Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lessons learned from being a cheapskate

This basically sums it up for me. I always by-pass everything in the store and go straight to the clearance racks. I usually say thank you first, but yes, I do love to rub it in how much I paid. As with Mir, frugality has always been a way of life for me, as well and being frugal is a sport. Growing up with 2 brothers and 2 sisters, my mom working or going to school and my dad being a stay at home dad, my parents had no choice. There were times they had to choose between food or heat.

My name is Mir, and I am a cheapskate.

I'm an unapologetic cheapskate, in fact. More accurately: I'm a braggart of a cheapskate. Tell me you like my shoes, and rather than responding "Thank you!" like a normal person, I'll probably grab your arm and say, "I know, aren't they awesome? And they were originally $120 and I only paid nine bucks!"

People sometimes inch away from me when I do this. Hey, that's fine. They probably paid full price for their shoes. Suckers.

For me, frugality has always been a way of life; it's my inclination and I don't find it particularly difficult. But I realize that 1) this isn't the case for most people and 2) even for folks like me who find joy in every little bargain, there are lessons to be learned. So here's what I would consider my top five take-aways from the life of a cheapskate, applicable both to my fellow cheapies and those looking to become more frugal.

1) Frugality can be learned. I often hear from people that "I'm not like you, I don't have the patience to hunt around" or "I just can't be bothered." Maybe in a different sort of economy that reasoning would fly, but I don't know anyone who wouldn't benefit from a bit of belt-tightening these days. But here's the thing: It's really not that hard, especially in this Age of Internet (hello, comparison shopping from home in your jammies). You can figure out ways to trim your budget, and there are as many ways to do that as there are personalities; find the method that's right for you, rather than declaring you simply can't. Not everyone is cut out for Dave Ramsey's plan or Suze Orman's plan. But I promise that there is a plan that will work for you, that you'll be able to stick to without much difficulty.

2) The lesser plan you stick to is better than the grander plan you can't tolerate. Little changes are nearly always preferable to larger ones, because you're more likely to actually do them. We've all heard the math on cutting out your morning Starbucks or your lunches out, but going cold turkey is going to feel like deprivation and eventually you'll not only cave, you'll spend even more because you'll feel justified. If you eat lunch out five days a week, take your lunch from home one day a week, to start. Dream big, start small. You'll get there.

3) Planning (and spending) ahead saves money. I buy a lot of things in bulk, and/or on sale, as well as doing things like buying toys on clearance for my "gift closet" (which is then our source for birthday party gifts and the like). Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Of course, this can only be done if there's enough wiggle room in your budget to allow for slightly larger expenditures now to save money later. Planning dinner menus has cut down on my grocery bills, too, and buying clothes on clearance for next year for my kids has saved me a ton of money. But you've got to have some long-range vision to take advantage of these sorts of things.

4) Too much of a good thing is... well, too much. Not every bargain is a bargain. If you don't need it, it's not a bargain, no matter how cheap it is! Stocking up your gift closet with items you'll be able to use for hostess and birthday party gifts is great. Stocking up your gift closet with items nobody wants or needs is a waste of money and space. Again, think big but start small. Ask yourself before every purchase, "What is this for?" If you don't know the answer, put it down and walk away.

5) There's a difference between being frugal and being miserable. All things in moderation, right? If you're doing frugality correctly, you're saving money and more or less enjoying yourself. If you're financially miserable, something is wrong. It's okay to not be frugal, sometimes. We love making our own pizza at home, from scratch, but sometimes it's just more convenient to order out. I don't beat myself up over it; my budget is structured such that I know we're saving enough money in other places that I don't have to sweat the occasional meal out or special event. The right spending plan has a bit of play in it, so that you don't always feel like you have to watch every penny.

I think that most people face budgeting and cost-cutting as a necessary evil. Trust me, it can easily be turned into a sport, and that takes out quite a bit of the sting. Don't believe me? Let me tell you about this sweet leather coat I got for twelve bucks....

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