How frugal is frugal enough?


April 2, 2009 by 8junebugs

I love that there are so many resources and experts out there telling people how to cut back their budgets and live more frugally. I really do. It’s all over the Yahoo headlines: “Sally saved a bazillion dollars just by brown-bagging her lunch every day!” “Joe switched to generic beer, and now the family can go to Disneyland!”

They really are great ideas…they just don’t really apply to my lifestyle, and I need some more creative experts.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m about to default on my school loans or lose my home. I make a reasonable salary and have reasonable bills. I save 10% of my income every month. My biggest expense is rent — there just wasn’t a one-bedroom available in my neighborhood a year ago…at least, not one that I would live in that wasn’t in my old building. At this point, I could try to find another place and knock my rent down a bit. The truth is, though, that I can afford the rent and the ROI of finding another place doesn’t balance out the benefits of staying put.

Also? I love where I live. I love my neighborhood, I love that 75% of my social life consists of going downstairs to meet friends for dinner, and I love having a lot of space and a balcony the length of my apartment. I think I might spend less on going out just because I’m happy where I am.

(I do not love that the new condos on Route 1 have now erased the capitol dome from my view. I miss the capitol. But I still have the Washington Monument and the Potomac, and it’s not like the condos went up over night. I had a little time to prepare.)

Back to my budget, though. Here’s why the usual money-saving tips don’t apply to me:

I don’t go to Starbucks or any other coffee shops regularly. Starbucks gets money my business when I travel, but I’m usually using a gift card.

I always brown-bag my lunch. Always. It’s a by-product of cooking for one when I first started working office jobs. The one year I lived on campus and had a meal plan, I used it, but after that it was back to leftovers for lunch, particularly because I was also flat broke. It seemed like a good habit, so I kept it.

I don’t have a landline.

I put on a sweater/pull out a blanket/open the windows/use my ceiling fans. That said, my utilities bill is mostly determined by the size of my place and the overall building’s consumption, so it’s a little out of my hands.

My car and renter’s insurance are with the same carrier and dirt cheap.

All of my educational loans are consolidated (not during the days of 2.5% interest, but let’s not open up that old wound) and the payment is low enough.

I already buy a fair number of “store brands.”

I get wireless internet access and all the cable TV I need for less than $100 a month. Getting rid of HBO is (a) good for about $5 and (b) cause for spending more on alternative entertainment.

My car is paid off. I am not willing to take on a car payment again until I have to or I get sick of busting tires on the GW Parkway. (It’s not all the parkway’s fault. The undercarriage and suspension were damaged early on and the tires will always wear unevenly. But it ALWAYS HAPPENS ON THE PARKWAY.) My hope is that my credit card will be paid off by the time I need a new/different car.

About that credit card, which is the only one I use — it would’ve been paid off with my bonus in March, but the bonus is currently busy with “estate preservation.” Once Mom’s house sells, whatever I’ve spent on it comes back off the top of the estate…even before the lawyer gets paid, which I find amusing.

There are some places where I can scale back. I could plan for dinner out once every two weeks instead of once a week. My grocery budget is moderate, but I could use it better by using coupons, shopping sales, and spacing out the staple purchases. I’m pretty good about not buying pre-packaged items, but the Avon training has had an effect on that — granola bars and string cheese are CRITICAL.

I could also eat less.

So. If you’re already following the usual recommendations, and you want to either save more money or be more aggressive about paying down college or credit card debt, what do you do? Look for freelance work? Start selling off the yarn stash? Hire out your laundry or dog-walking services? What?


2 thoughts on “How frugal is frugal enough?

  1. Flip-Flop says:

    granola bars and string cheese are CRITICAL in this household too — for the 2yo and the 6yo (who just realized she likes granola bars and now we go through 2 boxes a week). of course, i know people who make their own granola bars … to which I think “do what???”

  2. 8junebugs says:

    See, that was me with string cheese. I discovered I like it and now I would rather have that than just about anything else.

    I can go through two packages of string cheese in a week. I try not to.

    The thing about making your own granola bars is that is doesn’t actually save money unless you already have most of the stuff. Dried fruits, nuts…even honey can be pricey on their own. Especially nuts. I’m not convinced yet that it’s a better investment than the $2 boxes of bars from Trader Joe’s.

    Often, a big reason for making things at home is to avoid preservatives, but TJ’s already takes care of that for me. 😉

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