Sunday, January 22, 2006

Our Wallets, Our Selves

Greetings from T (Teerific!)

Today marks the beginning of
National Creative Frugality Week (January 22-28, 2006). Who knew?

Lately, I've been thinking about how to live well with my resources. Some of the wisest people I know are very skilled at this, and I'd like to learn from them. I have skills related to scrimping, pinching and doing without. But I'd like to live a bit more creatively--to not only cut costs, but to also be comfortable. I admire people I know (H, for example), who seem to do this well.

I thought about this recently when I discovered a black leather recliner for only $120. It would look really nice in the corner of the living room. When I went to pick it up, though, the store was out of stock. I've got a rain check now, and I'm trying to decide whether or not I should use it. I've put a lot of thought into this so far:

On the one hand, it would look great and felt really comfortable. Once I paint my living room coffee table and end tables black (frugal!), it would really tie the room together well. I picked up some inexpensive-yet-beautiful art over the Christmas holiday, and one of the paintings would look really nice next to a black recliner. A friend of mine is crocheting a beautiful afghan that would look wonderful draped over the chair.

On the other hand, I just spent $160 on an upcoming mini-vacation to a writer's conference, and maybe $120 would be a nice addition to my savings account instead.

A friend has a great chair that won't fit in her apartment, but it would look OK in that space. It's a very wrong color for my color scheme, though, and a nice cover for it (frugal!) might cost at least $120. And when she needs to borrow her chair back, I've got a cover for a chair I don't own (not frugal). Finally, I only have one bottom, and it's usually content in the corner of the couch. I'm hoping to entertain more, but does that mean I need a recliner right now?

Does anyone else go in circles about this kind of thing trying to save money (OK, spend wisely in this case)? H and I once had an adventure where we rescued a couch from the side of the road in Carlos, her aging car. We pulled out the old stuffing, washed the cushions, Febreezed, restuffed, and worked really hard to get the Doggy Smell out of the couch--with limited success. (Talk about a Whiff of Woof!) We were both relieved a few weeks later when another friend gave me The Couch of Provision, from which I'm blogging now. Although I'm grateful to have had a place to sit, at least in that case I don't think ultra-frugal was the way to go. I've had similar missteps at the grocery store doing things like buying large, cheap bags of dried beans (half a pound still in the cupboard!) and falling for buy-one-get-one-free produce. Can't tell you how much "free" food has spoiled in my refrigerator. Not Frugal.

In any case, I'd love to hear what you think about the chair. And here are a couple of promising resources I've found when it comes to my quest:

Creative Frugality: "The Creative Frugality Inspiration Station," this site's the difference between being frugal and being cheap, offers practical ways to cut back on expenses, and includes links to related resources.

The Grocery Game: This money-saving "game" combines sales lists and coupons to help you save money on groceries--without spending hours clipping coupons. It looks like it's worth a try.

What are your tips for living well on less? How do you live frugally without being stingy? Please share your comments and feel free to link to related websites.


Anonymous said...

Woo woo woo! T is in the house!

ruben said...

the ant works very hard to save for the winter, however never does the ant go hungry while he is saving.

sometimes it is OK to invest in objects that will be used and will last a long time.
(from h's church)

Holly said...

Well said, Ruben.

Whenever I buy just about anything, from groceries to furniture, I ask myself these five questions:

1) Will I use this?

If I'm going to buy a carton of orange juice, will I be home often enough to drink it within the next couple weeks? If I was going to buy a chair, I'd think about whether it fit my living space (is there enough room for it; where would I put it) and plans for use (if I had an extra chair, a guest and I would both have seats and one of us wouldn't have to sit on the floor!). Regret usually comes when I buy something just because it's cute, or a good price, or a way to fill up an empty space in my house/closet/refrigerator.

2) Does it work with the things I already have, or plan to have soon?

Do I have recipes that call for orange juice (a good reason to buy in quantity), and do I already have the other ingredients to make those recipes? Would that chair match my current decor (or, if I have hand-me-downs or temporary furniture, would that new chair fit with my decorating plan)?

3) Am I getting a good deal?

Could I get this item on sale or with a coupon if I waited a week? Have I checked the price at other stores? It helps to know a range of prices for which an item sells. If I know orange juice goes on sale for $2 every other week, I won't buy it on the weeks when it's $2.50. And if it goes on sale for $1.50, I'll buy two cartons. Since new chairs of almost any type are rarely sold for less than $100, a recliner for $120 sounds like a good price, T--and the fact you like the chair makes for a good deal.

4) Have I done something for someone else lately?

Have my recent spending habits caused me to decline opportunities to give? Did I skip the church offering plate this week because I spent too much on new ringtones for my cell phone? Did I ignore the hungry homeless guy outside the grocery story because I bought a bunch of junk food and felt like I'd already spent too much money?

And this isn't about giving until it hurts, but rather being cautious to not overextend my personal spending to the point I can't happily give my neighbor half-a-cup of flour.

5) Is this purchase based on my current emotions?

At some point, everyone buys something because they feel happy, sad, etc. So for large purchases, like furniture, I wait--sometimes for as long as a month--to make sure my emotions, or preferences, haven't changed. During that waiting period, you can look at your desired item a few times, think about your plans for it, and see if there's an opportunity to get it at a better price--or find something you like even more. The wait solidifies your decision: It makes you feel good about the purchase, pretty much ensuring you get the best deal for your dollars.

Plus one question for the "savers" out there:

1) "What am I saving for?"

Like many savers, I sometimes struggle with spending money. It helps to regularly ask myself this. If I don't have a reasonable answer, it's the first sign I may be bordering on stingyness.

Finally, it's great to get dreamy about your planned purchase. Before buying furniture, I've actually taken masking tape and marked off the exact measurements in the spot where my new item will be placed. I envision what it will look like in the room, paying particular attention to the things I already have in my living space. That makes it feel like a blessing--a very special treat to add to the good treats God's already given me--rather than just another acquisition.

Judy said...

I do a lot of reading on this subject, since I have taught finance classes at my old church and am just very interested in the topic. Here's some sites I go to.
I’ve been subscribing to her newsletter for years, and its full of ways to save money and deal with credit card debt. Highly recommend this one.
The Dollar Stretcher
Lots of good articles about saving money, enjoyable to read.

It’s Your Money
From webpage: Here at IYM we hope to provide readers with a multitude of resources to help them better manage their money, their finances, and their lives.
Tips on living frugally.

There are a series of books called the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn that are fun to read, they are ful of tips to be frugal.