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Monday, September 16, 2019

My 4-Step Method to Mindful, Frugal Living


I have a 4-step method for obtaining the life that I want while staying within my budget. This has worked for me for over 30 years, and has allowed my family to have many of the nice things that supposedly can't be had on a single income. The steps guide me from my initial desires to workable solutions that save the maximum amount of money for many of our expenses. The final step reinforces all of my choices to motivate me to continue on this path. Here's how it looks for my life and choices.

step 1 
When there is something that I want that costs money, I take a step back and decide what my end goal is, that is what I think I will get from the purchase of XYZ. If it's a gym membership, my end goal would be fitness. This is important to assess, as so often I see something in a store or hear of a friend having something, and I want what others seem to have, without really considering what my purpose would be in owning that thing. So, I move on to step 2.


step 2
After I figure out my end goal, I brainstorm all of the ways that I could possibly achieve that same objective without the big price tag. So, with a gym membership (with an end goal of fitness), I think of all the ways I could get fit for free -- walking, lifting hand weights, and aerobics videos on youtube came to mind recently. Now that I have some alternatives, I move on to step 3.

step 3 
I try several of these alternatives and see what sticks. I figure that it's not a failure to try a particular exercise video for 3 weeks, then find I lose interest and don't go back to that one. I've just successfully eliminated one of the options that for whatever reason didn't work for me, and then I moved onto the next option, a 15 minute beginners weight-training video combined with walking with friends. This past summer, I did just this. It has worked so well that I continue with this routine and I no longer dream of a gym membership.



step 4
In step 4, I remind myself of how much money I have saved by choosing a particular alternative and how that money is being redirected. If saving money on a gym membership means I can work fewer hours and spend more time with family or pursuing an enjoyable hobby, I tend to stick with a free workout routine in lieu of an expensive one. When I drive past the brand new LA Fitness building in my area, I remind myself that sweating is just sweating, and I can do that for free on my own.


This little exercise extends to more mundane expenses, too, like laundry detergent. When I see the brilliant orange bottles of Tide detergent, I think how nice it would be to have premium laundry detergent. For a few moments, I'm tempted to buy this brand. So, going through the steps, I decide what my end goal is with the Tide -- clean, stain-free laundry.

Moving on to step 2, how else can I get stain-free laundry? I can buy store-brand detergent, dollar store detergent, or even make my own laundry detergent. I can combine any of these with a trick that was shared in the comments a few weeks ago, and use an Irish Spring bar soap as a stain remover just before throwing items into the wash.


Step 3, I try what is going to work for me. Years ago, I wanted to make powdered laundry detergent for family use. Well, this involved grating bar soap, which I found to be tedious work, and so I wasn't inclined to continue this practice. I tried various discount laundry detergents, finding many that worked just fine for us. Then this past winter, with our substantial income reduction and need to reduce our spending, I resumed one of my quick and easy methods for making laundry detergent. I melt a bar of plain soap in a large pot of water, then I add a big squirt of dollar store liquid dish soap. My husband, who has complained the most about my homemade laundry soaps over the years, has mentioned a couple of times how much he likes this homemade detergent formula. For me, I'm happy that I can make this with about 3 minutes of hands-on time and can make enough at a time to last about 3 weeks.

Moving on to step 4, I analyze my savings. For about 1/5 of the price of Tide, I can make my own detergent and use Irish Spring for stains. Knowing that I save about $8 every other month with less than 5 minutes of actual work motivates me to continue with our homemade laundry detergent.


Here's another area for which I use these steps. When it comes to providing meals for myself and my family, again I consider the end goal. My end goal is delicious food that is nutritionally-balanced and quick and easy. I could pick up some salads and sandwiches from a place like Panera or some takeout from our local Chinese restaurant. Both of those options would be very tasty and I think pretty nutritious. However, I want to think of all of the possibilities to meet that end goal. I could also stop by the deli counter at the grocery store or buy some other convenience item from the center aisles of the store. Both of those would be tasty, nutritious (depending what I choose), and easy.


Okay, going a little further, I could also spend a couple of minutes surveying my pantry, fridge, and freezer, going online to look for frugal recipes using the ingredients that I have on hand, then coming up with a game plan to make a meal from scratch or almost from scratch (either on a weekly basis as part of menu planning, or even the "day of" for the meal). I've been running a household for 32 years, so I've had a lot of experience trying out all of these methods to provide tasty, nutritious, and easy meals. What has stuck with me, time and again, is that home-made, simple meals meet every goal and save wads of cash. 

Knowing how much I save in dollars and cents really keeps me motivated. My family will tell you that I am fond of calculating the cost of each meal and making an announcement at the dinner table. (I know, that's probably really bad manners, but it's entertainment for us.) Going beyond just knowing the dollar amount, I remind myself, often, that the money that I have saved by cooking from scratch has paid for a lot of luxuries for my family, such as vacations, home remodeling, and educations.


This all boils down to mindful, frugal living. In many areas of life, mindfulness results in greater satisfaction as we eliminate what is unnecessary and hone in on the relationships, material things, and experiences that matter the most. In frugal living, mindfulness allows us to create the life that we want on any level of income.


I don't think that my little steps are revolutionary. I think that most of us practice a process like this, but may do so less consciously. We do this in our every day actions. I just did a version of my steps a little while ago. I wanted dessert after lunch, but there was nothing readily available. I thought about stopping by a store when on errands. I also thought about baking some cookies. Then I thought I could simply make myself a dessert-like cup of coffee. With instant decaf granules, sugar, vanilla extract, coconut milk, a bit of whipped cream from the freezer, and some nutmeg, I made myself a wonderful spiced-vanilla latte. It took seconds to make and fulfilled my end goal and saved our grocery money so that we can stock up on other foods later.

This is what works for me. Do you follow any pattern or process when making frugal choices for yourself or your family?

17 comments:

Matt Macduff Family said...

This is such a great post. Our daughter is currently in what most likely will be long term physical therapy for her scoliosis. The PT keeps telling us that we need to get a gym membership. Not only do I feel we don't have the money for this, I see it as a time waster in getting to & from the gym. We have 2 treadmills & free weights (all bought used) in our basement. I'm sure we could source a couple of more used items to meet the requirements of our daughter's PT.

Over the years, I know we've saved thousands of dollars when my husband takes leftovers for his lunches at work. About once every 3 months we eat out as a family at a cheap Mexican place, but even that is expensive for us. We pretty much just choose not to eat out as a family, even for fast food. We can make better food at home for way cheaper!

We buy 99 percent of our clothing & shoes at yard sales & thrift stores. It takes more time, but the cost difference is astounding! And we get really high quality stuff that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.

I agree, Lili, the payoff of being able to be home & provide such quality to our family's lives is worth the creativity & work it takes. Melissa

Leslie Polo said...

Such a great post,Lili! Food for thought.

Allie said...

I've been reading your blog for several years, Lili, and one thing that keeps me reading is that you're not only humble in your actions but in your attitude. That very much comes through in this post. Someone else might post these methods in such a way as to brag or to proselytize others, but your words just come through in such an open and heartfelt sharing way that doesn't feel boastful in the least. You say that your thoughts aren't novel, but they probably are to a lot of people, and I felt like I learned a lot by reading them. And even when you say you like to announce the price of your meals at dinner, it feels joyful and not ostentatious. Everything you share just always feels so geniune and without agency, and that's so rare. I just wanted to share with you how much I've appreciated your writing over the years. You've inspired me with your wily tactics, but just as much so with your heartfelt attitude. Thank you!

live and learn said...

I really like your straight forward way of thinking with this evaluation. Do you have examples where you tried different ideas to achieve your goal and decided the original thought was the one that would work the best? I figure even if the more expensive choice is the best, you've saved a little money while waiting.

And as others have commented, I like the sprucing up you've done with your blog--especially making the font bigger. My aging eyes don't work like they used to.

Anonymous said...

Lili, I DO use a lot of your steps but I don't really consciously think about them as steps. One thing I have noticed about myself is that I am more willing to wait to make a decision to purchase an item than I was when I was younger. Those ads for "buy now!" seem so urgent, but I have learned that sale prices will cycle through again. I'm not as much of a sucker for making an urgent purchase these days.

Melissa--your daughter's PT should be willing to create a quality home program for your daughter. Here's a link for Youtubers Bob and Brad--they are PTs who are reputable and you may find this information helpful (I'm an OT and I'm picky about that!). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZrns2diOFg

Hope this helps!

Lili said...

Melissa said...
. . .Our daughter is currently in what most likely will be long term physical therapy for her scoliosis. The PT keeps telling us that we need to get a gym membership. Not only do I feel we don't have the money for this, I see it as a time waster in getting to & from the gym. We have 2 treadmills & free weights (all bought used) in our basement. I'm sure we could source a couple of more used items to meet the requirements of our daughter's PT.

Over the years, I know we've saved thousands of dollars when my husband takes leftovers for his lunches at work. About once every 3 months we eat out as a family at a cheap Mexican place, but even that is expensive for us. We pretty much just choose not to eat out as a family, even for fast food. We can make better food at home for way cheaper!

We buy 99 percent of our clothing & shoes at yard sales & thrift stores. It takes more time, but the cost difference is astounding! And we get really high quality stuff that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.

. . .the payoff of being able to be home & provide such quality to our family's lives is worth the creativity & work it takes.


Hi Melissa,
Thank you for the kind words.
That's a tough call with the PT and your daughter's situation. On the one hand, you want to do what's best for your daughter, but on the other, sometimes even medical experts have biases which affect their recommendations. If it were me, I'd want to know from the PT (and Dr.) what they thought the benefit would be from a gym membership that she couldn't get with home equipment. Do they think it would be motivation, a trainer, or access to something not at home, like a pool? I would also just flat out ask what would my daughter need to do that she can do from home, given that we have XYZ equipment at home.
Good luck with this.

I totally agree with you on the eating from home, taking leftovers to work, and buying thrifted/second-hand clothing. I was looking at photos of my daughters' 2 graduations, and in both photos I was wearing thrifted outfits, clothing that is nicer than I could otherwise buy if new (like a cashmere cardigan at one grad and the Calvin Klein dress and jacket at the other -- all pieces bought for under $1 each). We enjoy better quality in our meals and clothing, yet still save tremendously. And yes, all of this does take more time. That's the trade-off.
Have a good week, Melissa!

Lili said...

Thank you, Leslie!

Alice said...

Yes, what a great post! All the things I strive for as well.

Laundry detergent needs to be cheap for us. FOCA is a brand that seems to work well and is rather inexpensive. It is a powder. My go-to for stain removal is blue dawn dish detergent. It works the best from all the other things I have tried. I put it directly on the stain, roll up the clothing, and toss it in the wash the next day.

Exercise equipment at home or the great outdoors is what I prefer. We live in a residential area where we can walk safely around the neighborhood.

Food is another thing I strive to make at home as cheap as I can. That's why I can't figure out why I was diagnosed as diabetic. And now they want me to see a dietician. To help me do a better job of cooking or changing the way I eat? I'm so conflicted about this. I just can't buy expensive types of food as a way to control diabetes because I'm on such a tight budget as well. I will say that I've been very careful of what I eat lately and monitor my blood sugar levels with the testing kit and it has been within good ranges.

We're going to be able to go home Thursday! Can't wait.

Alice

Lili said...

live and learn said...
. . .Do you have examples where you tried different ideas to achieve your goal and decided the original thought was the one that would work the best? I figure even if the more expensive choice is the best, you've saved a little money while waiting.

. . .I like the sprucing up you've done with your blog--especially making the font bigger. My aging eyes don't work like they used to.


Hi live and learn,
I had to think on this for a bit, and yes, there are definite examples of where I went with the more expensive option. Here's one example. Camping is a very frugal vacation choice, right? And many people enjoy camping. But I'm not one of them. I prefer to sleep in a cushy bed, have someone clean my room and make my bed, and someone else to cook my breakfast when I'm on vacation. Other less expensive options to a hotel vacation include staying with family, VRBOs, couch surfing, home exchanges, and RV vacations (although, renting an RV is not a cheap vacation). We've tried several alternatives to hotel vacations and still choose the more expensive hotel stay. A hotel vacation helps me feel like I did get a vacation from cooking, cleaning, and organizing in a way that other types of vacations don't. So, I'm willing to spend money once a year or every other year so that I can have that type of experience. The tradeoff for us with this kind of vacation is that we can't vacation as often or for as long, and I will need to find money in our general budget or earn extra money in a side job to pay for a trip. So, that's one area of where we'll go with the first impulse.

As far as saving money while waiting -- our family never stayed in a hotel for any vacations until our oldest was 13 and youngest were 6. We always took ultra-cheap vacations before then. And you're right, we were able to save a lot of money over the years, money enough to help us afford our home, and make necessary upgrades (new furnace) without going into debt.

Thanks, I'm glad you like it. The larger font isn't the default, so I have to make sure I change font size. I may forget from time to time. Apologies in advance.

Lili said...

Anonymous said...
Lili, I DO use a lot of your steps but I don't really consciously think about them as steps. One thing I have noticed about myself is that I am more willing to wait to make a decision to purchase an item than I was when I was younger. Those ads for "buy now!" seem so urgent, but I have learned that sale prices will cycle through again. I'm not as much of a sucker for making an urgent purchase these days.


I totally agree with you. I think experience in life helps us see that some things are not as urgent as we once believed. The great thing about waiting something out is that at least some of the time, I later find that thing that was so great was not needed, or is now outdated (thinking tech stuff, here).

Lili said...

Alice said...
Yes, what a great post! All the things I strive for as well.

Laundry detergent needs to be cheap for us. FOCA is a brand that seems to work well and is rather inexpensive. It is a powder. My go-to for stain removal is blue dawn dish detergent. It works the best from all the other things I have tried. I put it directly on the stain, roll up the clothing, and toss it in the wash the next day.

Exercise equipment at home or the great outdoors is what I prefer. We live in a residential area where we can walk safely around the neighborhood.

Food is another thing I strive to make at home as cheap as I can. That's why I can't figure out why I was diagnosed as diabetic. And now they want me to see a dietician. To help me do a better job of cooking or changing the way I eat? I'm so conflicted about this. I just can't buy expensive types of food as a way to control diabetes because I'm on such a tight budget as well. I will say that I've been very careful of what I eat lately and monitor my blood sugar levels with the testing kit and it has been within good ranges.

We're going to be able to go home Thursday! Can't wait.

Alice


Hi Alice,
I'm so glad to hear from you. I thought about and prayed for you all weekend. And I'm very glad to hear that you will both be going home this week! This is such good news, I'm sure.

I'll keep that in mind about the Blue Dawn. I sometimes see small bottles of Dawn at Dollar Tree.

I am wishing you well with your diabetes. Perhaps any changes that are suggested won't be expensive ones, like maybe more a matter of reducing some foods or ingredients, instead of adding in new ones. It does sound like you already eat pretty healthy meals, though. I also wonder what role stress plays in blood sugar. I'll keep you in my prayers.

Again, so happy for you that you'll be going home!

Lili said...

Hi Allie,
Thank you for your kind words. I so appreciate them! And I appreciate all of the input you give in the comments.
Have a wonderful afternoon/evening!

Cheryl said...

Alice we are diabetics in our house and you don't need special foods. See if your insurance will pay for a dietician who can help you know how much you can eat at meals and snacks. They are a big help and at least my husband's wanted him to eat whole foods not substitutes.

Cheryl said...

I know for me stress ups my sugars and I definitely eat more.

Lili said...

Cheryl,
I wonder a lot about stress's affect on our health. That's interesting that it does affect your blood sugar. My parents were concerned about stress and heart health, but I think stress has far-reaching affects on our health that go way beyond what is generally believed. Thanks for sharing.

Cat said...

I really enjoyed and appreciated this post though I didn't comment immediately. YES, we do these things. Maybe not every single time, but much of the time. Still working out by hiking or by walking at the park as well and utilizing hand weights at home. And Yoga With Adriene on youtube has been a real blessing.

Some areas, I've tried and gone back to a more expensive method. Laundry detergent, for instance. Made it for years, various formulations. With several small children, it just didn't get things as clean as I'd hoped for. Went to buying a cheap kind, usually a store brand liquid on sale, which worked well. But as my kids got older and are now required to do their own laundry (youngest is now 9), I didn't feel like they were measuring carefully and we ended up with messy spots around the laundry area in our garage. So for the time being, we use the "pods" that are Sam's generic. Still low-cost. Absolutely the cheapest? No. But affordably cheap while saving sanity and messes as well. So it's a very individual thing.

Visualizing the "why" is so helpful, isn't it? I could work full-time and be less careful of these details. Or work less hours, be more mindful of spending in the little areas, and have time for my "true loves" of hiking and backpacking that keep my soul sane.


Lili said...

Hi Cat,
Great insights! Yes, I so totally get it with opting for the laundry detergent pods. As each of my kids has had a night to cook dinner for the family each week, I've had to let go of my own ideas of what is most cost-effective, as they've needed some leeway while they learn how to manage a complete dinner menu. Learning how to carefully manage one's household (whether for a household of 1 or a family) takes time and experience. I think the point is that I've tried to make my choices based on reflection rather than impulse, as you have in your circumstances with the laundry detergent.
Thanks for your insights!

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