I prefer to live a fairly frugal lifestyle. While it’s in part due to the limitations of my family’s income, it’s also a personal preference. Being careful about how much you spend, even when you can easily afford it, is just sensible.
You have to be smart about frugal living, however. It’s not just “here’s the cheap way, let’s do that!” The immediately cheap way isn’t always the cheap way in the long run, after all. You have to consider the long term, at least as much as you can fit it into your budget.
1. Go for quality.
Within reason, you have to consider quality when you buy things. The cheapest product can cost more in the long run if you have to buy it more often than you would a more expensive product.
I’m fond of how Terry Pratchett has Samuel Vimes explain it in one of the Discworld novels, in terms of the cost of boots. A cheap pair of boots costs $10, and lasts about a season or two. Better boots run about $50, but would last for years. This leads him to reason that the rich don’t have to spend as much money on such things because they can buy products that will last longer and cost less in the long run.
Of course, most of us can’t always afford the things that will last best. Still, when better quality and longer lasting products are within your budget, it can be more frugal to spend the extra now, rather than spend more over the long run.
This is especially true for expensive things such as furniture and cars. You want these to last as long as possible, and some extra money spent now can save you more in the future.
Kids clothes, and shoes in particular, on the other hand, think about how long it will be until they grow out of them. Some things you really don’t want to overspend on. Buy better if they’re something that can be handed down, but if you know your child is going to ruin it, go for the quality that should last until they outgrow it. We pay more attention to the quality of my son’s running shoes, for example, than my daughter’s, because he uses them hard and can wear them out before he outgrows them. He needs better quality so they last and we don’t have to buy more in the same size. By the time my daughter wears her shoes out, she usually needs a new size anyhow.
2. Buy as much as you need.
This rule is especially important when it comes to food. People in the United States throw out somewhere between 14-25% of the food they buy. That’s a lot of food wasted, and of course money wasted too.
Think about how you handle your grocery shopping. Do you buy in bulk because that’s what you’re going to use, or because it’s a lower price per unit, and you hope to use it before it goes bad? Are you only buying the fresh meat, dairy and produce your family will use before it goes bad? Do you eat the leftovers you put back in the fridge, or do you throw them out a week later? Do you know what the sell by dates really mean or when the expiration date really matter?
This goes for other things too, of course. Think about what the right size wardrobe is for your needs. Rethink that next gadget, and so on.
3. Get repairs done right.
When something in your home or car needs repairs, get the job done right. This doesn’t mean be a sucker for every suggested repair, but to spend enough to have the job done right the first time, so that you won’t have the thing break down again in a month or two. Mechanics and repairmen can sometimes suggest a cheaper alternative to what really needs to be done when you’re concerned about price, but sometimes that only delays the work that really needs to be done.
Whenever possible, get it done right the first time… and know how they warranty their work in case something goes wrong again. I’ve had my mechanic repeat a repair for free because something didn’t go quite right the first time he did it.
4. “Sale” doesn’t mean “buy now.”
We all love a bargain. Sales are wonderful ways to save money on the things you need, but they’re also great for getting you to spend more money than you should. Just because you see a good deal doesn’t mean you should forget to consider whether or not you need that item right then.
I find it helpful to remember that most items will go on sale again at a later date if it’s something I might need later, but not right now. Stores often have a cycle they go through for their sales. If you know how often things go on sale, you can buy them at a good price when you need them, not just because you saw the deal and didn’t want to pass it up. And if you don’t really need it, even a great deal on it shouldn’t matter at all.
5. Consider your health.
Don’t be so frugal that you damage your health. Don’t be too cheap to eat right, go to the doctor and dentist, take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself in general now can save you a lot of money and discomfort in the long run.
6. Remember to enjoy your life.
No matter how frugal you are, remember to sometimes spend money on things because they’re fun. Take a family vacation. Go on a date.
These things don’t always have to cost a lot of money. A trip to a local campground can be a wonderful, memorable family experience. If you want to spend more money on experiences, have your family come up with ways to save money up for it. You can make that family vacation to Disneyland all the more memorable if you give the kids the pride of having helped save up for it.