I have a confession: I’m obsessed with blogs about saving money. The more extreme the solutions suggested by bloggers, the more I’m intrigued. And who hasn’t heard the typical suggestions—from reducing credit card usage to clipping coupons. But what about giving up your car—entirely? Or trimming your wardrobe down to only 33 items? When someone proposes an interesting challenge, I’m up for it.
But the truth is that some money-saving ideas don’t always work for every reader. And that’s just fine. If a blog gives you an idea you can adapt to your own life, that’s great. You’ll learn fresh ways to look at your financial situation, and maybe even save some money along the way.
Let’s take a look at some well-known frugal living suggestions, and how you can think about personalizing them to work in your life:
Suggestion: Don’t drive a car. Bike everywhere instead.
Reality: For a lot of people, absolutely yes. It does take a bit of an attitude shift. As Americans we are very used to driving everywhere, all the time, even short distances.
If you live in a fairly compact metropolitan area, riding your bike can save money on gas, car maintenance, vehicle wear and tear, and even insurance, if you forego owning a car altogether. But you may have to plan your schedule to accommodate riding time, and tweak your wardrobe and routine so you don’t arrive at your destination in sweaty bike shorts.
Alternatives: Drive less, bike more. This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment. Consider biking or walking when you’re traveling short distances, such as to the grocery store, and consider using a bike trailer and backpack to carry home your food or to your kids’ school. If biking isn’t your thing, make a point to carpool, or take public transit more often. You may also want to consider moving closer to your work or your children’s school, if that’s an option for you.
Suggestion: Don’t just declutter—de-own.
Reality: Yep. Today’s homes are much larger than they were in previous generations, and all that space encourages us to fill up our dwellings—and rent extra storage units, too. Minimalist bloggers remind us that owning less stuff is not only less expensive, it’s also less stressful and less time-consuming. The less you have, the less you have to clean, repair, put away, and work to pay off.
Alternatives: You don’t have to live in a sparse, all-white home to be a minimalist. But think beyond just “organizing” all the stuff you currently have. Consider what you really don’t need to own. Do you really need your swimming trophy from 5th grade or all the cards from your wedding? Do you need that 25-foot ladder that you use twice per year to clean the gutters, or could you rent one, share with neighbors, or check one out from a local tool library?
Blog: Surviving & Thriving (DonnaFreedman.com)
Suggestion: The cheaper you travel, the longer you can stay.
Reality: I am not sure about this one. Ms. Freedman frequently stays in hostels when she travels. As an example: She spent four days in Houston and paid $84 total for a bottom bunk in a hostel room shared with up to four roommates. I admire her spunkiness, but I’m not sure that arrangement is realistic or possible for most travelers—particularly couples or families with children.
Alternatives: Personally, I’m tempted to use Airbnb.com, where you can find a room in a private home, a full apartment, or even a full home at a fraction of the price of a hotel. But Ms. Freedman’s point about hostels is well taken: When traveling, we typically spend time in our rooms only when we’re asleep or headed in that direction. Unless you’re planning to spend considerable time in your hotel room, you can probably get by with simpler accommodations than you think. Alternatively, staying with relatives or friends can help reduce your travel costs.
Suggestion: Buy absolutely everything in bulk.
Reality: Partly. Blogger Bea Johnson is a fan of using bulk products not just to save money, but to save the environment from packaging and waste. As a result, she is what you might call extreme in her efforts: She takes glass jars to the grocery store and has meat, fish, cheese, and deli items deposited right into the jars. She buys shampoo from bulk dispensers and makes her own tooth powder from bulk baking soda and Stevia powder to avoid buying tubes. It does make financial sense to buy many things in bulk. However, I can find things like shampoo and conditioner on sale, with coupons, in individual bottles for much lower prices than I could buy in bulk at my local bulk store. And I admire Ms. Johnson’s gutsiness, but I think many average families would feel uncomfortable carrying glass jars into their supermarkets.
Alternatives: You can often buy everything from tiny amounts of spices to items like rice, flour, nuts and treats from bulk bins at grocery and natural food stores. Just be sure to compare prices to those of packaged items—bulk isn’t always cheaper. If you have a larger family or friends with which to share, buying larger packages of items from warehouse clubs can be a cost-saver.
Suggestion: Wear a “capsule wardrobe” of only 33 items for three months at a time.
Reality: More so than you’d think. I’ve actually been doing this as an experiment for the past six months. This project, developed by blogger Courtney Carver, forced me to really think about which of my clothes are my favorites, which items I’m holding onto for silly reasons, and where in my wardrobe I have duplicates.
I actually thought that I had more to wear after choosing my 33 items because I could actually see my clothes after decluttering and storing the rest of my wardrobe away for three months, and ] I probably only wear about 20 percent of what’s in my closet anyway. Removing the 80 percent that I don’t wear reminded me to get creative about combining the items I have and really love. I save money because I’m not tempted to go clothes shopping.
Alternatives: Try living with 33 items for a single month, vs. three months. Allow yourself to swap clothing items along the way if you find that you really miss or need something from your stored wardrobe. If 33 items seems excessive, set your own limit—maybe 50 items. But don’t be too easy on yourself. The idea is to push yourself and your expectations. You’ll be surprised at how easy this is after only a couple of weeks. Simplifying your wardrobe might be a great way to begin de-cluttering other areas of your life as well.
When you try new cost-savings strategies, you may find you’re more adaptable than you think. Forming a new money habit will take a while but once you’ve developed a new routine, you’ll be surprised at how much has changed.
What are some frugal (yet realistic) financial changes you’ve made recently, and how are you sticking to them? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter @EFXFinanceBlog
Teri Cettina is a personal finance and parenting writer/blogger. Prior to becoming a freelancer, she was an employee communications writer and editor for a large regional bank. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina.
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