April 13, 2011

On Being Frugal

I consider myself frugal. To me, that means I spend as little as possible for the things I want. At this stage in my life, I try not to sacrifice quality too much. When I was just starting out I would buy the super cheap cleaners that don’t really clean, or use an old threadbare towel instead of a real bath mat. These days, if I want something, I will buy it, but I’m going to spend as little as possible for it. I do this usually in several ways.

I try not to be as flexible in brand as possible. That way I’m free to do comparison shopping, and availability of coupons can factor into my decision. If I’m interested in something specific, then I’m at the mercy of the manufacturer to get a good deal. I don’t buy designer anything, and I usually stay away from brand names. Of course, this doesn’t always work. A while back I suspected Lily was trying to clone herself by shedding, so I really wanted a dyson animal.

I hold off on large purchases for Black Friday. Each year my husband and I make a list of things we would like to get/replace. We then check out the online websites that make deal shopping easier. Of course, that doesn’t always work. We’ve had a TV on our list for a few years. We did manage to get the Dyson at a substantial savings a few years ago. Lists can also help you avoid extraneous purchases on Black Friday. It doesn’t matter that a printer is 90% off, if you already have one that works just as well. Sales are great, but if you’re going to spend the same amount just on more stuff, you didn’t really save. Along similar lines, I tend to purchase everything in the off season. I buy summer clothes in fall, and winter clothes in spring. I saved 50% off my leather coat by waiting for the end of season sale.

If I don’t care about brand, I set a price in my head of what seems reasonable, and go looking. I tend to set my price low, and anything under that price that still has the amount of quality I’m looking for is good. For bath mats, I’m going to look for something super soft that’s in the right color range to not clash (I want to be cheap, I don’t want to look cheap). Solid colors for linens (and clothes) are easiest, since everyone carries them. Matching colors and coordinating looks always makes everything look more expensive.

I tend to avoid stores that price items outside what I consider reasonable. If you go, and you find something you like, you might feel compelled to open your purse strings a little more. If you never see that designer bath mat at Nordstrom’s, you’ll never miss it. I have a few staple stores, target, jcpenney, bed bath and beyond, etc, that fit the bill both in terms of quality and price. If the price is low enough that there’s no room for much savings, then it’s not worth the time and gas looking for the best possible price.

Being frugal means sometimes not using coupons. Today I had a $.10/per gallon coupon that I decided not to use. The nearest gas station I could use the coupon was roughly 10 miles round trip out of the way. It would have cost me about half a gallon of gas (my car gets roughly 20 mpg) at almost 4 dollars per gallon, for a total cost of just under $2. The problem is I have a fifteen gallon tank, so my savings would be $1.50. Using the coupon would have cost me more.

Being frugal means understanding sometimes a sale isn’t always a sale. I find this to be especially true from stores who have constant sales. While the goal of the shopper may be to save money, the goal of the store is to make money. If it can’t make money off an item, there’s a good chance the store will decide to stop selling it. So if a store has a perpetual sale for the item, you can bet the price is marked-up enough for the store to still profit from the sale. Of course, there are exceptions such as printers and ink. Printers are loss leaders. Stores typically loses money on the sale of printers, knowing they’ll make up for the loss in spades with the sale of ink.

Being frugal means not trusting the percentage off numbers. Today, I saved 44% on my grocery bill. Well, not really. I had a welcome-to-the-neighborhood type coupon for $10 off so I legitimately saved 17.4% (the total bill was $57.38 before the savings). The other 27% is a bit misleading. I typically go with the cheapest item, especially on baking things like flour, butter, sugar. Most often that’s the store brand, but sometimes the name brand is on sale. My receipt may say I saved $1.49 on peanut butter, but had the name brand not been on sale, I would have bought the store brand, which would have been a difference of maybe $0.70. So in actuality I saved about half of what my receipt is claiming.

Of course, I don’t always get the best possible deal. When this happens, I often find it really hard not to get caught up in the numbers. If I bought something on sale for 20% off, and find it for sale 30% off the next week, I feel frustrated with myself. To put it in sports terms, that’s like scoring a field goal only to have the opposing team run the ball back for a touchdown. Yes, I got the 3 points, but comparatively I’m still down.

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  1. […] Being Fugal almost to the point of being cheap. I’ve managed to have a positive savings rate every year since graduating college. Some years the savings rate wasn’t great: the year I moved out to California, the year I started grad school, etc. But it’s been a good skill set for weathering a rough economy. […]

  2. […] going to get a HDTV. Really. Honest. We’ve been talking about it for a few years, we’ve just yet to pull the trigger. We’re talking about getting a 3D […]

  3. […] As predicted, Black Friday was largely a bust for us. We did snag a couple of good deals – new sheets, that dust buster (although not as cool as the Dyson Hand Vac), a Christmas present or two. According to the receipts it’s an average savings of 56% (of course that’s an over estimate.) […]

  4. […] I’ve mentioned before, I typically shop in the after holiday / after season sales. Usually you get the best deals and, aside from a few cases, I’ve never had a hard time finding […]


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