June 12, 2017

Being a Penny Pincher Even If You Don't Have To


Voluntary simplicity, frugality, simple living, down-sizing....all have their genesis in trying to cut expenses. Less harm to the environment is another motivator, but the financial aspects are usually key. 

Certainly, for many of us, spending less money, living within or below our means is necessary. A faltering, or failed pension from work, a job loss at the wrong time, unexpected medical, housing, or caregiving expenses can force our hand.

For others, money isn't the overriding concern. Sure, we worry the money will run out before we do, and we can't predict some future financial disaster. But, overall, we are in good shape. There is something else that motivates us to reduce.

Interestingly, being in the first or second camp doesn't seem to be a solid predictor of our urge to cut expenses, pinch pennies, and find a less expensive way to accomplish a goal. Maybe it is a gene many of us carry. Maybe it is lesson we learned from a parent. Or, a rough patch in our past has left us with the desire to be more of the master of our own financial fate.

Whatever the reason, I find that posts that deal with frugality (or penny pinching, to use an older expression) usually prompt some good comments and interaction. Certainly, I always learn something new to consider as I review my budget. 

There are those who view cutting expenses as sort of a challenge: how low can I go? You have heard of extreme couponers who can buy hundreds of dollars in food and supplies for just the loose change in their pocket. Besides savings lots of money, these folks probably get a thrill from using the system to beat the system.


A while ago I wrote about people who have cut their wardrobe down to a few dozen items of clothing. They haven't seen the inside of a dry cleaning store in years. Their clothing budget is almost non-existent. Others have joined the tiny house movement, slashing housing and utility costs in the process.

I have written about replacing cable or satellite TV with a mixture of various streaming choices, over-the-air television, or Sling TV. Some remove the television completely, figuring their time is better spent in other ways.

One car instead of two, using the library instead of Amazon or Barnes and Nobles for your book fix, always cooking enough of one recipe for at least two meals, shopping for clothing or household needs when a store has a BOGO sale, realizing that Goodwill has some amazing bargains...the list is endless.

Being frugal or a penny pincher is different from being cheap. You don't save small slivers of soap, reuse aluminum foil, or figure out a hundred uses for a rubber band. Maybe you buy a high quality product or item of clothing, but you know it will last much longer than a poorly made one and it makes you happy. The cheapest choice isn't often the best one, but a frugal choice may be. 

So, my question to you is, are you a penny pincher (either from necessity or by choice)? No one likes to waste money unnecessarily, but how many of us look for ways to shave a budgetary corner here or there, or feel a thrill when we figure out how to pay less for something then we once did? 

What ideas and tips can you share with us? 


39 comments:

  1. I'm frugal in some areas and not in others. I reuse aluminum foil and plastic bags if possible, thinking of how long they would languish in a landfill. There's more to the 3 R's of reduce, reuse, recycle and that is refuse (avoid extra packaging) and rot (compost). And my son's voice rings in my ears - Throw it out, Mother! I have a reusable bin and bags for shopping. I "shop at home" - take stock of what's in the fridge/freezer and plan a menu based on the findings vs dreaming up a menu, then going shopping. Sometimes the menu is based on what needs to be used up before its best-before date. Throwing out food is akin to throwing money away. I buy in bulk when it's a good sale. Cleaning supplies are at a minimum; I much prefer vinegar and baking soda. I consolidate errands and trips to town, thus saving on fuel. I turn down the hot water heater when I'm away for more than a day. I collect rain water to water the garden. I am one of those who doesn't have an annual clothing budget. I wear clothing until worn out or poorly fitting. I do have some classic items that are 10+ yrs old and still garner compliments. Then there's money for an overseas vacation or a night on the town. I still prefer a home-cooked meal and nature's panorama to more costly entertainment.

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    1. A very good summary, Mona, of your ways of being frugal where it makes sense. Throwing away too much food has been one of my household's worst habits. It seems like every Wednesday morning before we leave for the grocery store a bunch of old produce gets tossed.

      Two steps we're are taking to try to eliminate that terribly wasteful habit: use things like lettuce, asparagus and cucumbers within 4 days of buying them instead of waiting until the end of the 7 day period, and find recipes for items we bought for one meal but didn't use up, like sour cream or bell peppers. That seems to help.

      Like you we do turn off the water heater if we are gone for at least 24 hours, and turn the AC up to 86 (60 in the winter). It does help.

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  2. We are a mix as well and we hope that gets us financially safe until we are at least 100! No need to overspend on food, clothing, basic household goods. We shop for the best deal for our needs when buying pricier items like mattresses, furniture, housing or cars. We became a one car family with our recent downsizing and move and it works for us for now. I like to spend on going out to eat for a good but moderately priced meal about once a week, travel to see family or go on vacation and of course our chronically ill dog is a budget line item of her own. I too reuse plastic bags, etc. for environmental reasons. I try the library first always as a way to reduce spending but also to avoid clutter. On the other hand Hubby just bought a new set of golf clubs. To me it is about balance and I fully appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to do it that way.

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    1. Thank you for your word, balance. That is the key. Reusing plastic bags (ours are for picking up dog poop) and watching basic expenses carefully allows for things like meals out, a new set of golf clubs, and vacations. I have started to collect vintage radios from the 1930s and 1940s. They aren't cheap, but I find them beautiful to look at. Betty has no problem with our expenses in that area since her hobbies in art and woodworking cost a bit, too. It is all about balance, and compromise!

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  3. I often make meals that can last more than one dinner whether as a left-over or somehow transformed. I do that more for time reasons than money. We may not have been the smartest people through the years when it comes to money but, we must have done something right to be where we are now. We downsized, or as Kathy would say 'Right sized', and it has been the most comfortable time in my life.

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    1. Yes, I much prefer the "right-sized" label for household maintenance. Too many of us are more in the "supersize" mindset which causes all sorts of problems.

      Virtually every meal we make for dinner is enough for two, sometimes three meals later on. Often, it isn't very efficient to cook for two people for just one meal. Since we have cut back portions to keep our weight steady, even a small pack of pork chops or romaine lettuce is enough for 2 meals. Betty made a slow cooker ham bone soup a while back that turned into three main courses plus two lunches.

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    2. I LOVE the slow cooker, especially in the summer. We grill a lot, too.

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  4. It's so interesting that when I was a young mom with kiddos at home, I "wanted" for so much, in my mind. I longed for creaturely comforts, a nice(r) home, nice(r) furnishings, fashionable (expensive) clothing, trips to warmer climates (warmer than Canada), etc. etc. Now here I am, at the other side of all that life, and all I wish for is simplicity. I could afford all the "stuff" I so longed for in my early years. We have recently sold our home, we are selling off all our home contents, and we are moving into a camper van to chase our passion for traveling. Was the van expensive? Yes, it was new, but it's so much cheaper than a home. We will have few clothes and personal items, but they will be good quality. We don't need much in the way of "stuff". We are grateful that God has given us health, strength to ride our bikes and to go hiking and walking, love in our marriage relationship, kids that love us (but think we are crazy!), and dreams to follow. Retirement is such a wonderful stage of life when seen through the eyes of gratitude.

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    1. I have to highlight this sentence of yours: " We are grateful that God has given us health, strength to ride our bikes and to go hiking and walking, love in our marriage relationship, kids that love us (but think we are crazy!), and dreams to follow." That is a satisfying retirement in one sentence.

      Have a tremendous time on your new adventure in the camper. We loved our 4+ years with our RV. You will love the unpredictability and adventure of living that way.

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  5. I drive a 14 year old car by choice, not by necessity. I struggle to not waste food. It's just me, and I love to cook but can't seem to eat or use up everything before being thrown out. I'm pledging right now to not go to the grocery store until next weekend.

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    1. We go food shopping only once a week and still throw away food - very annoying. One of our cars is also 14 years old. It starts when you turn the key, stops when you step on the brakes, and gets us from here to there and back. Why sell it?

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  6. I just had to laugh as I read your post this morning – I think I have been frugal all my life – the result of being the child of parents who lived thru the Depression. I always felt that my Mom could make a dollar go farther than anyone I had ever seen – and we had nice clothes and lived in a nice house, but somehow she always managed to stay within a budget. I think that has helped me – hubby is a little less frugal than I am – but I guess we balance each other out.

    My best advice would be to always watch for sales – pretty much anything can be bought on sale if you watch – and buy good stuff that will last – and you can do this without spending lots – and I always say that most of my everyday clothes come from Costco!!!

    Seriously, I think that not having debt – other than our primary home – and being conscious of expenses. The older I get the more I realize that I really don’t need a lot of stuff!!!

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    1. My parents were the same way. My dad had to be the primary support for his family after his dad died when my father was in his late teens. That affected how he thought about money his whole life. Mom was so good at budgeting, especially when my dad went several stretches between jobs. As kids my brothers and I never noticed any change in our lifestyle during those periods when money must have been really tight.

      Like you, the less I own now the happier I am: less maintenance, storage, upkeep, or replacement.

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  7. It's not about being some weird-o tightwad. It's all about making conscious choices to save and invest, big time. Yet one can still enjoy many things that life has to offer.

    If you forgo all the fancy cars/clothes/restaurants/vacations in order to save. Then that will allow you to some decades out become financially independent.

    All that fluff people spend their money on won't make them happy anyway. There is great peace of mind to saving and avoiding debt. Similarly there is a great loss of peace of mind by going into debt to buy a bunch of stuff.

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    1. The average 50 year old American has saved less than $50,000 for retirement. Why? Instant gratification of purchases today has more appeal than planning for a 30 year retirement. It just stuns me that folks think that approach will work.

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  8. “To abstain from enjoyment which is in our power, or to seek distant rather than immediate results, are among the most painful exertions of the human will”

    ― N.W. Senior 1836

    One of my most favorite quotes of all time.

    Steve

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    1. So true. Abstaining now is not easy.

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    2. Well, at my age, I can't see "abstaining" too much for the "future" since I am almost 64 years old! I get the drift.. but..

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  9. Like everyone else, I am a mix, Said as I look for ways to trim the budget and still eat well while ordering a hundred dollars worth of fabric. We all have our own areas we choose to spend. I would say that my general philosohy is that everything else will work out of the big three are as low as possible (car house and medical), Being a Penny Pincher in those areas seems to make life easier for many people.

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    1. What's the point of cutting expenses if we don't give ourselves permission to buy things that give us pleasure? That is your point and I agree, but I will be the first to admit sometimes I hold onto the purse strings much more tightly than I need to.

      Maybe there is hope: today I booked a 14 day trip to Europe for next year that includes a river cruise from Amsterdam to Basel. I had to swallow hard when I realized it will cost as much as our first house (oh my) but it is time to do what we really want while we can.

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  10. Besides savings lots of money, these folks probably get a thrill from using the system to beat the system.

    Ha... to a great extent, that's us!

    www.travelwithkevinandruth.com

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    1. There is a burst of joy when you can cut an unnecessary expense or find a cheaper way to accomplish a goal. I can relate!

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  11. I have a frugal mindset. It was ingrained into me growing up with my depression era mom, and reinforced by having very little money during my university years. I am also concerned about the environment, and try to reduce my footprint on the earth by suppressing my consumeristic desires.

    But sometimes I take frugality to a level that is just plain silly. For example, if I unwrap a hotel room soap to use it, I take it home at the end of my stay because otherwise they would just throw it out and that would be a waste. So I end up with lots of half-used, overly perfumed bits of soap at home that I don't really want.

    Yet, paradoxically, I have no problem purchasing a more expensive bottle of wine, going out for a nice dinner, or tipping generously. But then again, it might depend on point of view. What I consider to be a "more expensive" bottle of wine, some others would consider modest. I guess I'd sum it up as I'm frugal except when I'm not!

    Jude

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    1. It is a balancing act, right? We bring home the mini bottles of shampoos and hand lotions, though don't go as far as bringing home partially used soap! For wine, we have found we are very satisfied with the low end wines for our afternoon glass before dinner. Most times when we spend more, the wine isn't as good or isn't noticeably better to make the increased price worth it.

      Yet, we will spend on a nice dinner out, memorable vacations, or redoing our backyard. I guess it comes done to spending as little as possible on things that aren't that important to us so we feel comfortable spending more on things that are.

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  12. Great post and great comments. I will concur with most that we are a mix. When we were both working (wife and I) we did not watch our expenses but never really overspent on frivolous things. Now we are much more aware of the need to stay within our budget parameters. We are also looking to down size (right size) not because we need to but because we want to. It is time. I love Mona's addition of refuse and rot. We have reduced our footprint drastically and usually only have a small bag of trash each week. We recycle and reuse and also compost. Not quite where I would like us to be with grocery shopping. I still tend to impulse buy things we don't need. But I am a work in progress. Another area we are saving is yard work and home repairs. Now there is time to do them ourselves.

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    1. Since the federal govt seems less interested in caring for our environment, I am quite encouraged by comments like yours that show an awareness of the impact we cause on the earth. Each of us can do a small part to help, which is certainly better than throwing up our hands in frustration.

      We are aggressive recyclers, while trying to minimize the products we buy that waste so much on packaging to begin with.

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  13. Like Gideon, I'm more of a penny-pincher ... because my parents grew up during the Depression and drilled frugality into my head. (So why is it my sister is a big spender ... go figure!)

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    1. Sometimes a child goes in the opposite direction of a parent just to show independence!

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  14. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years, and we chose to spend those years living on one salary and saving/investing the other. That was really hard because it meant deciding what to do without. We learned firsthand the difference between need and want.

    Happily that habit of frugality allowed both of us to go back to school when repetitive motion injuries required career changes. We both recently retired and are comfortable. We are still used to doing without although we no longer really have to. Can't forget the life experience of needing significant resources to navigate major bumps in the road of life.

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    1. Living on one salary and saving/investing the other is difficult but, ultimately, smart. Congratulations to the both of you. That choice paid off when unexpected circumstances put you in a bind.

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  15. If we were all being completely honest we would all agree that we are a mix of one sort or another. Personally I have always been one that enjoys either saving or making $ than spending it. I can also range from researching something to death to get the best deal on the highest quality (think electronics, cars, big ticket items in general), to making spur of the moment decisions if something is a good deal and will be useful. For example, I need to take some concrete out, and renting a jackhammer would cost $X per day. I did some research and found a good quality gas-powered jackhammer for the price of three days of a rental. I can do the job at my own pace, use it for other things like taking out smaller stumps, or knocking out our TN stone that crops up in the yard. In other words, I am frugal but not ignorant to value at the same time. And remember that frugal is not cheap; cheap is never helping others, extremes like reusing toilet paper (I know someone who does), and all the excentricities that make some people the butt of jokes.

    I think most of us as we get older also are more conscious of our effect on the environment. I know I am so that we are very knowledgeable of what is recyclable when we make a purchase, we reuse and use up as much as we can, and try mightily not to waste food, a big no-no to me. I enjoyed hearing from others who seem to share similar passions as well. Good article, Bob.

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    1. Your jackhammer example reminds me of our rug cleaners. They only last 18 months or so before they stop cleaning well. But, with a decent professional rug cleaning company charging more than the cleaner, it is worth it to replace our machine that often. It is also available when one of the dogs has an accident or I track in some mud. So buying something that does its job but only for awhile still makes more sense than having someone else do it.

      The comments on being gentle with the environment has prompted me a write a post on that subject. I'll post it in a week or so. Thanks, Chuck.

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  16. Hmmm...thoughtful post. We were frugal by nature due to being raised by folks who had to scrimp.ALso had ot put ourselves through college, and pay off student loans (NOT NEARLY AS DEAR AS NOWADAYS!!!!) As we made better salaries, in our own businesses, we splurged on some vacations we always wanted to enjoy, and we bought a couple of houses that were a bit extravagant (in my opinion, not Ken's!) We matured and learned more,took money management seminars,etc. we began to pull in a bit.. always enjoyed life within our means, but still,living beneath what others in our category did, that's for sure! We paid off our home early in life, and we saved.Now we are retired. We penny pinch because we understand the VALUE OF A DOLLAR!!!!!! And, we need to shepherd our savings to support us.. till..well, you know, when we die!!! LOL!!! I consider it a game.. we love to do free stuff locally, and enjoy the heck out of our Home,pool,friends, church, and just living. We do spend on some vacations.. (we saved enough to be able to do this!) but overall, I shop sales, I buy used, I cook at home a lot, and we have older cars . I will splurge on theater and musical tickets, a meal out here and there. ANd, yes,on some travel.. but being frugal is just something in your bones, I think .It's a fun game. You learn where to scrimp and when to do the occasional splurge. I have never ever enjoyed paying full price for anything! LOL!!

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    1. I think it is kind of a game or challenge for me, too. Even though we really don't have to, we still record even something as small as a $4 purchase in our expense spreadsheet. I will take what we spend at the grocery store and break it into pet expenses, health products, stuff for the backyard, and food, just because I want to know where the money goes.

      I agree that being frugal is something innate, or comes from years of having to be that way because of life situations. Chuck makes an important point in his comment, that frugal and cheap are absolutely not the same thing.

      Speaking of free stuff, we have plans this summer to make use of the free cultural passes through the library system. The Science Center, Botanical Garden, and Heard Museum are on our to-do list.

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  17. I wonder if the Read Mullan rug collection is still on display at the Heard....
    Like ChuckY, we decide when and where to be frugal. It goes back to the envelope system for us. We earmark money for vacations and cars. When we go or buy, we choose what we want within the money saved. Personally, I am eying a driverless, electric car for our next one. It will be expensive, but It will keep us on the road long after our keys will be put away. Ten years of savings should put the right amount in the bank for the purchase. OTOH- we stopped tracking every penny several years ago. It seems we spend within the budgeted amount every month- if we are off a bit, so be it.
    We have always recycled and reused. Cloth is our friend and is used in almost every reuse situation- from the fridge to the dining table. Since it is the two of us, we don't feel we have to worry too much about the germs. I can, so the bottles are used year after year. This is my busy season.
    Last, I don't see much change in my life or the lives of others with the changes in parties. Local control is good. Please don't make the reuse a political post.

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    1. No worries about the reuse post being political. It will be focused on ideas and ways we can help do less damage to the environment and save money.

      I used the envelope method for quite awhile. When that envelope was empty, we stopped that category for the rest of the month.

      If our oldest car lasts long enough that we will be comfortable with just one car, I can see our next (and probably last) one being a hybrid or electric, though I don't think it will be driverless. The prices have moderated and the batteries have gotten much better.

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  18. A very thought provoking post! And I love everyone's comments. It was really timely because I went to the mall today for a little "retail therapy." I think when I was contemplating retirement, I was a little concerned about whether I'd still be able to afford all the stuff and indulgences I'd come to crave as I advanced in my career during my worklife. In reality, I find that I just don't seem to covet stuff in the same way. I noticed today, walking past the jewelry counters, that I wasn't much drawn to anything... in fact, I was a little "ho hum" about it all. I think it has to do with being retired and filling my life with activities and people who make me happy. While I was working, I had so much less control over that. Buying the bling and all that came to represent success and achievement and indulgence. Now, I still indulge and celebrate my successes as a human being, but I find it is just as satisfying to get a massage or go on a trip or buy a small synthetic sparkler than to write a check with more than three digits before the dollar sign!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Terri. I think many of us feel the way you do as we age: buying stuff just doesn't satisfy. Not only does it cost money, whatever it is must be stored, cleaned, repaired, replaced....something that complicates our lives just that little bit more.

      Experiences, friendships, activities we enjoy....those are the things that add value to our life.

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