Odyssey Into Frugality
by Jonni McCoy

Parenthood brings about many changes -- but frugality was not one that I expected. My husband and I had a pleasant lifestyle. Adding a child made it even more pleasant. But, as the years went by, I could see that I had to make a choice. What was best for my child?

In order to appreciate the frugal changes that our family has experienced, you must know that I am not frugal by nature. It was something I had to learn in order to survive. I was raised overseas, where we lived in large homes with at least five servants. I attended private schools and a University. We traveled to exotic countries for our vacations, several times per year.

After college, I was on the yuppie track. I worked at high-tech companies such as Apple Computer, Inc. and National Semiconductor. After my first child was born, I arranged a job-sharing program so I could work reduced hours. I had my coffee flown in from Hawaii , hired a nanny, and went on weekend vacations. I "had it all."
After my son turned three years old, I was beginning to think I would like to spend more quality time with him. I began to see the importance of having a mom at home with a child in order for him/her to grow up well. But there was no way I could quit because I was earning 55% of our family income. So we decided to move to a remote suburb where our house payments would only be about half of what we were paying in Silicon Valley .

I quit my job and put our townhouse on the market. Then, I realized I didn't want to move out into the farmland, but I also didn't want to be working. I was determined to find a way to stay where we were.

The reality of a severely reduced income and an expensive area ( San Francisco Bay Area ) was constantly nagging at me. After all, we were living in the third most expensive city in the country and I had been earning 55% of our joint income. We would have to either move or radically change our ways. I chose to try the latter and see what happened.

So began our odyssey into frugality.

I began my quest by looking at the things I could do without. I first reduced my tax withholding, because our income was now half of what it used to be. We did not have child-care expenses. New clothes were not a necessity for me since I had a wardrobe from my working years. I stopped going to the salon for my haircuts. And we decided not to eat out or go on vacations until this was all sorted out.

Then came the harder things. Most items left in the budget were fixed. The mortgage couldn't be reduced or refinanced at the moment. Utilities were already low, but we made a small dent in them. The only large item left in the budget was groceries. I focused heavily on this area because it was the largest area in our family's budget that wasn't fixed.

I eventually arrived at what I call the Eleven Miserly Guidelines. When I follow all of them faithfully, I could feed a family of four on $40 per week (in 1991). That saved us more than $240 per month in this one area. This may sound extreme, but the results were amazing. We were able to stay in our home, keep our cars, have another child, keep me at home, and even go on vacations.

Many people think that my husband must have been making a bundle to make this happen. He wasn’t; and with my loss of income, we were living on half of what was the average household income in our region.

When we first embarked on this adventure, our family went through a very difficult time. We didn't know how to live within our means. We felt poor and weren't sure we liked this feeling. We had to plan for everything we wanted to spend money on. And we had to do without some things. We started to feel deprived. Deprivation wasn't something we were familiar with, nor was it a nice feeling. But we knew that millions of people had gone before us in this transformation from yuppie to virtual non-consumer without losing their self-esteem or sense of dignity. I was determined to maintain ours as well.

We gained a sense of self-confidence that earning high salaries couldn't provide. We now know how to provide for our family on half of what we did before. We can do a good job with the talents and wisdom that we possess. This is a great feeling -- better than any raise or bonus that I ever received. It took creativity and an ambition to make it work. We weren't going to stay home and mope about how we couldn't afford to go anywhere. We were determined to find things to do that we could afford. And we did. We had fun for little or no cost. We made sure we enjoyed ourselves in new ways.

These are the kind of changes that will stay with us forever. If we have money again and can buy things freely, we will always know we can do without those things -- and still be very happy. We have become closer to one another. And we know we can do whatever we set our mind to. Many people would pay a therapist plenty to learn these attitudes.

If any message comes from our adventure, I hope it is that you can do whatever you have to, if you believe in the goal. You can learn practical ways to reduce a budget, without fearing images of dumpster diving or eating unhealthily. I am proof that people can retain a sense of class and still be on a budget.

Here are some basic ideas that should make a dent in anyone's budget.
1. Don't think of being frugal as being cheap: This attitude is essential or you will never be able to keep to your goals. Remember that there is a greater reason for not spending the money.
2. Shop based on sales: When a store is having a sale on items that your household uses regularly, stock up on those items. Plan meals around sales.
3. Avoid the warehouse club stores: They are not the cheapest overall. Local grocery store sales usually beat warehouse club prices.
4. Cut back on meats: Try some legume, bean or grain recipes, or have a soup and bread night. These are cheaper and healthier as well.
5. Cook from scratch as often as possible: This can be up to 6 times cheaper than buying a mix, frozen meal or eating out, and is usually more nutritious.
6. Don't spend money if it's not in the budget: Find the little unessential expenses that eat up your budget (fast food trips, toy stores, new fashions, etc.).
7.Replace entertainment with family activities or nature outings: Being together is the key, not how fancy the outing is.

This article copyrighted by Jonni McCoy 2006, www.miserlymoms.com

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