Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Frugality Rules!*

*Or does one now say it ‘rocks’?

I will forever be indebted to Amy Dacyczyn, editor of
The Tightwad Gazette, for teaching me the game of frugality. It wasn’t a game at first, it was a necessity. Money was tight and I was worried. As with all things bad and good, it passed; but the passage was only partly due to changing circumstance and largely, I think, because of what I learned. I got through it not really because of any specific tips in Amy’s newsletters, though her universal recipes basically taught me how to cook from scratch, a big relief to the budget. It was more the front page editorials that taught me a different way of looking at things. My mom had always been frugal, being married to a spend-thrift, but it looked like sacrifice a good part of the time; Amy made it look like an interesting challenge, a game, like fun, even when it was necessary.

Games are only fun because of rules. If there were no boundaries to not exceed, no requirements about the number of players, no prescribed method of handling the ball, no order of play, what would be the point? I do step out of the boundaries occasionally, but many of my frugal rules are just habit now; and they are still fun. Some of my self-imposed rules, in no particular order, include the following, [and there is room to expand]:

Crafts – Use only what I already have on hand; this forces me to be more creative.

[Finish projects before starting new ones. Get real about what I can actually accomplish. Use up stash before collecting more materials, even free ones.]

Food – Cook one protein per meal, following the 2 week list of proteins for main meals, for health as well as economy; entrees include 4 fish, 3 bean, 2 vegetarian, one each of poultry, eggs, meat, cheese, and a combination, ie meat & cheese pizza. I thought the ‘one protein’ rule was just my eccentricity, but the other day Bill was moaning about how wasteful a recipe was, so this idea has actually caught on! Buy fruit and veg from a green market; beans, grains and spices from an Asian grocery; meat and poultry in bulk from a wholesale retailer; only the remainder from a supermarket. Shop no more than once every 2-3 weeks. Make bread and pizza dough. Keep pantry and freezer stocked with staples. Use leftovers. Freeze food if we can't eat it quickly enough.

[Eat smaller portions; soup for lunch in winter, salad in summer; learn to make yoghurt; learn to make tortillas].

Transport – Walk if it’s within a mile, unless I need to carry a lot. Many of my errands are a 20 minute walk away and a backpack or a tote bag is easily sufficient. Use one car whenever possible.

[Cycle if it’s within 5 miles; in fact, get more comfortable with cycling altogether. Get rid of one car
; when Bill stops work, this will definitely be easier.]

Travel – Let’s be right about it, travel is an unnecessary luxury and is not frugal. However, even Amy says that the point of frugality is to pay less for things that are less important in order to have more money for the things that are. Travel is one of these priorities. So, take only a carry on if on a short haul flight that charges to check a bag. At £18 on Easy Jet, it’s cheaper to buy liquid replacements at the airport on the other side of security. When traveling in Europe, where breakfast is included with the bed, we eat well at breakfast and lunch is a light snack. We look first at self-catering options which means a small kitchen is available. It’s still foreign food even if we are cooking it ourselves; we’ll go out once or twice for dinner. In most Mediterranean countries, peasant food is the best: bread, cheese, sausages, local fruit and veg.

[We are looking at RV/caravan options, whichever word – I keep forgetting -- means the smaller box over here. Consider taking cycles when traveling via ferry or train.]

Housing - Our housing purchase days are likely behind us, but I would use the same criteria if not. I haven’t bought the most expensive houses I could afford, but rather ones in decent, but not prestigious, neighbourhoods with good transport links, i.e. near a useful highway or a Metro. Having enjoyed the freedom of living in a walk-able area here in Britain, I might also look at the walk-ability score if I were buying in the US. Whatever needs done in the way of maintenance or decorating, we first consider whether we can easily do it ourselves. I’m probably more willing than useful, but Bill has a host of hidden talents in this respect.

This is another way in which we aren’t particularly frugal. We don’t actually need most of the stuff or the space we have. I watched Bill’s mom downsize several times and she didn’t seem to mind much. I’m far more sentimental than she was and I think I’d struggle with this, should the need arise.

Heating – We keep our thermostat at 15 C / 59 F. The heat comes on about 6 am and goes off at 9 am. I generally make it until about 2-3 pm before I give in and turn it back on. It goes back off about 9:30 pm.

[I could always go to the library where they keep it tropical; after all my taxes pay their bills. Do more housework to keep moving and stay warmer.]

Clothing – Wear everything in my closet. Keep only current season’s clothing in closet. “Shop” my closet, spare bedroom, loft first. Mend and repair. Go to thrift shops in well off areas with specific needs in mind, e.g., warm, long sleeved t-shirts or clothing of a particular colour group. Consider sewing if item is within limited skill range. Look at consignment shops -- called dress agencies over here. Buy new only when other sources are exhausted.

[Re-fashion or alter items to fit, improve sewing skills, get rid of all the spare clothes in the loft
, quit buying sandals or heels without huge justification - enormous.]

Laundry – Only wash actually dirty clothes, use cold water in most cases. Use half the soap recommended unless clothes especially soiled, i.e., muddy from cross-country races. Wash only full loads.

[Treat stains more quickly].

Cleaning – Use paper towels only where cloth or rags won’t do. Buy dishwashing liquid in bulk at wholesale outlet and decant to empty smaller bottles. Experiment with vinegar, coke, baking soda, denture cleaner – as we happen to have some – in place of commercial products. Use up products before replacing.

[Use products more often? -- see heating...]

Toiletries and Cosmetics – Use handkerchiefs instead of Kleenexes. Use up what I have; regarding bar soap, I should live so long. Empty containers as completely as possible. Use household products in place of more expensive commercial products: e.g., in the shower, a handful of sugar mixed with vegetable oil exfoliates dry skin on legs. Think about number of toilet paper squares.

[Experiment with mixing shades of base or lipsticks; also with combining scents. Mom said they used vanilla extract for perfume during the war. Try the old trick of dry-washing hair with cornmeal. Use a small dab of expensive hair conditioner and leave it in instead of using large amounts and rinsing cheaper conditioners. Find another use for powdered eye shadows, e.g., take up painting water colours?]

What rules do you have?


Jenni said...

Great tips!

Frugal Scholar said...

By the time I got around to reading Amy's books, I was pretty set in my frugal ways. I love reading the books--even now--as a reminder that I AM NOT ALONE in frugality. Loved this post--and your blog in general--for the same reason.

Shelley said...

FS -- Yes, I still have all (bar one lost issue) of my newsletters and enjoy browsing them, even though I've made copious notes. There are many things in there I've yet to adventures awaiting! I think being frugal is always going to be a bit 'counter-culture' particularly as more people put money in the stock market; it's sort of a mixed message that, isn't it?