I haven’t written much about frugality here lately. Because of that, you might think it’s become less of a priority for me. That’s simply not the case, although sometimes it feels that way — even to me. “I’m worried about our spending,” Kris told me early last week. “I feel like it’s a little out of control.”

“Really?” I said. We’ve had a couple of big expenses lately — painting the house, for example — but I don’t think our habits are too out of line. The real problem is probably the potential spending we see on the horizon:

  • We need to replace our 15-year-old mattress, for example. I don’t sleep well on it, although I sleep fine on other mattresses.
  • Meanwhile, I’ve been pricing new bicycles. I’m not certain I’m going to buy one, but I’m considering it.
  • Finally, we’ve begun to budget for our next big vacation: a trip to France and Italy next year. (Or the year after.)

With these spending goals looming, I suspect that Kris is feeling pinched. Still, after her observation about our frugality (or lack thereof), we’ve been trying to make smarter choices. This weekend, for example, was filled with frugality.

Home improvement and potlucks
Friday evening, Kris co-hosted a wedding shower — a frugal wedding shower. Kris and her co-workers made all of the food and drinks themselves. Kris made the flower arrangement. They didn’t spend money on decorations or games or prizes. “We didn’t need to spend a lot to have a party,” Kris told me afterward. “We just had good food and good friends and enjoyed each other’s company.”

On Saturday morning, we made a short drive to pick up 40 iris rhizomes, which Kris found on Craigslist for a dollar a piece. As we loaded them in the car, she was almost giddy with glee. “You don’t realize how big of a bargain this is,” she said. “I paid $1 per plant. At the iris gardens, these would be $10 or $20 or $30 per rhizome! Plus she gave me eight extra plants.”

Note: I have trouble getting excited about flowers. But when I frame it in terms that makes sense to me — like comic books — I can understand Kris’ enthusiasm. If I found 48 comics that should sell for $20 each, I’d be stoked if I could purchase the entire lot for $40.

On the drive home, we stopped at the hardware store to buy compost and topsoil so we could build a new iris bed. We also bought a “sweep” for the mudroom door, which should help keep the heat in during the winter. Finally, we bought a gallon of Van Deusen Blue paint. We recently paid to have the exterior of our home painted, but we’re going to do the porches ourselves.

During the afternoon, Kris planted her irises while I prepped the porches for painting. In the evening, we went to a potluck barbeque. Kris made a potato salad (using Yukon Golds she had purchased on sale) and we took a bottle of wine. In exchange, we received good food and good conversation.

On Sunday, we attended our monthly book group. This gathering is one of the highlights of our month, and a great example of frugal fun. Most members get the book selections through the public library, and the food is generally home-grown or home-made. Again, we felt like we obtained an excellent return on our minimal investment.

Note: These sorts of activities are valuable not only because they’re inexpensive, but also because they increase social capital, that societal glue that makes neighborhoods stronger.

We also did a lot of other little things this weekend. Here are some of the other ways we saved money:

  • On Friday, I biked to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. We try to limit our grocery shopping to once every two or three weeks, but we make supplemental trips for dairy and produce.
  • I picked peas from the garden. In fact, I picked a record crop — nearly a kilo on Saturday alone (bringing our total for the year up to about 3.5kg).
  • Kris picked cucumbers and made pickles.
  • We stopped by the Asian market. It has great prices and fun items, but we’re rarely in the neighborhood, so we try to visit it when we can.
  • I mixed up a large batch of Thai tuna salad to use for sandwiches all week long. Cheap and tasty!
  • We watched a couple of episodes of The Bob Newhart Show on Hulu.
  • I rode my bike to book group. Kris points out that this didn’t really save us anything since she drove her car, but still… (Part of this ride was to help me determine whether I want/need to replace my bike. Answer? Undetermined.)
  • I figured out how to retrieve the sink plug from the bathroom drain. I’d been dreading this task (and had even thought of calling a plumber), but it was easy.
  • When I confessed that I’d recently pruned my extension cord while trimming the hedges, my friend Andrew offered to show me how to repair it. The job’s not done, but will be soon.
  • Kris did the laundry, which included hanging it out to dry.

A penny saved is a penny earned
“We had a perfect weekend,” Kris said as we got ready for bed last night. “And it didn’t cost a lot.” These days of frugal fun helped us to see that we haven’t lost our way, that our spending isn’t actually out of control.

I don’t want to make it sound like we’re frugal angels, though. We’re not. Next weekend, for example, we have tickets to see The Decemberists in concert. (Again!) Plus, I’m hoping we can go to Gino’s for dinner on Friday; it’s been a couple of weeks since Kris and I dined out together.

For me, this weekend was yet another reminder that frugality matters. By making smart choices most weekends, we’re able to afford concerts and dinners out on others. And, more importantly, this everyday frugality means that we’re able to spend money on those things that are more important to us, like a new mattress or a new bicycle — or a trip to Europe.

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