Being frugal, to me, is not just about finding what’s cheap. And it’s also not about sacrificing my happiness in an all-out pursuit of a fat bank account.
Of course, spending less comes out of necessity for our family — my husband wanted to change careers and is still in medical training, and I choose to take care of my children full-time. But I’ve been happily surprised to realize all the ways we gain, even while we cut back. This bright side of being parsimonious is what I like to write about at Frugal Mama.
Sometimes what we gain from keeping a tight budget is a new skill, a stronger family or network of friends, a simplified life, or a sense of satisfaction. And in more cases than not, an extra benefit of spending less is that we end up polluting less and wasting less.
- Big Green Purse
- Green My Parents
- Mindful Momma
- Practically Green
- Real Mama
- Twofer Mom
The text-based chat galloped along at a lively pace and, while you can read the transcript, I felt it was worth trying to condense the conversation into bite-sized pieces.
In a few words, here is the wisdom of many:
1. School supplies: Instead of going out to buy pencils and notebooks, use up what you have. If you don’t find all you need “shopping” from home, try Freecycle.
2. Backpacks & lunch boxes: Cheap of-the-moment backpacks usually need to be replaced every school year. Why not buy a long-lasting quality one like those from Dante Beatrix, EcoGear, Columbia, or REI? Same goes for lunch bags. Try Goodbyn, Laptop Lunches or Mimi the Sardine.
3. Meat: Eat 20% less meat (much more expensive than vegetables, grains and legumes) and reduce your impact on the environment as much as you would by switching to a hybrid car. (Livestock production creates almost 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases.) Even making one meal a week meat-free (Meat-Free Monday, for example) can save a family hundreds of dollars a year.
4. Produce: Buy in-season fruits and vegetables. (See this peak season map at Epicurious.com.) They cost less, taste better and can reduce the environmental impact of long-distance shipping. An added plus? When produce is in peak season, organic sometimes costs the same as conventional.
5. Cleansers: Clean almost everything in your house with vinegar, water and baking soda. (Fill a spray bottle with 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water and use it as you would Windex or Clorox cleaner.)
6. Exchanging: Try swapping with friends and neighbors everything from clothes to dinners to babysitting. It’s amazing how our communities can grow and our quality of life can improve when we help each other out. Also think of borrowing and lending large, infrequently-used items like tools, garden equipment, car luggage carriers, or inflatable mattresses. A neighborhood listserv is a huge help in connecting people. If yours doesn’t have one, start one at Google Groups or Yahoo Groups.
7. Baby food: Make your own with as little equipment as a saucepan and a food processor or food mill, or simply by oven-roasting in foil. When your baby is ready, simply grind up a portion of what you’re making for dinner. Or prolong breastfeeding to the point where you can just cut up food into small pieces or smash with a fork. For a simple cookbook, try Cooking with Baby.
8. Transportation: Ditch the car a few days a week and use public transportation. The average family can save almost $10,000 a year by using public transportation. Or try car sharing service ZipCar for in-town trips and GoLoco for longer trips. Carpooling is another great way to build community and save gas.
9. Books: If you like to keep your books instead of borrowing from the library, try online book swapping services like Papberback Swap or Book Mooch. If you can’t find a book you want, check it out from the library first to make sure you really want to buy it.
10. Paper towels: Annabelle says, “On Wa$ted, I found a heretofore undiagnosed addiction in America: PTA, paper towel addiction. Break the habit, save hundreds of dollars a year!” Use sponges, rags or kitchen towels instead. Try placing a basket of cloth where you would normally keep paper towels.
11. Napkins: Cloth napkins are so much more pleasing, besides being more effective. Use them for a few days then toss them in the laundry. Favor darker colors so you don’t worry about spot cleaning. Try them in your child’s lunchbox, along with real silverware and re-usable containers.
12. Party favors: Make edibles to stuff your goody bags and you win three times: get off the treadmill of buying single-use items, model behavior for your children, and save money all at once.
13. Seeds: Plant a family garden for super-cheap organic food and teachable moments. Try just one vegetable first, like tomatoes, which can be incredibly rewarding for your tastebuds and your wallet. Or place pots of herbs on the porch in reach of the kitchen.
14. Large appliances: When purchasing washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers, choose machines with an Energy Star star rating. Not only do they use less water and energy, they’ll pay you back big time in reduced energy costs.
15. Beauty: Simplify your morning routine and cut back on the number of personal care products you use (like shower gel and body wash), which usually contain parabens and sulfates that wash down the drain, get into ground water, and damage fish, frogs and other aquatic wildlife.
16. Home energy use: Save money by using programmable thermostats, keeping the shades drawn, lowering the temperature on hot water heaters, turning off the tap, and using fans instead of air conditioning.
17. Dinnertime: Eat meals together. Not only do home-cooked meals cost less and taste better, but important bonding happens over the dinner table. Sharing meals is even thought to be a mood-lifter.
What are some ways that you save money and feel good about it?
Congratulations to Vicki Pennock who won last week’s family pass to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.