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Frugality: Getting Started
Article by: Kim Tilley
Dated: May 26, 2006
Ok, you want to save money and tighten your budget, but where do you begin? Lots of people know they need help, but where do you start? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Set Goals - What is it you want to achieve? It may be something simple, like not living paycheck to paycheck, which would mean you are working towards having money in your savings and checking accounts. In that case, you will need to cut some of your spending and put it in the bank as a cushion. What if you are spending more than you earn? Then your goal would be to avoid accumulating more debt and get out of the debt you have. You also need to cut expenses. Take a hard look at your bank balances, your bills and your spending habits.
Discuss your goals - especially with your spouse; kids are optional. You may find that your spouse is feeling the same way and you can make a team effort. Or you may encounter resistance, which means you will have to set the example until your other half gets a clue about money. The key is not to criticize or make money the issue. Set the example and be the leader.
Don't make excuses - to yourself or your family. "We can't afford that right now" or "that's too expensive." NEVER make excuses or apologize for your thriftiness. This creates an atmosphere of oppression, making your family feel as if you are "poor" and they have to suffer through until a windfall of money arrives, when they can party again! I know this one from experience. After a few years of very tight penny pinching, my husband got a better job (before we bought our first home) and we "partied" with our credit cards. We then spent the next year paying that debt off before we could buy our first home.
Expect some resistance to change - from others in your life, especially benefactors of your past spending habits. Again, don't make apologies, just set the example and try not to "convert" these people overnight. Setting a good example and having a good attitude are subtle but powerful ways to retrain those spendaholic spouses, children and friends. Let them see your strategies in action and "overhear" some of your successes. Actions do speak louder than words. Don't get discouraged by the pooh-poohing of these people either. Change is not easy and takes time.
Avoid getting into more debt - Put a freeze on spending - literally! If credit cards are a problem for you, cut them up or freeze them in a big block of ice. The best strategy of course is to cancel your credit cards and pay off those debts!
Track your spending - with a small notebook. Write down EVERYTHING you spend for 3 months, from the groceries for the month to the candy bar from the vending machine. You need to learn your spending habits. You may be shocked to find out how much you are spending on nickel and dime stuff!
Research - Get your hands on as every frugal book you can and take notes! Not every idea will work for you. Use the ones that you feel the most comfortable with and challenge yourself to try some new things too. Raid that library and if you find some books that are keepers, invest in them. There are some really great books out there; I am preparing a list of my favorites. The very best resource I have found is any one of the Tightwad Gazette books.
Find your frugal comfort zone - by testing your limits and finding where you are comfortable. You may find that there are some things that you do not mind giving up - so why are you paying for them? Gather up all of your bills, expenditures, and that "spending notebook" you set up to track your spending habits. Take a hard look at what you are spending. Cut everything back as much as you possibly can. Test those limits!!! If you find you have cut back so far that it is uncomfortable, add a small amount back in. You use this strategy for anything! Cut your grocery bill and see how low you can go without sacrificing quality, you may be surprised! Do this around the house and see how little you can do the job for. How much dishwashing liquid do you really need? How much shampoo? Do this with the big things too - how much house do you need? How much electricity do you really need to use - can you find ways conserve energy and still be comfortable? A free energy audit from your local electric and gas company will give you some ideas.
Learn new strategies and techniques for saving money - Develop an attitude of eager learning. Learn to do-it-yourself. You can save a lot of money, find a hidden talent, and save money on entertainment! Also try out bartering and negotiating, you may be glad that you did.
Cross the gender gap - Try nontraditional skills as well. Just because you are a woman does not mean you can't learn to be handy with power tools. Many of the ladies here on F3 know their way around the tool shed! The same goes for you men! You can learn how to become wonderful chefs! Most of the greatest chefs in the world ARE men! So get in that kitchen and learn your way around!
Learn to say no - to things that add expense - of time or money - to your life but do not add quality. You can still volunteer and help out in the causes you feel are important, but you don't have to be part of all of them. If you have many interests or like to help in multiple charities, rotate them or cut back so you can do a little of each. And don't forget to use those new skills you are working on!
Share your experiences with others - This will help you stay on track and reinforce your new frugal lifestyle. Share your ideas, struggles, successes and questions in the forums. We want to hear them! We are there for you! You can do this!
About the Author
Kim Tilley, a tightwad at heart, is a wife, a mother of three active boys and the founding editor of Frugal-Moms.com. Frugal by force and later by choice, Kim cut her income by 60% to stay at home with her children and discovered that anyone can live better for less. Her work has appeared in print publications such as The Tightwad Gazette. In her free time, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something from nothing!