Last week, I was paying for purchases at a store I frequent in my neighborhood. Routinely, the sales clerk asked me if I'd like to sign up for a store credit card. It wasn't the first time she'd asked me; thus, it wasn't the first time I scrambled for a polite way of saying no. I've been on the other side of the counter — it's not like you want to ask this question.
On this particular day, for some reason, I decided to say: “I don't do credit cards anymore.”
“I had a bad experience in college,” I joked.
(Of course, I kind of do still do credit cards, but this was a quick and easy answer.)
Instead of following up with an “are you sure?” in hopes of fulfilling her quota, this time, the sales clerk responded, “Oh my God, I know. I'm in so much credit card debt right now.” She knew where I was coming from.
When I visit that store now, the sales clerk no longer asks me to sign up for a store credit card, and actually, we're kind of retail-buddies now. I've realized that there's one easy tip that's helped me tremendously in my frugality: telling people I'm frugal.
It's not rocket science, but it often gets overlooked. In all of its simplicity, this is one of the most effective frugal living tips I've ever utilized. There are several ways in which being blatantly honest about my financial situation has worked in my favor. But first, a couple of reasons why I might have shied away from proclaiming my frugality in the past:
I didn't want to be impolite
Honestly, for a while, it never really occurred to me to tell a friend, “I can't afford to do this.” I felt like if they invited me out, it was rude to turn down their invite by telling them their plans don't fit within my budget. Unless they were a close friend, I didn't feel like I could be honest about this.
Then, I once invited someone to go play laser tag, and they told me, “I can't afford that right now, sorry.” And I didn't think it was rude, I thought it was refreshingly honest.
Giving someone a legitimate reason why you can't do something is actually quite considerate.
I thought my social life would suffer
Actually, I've found the opposite. If you're constantly making excuses for not going to costly events with your friends, they might think you just don't want to hang out with them. If you're honest about your budget, they'll know it's not them — it's your frugality. If you're meant to be closer friends, you'll find something more budget-friendly to do together. Actually, being honest about my finances has brought me closer to friends that I initially didn't know very well.
I was embarrassed
We all care what people think to some extent. We all have our Jonseses. Sometimes I still find it difficult to murmur the words, “Sorry, but I can't afford that.” But what's the worst that happens? Your friends think you're broke? Big deal. We're not working toward financial independence to show off; we're doing it for ourselves. Also, everyone else is usually broke, too. Whether it's getting out of debt or saving money to buy a home — most of us are on a budget.
The benefits of proclaiming my frugality
Support from friends
When I started proclaiming my frugality to friends, I was surprised at how many of them were frugal, too. In the past, we might have complained about money, but we never actually discussed frugality. But being honest about my budgeted lifestyle opened up a new bond with many of my friends. They started giving me personal finance advice, they started sending me great shopping deals, etc.
Also, they started reading my blog posts on Get Rich Slowly and giving me feedback. That was an added bonus.
Swapping frugality tips
Another benefit to being open and honest about my frugality is that I've been learning a lot. My friends and I swap frugal living hacks and tips, and it's always interesting to learn how other people work with their budget.
I stopped doing things I didn't really want to do
I've never particularly enjoyed going to the movies with friends, unless it's a movie I've been waiting to see. That's just my personal preference — I don't like spending 20 bucks to sit there quietly with a friend for two hours. I'd rather engage in a conversation, and, usually, it's a movie I'd rather wait to watch on Netflix (or not watch at all). Of course I realize that lots of people feel differently, and many of my friends love going to the movies. I just don't; I never have. Yet I've seen Horrible Bosses and Transformers in the theater just because that's what my friends wanted to do.
So now, when I'm asked to go see movies I'm not thrilled about, I tell friends I'm saving my entertainment budget for something else — maybe another movie, maybe a concert. And it's not an excuse; it's true! I save myself from doing something I don't particularly want to do, and most importantly, I'm not blowing my budget just to be affable.
Staying within my budget
Obviously, the biggest benefit to proclaiming my frugality is that it's been good for my budget. Friends are not only respectful about my financial goals, they're helpful and supportive, too. It's easy to keep a budget when you fully make your budget part of your life.
“I don't do credit cards anymore” is my new sales clerk thing now. I hate being asked to sign up for things almost as much as they hate asking.
Proclaiming my frugality sort of humanizes me in those situations, too. I'm no longer a quota to be met; I'm a person on a budget, just like them. I've shared quite a few brief but pleasant conversations on frugality with salespeople since. And it's just because I'm open about my aversion to overspending.
I tried this trick recently, when shopping for a birthday gift. I bought a watch for my boyfriend, and as I was checking out, I noticed a really beautiful women's watch. The saleslady noticed me notice it and kept trying to sway me to buy it until I finally said, “No, I'm saving up my money, and I just can't afford this right now.” She stopped hawking the watch and gave me a five-minute pat on the back about being young and financially independent. It made me feel good about my habits and better about not buying that watch.
There is power in proclaiming your frugality.
Are you sometimes reluctant about being honest when it comes to your budget? If so, why? And what benefits have you found in proclaiming your frugality?
Kristin Wong is a freelance blogger who frequently writes about relationships for MSNâ€™s The Heart Beat blog. After paying off her student loan debt, Kristin decided it was time to pursue her dream and also put her English degree to use. She scrimped, saved and in 2010, left her hometown of Houston, Texas to pursue a writing career in Los Angeles. Since then, she has written for television, web, and occasionally, sketch comedy. When sheâ€™s not attached to her laptop, Kristin enjoys baking, amateur gardening, listening to 60s rock and exploring her city.