Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

A Faster Way To Organize Your Home

There's so much to do when you're running a household — just keeping your physical space in order and making sure your family is properly fed can be a full-time job! However, most people can't (and don't want to) spend all week on chores, because they have other responsibilities to think about — so you have to find ways to make those routine everyday tasks take less time. The good news is that the right household environment naturally makes everything easier — that includes meals, getting ready in the morning, and clean-up. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • walk through one room in the house and put away anything that is out of place
  • set up a basket at the base / top of the stairs for items that need to go up / down
  • gather up every book in you own in one specific category (self-help, history, biography, etc.)
  • organize one grouping / category / author of books alphabetically on your shelves
  • set up your pills and vitamins for the week in a daily dosage container — AM, mid-day, PM
  • move everything  for your AM routine (coffee/tea, meds, supplements) together into one cabinet
  • group all of one kind of food (cereals, canned goods, baking items, etc.) together in your pantry
  • put all loose bulk food items in lidded containers in your pantry — don't forget to label them
  • figure out your menu for the week, including page numbers for the recipes
  • write out a grocery shopping list for the week's meals
  • chop / marinate / prep your veggies and meat (in containers in the fridge) for the week's meals
  • cook a batch of a favorite dish (spaghetti sauce, soup, lasagna, etc.) and freeze individual servings
  • rinse your dishes right after each meal to prevent food from drying and becoming stuck on them
  • choose outfits for each day of the next week, including shoes and accessories
  • separate your casual clothes from dressy, or summer from winter, or work from play in your closet
  • put all of your shoes on racks or in labeled boxes by pairs
  • set up bins for separating out “dry cleaning,” “repairs,” and “alterations” in your closet
  • break your gift wrap paper / bags / tags / bows / ribbon into separate labeled tubs
  • clear your bathroom counter of everything except what you use daily for your grooming routine
  • set up an area at each entryway where visitors can remove their shoes to keep from tracking dirt in

See how easy that was? Wink

Pinch That Penny Until It Screams

I come from a long line of serious penny-pinchers — my father was a world-champion cheapskate, so I learned from the best! In fact, one of my two superpowers is the ability to magnetically attract bargains (the one is good parking karma.) I don't see any shame in trying to save money, so I say take advantage of every sale, coupon, and special you can find — as long as you aren't just shopping to get the discount. Remember, it's only a bargain if you were planning to purchase it in the first place. This was a concept my father never seemed to grasp. He'd come home from the grocery store loaded down with crap we were never going to use — but even if it ended up going to waste, he would still insist it was a good buy because it was so cheap! And if you think that you have to clip coupons to trim your budget, think again — all you have to do is realign the way you view shopping, spending, and saving money.

  • plan before you shop (impulse buys will kill your budget faster than anything — if you go to the store to buy bread and milk, don't come home with fried chicken, chocolate cake, and a bottle of wine, too! — if you want to prevent a bigger-than-expected bill at the checkout stand, then you've got to avoid “browsing” — know what you want before you walk in the front door and keep your eye on the prize — only visit those sections of the store where the items on your list are located, move purposefully, and try not to be distracted by “sale” signs — planning ahead also means scouring the internet or newspaper for deals BEFORE heading to the store — make sure you've got a system for storing and organizing your coupons, one that is portable and that you keep either in your purse or in your car — it does you no good to remember that you found $1 off of that item in the Family Circle that week, if you've left it at home on your kitchen counter)
  • harness the power of the internet (you can also save tons by signing up for programs like,, and Groupon — however, maximizing these deep discounts requires that you remember to look for and print out their certificates in advance — just be careful about loading up on deals you THINK you might use, then allowing them to expire before you can cash them in — I find that the best approach is to have a system for locating savings — before I do anything costing money, whether it's eating out or visiting a museum, getting the oil changed or replacing a toner cartridge, I check my discount sites — I also visit the actual company/store website, and perform a general internet search, as well — and don't forget to look for coupons through your AAA membership, credit card, or professional association — you never know who's going to be offering a special that week)
  • shop smart at the supermarket (grocery stores are scientifically designed to make you spend more money than you intend — name brands are placed right at eye level, while off-brands are hidden away on higher or lower shelves — but it's worth the search to find a generic version whenever possible — ironically, you're actually getting the exact same product as the big brands, for as much as 50% less because you're not paying for the advertising and flashy containers — another grocery trick is locating more expensive foods at the heart of the store, while cheaper bulk items are shoved way off along the perimeter — to save money, stick to the outside ring of store, where the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy reside — and when you do have to visit the interior for a package of pasta or some disinfectant, try to avoid all those pre-packaged meals and snacks — “convenience” foods will burn a hole through your budget in no time!)
  • be an opportunistic shopper (smart savers are flexible shoppers, willing to bend their needs to match what's on sale — so if you had originally planned to make spinach lasagna for dinner, but it turns out that spinach is regularly priced and eggplant is half off, you might consider eggplant parmesan instead — substitution is king! — pay attention to the sales in the grocery store circular, because those usually emphasize deeply-discounted items that they are overstocked on and need to clear out quickly — but of course, only take advantage of store-provided coupons and specials when it's something you needed anyway — supermarkets are notorious for providing a “sale” on a more expensive name brand item, which ends up being more costly even after the discount that if you had just bought the generic version)
  • look at unit price, not total price (when comparing different brands and different sizes of the same product, it can be hard to tell which is the best bargain without a slide rule, scientific calculator, and advanced calculus degree! — so the way to get the best deal is to pay attention to “unit price” — this is the one constant in grocery store mathematics, how much that item costs per ounce or pound or piece — fortunately, most stores now provide this information right on the sign for that product, so it's easy to see whether buying a different brand or a larger bulk size container is going to save you more)
  • comparison shop (the difference in price on the same exact product from one store to the next can be staggering —  companies count on the fact that you will be too busy to shop around, that you'll be willing to pay a bit more to run all your errands in one place — but it's usually a lot more expensive to buy food at a drug store and household cleaners at the supermarket, than if you got each at a shop specializing in that category of product — and don't forget the power of the internet when it comes to comparison shopping — if an item costs $40 in the store, you can probably find it for half price or less on Amazon or Ebay or some other discount site that has lower overhead than a brick-and-mortar retailer)
  • stock up (shopping in onesies and twosies is almost always more expensive than buying in bulk — purchasing larger quantities of just about anything, from spaghetti to ball point pens, toilet paper to motor oil, will cost you less per unit — if you don't have the space to store a case of canned green beans, or you can't eat  15-pound slab of salmon before it goes bad, find a few friends to split the deal with you — just be sure to evaluate that unit price before you buy, especially when shopping at the warehouse clubs — some items are a good deal, but some are actually more expensive than if you bought a smaller quantity elsewhere — another way to stock up is to take advantage of seasonal sales, like back-to-school, Black Friday, inventory time, and after the holidays — load up on school supplies for the next year or holiday decorations or household staples when they are marked way down)
  • loyalty pays in the end (as long as there are no annual fees, customer loyalty clubs are a great way to either save money on your purchases or earn cash back for shopping with a particular merchant — some stores have even started marking their products up higher for non-club shoppers, so they can offer deeper discounts to those with the magic membership card — it's a little bit disingenuous, but you might as well take advantage of the disparity!)
  • barter is smarter (whenever you can trade for the products and services you need, you'll almost always come out ahead — folks are willing to offer more generous “packages” when there's no exchange of cash to deal with, no sales tax to charge, and no paper trail for the IRS to follow — if you don't already sell something that you could offer in barter, think about using your talents creatively — you might help your chiropractor's office with filing in return for adjustments, or stuff envelopes for a mass mailing your gym is sending out to pay for your membership fee — you could provide home-baked refreshments at your hair stylist's open house as a swap for a free cut and color — you could even offer babysitting services to your favorite cheese shop owner if she'll keep you in brie Wink — everyone has something of value to offer others)
  • used is the new “new” (while of course, you probably don't want to be shopping for used underwear or yogurt, there are very few other consumer goods that you have to buy new — and while I'm a big thrift-store girl, I'm not suggesting that you have to shop at the Salvation Army to get a deal either — consignment stores carry top-brand clothing at a fraction of the cost — plenty of electronics stores resell used movies, music, and video games — CraigslistEbay, and even the Amazon marketplace can be great resources for bargains on sports equipment, appliances, computer equipment, tools, toys, anything you can think of — and, of course, this rule goes double for vehicles — new cars depreciate by as much as half the minute you drive them off the lot — buying a good 1-year or 2-year-old vehicle will save you a ton — if you're concerned about possible problems, shop with a certified reseller that offers a warranty)
  • take advantage of “free” (I am continually amazed at the number of things you can get these days without spending a cent — join the birthday club at your favorite restaurant to get a free meal — companies have started offering freebie coupons and samples through their Facebook fan pages — notification services like Cities On The Cheap will send you discount codes for free video rentals and MP3 downloads — and nearly every food-oriented company out there, from Starbucks to IHOP to Ben And Jerry's has the occasional  promotional “try us for free day” — borrow books and movies from the library rather than buying them — plan “closet-swap” days where each of your friends cleans out unwanted outfits and you each “shop” through each other's piles — trade tools with a buddy or set up a co-op for the neighborhood — even renting certain types of equipment can be less expensive in the long-run than buying — if you don't have to own it and aren't going to use it all the time, find another way!)
  • sell or trade first (quite often, we buy new things to replace old things without getting rid of the old things first — Matt and I have developed a “one-in/one-out” rule — for example, if he's going to get a new video game, he has to trade in an old one at the same time — we do this with books, music, movies, and sports equipment — not only does it keep clutter away, but we can apply the trade credit toward the price of the new item — and if you can't find an establishment that will take your used items, consider a yard sale or posting it on Craigslist)

A House That Costs Less

If you're like most people, your home is your major monthly expense. It's not unusual these days for rent and mortgage payments to eat up a third or more of your disposable income. Of course, when you've got empty rooms, there's a strong urge to fill them with “stuff” — and once you start shopping, it's often hard to stop! You may have even accumulated so much over the years that you're paying for a couple of off-site storage units, as well. Then when you add in utilities, property taxes, maintenance and repairs, homeowner or condo association fees, and all those “extra” services required to keep your home looking nice (lawn care, housekeeper, the pool guy, landscaping, decorators, etc.) — you might be spending half or even three-quarters of your paycheck on a place to live. A lot of folks are finding themselves “house poor,” with every penny they make going toward their living environment. That's just crazy! But the good news is that every single one of these expenses can be reduced — you just have to think a little differently about that roof over your head.

  • ask yourself how much home you really need (more is better in America, at least that's what the advertisements tell you! Wink — here are some interesting facts from the National Association Of Home Builders and the National Census — in 1950, the average American home in was 983 square feet and household size was 3.37 people, which translates into 292 square feet per person — by the mid-2000's, home size had risen to 2,349 square feet and household size had dropped to 2.61, leaving folks with 900 square feet per person — of course you want enough room to be comfortable, but there comes a point when a large home is simply too big for you to maintain on your own — chores like housecleaning, yard work, and repairs become unreasonably time-consuming, possibly even unmanageable without paying for outside help — wouldn't it be nice to devote less energy on the upkeep of your living environment, and more on actually living? — Thoreau was quite comfortable in 150 square feet on Walden Pond, intentionally simplifying his material world so he would have the freedom to contemplate and philosophize and suck the marrow from life — are you sucking the marrow from your life? — do you have enough time for all the projects and activities and people that you claim are a priority to you? — or are you always too busy with that “honey-do” list to get around to the really important stuff? — and don't forget that, with increased home sizes, prices have gone up, too — again according to the Census, that modern-day home costs about 3x what the 1950's house did, in inflation-adjusted dollars — if your casa feels like a burden, the way ours did, it might be time to ask yourself if you have more house than you really need)
  • reconsider your layout (what is it that makes houses so dadgummed big these days? — Matt and I are perfectly content to share less than 200 square feet — but then again, we haven't set aside entire rooms of our home just for games or watching television or entertaining — our spaces are multipurpose — for example, in an Airstream, the living room converts to an office during work hours, then to a dining room at meal times, then to our bedroom at night — this might seem like an extreme case of downsizing, but it's actually not that unreasonable, when you realize that most people spend the bulk of their time in one or two rooms of their home — I'm not suggesting that you need to move to an efficiency or an RV in order to simplify! — but think about how much of your home is unused on a daily basis, saved for special occasions or special activities — why? — where is it written that you must have both a breakfast nook and a “formal” dining room? — a den and a “formal” living room — who lives that formally these days?? — take a second to do a quick inventory — make a list of all the rooms in your house, and then estimate how much time you spend in each during an average month — you may discover that you've got a lot of wasted space, parts of your home that really do nothing except store furniture, need to be cleaned, and cost money — and in the course of simplifying, you may consider downsizing to eliminate those unnecessary rooms)
  • look at your location (have you become disenchanted with your neighborhood? — maybe you were willing to pay more for a good school district back in the day, but now your kids are grown and gone — perhaps the cost of living has slowly crept upward over the years to the point that you can barely afford the property taxes — you might have changed to a job on the other side of town, and your commute has grown to 3 hours round trip each day — or you think about how this used to be such a nice quiet place to live, but now it's noisy and overdeveloped and just not where you want to be — it's not at all unusual to find that your neighborhood just doesn't meet your needs anymore — places change, people change, priorities change, and it's amazing how much a simple geographic shift can positively impact both your quality of life and your wallet — if the country club and the homeowner's association are no longer worth the cost to you, ditch them — if you're being priced out of the market, go find a cheaper house in an up-and-coming transitional area — if the commute is driving you crazy and costing you a fortune in gas, move closer to your job — we did that in the 90's, going from a 2BR apartment in the burbs to a 1BR condo in-town, a block and a half from Matt's company — he got up about 5 minutes before he had to be at work, walked to the office, and was able to come home to exercise, eat lunch, and even take a nap — the convenience, reduced stress, and cost-savings more than balanced out the smaller living space, and our quality of life shot through the roof — if you could change just one thing about your location, what would it be?)
  • clear out the excess (it's a fact of life, clutter costs money — you pay when you bring something new into your life — you pay every time you have to clean or store or repair it — you pay when you insure it against loss or damage — and you're paying big time for the square footage in your home that is given over to things you never use and don't really need — let me emphasize again that living frugally is not about going without — if you love it, keep it! — I'm never going to suggest that you get rid of something that adds value to your life just for the sake of saving money, but why keep a bunch of stuff that serves no purpose? — the reason it's hard for people to clean out is because so much of our clutter comes out of good intentions and plans for the future — it's that “I'll use it someday” syndrome — but the goal here is to take a good hard look at how you actually live your life and only keep those items you truly need — are you honestly ever going to use that exercise equipment that's been gathering dust in the basement for the past 5 years, or are you more likely to work out if you go to the gym? — you thought it would be cool to own a pool table, but now it's just a another surface on which to pile papers and laundry and stuff to put away — and no matter how many cookbooks you buy, you still can't convince yourself that you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen preparing a gourmet meal — it's time to face facts! — besides, you might even find a new source of income in selling those things that you never use — most people have an absolute goldmine cluttering up their closets and attic and basement — how much could you get for those water skis you haven't touched in 20 years? — or that silver you got for your wedding, used once, then packed away? — or that bread machine that you haven't even taken out of the box? — what if cleaning out valuables that you never use could fund your enjoyment of life today? — would it be worth letting a few things go?)
  • be happy with what you have (of course, clearing out the clutter is just the first step — the harder part is keeping it from coming back! — many people have become caught up in a vicious cycle that I call “search and consume” — we're always looking for the most efficient time-saving gadget, the coolest toy, the sexiest technology, the latest fashion, or the newest trend to make our lives “complete” — last year's TV has an inch-smaller screen than the model they just released, so I need to buy a newer, bigger, shinier one — oh no, flowers are “out” and stripes are “in” this season, I'd better hurry up and redecorate! — and how will my family ever survive without a refrigerator that makes ice cubes?? — as a society, we're suckers for whatever the media tells us is hot and hip and happening, buying into this false sense of urgency and lack created by Madison Avenue — and in the process, we've managed to become perpetually discontented and broke, always thinking that the next purchase will make us “happy” — why can't we just be satisfied with what we already have? why do we always need more? — here's a challenge for you — Matt and I are currently trying to go a full year without making a single consumer purchase, aside from things like food and toilet paper and cleaning products — we decided that we've got everything we need for the coming 12 months, plenty to keep us busy and entertained, clothed and comfortable — we just want to see if we can stand strong in the face of constant consumer pressure to buy, buy, buy — want to join us, even just for a month or two?)
  • cut back on some services (these days, I don't know too many middle class people who attend entirely to their own household needs without hiring someone else to help out — in fact, some of my peeps literally have teams of “professionals” coming in every week to water the flowers, clean the bathrooms, pay their bills, make their meals, repaint the guest room, and look after their children — for many folks, the knee-jerk response when a chore pops up is “hire someone!” — I certainly understand consulting an expert if a task requires tools/skills you don't have, but so many of these little jobs are things we could do for ourselves but can't seem to find the time to tackle — we bring in plumbers to unclog our drains, auto mechanics to change a tire, and lawn care people to cut the grass, but it's a vicious cycle — we hire people because we don't have the time to do the job ourselves, because we're working so many hours to pay the bills for having people do these things for us — try tackling a few of these tasks yourself, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, then spend the time and money you've saved on your true priorities!)
  • get smart about energy usage (folks love to moan and groan about high utility costs, acting as though they are trapped by their power and gas bills — but it actually takes very little to keep these expenses under control, just a small bit of advance planning — for example, it costs almost nothing to install a programmable thermostat, then set the air for 78 degrees in the summer and the heat to come on at 60 degrees in the winter — changing your air filter regularly also keeps your unit from having to work as hard or use as much energy — and why waste money “climate controlling” areas of the house that you aren't using? — a small space heater or a ceiling fan is perfect for heating/cooling one room at a time — and if you're living in a canned environment 365 days a year, you'll save money and probably feel better if you open the windows and enjoy the fresh air Wink — washing your clothes in cold water and allowing them to air dry on a rack or clothes line will not only save on utilities, but your wardrobe will last longer — and if you're feeling really squirrelly, you can also clean your refrigerator coils to improve cooling efficiency, plug up air leaks around doors and windows, lower the temperature on your hot water heater, and wrap the entire unit in an insulating blanket — last but not least, did you know that any item plugged into a wall socket draws electricity even when it's turned off? — installing surge protectors on EVERY socket and turning off the main switch when those items aren't being used prevents them drawing “phantom electricity” — you just cut your power bills by 1/4 to 1/2 with barely any effort — see how easy that was?!)

Eating Habits That Cost Less

According to the Bureau Of Labor And Statistics, grocery prices grew at 1.5 times the overall rate of inflation in 2010 — when that happens, you're guaranteed to see a spike in your supermarket bill. Climate change, fuel prices, shifts in global markets, ConAgra's greed Wink, and the increased demand for meat in India and Asia — these all contribute to a bigger dent in your wallet. But this trend doesn't adequately explain why Americans in particular spend so much staying fed. Sure, that gallon of milk that was 35 cents in 1915 cost $3.45 in 2009 — but the median net household income also rose from $687 (when it took 65 minutes of work to pay for your milk) to more than $32,000 (reducing the “time-cost” of that milk to 13.2 minutes.) We should, by all practical measures, have more buying power, be able to put the same foods on the table as our grandparents while spending a smaller percentage of our household income to do so. Ahh — there's the rub. We're not eating the same foods as our grandparents!

Ours has become a prepackaged convenience food society, and it's killing us (both literally and financially!) When you buy a pound of meat or a dozen ears of corn, you know exactly what amount you're getting for the price — it may go up or down by a few cents from one week to the next, but at least you've got a reliable yardstick against which to compare your bill. But pre-packaged foods have a sneaky way of providing you with less and less for the same amount of money (if not more) as time goes by. When you buy a box of cereal and open it, have you noticed that your flakes or loops or shredded wheats only seem to take up about half the container? Have you ever bought what looked like a family-sized frozen meal on the photo, only to discover that it was barely enough food for one person? Consumer Reports calls this the “grocery shrink-ray” — the packaging is still the same size, there's just less food inside!

And even if you are getting a full serving from your flash-frozen and freeze-dried foods, you're still getting less bang for your buck than if you had simply bought the ingredients and cooked that dish yourself. Madison Avenue has convinced our busy, overworked, stressed-out society that the way to save time is through convenience foods. But you're paying at least twice as much with those drive-thru and microwavable meals. When I went to the grocery store yesterday, a frozen “spaghetti bolognese” meal for one cost about $5 (averaging across all brands.) Feed a family of 4 this way and you're looking at $20 for just that one meal. But to purchase the same ingredients (noodles, ground beef/turkey/soy, onions, garlic, tomato paste, and canned tomatoes — presuming you already have Italian seasonings in your spice rack) would cost around $10, about half what you would spend on the “faster” option. And once you figure in the extra hours you're going to have to work to pay for that wasted $10, you'll find that convenience isn't anywhere near as convenient as it seemed!

Fortunately, it's very easy to slash your food spending almost overnight, with just a few simple changes in your diet and your eating habits:

  • cook it yourself (most people avoid cooking like the plague — they rank it right up there with cleaning the toilet and vacuuming the living room carpet in terms of the enjoyment factor — back in the days of Julia Childs and Irma Rombauer, cooking was considered an art form — so when did Americans stop getting pleasure from creating a delicious meal? — it happened because we quit taking the time to truly engage with our food — everyone is in such a damned hurry now that eating is more of a nuisance than a joy — the trick is to get out of the mindset that cooking is a chore, and start to see it as a sensually pleasing bit of indulgence — the “slow food” movement is a great place to start, an organization which promotes the enjoyment of eating and treating meals like a daily celebration of life, rather than a bland and tasteless refueling exercise — instead of snarfing down a plate of crappy take-out while sacked out on the couch, gather your family/friends together and turn cooking dinner into a fun group activity — food always tastes better when you have company, and having everyone contribute to the effort keeps it from feeling like “work” — best of all, REAL cooking doesn't have to be expensive — you will be amazed at the spectacular and creative culinary masterpieces you can make with the equipment you already have and easily-affordable ingredients — search the internet, check out books from the library, and look through my collection of regional recipes — then commit to trying just one new dish a week — hell, you can even watch the Food Network and follow along with Emeril or Ina Garten or Bobby Flay — I rarely think of watching television as a “simplifying” activity, but if it gets you more interested in cooking at home, go for it!)
  • eat meat sparingly (meat has always been one of the more expensive parts of the American diet, and one of the most economically inefficient to produce — according to the USDA's Economic Research Service, it takes 16 pounds of grain and around 4,000 pounds of water to create one pound of beef — and the resources required for sustaining/slaughtering a cow or chicken are vastly out of proportion compared to their nutritional value — a 100-gram portion of meat contains only 20 grams of protein, while that same portion of legumes yields 25 to 34 grams of protein — not to mention the fact that, even on sale, most “meats” are going to cost you between $1.99 and $4.00 a pound, while plant-based proteins average less than 50 cents a pound — why would you want to pay more money for less nutrition?? — if your goal is to immediately save money, start replacing more and more of your carnivorous meals with vegetarian recipes, and save the animal flesh for side dishes and special occasions — your wallet and your cholesterol levels with both thank you!)
  • drink more water (it's pretty common knowledge that you should be ingesting 64 ounces of water a day for health reasons — being sufficiently hydrated helps you ward off stress and disease, sleep better, and maintain higher energy levels — unfortunately, only about 1/3 of all Americans consume anywhere near enough H2O, and at least 10% don't drink any water at all during the day — more importantly, they're replacing that water with sodas, coffee, alcohol, and other beverages that not only dehydrate the body, they cost a hell of a lot more in the long-run — if you eliminated all other fluids from your diet and drank nothing but water, how much money would you save? — and how much weight would you lose? — even juices and soy milks are full of unnecessary calories, and you can get more nutrition from eating a piece of fruit or a slab of bean curd — a good savings strategy is start replacing these other drinks with water, and I don't mean the bottled kind — buy yourself a good filter and start enjoying the free stuff straight out of the tap!)
  • eat fewer calories (I hate to point out the obvious, but part of the reason that our food bill in this country has gone through the roof is that we simply eat more than we need to for good health — if you take in 150 calories more than you burn each day, the equivalent of one can of regular soda, you will gain 1-1/4 pounds  month or 15 pounds a year — but we're actually consuming several hundred more calories than needed each day — the modern American sit-on-your-butt office worker requires about 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, yet the current consumption is more like 2,700 to 3,500 calories — in the 50's and 60's, we as a nation averaged around 800 calories less per day than we do now, but the portion sizes were smaller — a standard bagel was 3″ in diameter and had 140 calories, but today it's hard to find one less than 6″ in diameter with 350 calories — try eating half what you normally would in one sitting and I bet you'll find your waistline and your grocery bill shrinking in tandem! — you also have to consider the modern addition of unnecessary fats, preservatives, and sweeteners to our diet, even in foods that we think are healthy like oatmeal and fruit juice and shredded cheese — ingestibles with a lot of chemicals and additives are not only less healthy, but also more expensive — who do you think is paying for all the R&D over at General Mills?? — you have to be careful to read every label — if it's got some form of sugar in the first three ingredients, don't buy it! — if it includes ingredients you can't pronounce, don't buy it! — if it has saturated fats or anything “partially hydrogenated,” don't buy it!)
  • be smart about eating out (I love to eat out, and I would never suggest that you stop frequenting your favorite restaurants just to save money — but by eating out more intelligently and frugally, you'll be able to do it more often without breaking the bank — first, take a look at your restaurant habits — are you guilty of “apathetic dining” the kind that comes not from a desire to celebrate or try a new cuisine, but from being too lazy to make a meal at home? — you know you're experiencing the law of diminishing returns when eating out is no longer fun  because you do it too often! — if you save the take-out and restaurant meals for special occasions, you really will enjoy them more — we also never eat out without a coupon, certificate, or discount — I'm sorry, but there are just too many online specials to ever pay full-price for a meal again! — if you can go out for lunch instead of dinner, and during the week instead of on a weekend, you'll save a lot — one of our favorite sushi places in Miami charges $7.95 Mon-Thu mid-day, $12.95 Mon-Thu evenings, $15.95 Fri-Sun mid-day, and $24.95 Fri-Sun evenings for the same damned buffet! — and because portion-sizes are so ridiculous, Matt and I are usually quite content to split a meal or a couple of appetizers — finally, if you can learn to have water with your meal and live without the added expense of appetizers, then go home for drinks and dessert later, so much the better — restaurants make nearly all their profit on these “high-ticket” items)
  • why not a picnic? (when frugal living experts suggest “brown bagging” to save money, most people immediately wrinkle up their noses in disgust — who wants to eat a peanut butter sandwich or reheated leftovers every day for lunch? — not me! — but who says bringing your own food has to mean slumming it? — not me! — Matt and I have gotten in the habit of fixing ourselves a picnic on days when we know we'll be away from the kitchen at lunchtime and we don't want to spend money eating out — that might mean gourmet cheese and veggies and hummus, it could be southwestern “fish taco” wraps with corn salsa and guacamole, or it could be a field green salad with grilled salmon, gorgonzola, walnuts and cranberries — whatever we make, it's almost always guaranteed to cost less than a restaurant, even fast food — and because we put together something “special” for these meals and make an occasion of it, choosing a nice spot outdoors and taking the time to enjoy ourselves, it doesn't feel as though we're sacrificing — in fact, we get to indulge while we save money — now that's a bargain!)
  • bring your own snacks (it's easy to get in the habit of stopping for coffee on your way in to work, buying a candy bar or some trail mix from the vending machine each day, picking up a soda when you get gas in the evening — you don't have to give these treats up, but why do you have to overpay for the indulgence? — pick up a case of sodas and a jumbo package of snacks at your local warehouse club and bring them with you each day — buy your favorite ground Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee, make it at home, and take it with you in a travel cup for pennies on the dollar — there's no reason you can't have what you love without going broke in the process!)

A Few Rules For Living Frugally

Living frugally is not about going without. If there's something fun that Matt and I want to do, we do it — we just find a way to do it less expensively.  Of course, we take advantage of sales and discounts and coupons, but we've also made a shift in how we think about spending — convenience purchases are rarely convenient enough to offset the increased cost, and we've found that we can make our money go a lot farther (allowing us to fit in more fun) when we enjoy simple pleasures. Most importantly, we're willing to forgo some other less-necessary purchase to make sure we have the money for our true priorities. If you're interested in reducing your own spending, then you might want to study our “five commandments” for living more frugally:

  • be clear about your priorities (it's hard to know when to spend money and when to refrain when you haven't thought about your long-term financial goals — are you trying to retire early? by what age? — is your goal to eliminate your debt so that you can shift to a part-time job doing something you really love, rather than working 80 hours a week for “the man” just to pay the bills? — are you trying to leave a sizable chunk of cash to your heirs or a favorite charity? — do you want to reduce the clutter you bring into your home? or cut down on your environmental footprint? — remind yourself of this goal every time you consider a purchase, then ask if that expense is going to move you closer to or farther away from that end result — that will always help you make the right spending decision)
  • ask yourself if you really need it (so many of our purchases are made out of habit, while functioning on auto-pilot — that soda at the gas station, the cup of coffee on the way to work, having a newspaper you rarely read delivered every day, eating at restaurants three or four times a week just so you can get out of the office, picking up the latest movie release each Tuesday just because it's on sale — the same is also true for big purchases — are you buying the newest computer or TV or car because you really need it? or are you simply a slave to the endless pressure to upgrade? — most importantly, are these purchases actually enhancing your quality of life, or simply draining your cash and keeping you from being able to afford that trip to Hawaii, get rid of your debt, or change jobs?)
  • then look for a way to do it cheaper (you may not be ready to completely give up these “luxuries,” and you don't have to — but you can find a way to make them more affordable — buy a case of sodas from your local warehouse club and keep a cooler-full in the car, so you can have a carbonated caffeinated treat whenever you want, without having to pay double or triple the price at the gas station — buy your favorite ground Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee, make it at home, and take it with you in a travel cup for pennies on the dollar — cancel your newspaper subscription and check out the day's stories online for free — carry leftovers with you to work, but plan a picnic outdoors with friends or co-workers during your lunch hour, rather than eating in the break room — you might want to Netflix that movie first, to make sure it's DVD-worthy before buying it — and if you can be just a bit patient, you know the price on that computer, TV, or car is going to drop after the newness wears off — you can still have it if you really want it, but always try to get the biggest bang for your buck!)
  • think twice before hiring someone else (when you need work done, is your knee-jerk response to hire someone else? — is it because the task requires tools/skills you don't have, or is it just because you don't feel you have the time to tackle the job yourself? — we bring in plumbers to unclog our drains, auto mechanics to change a tire, and lawn care people to cut the grass, but it's a vicious cycle — we hire people because we don't have the time to do the job ourselves, because we're working so many hours to pay the bills for having people do these things for us — try tackling a few of these tasks yourself, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, then spend the time and money you've saved on your true priorities!)
  • ask if the convenience is worth the cost (so much of what kills us financially in this society is paying extra for “convenience” — you automatically shell out more for one-hour photo processing, fast-food meals, rush delivery, disposable everything, pre-packaged microwavable foods, and single-serving-size groceries — are we so pressed for time that we can't wait a day or two for our pictures? that we can't simply replace a razor blade rather than replacing the whole thing? or put a lasagna in the oven? or divide a big container of yogurt into smaller Tupperware containers? — is it worth it to pay two or three or five times more for the convenience? — not when I could be out traveling instead!)