8 Frugal Ideas I Hate

frugal-ideas-i-hate-laptopI know I talk a lot on here about saving money. Yes, part of that is being “frugal,” but I honestly hate that term. It’s not sexy (and never will be), and a lot of people associate it with being cheap. I know “frugal” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap,” and I’m not interested in turning this post into a debate on the difference. While I would consider myself to be a frugal person, there are some frugal things that I think suck and I refuse to do them.  Here’s my top 8:

1. Excessively reusing things. This post about frugal food storage made me sick to my stomach. I get what the author is saying here, but I don’t think this has much significance in terms of where you’re really saving money. I think it’s simply a waste of time to spend so much time thinking about Tupperware (just like it was a waste of time for me to read that post to begin with).  My Tupperware strategy is simple: I spend maybe $10 a year on resuable containers that are durable, clean, and suit just about all my needs.  End of Tupperware discussion. Apply the same logic to reusing other things and decide if it’s really worth it.
2. Clipping coupons. While I have to admit that I haven’t extensively investigated what I could actually save with coupons, I’m not really interested. First off, I have no desire to search websites or newspapers for coupons and printing them out and all that.  Secondly, I like to eat whatever I want.  Being a pescaterian, I’m a bit of a picky eater.  I’m also a bit of a health nut, so I’m simply not willing to compromise on what I eat just to save a buck.

3. Buying in bulk.  This is one tip that I hear all the time and have tried using, but I’ve never been satisfied with the results.  I’ve always wasted more food than gained in savings, negating the whole purpose of this strategy.  Aside from eating at that food in time, where the hell am I supposed to store it all? I just find buying in bulk to be more of a hassle than the effort it’s worth.

4. Sacrificing on things I love.  When I truly love something, I’m going to buy it.  I love a great craft beer (just like some enjoy fine wines).  I know if I wanted just any beer, I could drink PBR for a fraction of the price of my local microbrewed goodness.  But I don’t just like drinking beer, I like drinking the best.  Instead of spending $5 on a six-pack of PRB, I’m going to drop $11 on Abito Turbodog or Shipyard Export til the day I die.

5. DIY projects just to save money.  I really enjoy Instructables.  There are many creative ideas to DIY just about anything you can think of.  While I think DIY is great when it’s something fun or rewarding, I’m not going to make things just to save a few dollars. I built this laptop stand myself.  Since I didn’t have the materials handy, I had to go out and by them.  Two hours and $12 later, I had myself a flimsy stand for my laptop. Fail! Maybe I just suck at DIY sometimes, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve just bought this stand online and saved myself a a bunch of effort.

6. Always choosing the cheapest possible option. Simply put, I think you often get what you pay for. I’ve bought cookie sheets for $1 before.  While they worked, the poor quality was evident and I had to replace them soon after. I’m not saying the fanciest and most expensive options are best either (I think the quality is often overstated compared to the price) Choosing the best value, which is often in the middle of the price spectrum, makes the most sense.  You can get decent quality and reliability, and you may save money in the long run with this plan.

7. Cutting back on vacations. If there’s a place I went to spend my money, it’s on a trip in an exotic location. This is why I save money to begin with: so I can enjoy spending it!  Vacationing in Spain, I was glad to pay to taste new foods and visit different sites. I don’t enjoy tourist-trap money pit-type things, but I’ll pay for any experience that’s worthwhile.

8. Saving like crazy instead of earning more.  You can only cut back so much before your quality of life really begins to suck.  I could save a lot by not owning a car, never going out to bars, and never traveling, but what’s the point of living if that’s the case? Instead of focusing on always cutting back, put your energy into increasing cash flow.

Bonus: Tracking my spending. Yes, I know that I’m promoting it over here.  But it’s something I find annoying, at least in the current form that I’m doing it (maybe I need to give Mint another shot). Despite my disdain, I’ll keep tracking since I know it’s important to keep my finances in check.

What you and I really need is to go for the big wins – decisions and behavior changes that impact big chunks of money over our lifetime (like Ramit points out in this post about frugality). More on that in this post about “big wins.”

Are there some frugal ideas out there that you hate, too? Let everyone know in the comments.

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photo by: jazzgumpy (with text added by me)

Spruced Up: Best of PF #4

Every week, I read lots of other personal finance blogs.  To help you out, I’m posting a regular round-up of all the best posts from the week, so check them out!

Update: I’m competing in the Yakezie challenge, and trying to get my Alexa ranking down below 200,000 by October (I’m currently around 400,000).  If you’d like to help, you can install the Alexa toolbar, which helps improve my ranking. You can also share my posts on Twitter or Facebook, or link to them from your website or blog.

Now, for the the Spruced Up picks of the week:

Ashley at Money Talks posted about tracking your spending and why we all need to do it.  She’s also written some great guest posts lately, like this post on the poorest time of her life on Budgets Are Sexy.

Dave at Money in the 20s wrote about a real-life job offer predicament that anyone searching for a job could run in to.

Justin at Money is the Root shared some interesting finance facts that we haven’t heard before.

Money Beagle hosted the “Celebrate the Green” edition of the Total Money Blog Carnival this week.

Thanks for coming by, and don’t forget: Money After College is almost here

What’s My Minimum Wage?: Getting By On $13k a Year

I’m living on about $13k (or about $1,100 a month), which is just slightly above poverty level.  Before that, I lived on about $22k/year for my two years of graduate school (2008-2010), and I lived fairly comfortably yet still cheaply.  Having lived on a stipend for the last 3 years, I feel like I have a great sense on how much the minimum is that I can live on without major sacrifices.  The whole experience has been difficult, but I’ve been able to do it without amassing credit card debt and still maintaining a happy and enjoyable life.

Living on about $1,100 a month is no easy feat and certainly requires some sacrifice.  Here are some things that I know I can’t afford to do:

– Eat out for dinner more than once a week (and I never eat out for lunch).

– Buy “things” like DVDs, iPhones, or other gadgets.  I’ve basically eliminated these things from my budget, and only make one or two purchases of “things” a month (and sometimes I make none).

– Do just about any sort of traveling.  Weekend camping trips can fit into the budget here and there.  Flying to Europe definitely can’t.

– Implement any significant savings or investment plan.  I still have automated savings accounts, but they aren’t funded at the levels I would like them to be.

– Live alone or in an expensive apartment.  Right now I pay $400/month for a modest apartment with 2 roommates, but I can’t imagine affording more than that.

– Try to get by without a budget or without tracking my spending.  I know I need to be very aware of my spending and where I’m at with my monthly budget.  I work with this for at least a few minutes on a daily basis.

– Not fall back on my savings here and there.  Car ownership is virtually impossible, especially with unexpected costs. I’ve had to rescue myself with savings a few times.  I hate having to do it, so I avoid it at all costs.

Yikes! Looking at that list, you must be thinking “that kinda sucks!” But I can honestly say that I don’t notice it much in my day-to-day life, and I’m genuinely happy.  Is it sustainable long-term? Absolutely not, and I don’t plan to try to make it so, either.

What I do think like about this level of income is that it’s forced me to be really frugal and has given me real life experience of what my minimum income level is (and what living in poverty is like, too).  I would say my realistic minimum wage is probably more like $17k, but clearly I could get by on a little less if I absolutely needed to.

After my service work ends in August, I’ll undoubtedly be earning more than $1,100 a month.  Envisioning what things will be like then, I feel like just about everything I earn above that sounds like a bonus to me.  For example, say I double my earnings with my next job and earn a still-modest $26k a year. That kind of salary sounds like the high life to me right now!

Despite the fact that I really can’t save much currently, I’ve had time to plan for the future when I will earn more.  Let’s take a look at where I would put my money if I’m earning a “great” salary of $26k:

1) Donate 10% of what I earn ($2,600)

2) Long term savings 10% ($2,600)

3) Invest 15% ($3,900)

Remainder = $16,900

So even with these better-than-average financial goals (at least in terms of % of earnings), I would still have $16,900 ($1400/month), which is about 27% more than what I earn right now! Even at those numbers, I think I could live a very good life.  Can I drive around in Mercedes? No. Can I go out for fancy dinners several times a week? Doubtful.  But that isn’t the point.  I don’t want to do those things anyway.

Just to be clear: I’m definitely not striving to make $26k a year for the rest of my life or even next year.  I’m really just looking at these calculations because:

a) This should be an easy level of income for me to obtain no matter what money earning path I choose,

b) I could live at this level of income for short periods (a year or two more), if needed,

c) I plan to maintain a degree of frugality similar to where I do now, and

d) I don’t have to panic about going out and getting a high-paying ($50k+) job if I don’t want to.

If somehow my life goes terribly wrong, and I end up back at $1,100 a month, I know I’ll be able to handle it.  That is a very reassuring feeling.

What’s the minimum you could live on? Can you survive on $13k?

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photo by: Casey Serin