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Friday, July 10, 2015

Secrets to successful frugality

Okay, these are not really secrets. Just the things, motivations and philosophies that make frugality work for us.

This came up in comments last week:

We are easily amused. 
Really. I sat in the backyard one afternoon last week, watching the deer as he watched me. Really, that's all the two of us did for about an hour. That was my afternoon entertainment and then I went back to work. On a summer evening, we'll sit around the campfire, listening to the birds' last song, and wait for the bats to come out. Yep! We'd rather do this than go out to the movies, go to a concert, mall-stroll or many other money-sucking activities.

We're not entrenched in our habits, likes and dislikes. 
We're flexible. I realize that we all have one or two items or brands that are favorites. Mayo seems to be a biggie for some people. My family likes California vacations. But overall, we can be happy trying out different brands of products/types of excursions, and don't expect every plate of spaghetti to taste like the last. If gas is cheaper down the street this week, that's where I'm buying it. When our favorite outing/expenditure becomes too expensive, we find something new to try.

We are clever, creative and resourceful people. 
Creativity goes way beyond art and music. Creativity is about using our minds to see something new and fresh in the mundane. This can be finding a new approach to an old problem. Or tweaking a recipe to suit the ingredients you have in your kitchen. Or finding a new source for items you need at significantly reduced cost. It takes zero creativity to wander into the local big box store and buy a needed tool at full price. Us creative folk think of alternate sources for that same tool. We put the word out, we watch freecycle and craigslist. We're the ones holding up traffic, as we slow down to eyeball what's being sold at a nearby garage sale. And in the meantime, while we're searching for this new tool, but at a super-duper price point, we find ways to get around even having that tool, item or service.

My daughter needs a new pair of work jeans for summer, but we haven't had time to check out SVdP on Sundays (99 cents all clothing at St Vincent de Paul in our neighborhood on Sundays). In the meantime, those same very-worn jeans have 3 different patches sewn into the inside, the  last patch being added the other night, (when she came home from work with a rather indecent hole in a place where you want more decency). It takes a minute of thought and a few minutes of resourcefulness to patch those jeans. I know quite a few people who would have seen this as a shopping emergency, "quick, let's head out to the mall and buy you a new pair". I have a well-stocked thread box, with just about any color I could want, for any sewing project. I also have the lower pant legs, from cutting jeans off into shorts and capris, to use as patching scraps.

Our tumble dryer needs a replacement part in the door latch. The door latch doesn't hold the door all the way closed, and consequently, the little button, that when depressed tells the dryer it's safe to operate, doesn't get enough pressure to fully depress itself. Our temporary fix, a wad of duct tape, taped onto the button. That button (plus tape) now sticks out far enough that when the door is shut, the button is fully depressed, and the dryer operates. We'll eventually find a cheap latch for that dryer, but this is the in-the-meantime fix until that time.

We are willing to push the envelope. 
In fact, our envelopes have been pushed so far that they're off the desk entirely, and sitting in a heap on the floor next to the desk. Okay, so disposable coffee filters. Obviously they were intended to be a one-use item, right? I was wondering, a long while back, how many times could you use that same paper filter. What I discovered was that coffee is so acidic that it takes a while for mold to develop, a couple of weeks, even. Backing up that timeline a bit, to insure I'm not ingesting moldy coffee, I now use the same paper filter 3, 4 and 5 days in a row, depending on my mood. I scoop out the used coffee grounds, and replace with new ones, for each pot of coffee. I do this over and over, until I feel satisfied that I got my money's worth out of that one paper filter. How little dish detergent can I really use, before the dishes no longer come out clean? Another one of my little, "what if?" scenarios. For one week, each day, I put a little less detergent into the compartment, just to see what would happen with a bit less. I determined that for our dishwasher, water temperature and soil conditions, 1  1/2 level teaspoons is my minimum for cleanliness. I've done the same with laundry detergent. How little can I use and still have clean smelling laundry?

We don't rely on what convention (or a manufacturer) tells us is the right amount, but rely on our own observations of our own circumstances to determine what is most effective for least cost.

We have a clear idea of just how capable we humans are. 
We don't assume that just because we've never tried to do something before means that we won't be able to do it now. In fact, I'll take this further. We don't assume that just because we have FAILED before that we will fail once again. Who was it, Thomas Edison? Every attempt he tried at making lightbulbs which didn't pan out, weren't failures at all, but ways he figured out were how *not* to make lightbulbs. This one quote of his is a favorite of mine:

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

Earlier this week, I finally fixed two handles/cranks to our casement windows in the kitchen. These handles have been broken for several years. I have made numerous attempts to fix them myself. Each time I attempted, I thought about what I did the last time, and why, maybe, that didn't work. This time, I tackled the repair from another angle. And with work, time, patience and physical strength, I did indeed fix them. I will point out that no one else in the family had even a clue as to how to fix them. It was through my own trial and error that I figured out the tack that I needed to take, in order to make this repair. My experience in home repairs is limited at best. But I do know to keep trying and studying what I have done, and what I might try next.

Once, when my kids were all small, I suggested we make our own Oreo cookies. One of my daughters responded, "can we do that?" My reply, "of course we can!" That was the beginning of our many discussions of how everything that is manufactured in a factory was at one time homemade, in someone's basement, kitchen, garage or tool shed. People make factories. People create items. We are people. We, too, can make many of these items that are bought pre-made. It just takes time, research, planning and sometimes extra practice. But most of the time, especially when it comes to food products, we can produce something close enough to a manufactured product to be satisfying for our needs and wants.

We think and plan for our futures.
Some people just think life will work out, and that there will always be someone to take care of them. In one of my circles, we often remind each other that "hope is not a plan". We are the ones who can see a child playing with a ball on the sidewalk, on a busy street, and see in our minds, that ball running loose into the street and just what a small child might do -- run after the ball. We can see this in our own minds before it happens. We can see the accident awaiting when one of our kids is holding the scissors incorrectly while walking through the house.

Many of us knew this would happen -- when the housing bubble collapsed in 2008. We knew this, or something very similar, would happen. We didn't know exactly when this would happen. But we knew it would be a huge gamble to have a large mortgage out on our house. Many people will tell you that a mortgage is the "good" kind of debt. you get to write off the interest and points on your income taxes, after all. Well, us frugal folks see this differently. We pay off our mortgages as quickly as we can, not because we think it's a good financial investment to do so, but because it gives us a secure roof over our heads, no matter what happens to our stream of income. There are 3 basics in life, which cost money -- food, clothing and housing. As future thinkers and planners, we forgo a few of the transient luxuries, of the present, for the more permanent comfort-basics of the future.

We use some sort of budget or planning to manage our income, with personal financial forecasting, looking to our future years. We have assumed our autonomy in taking care of ourselves, now and tomorrow. Hope is not our plan.

We're discerning.
We think through our expenditures. We weigh cost vs benefit. We give thought to how we can get the biggest bang for our buck. We research longevity of tools, equipment and automobiles. We buy mostly well-made, basic clothing, with limited money spent on cheap uber-trendy items. We know what brings us the most pleasure in this life, and we focus our discretionary spending in those areas. When we splurge, it's on something that has meaning to us. We opt for pieces of furniture which will last not just our lifetime, but that of our children, as well. We tend to think of this attitude to spending as "smart" rather than thrifty, because we are discerning individuals.

There are likely many more "secrets" to our success. But these are the ones that sprang to mind the other day.

Whether you are following a frugal path out of necessity, right now, or making plans for a comfortable retirement in years to come, take heart when you fly against common attitudes towards spending money. It really is "slow and steady wins the race".


  1. Brilliant. :D

  2. Hi Lili,
    I love this post!
    Did you try ebay for your dryer door latch? You may have some luck there, may still be pricey but worth a try.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      I will check ebay, too! Thank you!

  3. Today's frugal project is to dye some bedsheets. My daughters have some acne medicine that has stripped the color off of the pillowcase of some beautiful aquamarine sheets. I don't think it's the medicine entirely but the cheap dye in the sheets. They look terrible so instead of pitching otherwise good sheets I'm going to try to dye them. They do have a dark pattern in them that is like black circles but the base color (light blue) has faded. I don't want everything turning light blue so I've opted to do this on the stove in a large stock pot. It will be an all evening affair but I hope I get the results I'm searching for. Wish me luck!


    1. Hi Alice,
      good luck with the sheet dying! Great idea for camouflaging the discoloration!

  4. Interesting to analyze the mindset of a frugal person, and why some people are more adept to the rigors while others simply cannot, or in fact say they hate frugality. On the continuum of frugality, I don't think I am as frugal as I could be, especially with the last point, discernment. I could definitely do more research before I purchase and make choices favoring longevity. Often I buy what is cheapest. I can do a lot more to improve, better late than never. I'll add one more to your list of traits...I think frugal people are not lazy. It takes effort to be frugal.


    1. Hi YHF,
      Oh definitely! Laziness would keep rom from getting anything done. It does take effort, that's for sure!

  5. I LOVE this post! I especially love your comments on fixing things. I'm a big time do-it-yourselfer, and people are forever saying things to me like "Gee, I wish I knew how to do all that stuff" as if I was born with some innate knowledge of how things work. The truth is, you just keep pluggin' away at it, use the resources available to you (hello interwebs!) and eventually you'll find a way to make it work. The only thing the experts have that you don't are the right tools and the benefit of having made all the mistakes enough times to avoid them in the future!

    1. Hi Cat,
      Oh, I know that about you! You inspire all of us, how you simply tackle what needs doing to get the job done!

  6. Great post, Lili. It's fun to see Cat's comments, above, about loving the "fix-it" comment. That is soooo Cat! For myself, I like the creativity comment. I think one of the blessings of being frugal is that it has forced me to be creative. Just a couple of days ago, my niece was visiting and used our bathroom--she came out saying "Aunt Kris, are those placemats??" I had no idea what she was talking about at first--then I realized she was talking about my "window treatment" in the bathroom--yes, they are placemats. I used clip-style curtain rings to attach them to a curtain rod. They were the perfect print to match my shower curtain and I needed an inexpensive solution. (I also have bandanas over curtain rods in my boy's cowboy bedroom and for my dining/kitchen windows, I cut up a tablecloth and pinned it over batting onto a foam core board for a fabric cornice). I get a sense of accomplishment when I pull off something like that. Like you, Lili, I also try to find inexpensive/free activities for family fun. Sometimes it's ok to do something special and spend a little more--my perspective is that that's why I'm frugal, so that our daily needs are met and we can still afford to save for the future and occasionally splurge.

    1. Hi Kris,
      your window treatments sound very cute and clever! I love the idea of using bandanas in your son's room -- very, very cowboy for a boy!

      I think knowing what type of spending brings you greatest pleasure helps motivate you when you need to do something not as fun, but will save some money. I'm very fortunate to still be able to splurge from time to time.

  7. Another way of saying what you have so beautifully said above is frugal people are very practical. They do what makes the most sense in the most efficient (money and time wise) way they know how.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Well said! We are a practical lot aren't we?!

  8. I so love this post! Something else I was thinking of while/after reading is that it helps to not be super busy (with scheduled busyness) when living a frugal lifestyle. Not that busy people can't be frugal, but, for example, if I were outside my home every evening each week, I think I'd lack energy and motivation to do some of the "little things" that add up to savings over time. And I hear you on being easily amused. I have spent many hours watching our chickens (and now the ducks), as well as the many birds and squirrels that enjoy our backyard, to include the compost pile, lol.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Oh yes, definitely! When I've been busier, I've had neither the energy nor time to do things like bake bread or cook from scratch. And It would be so easy to just skip mending things and go out and buy new, whenever, instead.

      I imagine that chickens are very entertaining creatures. It's still in my mind to have a few hens, someday.


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