Saturday, July 23, 2011

the difference between "cheap" and "frugal"

I'm a college student. I know what its like to consider living on ramen noodles and bad coffee for weeks at a time in order to afford the rent. I'm constantly in a struggle with the amount of money I can afford to spend on everything from toothpaste to fruit to clothes to music. But I refuse to be "cheap". There are things that I will spend my hard earned, much scrimped money on. For instance, I own a macbook pro, which I adore. The computer cost me three weeks pay. But it is beyond worth having because of the ease of doing just about everything.

The TRICK is to figure out how to afford items that would otherwise be out of your price range, while still managing to live, and pay your bills. Here are a couple of tips that I am developing and thinking about today:

1. Keep track of your spending! If you just spend through your paycheck without even checking it, you'll never figure out where your money is going. Most banks offer online statements now- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT! At the end of the day, get online and look at your balance, and note where you're spending more than you should.

2. Make a list of things worth spending on. For me, that list includes electronics, fabric, and eating out/coffee, as well as more entertainment venues, including theatre tickets, movie passes, et cetera.

3. Once you've made your list, stick to it! These are your "big ticket items"- things that will be worth the investment in the end. Everything else, you find another way to supply.

4. Shop around. Never, EVER walk into a store for the first time and buy the item you think you want. Do some online research first. See where comparable items are cheaper. Only go to buy the item once you are sure that that is the best option.

5. Don't buy things you don't like. This seems like common sense, but you'd be surprised how often I hear people say "well, its not exactly what I was looking for, but it'll do." This leads, eventually, to buying something else in most cases, which is counter-productive to say the least.

6. Use the resources at your disposal.  The internet is a great resource for frugalistas (did I just coin that term? Possible!). Use it! It's like shopping, but you can stay in your favorite chair, in your pj's! You'd be amazed what a good google search can do for you.

7. Make a shopping list. Throughout the week, write down all those things that you think of that you need to go get. Out of toothpaste? Write it down. Need a new pair of jeans? Add it to the list. Then, when it's shopping day, take your list, and don't let yourself buy anything that didn't make the list. This has helped me reduce impulse buys a LOT. It looks so cute in the store... but that bank statement does NOT go well with it!

8. Use cash. I know it sounds weird, but when I'm going to do a major shopping day, I set myself a limit. If I need clothes, shoes, that kind of stuff, then I say, ok, I can afford $40 for a pair of new jeans and a new bra. Then I go and get $40 out of the ATM, and I leave my credit card at home. (or in the car) If I don't have it, I can't spend it, and so when I'm out of money, I'm out. The key here is to give yourself a tight enough limit that it isn't extravagant, but a loose enough one that you really can get what you need.

9. Don't take off the tags. Once you get your purchase home, leave the tags on it. Set it out somewhere where you can watch it for a while, and see what you think in the morning.  If, in a day or two, your fingers are getting itchy about wanting to use whatever it is you just bought, you can safely bet you'll use is, remove the tags, and enjoy yourself. If at the end of the week, oyu're still not missing that new item, chances are you won't need it, and you can return it. I also safety pin receipts to items (or tape) so that I can find them for easy returns.

10. Don't allow yourself to overspend. When you're going to get one of those items that is more expensive, be it a new bag or a new computer, don't let yourself get swindled into spending more than you can afford. If you've budgeted $40, you spend $40 or less. Don't get talked into getting the deluxe package if you can't afford it.

Do you have other tips for frugalistas? Share in the comments! Happy shopping! 


  1. Those are amazing tips! I would also recommend window shopping! Go browsing the stores without any money! That way you will see what you like and if you really like it, you will come back and buy it! That is how i got my new pair of stilletos, and they are amazing! I saw them in a store, talked about them for 2 weeks and only then did i take my sister along to see them again and ask her opinion whether I should buy them! also, when you do decide to buy something, take someone with you, but someone who will give you their honest opinion! If she had said naaah, they are not that pretty, I would have left them in the store, and go home disappointed, but in a few days I would most certainly see that they are not really that good.