My Budget-Sized Life

I Was Raised Cheap—Now I Choose To Be 'Fabulously Frugal'

Growing up in Ohio, my penchant for penny-pinching was an honest habit that I inherited from my parents, two of the most practical (read: cheap) people I know.

On the rare occasions our family of five went out to eat, we were the “waters all around” table that could barely bring themselves to make eye contact with the server. My dad nabbed hot sauce packets and napkins from Taco Bell as a legitimate solution for cutting back on the grocery bill. And he once gave up his beloved Mustang for an $800 Ford Explorer from Craigslist, saying it could take him to his favorite place: closer to free.

Now in my adult(ish) surroundings in one of the most expensive cities in the country—Seattle—I’d like to say I’ve adopted a more cosmopolitan relationship with money. In truth, however, I’ve elevated my ability to hold onto a dollar as a true art form.

And the thing is: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some use money to get what they want. Me? I get exactly what I need and save my presidents like a one-woman Secret Service. In fact, I’ve learned to live rather well on my tight budget, thank you very much—even in a very pricey city. Here are some of the things I’ve had to learn to pull it off.

1. Saving Is Better When It’s Social

Last month, my roommate and I had to do some seriously aggressive (even for me) saving for a deposit on a new place we had our eyes on. So we enacted our own personal social movement: #NoRestaurantNovember. And the truth is, it was actually pretty fun! Having a saving partner made it much easier to avoid spending temptations as we turned our kitchen into our personal piazza—a place to see and be gloriously unseen. Happy hours, coffees, brunches—if it was going down in my life in November, it was happening within the four walls of my apartment. Not to mention all the family-subsidized cooking around Thanksgiving. Our experiment went so well, in fact, we’re stringing it out through this month. Sorry, tempting neighborhood dives—but it’s officially #DineInDecember. We’ll see you in 2019!

2. Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Really Need

Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this one before. But I’m serious. Take a look at the things you’re paying for that don’t literally keep you alive. Do you really need Netflix, Hulu AND cable? And what about that monthly $100 yoga studio subscription? That’s literally what YouTube is for, people!

Face it, the things we pay for on a recurring basis and don’t use are our biggest money pits of all. It’s why I hate being locked into paying recurring interest on an auto loan. And why I skipped the $75/month parking spot at my apartment so I could focus on a valuable new life skill: parallel parking down the street. I was recently tempted to join a nearby co-working space for what would have been well over $100 a month—very appealing to a freelancer who works at home the majority of the time. But why pay to work somewhere when there’s a free library three blocks away from my apartment? Passing on these two expenses alone freed up what often amounts to my monthly grocery bill. Better yet, it left me with that rarest of feelings: that I’m actually beating the big, bad system.

Of course, this is not to say that you can’t “treat yo’ self” occasionally. It’s sometimes necessary—even on a budget. Just do it with consideration. I shamelessly indulge in both a Netflix account (splitting the cost, of course) and a Spotify Premium account—two of my true creature comforts. And I’ve got no regrets about it—just a ton of savings in other areas.

3. If It’s Not On Sale, It’s Not Worth Buying

Here’s a fun fact about me: I never pay full price for anything. Like, ever. Maybe it’s my frugal Midwestern roots. Maybe it’s all my years of living on a shoestring budget. But you won’t find me buying ANYTHING without a colored tag on it.

A Target clearance rack brings me visible joy. (Truth: they mark down women’s clothes on Tuesdays, home items on Thursdays. Use this knowledge wisely.) In fact, it doesn’t even feel like shopping if I’m not clawing my way around the circumference of a merry-go-round of discounted blouses. Where some see “too much effort” or “social humiliation,” I see a grown-up treasure hunt.

Sales aren’t just for the big box stores, either. In fact, there are entire STORES that are pretty much permanent fire sales. Like buying books? Find a local used bookstore. Hit outlet versions of your favorite brands and pick up the staples for next winter’s wardrobe in the spring. Buying certain items at dollar stores or even second-hand at a local thrift shop is another great way to save your wallet, help the environment and experience your community.

Seriously, why let so many perfectly affordable things go to waste?

4. Set Aside One Spend-Free Day Per Week

I make a habit of going spend-free at least one day a week. I find it calming—and it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. Instead of grabbing a coffee on the way to work, make it at home. Rather than running to get takeout, slow down and cook dinner at home with the stuff you already have. Instead of going to the movies, listen to a podcast—and get your ironing done as a bonus. And taking the dog for a brisk walk instead of going to an expensive exercise class makes a win-win for both you and your furry friend.

After all, a day without spending should be relaxing—for both you and your wallet.

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