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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

What Area of Spending Are You Most Frugal? (and other budget priority questions)


I find it interesting to see others' thought processes in regards to frugal living choices. I learn so much from you all. So I thought I'd pose some questions to you, as well as provide my own answers. In addition, it was helpful to myself to write some of these out. Especially the last question concerning how I will navigate the continuing inflation.

And what's been your biggest savings triumph in that area?

me: Food -- over a 35-year period, my family has saved perhaps $79,625 on groceries alone. I'm guessing at this, but I think a typical, similar 4-adult thrifty family spends about $450/month on food. My family currently averages about $275 for 4 weeks. That's a savings of $250/month or $2275/year. I'm guessing that we had similar savings over the years, as our grocery spending has always been very low. Over 35 years, that's $79,625. This is just my estimate on others' spending. According to USDA's chart, my family should be spending $887.20 per 4-week month, in the Thrifty Food Plan.

most recent 2022 USDA chart here :

Is there an area of spending in which you avoid scrimping more than others

me: For my family, I would have to say housing. We're willing to do without a lot of discretionary spending, so long as we can live in our house on a large suburban lot. We would rather not travel, keep the house on the cool side in fall and winter, not eat out or go to movies, have 1 car instead of 2, just so we can live in our current house. It's not huge, but it's big enough that we've all been able to have our own space (4 introverts, 1 extrovert when all 5 were living here). I know that others may feel much differently, and choose to live in a small house so they can afford more experiences, or spend less time preparing meals, or not keep a garden, or shop for specific clothing or cars.

Have your spending and budgeting priorities changed over the years?

me: We spend more on food at the grocery store now, not only because of inflation over the years, but we buy more "luxury" foods (like nuts or dried fruit other than raisins, or pepperoni for pizza) than we did when our kids were younger.  We actually spend less on restaurant meals and entertainment now than we did when our kids were growing up. We wanted to provide some of the fun activities for our kids as other kids had, and that included a Happy Meal or two, trips to Coldstone Creamery, current "kid" movie at the theater, one time at Chuckie Cheese for each kid. Now, we really don't care about eating out or going to the movie theater, and that's not just due to Covid. We now enjoy picnics in a park or at the beach, not because they're frugal, but because we enjoy the scenery of natural spots.

With the current rate of inflation, will you make sacrifices in some areas so you can afford more in others?

me: The sacrifices that we'll make will be in the "extra categories" like travel, entertainment, and new clothing, so that we can enjoy more of the basic comforts, such as heating and good food. We'll still be adding to our general savings account and retirement accounts,

How about you? What are your thoughts on both your past and future budget priorities?


  1. These are some good categories. I'll attempt to address some of them mostly for my family of two and not include kids for most of it.
    Food: We always were careful with what we bought and always cooked and ate at home. I rarely treated the kids to McDonalds or any fast food and rarely went out of ice cream (I'm mean). But we did go out to eat for Chinese food, Mexican food or something like that on occasion.
    Groceries: My budget has gone down since we're down to 2 people but I'm always to meet a deal so I stock up that way. I love making meals for my kids to take home so the burden of cooking for them goes away. They love soup and have a few favorites that I make for them to take home.
    Home: We had a large home in the country but the drive to our jobs were quite long so 9 years ago we downsized to a small home near the city. It wasn't an issue of not being able to afford it but the commutes were a waste of gas, time, money. I work from home now and had I known this was going to happen we probably would have stayed there.
    Vacations: I rarely get them due to so many work issues but we try day trips to get that feeling of refreshment. I won't hesitate on a vacation if it fits my schedule.
    Entertainment: Not much because we don't love crowds, we don't love a lot of movies at the theatres and we don't love bars or nightclubs. We do love watching our favorite DVDs at home and we like Netflix. We do not have cable or any other things that you can watch stuff on TV. The only thing we have is an antennae on the roof but we watch zero TV. We both like Youtube and enjoy that or just surfing the internet for things that interest us.
    Car: We each have a car because hubby works FT and I often have to go to the office for meetings or getting supplies. I also feel like it's necessary for parental care.
    Clothing: I hate shopping at big stores or malls for clothing. I do like resale shops and always find my wardrobe there.
    My favorite thing is estate sales. If there is anything I need/want I can always find it at an estate sale. I always remember that an estate sale is because the people have died and so I always try to buy at least one thing as my form of respect to that person.

    1. Hi Alice,
      Thank you for sharing not only what choices you make but also your reasoning behind them.

  2. Love these kinds of posts! It's always interesting to hear others' thought processes.

    Hmm, I find it a bit hard to decide on these categories, but would probably say food as well. For us, food, clothing, and entertainment are the categories where it feels we have the most control, aside from making big changes by selling and rebuying a home or vehicle. And we both already drive our cars a very long time before replacing, and mostly buy used when we do need to replace. We live in an older neighborhood of homes that is decent, but would probably now be considered more "starter homes" as the square footage is smaller.

    As for food, I also have to really think to get a definitive number, but think this is both where we've saved the most (or at least a lot!) but also where I'm less willing to scrimp. Yet, I do feel like I scrimp some on not splurging on certain items, so that we can spend more on others that are in line with our personal values (ethically and pasture-raised local meat, for instance, which is a big one budget-wise). I apparently already cleared my number, but added up the thrifty numbers for my family (as I usually do yearly, thanks for the reminder), and they were over $1300 for the 5 of us currently home. Our spending, even with adding in yearly purchases of meat, is well below that, and I feel like I've been keeping it quite a bit lower than even that number the past few months. Under half, anyway.

    Entertainment is pretty easy, though there are occasional splurges. We do pay for a streaming service, but often will turn one on for just a month to catch up on a series with a new season or something, then back off when finished.
    Travel-I do a lot of this. I purchased an $82 dollar folding memory-foam mattress and can make the back of my car very comfortable. This has cut down on my tendency to stay in a motel after driving somewhere to hike but the night before I begin. Another strategy for hikes closer to home is to drive the 5 or 6 hours over, hike in just 2-3 miles, and camp, eliminating lodging costs.

    Changes to spending and budgeting priorities-I will spend more on a clothing item if it's something that will see lots of wear and if the item in question is more sustainable and better quality. That said, I still try to find specific items on ebay or other BST sites to save even on the more high-quality items. While I used to enjoy thrifting, I feel like it's a drain on my mental health these days, and it's worth it to me to shop from home in this way. With my rapidly-growing boys, I employ a different approach and usually let them pick from inexpensive mix and match options, from big chains such as Academy or Sam's (because that's what we have here) as I hadn't found much in those sizes at thrift shops anyway. Also from 32 degrees online, which has great prices and sales. 16 YO daughter at home enjoys thrifting, especially the occasional chance to go to the Daisy Exchange consignment stores up in OKC that are geared toward teens/young adults.

    As to current rates of inflation, we'll continue to try to eliminate any waste in food as well as growing more of our own (both a fun hobby and money saving to me). We refinanced to a better interest rate and a 15 year mortgage 4 years after purchasing this home 15.5 years ago, so continue to reap those benefits. Continue to drive vehicles as long as possible as well as maintaining them well. Continue water catchment for part of the garden watering and employing as many strategies as feasible for saving on all utilities.

    Just wanted to say that I really do appreciate these types of posts, both for your well-thought-out posts and for the comments of fellow readers. Some days, I feel very alone in our type of lifestyle, so it's nice to hear from other folks out there maintaining a gracious and comfortable lifestyle without spending a fortune to do so. That provides much encouragement and inspiration to me!


    1. Hi Cat,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I began this blog because I was feeling like a lone wolf in our family's choices. I feel like here we can discuss our own approaches to frugality without feeling judged. And I always come away from reading everyone's comments feeling inspired to continue on.

  3. Oh my, you are making me think before I have finished my coffee again lol.
    We have lived in the same house for 23 years. It’s way too big for us now, but we have no plans to move. We have always bought houses priced way below what we were told we could afford. I have never understood people that want a great big house. That’s just not me.
    Like homes, I don’t want or need a fancy new car. The one I drive now is a 2003 and I am perfectly fine with that. If a car gets me from point A to B, then it’s the car for me. My husband did buy a 2019 truck in April of 2021. That was the first time we had a car payment in about 18 years-we pay cash for cars typically, but the savings account would have taken a major hit. We put a large down payment down and financed the rest, which I paid off May 2022.
    Food is a funny category for me. I seem to spend between $300-$500 a month. That seems like a lot for two people, but it’s where I have been for several years now. I could spend less if I had to.
    We spend nothing on travel. When 2 of my kids lived in AZ and NM my Dh and I would go visit them every summer, and I would go every 3 months or so, but they are both back here now. There’s seriously nowhere I want to go.
    I don’t have much to say about utilities. I do what I can, but don’t stress about them.
    For myself, I spend very little on clothes-probably around $100-$200 a year total. My Dh still works, and he needs clothes-lots of clothes lol. He’s upper management of a company so he needs to dress accordingly when he travels. When he’s in the office though he wears jeans from wm, and a polo from Costco most days lol.
    And now to entertainment. This has increased as our income has risen. My Dh enjoys hunting, and that’s gotten more expensive as he’s gotten older. Who knew he took so many gadgets to hunt lol. We still don’t spend money going out, although we do take all of our kids out for dinner twice a year, and I sometimes go out for dinner when he’s out of town, I enjoy little weekend getaways with my daughters periodically. Last weekend my oldest and I went to salt lake to see the Lion King. We bought tickets spur of the moment from our hotel down there a month ago when we were there for a play-no regrets! Those tickets were pricey but oh my, they were worth every dime we spent! A couple nites in a hotel, a couple dinners out, a bit of shopping, gas to get there-it adds up fast, but it’s totally worth it to me. I don’t ask my Dh, or even discuss these trips with him before hand. I just give him dates that I will be gone lol. He knows they aren’t cheap, but seems fine with me going.

    1. Darn it, I forgot to sign my name. Still can’t sign in.


    2. Hi Diane,
      Thank you for sharing your choices in frugality. It's interesting to read what everyone finds most or least important. And I thought I was driving one of the oldest cars -- mine is a 2004, so you've got me beat by 1 year! I don't care that our car is older, but I like it to look clean and well-kept. Otherwise, it's just transportation.

  4. I question my budget priorities quite often, asking myself where could I spend more and where should I spend less. I keep track of every penny spent (whether it is cash, credit cards, gift cards) as it's being spent, and reconcile on spreadsheet by category at the end of the month. I've been doing this for at least 30 years, and have old budget sheets from the 80s. We spend less today for food and discretionary than back then. I was not as frugal as I am today. While I don't have hard limits on any type of spending, I try to spend as little as possible. It's a challenge I enjoy, to figure out a way to not spend and DIY , forgo or postpone.
    The category that has my heart and soul, that we enjoy spending, is on our " children and grandchildren". Partly it is to help their household. While our children have always been responsible earners, raising children is not a cheap enterprise, and getting more unaffordable these days. I want to see our children afford retirement in 20 years. We help with the one time extras when we hear about it, or in the case of our oldest grandchild who has been living with us since 2020, a lot.
    We also splurge on insurances. Our life, supplemental health and umbrella policies are probably a waste, but the Medigap along with Medicare has alleviated uncertainties, so we'll probably continue to afford it as long as we can. This is a category that could be trimmed but being the nature of insurance, you need it when you don't have it...
    Aside from these two categories, we hardly spend. We don't go anywhere these days,

    1. Continuing:
      We've had our annual vacations in the past, so maybe we're satiated. With the internet, I don't feel the need to see in person a lot of sights or experience other cultures. We don't have as a priority nice house, car or clothes, so that is never an issue.
      As I age, nearing 70s, my priorities have shifted away from ourselves to the next generation.

      Have a wonderful day,

    2. I totally agree with spending on the kids. We don’t have grandkids, but I/we get a lot of pleasure from doing things for our kids. They all have good jobs, and all own their own homes, but there are still things they can’t or won’t buy for themselves, and that’s where I step in lol. When they were young, money was VERY tight. We never denied them activities, which included traveling sports and expensive summer camps, but they didn’t have a lot of the “stuff” that most kids had. Holidays and birthdays were pretty skimpy compared to their friends. Dh used to tell them “we can afford to give you everything you need, but only a bit of what you want”. I really think subconsciously I’m trying to make up for that now lol.


    3. I agree, Diane, seems we have more time, energy and money for our kids (and grandkids) after they leave the nest. There are endless needs (and wants) when we're a young family.
      That said, I wonder now if helping expand the income pie for our children is a "common good". I was watching Robert Reich on YouTube about "common good", and he mentioned how affordability went from a single breadwinner, to two income, to extracting home equity to afford a comfortable lifestyle. What's next? Hence we're at a new breaking point. But here's my rub. Maybe if we didn't need that comfortable lifestyle, we wouldn't have had inflation. I once read an article that pinned the reason for high medical inflation on the fact that everyone expects perfect health. More wants, higher inflation??



    4. You bring up good points. I will have to ponder those lol. I think a little bit of struggling and hard times are good for young adults. I stop myself from helping them solve all their problems, and let them figure it out. Admittedly it’s hard sometimes lol. We don’t want our kids to struggle, but I remind myself they will learn from these experiences. What I tend to do is surprise them with little things they have mentioned, or pay for lunch-you know, just mom stuff lol.


    5. Hi Laura,
      Thank you for sharing the choices you've made in the past as well as those you're currently making. I worry about my adult kids being able to afford homes and someday retirement, let alone the costs involved in raising children.
      I can understand the peace of mind having insurance with supplemental and umbrella policies provides. It seems like everything we've saved could be wiped out with one bad accident or illness or someone bringing a lawsuit against us.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Hmm. I feel like we are on the moderately low side of most of these categories. That being said, our home is probably our least expensive category. We have a fairly small ranch-style home in a pleasant but undeniably modest neighborhood. We have done the important updating of it over the years (new roof, furnace, etc.) but there are some updates we really should do. We have a lot of hand-me-down furniture, except for the seating and beds (I like to be comfortable).

    We have fairly new vehicles and update them every 7 years or so. I commute 35 miles to work and a reliable car that handles well in bad weather is a necessity. I try to bundle my errands to save on gas, especially these days.

    Utilities--we try to watch our heat/AC use, lights, etc., but not to an excessive level.

    Clothing--I admit it--I like clothes. I mostly have staple anchor pieces in my wardrobe (pants, jeans, skirts, dresses that I keep for years) but I enjoy purchasing a few new tops to update my wardrobe--I wear these for several years before sending them to Goodwill. I spend the money to have a decent pair of walking shoes--I have foot issues and it makes a huge difference in how I feel (I currently have Hokas, which are a running shoe--they run around $150 a pair but it's money well spent).

    Electronics--this is where we are very budget minded. We held out on getting smartphones for years and even now, we all have budget plans (and phones). We have 1 PC which we share. My daughter has a school-issued chromebook and my son, now that he's in college, has a laptop.

    Entertainment--I include eating out in this category--we maybe average once a month for eating out. We do a lot of freebie activities--hiking, free concerts, that kind of thing. We have inherited a fishing boat from my dad and my husband uses that a fair amount. We snowshoe in the winter but once you buy the snowshoes, you're good to go for years. Maybe 1-2 movies a year? I take the kids to play putt-putt once a year. Beach days. Library use, our Roku (thanks for putting us onto that, Lili!), using our fireplace in the winter and fire pit in the summer. I tend to meet up with people for coffee--it's an inexpensive way to get out and meet up with friends.

    Travel--we spend more here, but still are cost conscious. We usually get a VRBO or Airbnb rental--it's typically comparable to a hotel and we can cook our own food (saving money on eating out), plus have space to spread out. We do a lot of museums (which are often free or minimally priced) and hiking (gear is the biggest expense here).

    Food--we are nowhere near Lili's level of spending, but this is also an area of lower spending for us. I cook most of our food and bake most of our snacks. It's healthier and I can tweak it to our tastes.

    That's it! It's interesting to see how we are all different based on our priorities/lifestyles.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thank you for sharing your choices in frugality. It's interesting to read everyone else's thoughts. And yes, absolutely yes, on the good shoes! I have foot issues, too. I can't wear cheap shoes or even go barefoot for very long. Good shoes are a must.

  6. I'm always late in responding to your excellent posts, Lili.

    Housing: This is an area where we don't scrimp out of necessity. Since we are in a coastal resort area, our house has appreciated in value and so too has our homeowner's and insurance. Our insurance went up over eight hundred dollars this year. When we checked around, we found that everyone's went up. Now, these two items together average over $500/month! We paid off our house a number of years ago, so I'm glad we no longer have a mortgage on top of these 2 fixed expenses. The house is big for just the two of us now. We mainly live downstairs. But with our children both living away, they come home-sometimes with friends-especially in the summer ;). Then, and at holidays, it's great to have plenty of space to accommodate them. But health care is an issue here, and we are expecting our first grandchild, so I can see us moving closer to my son in the future. We'll see.

    Cars: We keep our cars forever also. I just replaced my 2007 car in February when it started having major problems. We actually bought new because it was cheaper than used-which was crazy. Our other vehicle is a 2009, bought used.

    Food: Definitely economize here. I figured one time that during my work life of 45 years that I saved, conservatively, $30,000 or more by taking my lunch to work all those decades. I've had the same small budget for 12 years which I have tracked. I know I've always had a small budget compared to others even before that and it is WAY below the USDA thrifty averages. I'm not as frugal as Lili, so I may have saved about $79,000 over 45 years instead of 35. The money we have saved overall in all categories has paid for 2 college educations and 2 weddings. We did some of the childhood memory items, but never went overboard. They both participated in sports and other extracurriculars growing up, which we thought were important. My children now very much appreciate not having student loans or having to pay for weddings on their own as the tradeoff for not having the latest electronics, and fancy trips when growing up.

    Travel: I have just retired, so I hope that we can travel more, with the savings from other areas. We do budget a bit for this over time and use credit card rewards. We hope to make some trips across the pond in the future, though not interested in doing this right now.

    Utilities: I am ever mindful of the electric and water bills and do my best to minimize them.

    Clothing: Not a clothes horse here. I tend to buy a few items a year (less than 10 I would say) and always on sale and sometimes with rewards dollars so very discounted. I keep clothes forever until they are worn out.

    Entertainment: My husband tires of eating similar options for lunch, day in and day out, so we will go to lunch maybe monthly. He also has lunch with an elderly, widowed friend monthly or so. We go out for dinner for special occasions, eating our amazing local seafood. Other entertainment tends to be watching streamed shows or free, outdoor activities. Gardening entertains us as well!

    Like others, I foresee helping our adult children more in the future. Despite them all having good jobs and savings, neither couple owns a house. Despite paying 13.25% for our first mortgage in the 80s, housing back then was available and not overpriced like now. So I hope we can provide them with some cash to help them eventually get into housing of their own as their rents are now like mortgage payments. AND we look forward to spoiling our coming granddaughter!

    Thanks for providing this forum, Lili. It's reassuring to have a chance to discuss such topics with like-minded people online, as I don't discuss this with anyone in person. Lynn

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Thank you for sharing your choices in frugality over the years and what you hope for the future. Congrats on the coming granddaughter!
      I hear you on the increase in homeowner's insurance. Ours went up a lot this last year, too. You did very well to provide not just college for both of your kids, but also weddings. Those are both huge expenses, and I know you must have sacrificed in one way or another to pay for both of those.
      Have a nice weekend, Lynn!


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