Frugality in practice: Keeping warm in winter

Cold cold cold — I am cold.

Remember George Bailey's "drafty old barn" in It's a Wonderful Life? Our place is like that. This 100-year-old farmhouse is cold all winter long. There are drafts at the doors, there's inadequate insulation, and we have 30 windows in 1800 square feet. (Our old house had eight windows in 1400 square feet.) Every year, we do a little more to make this place energy efficient, but it's a losing battle. In order to stay warm, we surrender to our heating bill.

(Our house is so drafty, in fact, that the previous owners had a separate furnace in the kitchen. During the winter, they sealed off that room and basically just lived there.) Continue reading...

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Get More Bang for Your Buck by Using Coupons and Sales Wisely

This is a guest post from Amanda, a Colorado tech writer and an activist for children with congenital heart disease.

Saturday MorningMy conversion to frugality began about a year ago, but it's only been recently that I've become good at it. We've been saving money by being aggressive with a cash-only purchase plan. If we can't afford it, we don't buy it. This only works if you know ahead of time what you need and how much you're willing to spend on it.

One of my recent accomplishments was purchasing fall clothing for my children. I knew that they needed new clothes, and that the cost would exceed our discretionary spending. In our budget, we set aside savings for clothing. I had a budget of $125 for each of my two kids. Though they didn't need new clothes in August, I knew that was when I'd be able to find good sales and the best selection, so I planned ahead.

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Frugality is NOT a dirty word

From a few of our recent discussions, I get the sense that some people are uncomfortable with the notion of frugality. These are some actual comments:

  • "Frugality should not be about a total excision of quality of life. Unfortunately, this is how it seems most personal finance writers talk about it."
  • "I dislike this philosophy of 'work hard all your life so you can retire and live a modest but comfortable life'. That's an awful way to lead a life"
  • "All this discussion of living modestly is crap."

I don't mean to pick on individual commenters — these statements are representative of many that I've read lately. While I understand these sentiments, I think it's important to understand that frugality is not a dirty word. In fact, frugality is a valuable skill for building wealth.

Frugality Is NOT a Dirty Word

In The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley and William Danko collected and analyzed data from surveys of more than 1,000 millionaire households. They concluded:

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Want to save the environment? Buy less stuff!

A few weeks ago I wrote about my realization that I have too much Stuff. For two decades, I had been a willing participant in our consumerist culture, buying books and magazines and video games and compact discs and George Foreman grills. After twenty years of this, all I had to show for it was a mountain of debt and a home filled with Stuff.

Recently, Kris and I have been working to purge our Stuff. While we've discarded some of it as trash, we've also managed to sell some of it. We've donated some of our Stuff to charity. We've given other Stuff to friends.

At first this was painful. Then it became appalling. It was shocking to think that I'd paid tens of thousands of dollars to buy this Stuff, and then paid even more in interest fees. Now I'm casting much of it aside, shipping it off to a landfill.

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Frugality in Practice: Do-it-Yourself Home Maintenance

I hate plumbing. Whenever a faucet begins to leak or a drain clogs, my stomach sinks. I know it means hours of frustrating work. It's not that plumbing is difficult — it's just that I'm not well-versed in the ways of home-improvement. Somehow I missed that part of Manhood Training.

Despite my apprehension, over thirteen years of homeownership, I've made it a point to do as much repair work as I'm able. It has saved me a lot of money. And while I'm a ball of nerves going into a project, I get tremendous satisfaction when I finish something and know that I did the work with my own hands.

Yesterday we woke to find water on the floor of the upstairs bathroom. When we couldn't immediately locate the source of the leak, we debated calling a plumber. Because it was the weekend, and because we're trying to save money, Kris and I decided to tackle the problem as a team. While she buried herself in the Readers Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, I took the toilet apart. Ultimately we diagnosed the likely culprit: corroded fasteners connecting the tank of the toilet to the bowl. We drove to the hardware store, picked up replacement parts, and then put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Continue reading...

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How to feed yourself for $15 a week

Our discussion about how to eat for cheap generated a lot of great tips. Daiko shared a detailed explanation of how he once got by spending just $15/week on food. This is a great real-life example of how it's possible to eat well without breaking the bank. I'm posting it here so that more people will see it.

Although I don't do this now, I once lived on $15 a week for food in the early 1990s. This was helped by the fact that my workplace fed me five meals a week, but I was still carrying the weight of sixteen additional meals (for slightly less than a dollar per meal). This was not easy or comfortable to do — I did it by necessity — but I believe it could still be done for $20/week in most parts of the U.S. Also, while I was satisfied at the time, the fare was probably a bit more spartan than most would willingly eat.

Here is some of what I did:

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Thrifty Tips for Shopping Garage Sales from the Yardsale Queen

This is a guest-post from Chris Heiska, The Yardsale Queen.

Some people believe the myth that there's only junk at yardsales and thrift stores. That is absolutely not true. Buying at yardsales doesn't necessarily mean that you are buying someone's used, dirty castoffs. I often find Christmas wrapping paper still attached to the box,
or a wedding card tucked inside of a box that was probably a duplicate wedding gift (and now the present that probably cost $40 in the store is selling for $5 at a yardsale).

The nicer stuff does get snapped up quickly, so persistence is the key. I often stop by the thrift store in my town two or more times a week to see what "new" stuff has come in. Often the cashier says to me, "Oh, we just put this out today."

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How To Escape the Gift Trap

Amanda recently sent J.D. an e-mail looking for advice about gift-giving:

My husband and I have made huge lifestyle changes since our son was born with congenital heart disease four years ago. He's had five open-heart-surgeries, and we've had some killer medical bills. My husband stays home with both of our kids to help prevent Liam from getting sick too often, so we've gone down to one income, one car, basic cable, and a really aggressive budget.

One of our worst budget breakers however is gifts. I have eleven nieces and nephews, two kids, etc. At Christmas we've convinced both sides to just do a name exchange and then we only have to buy for two nieces/nephews on either side, which helps and we've just outright stopped exchanging gifts with our brothers & sisters, but there are still our parents, his grandparents, kids of friends who have birthday parties, and graduations, weddings, and baby showers!

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