntarily frugal and your environment is an important value don’t be afraid to spend a bit to get what you want. This is one area where spending is not wasting as long as you think it through.

If you are forcibly frugal, don’t give up hope. As long as you have a home at all you will be able to slowly improve it, as long as you keep focusing and looking for the things you need. You might have to rely on friends with too much stuff, curbside foraging, Craigslist freebies and freecycle.com. But if you persist you will eventually be able to create tranquility, functionality, and beauty in your home no matter what you circumstances.

Bring Frugal Beauty into Your Home with a Cutting Garden

 

Beauty

Being frugal does not mean giving up beauty or a gracious life. It simply means finding better ways to fulfill these needs. One of the things that creates a lovely atmosphere at home is the presence of beautiful flowers. But the flowers that are available in stores and at your local florist are very expensive. Not only in cost to you but also to the environment through factory farming and 8000 mile supply lines. Luckily there is a simple solution. A cutting garden can be as simple as a few flowering bushes. Even if all you have is a little side yard or patio you can have flowers.

The first step is to visit your local library and do some research on the flowers that grow well in your locale. While doing so you can also get an idea about what you like. Decide whether you are more concerned with visual appearance or fragrance. I like both myself.

Once you have a bit of a plan it’s off to your local plant nursery to chat up the owner and get your supplies. The people that work in nurseries can be a fount of wisdom for new gardeners. I would suggest buying starts instead of seeds if you are just starting out. They are much easier to handle, and you can collect your first bouquet sooner.

If you absolutely can’t grow anything, try foraging. Go walking in an area where there are wildflowers and remember to bring clippers. Just not your neighbor’s yard, please, unless you have permission. Maybe you can barter with a friend with a green thumb.

The selection may be a little sparse if you live in an area of heavy winters. Then you might expand your definition to include holly berries and pussy willow, or other less glamorous shrubbery. This is the time to get creative.

Once you have the flowers, all you need is a nice vase to place them in. If you don’t have a “real” vase, try a mason jar. Put the flowers in the water, and then play with them a bit. Pull some up a bit. Change the position of others. Flower arranging is a fine old art. You can learn much from books, articles, and the internet.

Finally, remember to keep your flowers fresh. Change the water, and throw them out and replace them when they start looking shabby. The reason you brought them in to your home was for the incomparable charm and feeling of prosperity that they bring. If they are half dead it is time for a fresh bunch.

Here are some links:

http://www.gardeners.com/Cutting-Garden/5011,default,pg.html Some ideas for what flowers to grow

http://www.perfectentertaining.com/article1100.html Flower arrangement tips

Basic Frugal Tools-The Three Kinds of Spending

The Experiences of a Lifetime

Discretionary Spending

Once your basic needs are attended to, if you still have any money you can begin to buy the things you want. Many people jump the gun on this process, skipping to the wants without first securing the needs. This is something a frugalista will avoid doing. Using two economic principles and one psychological principle will help sort out your discretionary spending.

Limited Resources and Opportunity Cost

The principle of limited resources should be self-evident. Even the GDP of the world is a finite number. We live in a closed system. I don’t need to belabor this point—your bank statement tells the tale. Opportunity cost means that for every choice we make, given our limited resources, we must forgo some other choice.  If we buy an apple for a dollar, we can’t spend the same dollar on an orange. The opportunity cost of the apple was giving up the orange.  The principle applies to time as well. If I spend the day at the museum I can’t spend the same day working on a project. The opportunity cost of the museum is the time not spent on the project.

When we decide what to do with our free time or our discretionary income, we have to rely on our value system. As with every other choice you make in your life, nothing but self-knowledge and taking the time to reflect on your own values can really help. But knowing what the real choice is can make it easier.

The Three Types of Spending

Your three choices are to spend on products, to spend on services, or to spend on experiences. In our hyper consumption culture there are literally thousands of choices in all three categories vying for our dollars. There are no right or wrong answers, but there are choices that will give you a deeper connection to your community, or add to the meaning in your life. That is where values come in. If I had extra money, and I was thinking of buying a new couch (a product)getting some help on my landscaping (a service) or taking a trip to the Grand Canyon (an experience), I would choose the trip. Even if I was sitting on the floor. Even if my yard was a jungle.

That is not to say that buying thing or services is always wrong. It is just easier to get them other ways. I could get a couch on Freecycle.com and I could trade for the landscaping. But even if I use all my frugal wiles getting to the Grand Canyon and enjoying it is going to require a cash outlay.

Every so often, if we are lucky enough to have any “extra” money, we may just really want a NEW pair of shoes, or a manicure, or whatever. And there are things it makes sense to purchase in both the products and services categories. A computer for instance, in products. If you can find a used one that you trust not to be a complete lemon, great. Otherwise, just buy a new one. Or, when it comes to services, someone to do solve your electrical system woes if you don’t have a barter partner who is an electrician. Doing it yourself is dangerous and probably inefficient. Letting it go could cause you to lose a whole freezer full of food. So, just pick up the phone already.

These hypothetical situations are meant to illustrate how complex our spending choices can be. Running your own finances is like driving a car, with the same requirement that we pay close attention and react quickly to changing conditions. But, if you have the choice, why not throw a party with that extra three hundred dollars, and let the old TV go for a little while longer. It is all about creating wonderful memories. Very few services and almost no products can really claim to do that.

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