Spending can be too easy sometimes. You don’t necessarily have to fall victim to the ever-present shadow of marketing and advertising. Time to explore some frugal substitutions that save you money. (And ignore what the neighbors brought home from the mall!)
I use the term “neighbors” loosely in this context. The Jones’s here could be your friends, relatives, or the people you pass on the street.
I’m conjuring up today’s theme after personally picking up on some of the desirable things that OTHER people have in their lives. The temptation is a beast. But fortunately, after a few years of exercising some ever-stronger frugality muscles, I think I have a pretty good force-field in place.
Just this past Saturday, we visited a regional park to enjoy their winter lodge, complete with kids play area, tables to eat at, a fireplace, and views of snowy nature just outside. We figured a packed picnic lunch would make for a nice family outing.
So there we were, saving money, enjoying our lunch after a trip to the library no less (double frugal bonus) when a bunch of skiers popped in.
Me: “I think it’d be fun to get skis for the family. Be a fun way to get us out of the house in the wintertime.”
Mrs. C: “You remember how fast kids grow, right? This is why we’re not doing hockey.”
Me: “Right. We could rent, I guess?”
Mrs. C: “That’d be better. Now stop thinking about how to spend money and enjoy your lunch!”
Me: “Yeah. I bet there’s a trade-in program out there too for this kind of stuff.”
So right there, we have a couple of options: Buy, rent, or buy-and-replace as the kids grow. The cost of ski equipment ain’t cheap. It’d probably run us close to a grand to do it with any semblance of quality for a family of four.
Before I met my lovely wife (incidentally, before I had a clue), I plopped over a grand for my very own downhill ski equipment. Haven’t been on the slopes since the kids were born. But who knows, maybe I’ll get back out there again…
With that lesson in mind, I’m thinking we’ll probably rent, assuming we pick up cross-country skiing as a family. Or who knows, we might opt to try snowshoeing instead? Here in Minnesota, there’s no shortage of bitterly cold days to enjoy these kinds of activities. Remember that Super Bowl a few weeks back? Friggin’ -5F low that day.
Frugal Substitutes: Save Money on Media
I’m sort of double-dipping earlier posts on some of these items. Sue me. I’m tired and I need a vacation to think of some new blog topics.
At any rate, in my humble, yet all-knowing opinion, it’s important to your bottom line to consider alternatives to purchasing things like books, music, and news. I used to enjoy buying (and eventually reading) my books. When they’re brand-new, books give off a fine wood-pulp-meets-chemical smell that I get to appreciate as the first reader. Ahhh…. new book smell…
Music? Well, as much as I used to love getting new CDs, I still remember how much a pain in the ass it was to get the dang thing out of the cellophane wrapper. Half the time I’d end up cracking the jewel case. Friggin’… Piece of…
Nowadays, I’m happy to be done with wastefully collecting CDs and instead of enjoying Pandora and gasp! FM RADIO.
Having grown up in a household that always got the daily paper, I started with a similar habit right out of college. I had to keep up on all the murder, mayhem, and business drama going on. And that was just the Sports section.
At some point in later years (still 20s – I’m not that far gone), I started actually reading the News and Business sections and came away feeling pretty disturbed about the world outside. That, and I was put off by seriously inky fingers.
Nowadays I get all the news I need from YouTube, courtesy of Steven Colbert and John Oliver. Oh, and I check my phone way too much for headlines on the Washington Post. No more inky fingers, and no more feeling guilty about not finishing a pile of news and tossing gobs of circulars.
Frugal Substitutions for Travel
I have some co-workers that seem to have a nervous twitch if they haven’t booked a flight to some exotic location that requires a minimum 8-hour flight. What gets me is how they have these urges despite having one or more kids still in diapers. Jesus. God help me (and by the way, if you’re still there, there’s a sweet car floating your way!)
Having traveled with twin infants, I can attest to the gauntlet that is air travel. Thankfully, it gets easier as kids grow up and get a little more self-sufficient. Nevertheless, travel is expensive.
Whether or not you use points. The Cubert family (of course!) uses points each year to visit grandparents in Nevada. This is a three-hour direct flight that feels just about the ceiling of our “Travel with little kids” limits.
I mentioned this is in a post last week, but it sure is nice to have a place to stay and childcare for the kids, so mom and dad can have some “us” time. The same is true when we hit the road in the summertime to visit my parents in Michigan. There’s room for the kids and spoilerific, loving childcare. And bonus, the road trip requires zero points.
The point of all this is that travel is great, but it doesn’t have to be an annual or semi-annual affair to Bora Bora. There are sweet deals to be had on airfare, and if you’re savvy with points you can game the system. BUT there are “hidden” costs to consider (meals, activities, baggage fees, ground transport, etc.)
Frugal Substitution For Going Out on the Town: Game Night!
Just this past Saturday, we had the pleasure of hosting Erik and Gwen from TheMastermindWithin.com and FieryMillennials.com. We had a great time connecting over blog stuff and all sorts of other baloney while playing cards. I even nearly got away with stealing Gwen’s drink at one point. I blame the tequila.
Double dates, happy hours, and hitting the town always seem to top everyone’s list when it comes to the weekend. Well, I’m here to tell you that a good old-fashioned Game Night is where the action is at. Especially in cold states like Minnesota.
Just invite your friends over to make THEM go out in the cold! But don’t worry. They’ll appreciate not having to hop from bar to bar or bar to restaurant, or restaurant to bar, in 10 below wind chills.
Frugal Substitutions Apply to MANY Things!
The lesson here isn’t meant to zero-in on just a few excessively overwrought frugal nuggets. These are simply examples that you can springboard from, to other substitutes.
Think about it when you’re dining out: Do you need the filet mignon when the burger is pretty good? Do you need a new Tesla Model S, when you could ride your bike and save the planet? (Oh, but now I would KILL for my very own glossy black Model S!!!)
Some things you just can’t make substitutes for: You need decent, durable clothes. You gotta have healthy, organic whole foods (especially when you live in a state with a two-month growing season.) Just don’t get too caught up in what your neighbors or friends are doing. Simple as that.
This past summer I contemplated an in-the-ground swimming pool, inspired by our neighbor’s recent install. Then I remembered we live in Frozen Tundra MINNESOTA. That’s a pretty fat expense for a two-month growing season.
Frugality and Minimalism: Centerpieces of Financial Independence
You simply spend less money so you can invest it, and let those dollars grow via compounding interest. Along the way, you make several sacrifices to grow your savings. The trick is two-fold. One: Avoid keeping up with the Joneses. And two: occasionally appreciate the finer things in life, but with a heavy dose of frugality.
You’d think that once you’ve read your Mr. Money Mustache twice through, you’d have fully converted to full-time stoicism on two wheels. You know, sell the car, move next door to work, hitchhike to Costco as needed. Never leave the house unless it’s to drop the kid off to school or for a reader meet-up…
But seriously, Pete makes incredibly useful points, in post after post. Essentially, it’s incredibly fleeting to get caught up in buying useless crap to fulfill yourself.
Part of what got me into trouble in my 20s and 30s was an over-appreciation for the finer things in life. I bought my first (and only) $1,000 watch, just a few weeks before getting laid off. That was not cool.
I’d go out for lunch at the bar and grill a couple of times a week (on days I didn’t buy lunch in the office cafeteria). My co-worker and friend called these “Hollywood lunches.” And he should know, he once worked in Hollywood.
I’d go to the mall seemingly every other weekend to shop around and buy nice clothes. Brand names that never go on sale. Can’t have enough Polo shirts and Dockers, right?
I blame part of this on the stodgy workplace dress code at that time. The Mad Men code, that required dress shirts and ties. My much smarter colleague from Tinseltown would simply wear his hiking apparel, with a knit tie to meet code. He looked like a tent attending the governor’s ball.
One of the nice things about being a tech support guy, is you get first dibs on decommissioned PCs from the work. Once a PC was written off the books, we could bring it home for personal use. So even though I still had a car payment, student loans, and a Hollywood lunch addiction, I avoided a major expense on my computer.
A More Frugal Cubert
These days, I avoid shopping malls like the plague. Not a big fan. I live in the town where the Mall of America resides, drawing in millions of shoppers year-after-year. Many from overseas, just to SHOP. I’ll admit, we occasionally take the kids there to enjoy Nickelodeon Universe, but typically on Grandma and Grandpa’s dime. God, we’re cheap.
I’m no longer into fancy watches or clothes either. My mainstays are Marshalls and the Banana Republic outlet. The latter’s stuff is often pretty reasonably priced and quality-made. And bonus, Banana Republic’s threads fit skinny guys (like me) pretty dang well.
At lunchtime, you won’t find me at the local bar and grill anymore. Nope. You’ll find me at my cube tucking into reheated leftovers. If I’m hitting the cafeteria once every other week, it’s typically to get an oversized cup of chili (dense in calories and only three bucks.) Hollywood lunches, get behind me!
My penchant for gadgetry has diminished as well. I keep an ancient laptop in service — and it somehow allows me to push out one post a week (most weeks!) My iPhone is an iteration 6. Though I still occasionally get wistful, longing for a 55″ TV for when the kids are old enough to appreciate Star Wars.
The Finer Things in Life Are All Around Us
So now you’re wondering, “What the heck does Cubert consider a ‘finer thing’??” When it comes down to it, the finer things in life are not high-dollar, fatFIRE luxuries. Far from it. The finer things are durable, and often immaterial things. Not stuff you plunk down a lot of money to wear out and throwaway like Kleenex. Think “Minimalism”!
For example, with clothes, I’ve kept the same three suits in circulation for ages. I do try my darnedest to keep in shape, to avoid any further tailoring. (Frigging co-worker suck-up doughnuts!)
I keep my shoes in shoe trees and buff and polish them by hand a couple of times a year. If a heel wears out, I get the heel replaced at the shoe repair shop (they still exist!) I’ll indulge in getting dress shirts from Marshall’s tailored since they fit like parachutes off the shelf. Unless you’re carrying a big belly, you need to bring in the sides, or you risk looking like a walking airbag.
With food, sure I’m eating leftovers, but it’s based on whole foods, prepared at home by chef de cuisine, Mrs. Cubert. We will indulge in the fabulous local restaurant scene here in Minneapolis, but never more than once a week.
As hard as my lovely wife works in the kitchen all week long, the reward of enjoying a nice meal at a nice restaurant is an indulgence well worth it. Don’t argue with me on that. I will win.
When it comes to travel, we have limited options. Mainly because we’re still working and also because the kiddos are in school. Still, we manage to fly off to Nevada once a year using points to stay at the in-laws. We’ll take a couple of road trips to visit grandparents in Michigan or family in Nebraska.
When travel becomes a “finer thing” is when the Mrs. and I jet off for a few days, while the grandparents hang back to watch the kids. We’ll probably drop upwards of $1,000 for the privilege, but we manage to fly ourselves out, and our in-laws in, using credit card miles. Once a year? Totally within the budget.
Sip some champagne and dip into that caviar. We’ve got finer things to serve up.
Frugal Substitutions That Save You Money
We’ve covered a few of the basics already. There’s so much to this life that we have the privilege to enjoy in this country, and typically at low or no cost.
- Coffee. You may have to invest a few hundred bucks to get a decent burr grinder. But once you have that bad-boy and a humble AeroPress, homemade coffee of the gods is at your fingertips.
- Cycling to work. Didn’t see this one coming? Tell you what: Try it once. Let me know if your state of mind doesn’t do a 180 degree flip like mine. While riding, you think up new ideas and creativity flows much easier. When you’re driving, you’re quite honestly a zombie soaking in NPR pledge week.
- Craft beers and local taprooms. What amazing times we live in. Growing up, my poor elders had to settle for awful beer like Stroh’s, PBR, and Miller High Life. Might as well have added yellow food coloring to seltzer water and called it “beer.” The perfect cocktail? Check!
- Travel to foreign countries. We currently stick to domestic trips but are hankering for something more exotic. When we travel to a faraway place, it’ll be with bonus miles and accommodations by local friends.
- Reading by a peaceful body of water. Lucky for us, we live in a city with beautiful public-accessible lakes. Granted, we have to bite down on a stick during the long winters.
- Boating. Just don’t ever buy a boat. Rent one with a crew of friends for the day. Repeat maybe once or twice per summer.
- Dining al fresco. At home.
- Live performances. It’s not too difficult to find fairly cheap or free local bands or plays, or even comedy acts. Especially if you live in a sizable metropolitan area.
- Walks around the neighborhood. Taking a walk is so underappreciated but so good for the soul and your body.
- Cards against Humanity with good friends. Friends who are not easily offended.
Is a life of frugal luxury something you’ve already mastered? Please share in the comments below! And enjoy (and reflect on) the long holiday weekend, everyone. Remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, so we could enjoy the freedom to pursue the finer things in life.
Stay thirsty my friends, and stay frugal!