Cheapskate, penny-pincher, frugal, thrifty, tightwad–most of these terms do not have a positive connotation, so I try to never use them. I’m not cheap: I am a personal financial strategist!
I’m a tightwad.
A REASON for Tightwadding
Initially, my husband and I chose a lifestyle in which I could mostly be a stay at home mom. I continued to work part-time after our first was born, and used that time to focus on cooking at home, sewing, and reading about frugal living. After my second child, it was time to implement some serious strategies. We were about to be living on one-third of our normal income. How did I learn this stuff?
My grandmother, Mary Alice Owens, was born in 1882 and lived to be 104 year old. She could squeeze a dollar until it hollered! So, my dad and all his siblings were raised to be extremely frugal. That is my primary source of inspiration and examples of frugal living because I watched it my whole life. However, I needed ways to live frugally in the modern age, so I bought some books.
Amy Dacyczyn, author of the Tightwad Gazette, Volumes I, II, and III, was a big inspiration to me! I bought her books in 1996 (shortly after my first child was born) with birthday money from Mom. If you’ve never read Dacyczyn’s work, you should. Some of her suggestions are WAY out there, but frugality is about adopting a new mindset, which takes time. Dacyczyn’s books are compilations of her written newsletters, in the order those newsletters were authored and published. There is a helpful index at the end of each, but the information isn’t provided in any specific order. So, I would flip through one of them and highlight ideas to try. A few months later, I’d do the same with another one of the books, and so on. I’d pick each one back up every year or so, and sure enough, I’d find new things I was ready to try. Integrating a few ideas here and a few there makes sense and it’s totally overwhelming!
My other big inspiration was Jonni McCoy. Her book Miserly Moms is a well-organized book full of practical ideas for thrifty living! These two authors approach frugality very differently: McCoy’s approach is very practical, and makes for an easy transition to more frugal habits, while Dacyczyn is HARD CORE. She is known as the “frugal zealot” due to her ideas that radically different from “normal life.” Here are some of McCoy’s and Dacyczyn’s ideas that I implemented early in my frugal journey:
DIY Baby Wipes
I started learning about being frugal after the birth of my first child. Making baby wipes was easily justified, and it was one of the first strategies implemented in our home. I immediately began saving about $6 each week by cutting a roll of paper towels in half, pulling the cardboard tube out, and placing the roll and a liquid solution in an empty wipe container. Jonni McCoy provides instructions in Miserly Moms. Cutting the rolls of paper towels was the only tough part of the job, so I got Monty’s help. He’d cut all the paper towel rolls in half at once, so I could use them as needed for baby wipes.
REAL confession: cloth diapers would’ve been a big money saver, but I’ve always been too squeamish to use them. I used Huggies and other cheaper disposable diapers, and they worked just fine for us.
Cooking from Scratch
Cooking at home is a really important frugal strategy, but it also allows you to make better food choices for your family. We’ve been avoiding processed foods since about 2009, and that really helped us in Hawaii where everything is so expensive. I don’t even realize how differently we eat until I look at other people’s groceries in the check-out lines. My cart is full of chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, eggs, and fruits. Their carts have pot pies, hot pockets, burritos, chips, and breakfast bars.
They are buying groceries and cooking at home, so they are saving money over eating out. However, I learned how to save even more money making things with my own ingredients. Here’s a simple example: panko-breaded chicken tenders at Costco usually cost $14 for 5 lbs (20 servings) of convenient, delicious chicken that takes 30-40 minutes to bake in the oven with no prep time. For $21, I can buy 10 pounds of chicken breasts (40 servings), thaw them, cut them into tenders (about 15 minutes), coat them with crumbs or crushed pecans (keto-friendly) (takes about 10 minutes), bake them for 30 – 40 minutes. Costco breaded tenders – about $0.70 per serving, home-breaded tenders – $0.53 per serving plus 25 minutes prep time. Although that’s not a huge money saver, I get to control the ingredients. I can eat a chicken tender with 15g of carbs for $0.70 or one with 2 g of carbs for $0.53 based on my choice. Know this: if I’m having a busy week and I won’t have time to do prep work, those Costco chicken tenders are a great option.
My best, fanciest hamburgers are way better than the ones we pay $15 each for at the fancy burger joint, and they only cost about $1 each. Sometimes when we eat out, I’m secretly critiquing the restaurant on the quality of ingredients they use, the seasonings, and the cooking methods, because mine at home MIGHT taste better.
Breakfasts are generally inexpensive, and we love good coffee with them. We keep eggs, bacon, and ham on hand with lots of veggies for creating delicious omelettes or quiche. I keep pancake mix (for visitors) and lots of vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg for baking. There are so many options for breakfast, and McDonald’s can’t even come CLOSE! Here are some other ideas for breakfast.
We’ve learned to be creative and make fancy dinners at home with multiple courses, too. Cooking at home allows me to be more careful with ingredients, tastes delicious, is frugal, and can be FUN!
One of Amy Dacyczyn’s major lifestyle focuses is to avoid waste, especially with food. She helped me understand the importance of meal-planning as a strategy to reduce/eliminate food waste. Jonni McCoy gave me great ideas on ways to make meal-planning simpler, like having a “soup and bread” night every week. I have suggestions for making meal-planning even more simple in my post “A Cheat-Sheet for Weekly Meal Planning.”
Meal-planning is vital to saving money on food purchases, because you only buy what you’ve planned to use! This keeps you focused at the grocery store, and helps you to spend less. If you see something on sale at the grocery store or a farmer’s market, buy it and work it into the meal plan!
Grocery Shopping Strategies
My Aunt Estelle always shopped all three grocery stores in her neighborhood, and I thought that had to be unnecessary. When I moved around where she lived, I learned to use weekly grocery store sale papers for those three stores, building my meal plans around in-season produce and sale items. Our grocery total was better than with “couponing” or shopping warehouses! I planned my errands in advance, making an efficient driving route to include those grocery stores, prescription pick-ups, dry-cleaners, etc. Using this strategy in Hawaii really helped cut our food costs! We learned the best use of the multi-store strategy was for Monty to drop me off at the door. I did the shopping with very narrow focus, getting in and out of stores as quickly as possible. Rushing allowed me to avoid impulse purchases and grocery store marketing techniques. I had to do all the thinking and planning ahead of time, but that was never a problem.
Various Other Strategies
Home haircuts became important as our family grew. I bought clippers and good scissors, and Monty and the children always had home haircuts. My son just turned twenty, so we’ve been doing that for about 18 years. I don’t have any dollar amounts, but that’s a lot of money saved.
I began making liquid laundry detergent when we moved to Hawaii, and it has saved us at LEAST $20/month. We’ve been here 5 years, so that’s a minimum savings of $1,200. Check out this post about making laundry detergent.
Birthday parties were done creatively at home for less than $50 each–including party favors. It is important to remember that kid birthday parties, especially for age 5 and under, should be fun for the children. Children love simple, fun activities. The invitations, decor, and fancy cakes are not of interest to the kids! They want to do fun things, eat cake, and open presents. Keep it simple, and make it FUN–and that doesn’t need to be expensive.
Garage sales, thrift stores, and consignment stores (along with hand-me-downs) became the primary source of my children’s clothing. They wore cute, well-matched items that were in good condition, but their clothes were rarely new. They’ve never told me about any embarrassment about their wardrobes, and they always looked nice in their pictures.
Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” With his logic, that $6 I saved every week on baby wipes took me about 15 minutes of work and was worth $24/ hour. Ben also recommended that we beware of little expenses, because small leaks can sink great ships. THIS quote is powerful. People con themselves into believing little luxuries here and there are no big deal. If I only used the strategies in this post, I would’ve been saving around $200/month or $2,400/year.
I implemented many strategies over time, and there’s no way to know how much I’ve saved over the years. Here’s what I do know:
- we have lived (and continue to live) a great life with many, many joys
- we have been deprived of nothing of real importance
- a frugal lifestyle has allowed us to be luxurious in the amount of time and focus we spend with our children.