Saturday, February 20, 2010

Creative Living: The Art of a Rich Frugality...

Today on the way to my daughter's basketball game, I looked at my entire outfit and had to laugh because I realized if I added up everything I was wearing, the entire outfit including purse and shoes was less that $65 (not including tax).

12 or 13 years ago, a friend told me when I was nervous because I was quitting my full-time job with 401K benefits to be a poet in the world that dealing with money can be a creative act. She told me my creativity could be used to find my way as a writer and not give up the things I didn't want to. She did say there would be sacrifice, and there is, but she told me I could earn less and still live a rich life. It was exactly what I needed to hear,

As I looked at my $65 outfit this morning, I thought about the changes I have made in my spending. As a 20-something, I'd drop $75 on a Ralph Lauren sweatshirt without thinking 1) um, it's a sweatshirt and I'm paying for the pony 2) I could probably get the same sweatshirt for less somewhere.

To show how my spending has changed, I had my husband take a photo of me (and my 20 lb. cat Ace) so I could share...

My outfit:

Green Sweater by Boden: $10 consignment shop (sweaters, no more than $16)
Jeans by Tommy Hilfiger: $19.99 T.J. Maxx (I have a personal rule that I never spend more than $20 on jeans)
GAP t-shirt: $6 Gap on sale
Anne Klein shoes: $9 consignment shop
Relic purse: TJ Maxx a splurge (for me) at $20

Total: $64.99 for everything.

(Cat: another splurge at $25 adoption fee).

Now, don't get me wrong, I like a good deal (if I need that item), but I don't believe frugality or simple living = the self-deprivation movement. We are not rich, but I like and want to live a rich life.

I can and will splurge on myself when it comes to things that are important to me.

For example, my new MacBook Pro. Macs aren't cheap--I understood immediately why people bought PCs under $1000 because they were affordable. I was really afraid to buy my Mac, what if it's not really as good as other said, or worse, what if I can't figure it out!

However, now with the amazing things I can do with my Mac, plus the lack of frustration it offers me compared to my life with Vista (Vaio meaning: a laptop to roll your eyes for), I will never go back. (Though I tend to think I'm going to have this MacBook longer than any of my other laptops).

But I guess the question is: how did I have this extra money?

And I think the answer is: 1) Because the rest of my life, I live pretty cheaply. 2) I'm a saver )both in finding good deals and as in putting money into my savings account.

Whenever I can save $, I try to, if the thing I'm going to save it on isn't too important to me--

Some places I save money--

I prefer eating at home or potlucks with friends to going out to dinner.

I use coupons. This is a favorite website.

I have strict rules when it comes to buying clothes, I won't spend more than $20 on jeans or $17 on a sweater (I know there some people who are thinking: and you're bragging about this... um, yes. I am totally bragging about this.)-- I buy from our local consignment shop whenever possible, but also leave my own no-longer-worn clothes there so I get either cash or store credit as well.

We are on the cheapest cable plan (and if I had my way, we'd have no cable, but I was outvoted).

We bought a Roku from Netflix for $99 and now have all sorts of instant watch movies available for our monthly $8.95 Netflix bill. (We don't rent movies and only occasionally go to movies.)

Other ways I save?

I'm not really a shopper. I don't go to the mall. I don't require expensive make-up or special perfumes.

We have very low electric and water bills because we are good at conserving energy and we haven't used our dishwasher in 3 years (we handwash all our dishes). I line dry clothes in the summer and we eat from the garden as much as possible (plus I have gardener friends, so we eat from their garden too!)

We have very low gas bills because we carpool when possible or I ride my bike. We also run all errands in batches/groups to save gas.

We moved to a smaller rural community to save money on house prices. Seattle house prices went sky-high and while we knew moving out of the city would save us money on mortgage, we didn't realize, that we can live for less out here. So much of our free time is really *free* as we spend it at the beach, hiking, and biking.

So where do I spend my money go?

Family events-- we splurged to get incredible seats at the Harlem Globetrotters, but we will eat at Dick's Drive-In before. I will happily pay for experiences whether poetry, music, museums, or plays before I buy my daughter a new toy or buy myself something for the house.

Books-- Our family buys a lot of books from our local secondhand bookstore, but I also buy a lot of poetry books myself. I try to buy directly from either the author or the publisher so the poet or press gets the majority of the $$. Amazon takes a good share and I'd rather pay a couple bucks more and know the small press or poet is getting the profits.

Poetry events-- Poetry festivals, readings, workshops, writer's conferences. I never feel guilty for any of these.

Art/handmade goods - I love supporting artists and creative people who have started their own Etsy business or at our local co-op art gallery.

iPhone-- My big monthly splurge that has more benefits than not. I have a few apps I use for mountain biking (though as I said, one did get us lost last time, though I tend to think user error on that). For me, it helps with the "business" of writing and allows me to stay connected even when I'm out (which can be much of the time during the summer months as I love to hike, camp, kayak, and mountain bike), especially when I'm working with other poets, students, or editors.

Passions - my violin & my mountain bike. Two big splurges for me and while they were not the top of the line, they weren't cheap by my standards, but they are two things I use all the time. But the good news, now that they are purchased, I won't need to buy another for a long long time if ever.

My daughter's passion is horseriding, so we pay for her lessons.
My husband's passion is biking and now a triathlon, so we spend money to help him out there.


I think a lot of living a rich frugal life is asking yourself-- what do you not want to give up? For some, it may be a great cable plan because their family enjoys TV. For others, it might be expensive purses or all organic meals. For some, it may be the arts, or art supplies. For others, private school for their kids is their big expense. Others it may be travel. Or a daily coffee from a favorite espresso stand.

When you find what you want to spend your money on, do so! And without guilt.

Now make a list of what you spend money on that you don't really need. Do you buy a latte every day and really, could buy an $8 coffee holder and make your own at home? Dinners out? Could movie dates become Chinese takeout and a DVD (this is one of my favorite kind of dates.) What are you spending money on that you really don't love? Or need to?

Start slowly by downgrading your cable plan or call your phone company to see if they have any special features. I just called mine saying I was going to cancel and they gave me free long distance.

Look through your bills and see where you can cut back. Can you lower the heat at night? (I set ours at 59 degrees at night and use a lot of blankets!) Spend some time with your expenses, you might be amazed where you can save money.

If you really want to see how your money is spent, right down every single one of your purchases for a week. Honestly, this can be painful, but it is probably the best way to see exactly where your money goes. This was how I learned how much I was spending on soda a month, ouch. I dropped that habit (1/2 in thanks to optic neuritis, but that's another story) as well as individual packs of gum. Sheesh. I would much rather have a new poetry book, than 16 packs of gum.

And if you have any more ideas you'd like to share how you save money, do tell!

I promise to post soon about how I left my corporate job to live a simpler lifestyle here, but I wanted to share different ways it can be done- living a rich frugal life without depriving yourself from what you love.


  1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with frugality! Your outfit is totally cute. And the furry accessory is beautiful, too. We love going to thrift shops, flea markets, and the goodwill to search for treasures. One man's junk is another man's treasure - or so the saying goes. Since the recession, we don't go out as often as we once did~but we make time for museums and movies. Taking adventures in the outdoors is one (cost-free) activity that we both enjoy. And now, with digital photography, it is even cheaper to be able to immortalize the photos of our journeys.
    Have a great night!

  2. love this post!

    i think it is interesting to compare what people put a priority on. when i left my job almost 3 yrs ago now it was amazing what i was able to save on just by the fact that i didn't have to commute and deal with expenses associated with being out of the house 10 hours a day or more.

    we basically don't have home phone service and keep a cheap cell phone plan. i managed to move things around so i could have access to the Y so I could swim. we don't rent movies and see fewer than we used to. we do keep a satellite plan because we enjoy things like the discovery channel.

    my outfit today was let's see $40 for jeans (only one style that fits me alas so i have to pay for them hope butt is gone soon so i can buy a bigger variety of pants!) $15 t-shirt from old navy $5 socks from old navy and $50 shoes (darn bad feet needing easy spirits!) but that is still about $70. when i was working even a weekend outfit would have been more like $200 or more just because i didn't bother to sale shop often.

    we do one home decorating project a year to keep up with the house as it ages and to feel good about the space, but work it within a specific budget otherwise i budget strictly and we just stick with it.

    bills are slowly shrinking, more than they were when i was working.

    my treats are poetry books and events, the occasional fun bag and my husbands are video games and iTunes. mostly we just like to hang out and relax together with family. we are so much more peaceful with less stuff :)

    now if i could just get him to finally clean out his closet...

  3. You're a girl after my own heart, Kelli. For a long time we used coupons because they were a necessary means of meeting our limited budget, but now that we're living comfortably, I STILL use them so that we can afford the niceties that we might not be able to otherwise.

    Thanks so much for sharing the DSM Coupon Database with your readers, and I think your outfit is totally adorable too!

  4. I think I'm due for a post of frugality, maybe later today.

    I tend to spend more money on eating out and buying poetry books. And I try to use coupons but that takes more work that I have time for. It is a delicate balance but I am happier trying to live with less, and passing along those values to my kids.

  5. I enjoyed reading this so much! I read so much every day about frugal living as research for my website, but it was so nice to see a fresh take on living a frugal life from a slightly different perspective (that of a poet, not a "frugal writer").

    I can so relate to the things you said about saving money where you can, but splurging on certain things because you want a full and rich life. You don't want to be a martyr about it all! I agree with that totally!

    I buy a lot of consignment clothes, too, and have been coming up with some interesting combinations of old things lately. Because of this I have been toying with the idea of writing a blog based on a challenge of buying no new clothes for a year. Your words inspired me to think about it a little more seriously!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

  6. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. I love to hear what others think of frugal living and consignment shops and all of it.

    I know when I first read Circle of Simplicity and tried to live a more simple existence, some friends did think I was in the self-deprivation movement! But I definitely do not free as if I'm deprived. I kind of feel a bit more powerful taking control of my $ and spending.

    Anyway, I so appreciate your comments to my loooooooong post!

    And welcome Kate/Lucy! Thanks for your note.

  8. being frugal has nothing to do with being deprived. The whole concept is about conscious chooses. Like do I throw that load of laundry in the dryer or do I save the money and energy and hang them on the clothes drying rack? Or do we take the trip to Europe or decide to explore the area's around our home town.

    Each of these needs to be decided with actual deliberation. That is when good decisions are made.


Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.

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