3.12.2013

Some Call Us Cheap...We Prefer Frugal (Step #4)

There are just two steps left in our Payoff Process, and this one - while hard to get started - has now become a very easy habit. In fact, just last week, I told my husband that going to Target was a completely different experience now. I go in for sandwich bags, and I leave with sandwich bags. All those pretty things that I walk past, even the dollar section, no longer tempt me. What happened? Step #4...

We had to develop a frugal mindset. It actually started long before we set the deadline for our mortgage payoff. Although we lacked self-discipline in the early years of marriage, there were certain areas where we were frugal from Day 1. For example, in almost 13 years of marriage, we have never had cable TV. It's not important to us (even though that hasn't always been the case), nor is it necessary for survival. I think the idea of paying $65/month (or more) for cable didn't sit well with the Scotch in me. Instead, we stay up on news through online radio stations and websites, and use the free services of YouTube and Hulu.

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The first signs of real frugality started coming out in 2010 when Peter purchased a replacement phone off eBay. When he tried to activate it with our cellular provider, he was informed that he could not use a smart phone without paying an extra $29.95/month for data - whether he wanted it, or not. I saw the snap of his eyes, and I knew we were in for a change. It was all I could do to keep him from asking the last level of management he spoke to (right before he closed our account): "Can you hear me NOW?"

Switching from a high-end cell phone plan to a comparable (and much cheaper) pay-as-you-go deal with Page Plus Cellular (who we highly recommend, with no kickback for saying that!), was just the first of many frugal changes. Continuing to be mindful of areas where we could cut back, in 2011, we focused on our use of heat and air conditioning. That summer, we made the decision to set our A/C on 80° in the daytime, thereby lowering our electric bill. Summers here are hot and humid, but... compared to what it was like when we were living close to the equator, 80° felt great.

When cold weather arrived, the thermostat went down to save on propane: 61° in the day, 55° at night. In fact, even after the house was paid off, the thermostat stayed in the same spot because we still have financial goals we're working towards! Interestingly, we've completely adjusted to our new "normal", and are surprised when people come over and say something about our "chilly" house (we do try to remember to turn up the heat for guests!).
It's All About Perspective: While working in Lesotho, we gained a different perspective on being cold. Every morning when we would wake up, we could see our breath INSIDE the house. Most mornings, there was no water because the pipes (which ran above ground) were frozen. In fact, the only time we were warm in a 24-hour period was in the car on the way to and from work! Whenever I feel like I've got it rough, and I'm tired of being cold, I remember Lesotho, and I give thanks for my "balmy" house and warm running water. Perspective: Get Some.
The road to frugality wasn't without it's bumps, and there were some setbacks along the way - like the day I found 23 rolls of Scotch tape while cleaning out our  home office. At first, I laughed each time I pulled another box or roll out of the piles. But when they just kept coming, hidden among the Target bags and storage boxes, I started seeing dollar signs with every pack. Even though I had purchased them on sale or clearance, I felt like a hoarder, and I hated the feeling.

It was at that moment, in January 2012, that I realized I was standing in the way of my own goals and dreams. Instead of  living mortgage-free or checking "travel Europe" off my bucket list, I had made the choice to buy excessive amounts of tape, candles, toiletries, wrapping paper, and other "necessities". In a split second, my "Frugal Button" snapped into the ON position, and I haven't looked back since!

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But frugal doesn't always mean going extreme. For example, I still use plastic baggies to pack snacks in Peter's lunch...and I don't wash them out and reuse them. {Frugal-holics GASP} I did when we lived overseas, but I don't in the States. I'm cheap, but I'm not that cheap - it's not worth my time. However, even the off-brand zipper bags cost a pretty penny, so I couldn't justify buying them all the time. Instead I made a simple switch... I bought a box of 300 sandwich bags (the old fold-over type) in Target's in-house Up & Up brand. I believe that my time and sanity is worth $2.54 every few months. 

Sometimes you just have to break a habit. I had been so used to buying the zipper bags, I didn't really think about it anymore. But in the process of reevaluating and downsizing, I realized that something less expensive could do the job. And while I realize that not everyone wants to "do without" their TV, there are still simple changes that could be made. Maybe you pay $65 for a basic cable package, but what if you're too busy to watch more than a few shows a month that you could also watch on Hulu or Netflix for $7.99? Those are the kind of frugal switches that can really add up.

Next Week: Splurge a Little {Say What?!}


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