5 Basic Frugal Techniques To Help Control Your Spending

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2008-02-2618

The roots of our frugality.

We’ve been analyzing our budget recently to see where we can cut more fat out, as we hunker down over the several months to years without stable incomes to support us any longer. Regular readers of this blog already know that our family is entering a new phase in our lives, when for the time being, noone is actually earning a steady income from a “real” job. From a stable, comfortable two income family, we’ve morphed into a “very limited income” family in a span of two years.

Some of this was planned, while some was not.

What was planned? Over a year and a half ago, my spouse left his job to “do his own thing”, entering the world of Web 2.0, affiliate sales and the Silicon Valley dream all over again (he did it once before and liked it), while I stayed with my IT job to pay the bills. What wasn’t planned? That I ended up deciding to leave this IT job by the end of this month because matters of the family, health, and overall desire for better life balance suddenly became more important than the money and stability the job afforded. Really, the daily two and a half hour commute just does not seem so palatable anymore. Far and beyond the burn out I’ve experienced was my growing displeasure for having to pay relentlessly climbing prices for the privilege of racking all those freeway miles and paying for outdoor parking in the city.

We decided that based on our current circumstances, we’d take the significant risk of living without “the safety net” of jobs while pursuing more fulfilling and potentially more lucrative ventures (if things pan out) that were more befitting to our creative souls.

Tree House

In the meantime, we chase opportunities on the side through freelancing activities and consulting services to keep us afloat as one of us pursues his startup dream while the other (me) gets more in touch with her mompreneurial side. This sure sounds like a fine position to be in, until you hear that unless we make serious adjustments to our budget, life on this lane won’t last long. Limited income over a couple of years, especially during a time of recession and market uncertainty sure sounds rough! It will be, especially if we don’t do anything about it.

So here’s what I’m doing about it. While we scrounge around for ways to bring in money, we’re also practicing some core frugal strategies that should help control our spending. The key is to find ways to adjust our budget and keep it as lean as possible to match the exciting lean years ahead…


Digging down deep into my frugal core, I’ve uncovered some basic strategies I plan to use to minimize our expenditures, throttle our spending and improve our shopping habits. I’ve relayed my more specific money-saving activities in this recent post, but I thought that by getting in touch with my inner scrooge ( ;) ), I’d come up with more basic rules to live frugally by.

Basic Guidelines For Spending Less

Prioritize.

One thing I try not to do is buy stuff without thinking about it carefully — even the small things. By developing a budget, reviewing it earnestly, understanding your spending patterns, thinking ahead and anticipating the unexpected expenses that can come your way, you’ll have a better idea about how you should be allocating your money. Trim the fat by starting out on paper: find out what is absolutely necessary, versus what is “nice-to-have”. Prioritizing your list will give you a good idea of which costs to cut.

Defer.

Push out your unnecessary expenses and address them at a later time. To me, being frugal doesn’t mean you need to say “NO” to spending. It just means “LATER”. I’ve got a whole lot of things I’d like to spend my money on, including stuff for our house, maybe a family trip out of the country sometime, or heck, even a new car to replace our old sedan. When our cash flow was good, we may not have thought twice to bring out the checkbook or use the plastic. These days, all our planned purchases are still in the pipeline, but will be staying there longer than usual.

Abstain.

After all I’ve said, you can also always say “NO” to yourself as well :) . There are things you know you don’t need and really should never own. Those things are the stuff you forget about after the 3 day rule: give yourself several days (at least 3!) to mull over a particular purchase before making it. Better yet, try for a whole week and sit and stew on the idea for a little bit. Chances are, you’ll forget about the item soon enough and you’ll also save yourself from additional clutter.

How many times have you gone through this internal dialogue with yourself? “Oh this thing is so cute! It’s just too perfect for the baby!” “This skirt will go well with that blouse I just got.” “He’s just going to love this!” “This sale won’t last long.” “They’ll be discontinuing this line soon, what a shame.” Sound familiar?

Your memory is short. Bank on the 3 day rule to hold up your spending.

Substitute.

One of my favorite things to do is to find the exact replica of something I like and try to buy it at half price. Beyond just looking for discounts and sales, I also practice “brand” substitution or look for affordable alternatives for products I’m interested in. We may have our sights on something pricey, but we don’t mind downgrading it a little in terms of “brand name”, style or appearance. There’s always a substitute out there for everything — anything fancy has its more humble counterpart. Comparison shop, do some research, look for deals, visit discount sites and locations… be resourceful! If you find something amazing while window shopping, check it online to see if there are cheaper options. Some of my favorite treasures have been from thrift stores and consignment places — it’s fun to own things that have histories behind them.

Delegate.

Hmmm… how about waiting for someone else to pick up the tab? It may seem tacky to do so, but you could also look at it as being practical. What I’m saying here is that there are ways to get someone else to give you the things you’d otherwise get yourself. During special occasions and gift-giving opportunities, it may not hurt to let others know (subtly if you can) what your wish list contains. I see that many online retail sites now have incorporated wish list features into their application. Maybe it’s time to think of trading yours with your loved ones. I also like the idea when people pitch in together to afford a more expensive item for their gift recipient. I wish this happened more often with our families! This could really spell big savings. But be careful how to approach this with others since not everyone is open to these types of “giving” arrangements.

~ooOoo~

Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to live without. You can still partake of the things you enjoy and love, but you’ll have to make tradeoffs and apply a lot of patience as you work your way towards affording all of these things. I think it’s a mistake to simply curtail all manner of spending over things that make you happy (even when they’re not at all truly necessary). That would be entering tightwad territory, which is something that can do more harm than good. Ever hear of binge spending? The tighter the restrictions on yourself, the greater the chance of falling off the wagon.

I believe we can still have our cake and eat it too, if we pace ourselves, save our bucks, prioritize our needs AND wants and develop goals for ourselves.

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky@FamilyandFinances February 26, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Wow! I can’t believe you have a 2 1/2 hour commute. That’s insane. I can see why you burned out. I hope everything works out well for you and your hubby.
I’m still sometimes surprised at how much I can save by shopping online when I see something in the store that I like. I really should know this by now, but sometimes it’s still at the last minute that I think to myself, “Wait, I should check online before I go back to the store and buy that item.”
:)

Alex B February 26, 2008 at 6:03 pm

The wait-a-week rule is brilliant!

Instead of buying it, write it down … and see if you care in a week.

traineeinvestor February 26, 2008 at 8:02 pm

Defer is the big one for me. The simple act of delaying a decision has often led to either deciding I can do without or finding a cheaper source.

There is one more tool: negotiate. It’s amazing what you can achieve by simply asking for a better deal.

RacerX February 26, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Great tips for us! Now one back. If you haven’t incorporated, make sure to take all of the deduction that you can. It will help with costs and the added expense!

Pamela February 27, 2008 at 8:12 am

If you live in an area that has freecycle you’d be amazed what you can get for free. It’s the old “one woman’s junk is another’s treasure” and of course the old standby for cheap goods, craigslist.

Personally I’ve done a lot of the prioritizing (especially with my spendthrift husband) and asking do you really need that new tool…he’s getting better!

Frugal Dad February 27, 2008 at 8:52 am

This sounds a lot like the way I buy clothes. I’m a big guy, so I usually have to try on clothing in the store. I take a little notepad in the dressing room with me to record the size, brand and style. I jot down the things that fit and then look them up on eBay. It’s amazing how many NWT (new-with-tags) items can be found for over half off the retail store prices. I occasionally buy a pair of pants or something small in the store so I don’t feel like a complete cheapskate!

MoneyBlogga February 29, 2008 at 6:08 pm

It’s surprising how creative you can be when you are forced. It is a challenge to look at the bigger expensive picture and then break it down to a much cheaper (or even a free) one. This is what I try to do now every time I have to spend money on something that wasn’t planned.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 1, 2008 at 9:18 am

As far as spending habits are concerned, it really helps that I hate shopping. I used to be this major shopaholic as a younger person, especially when it came to adorning myself. My shopping habits have shifted from a passion for clothes to a passion for the home. But I’ve also found that I am no longer the impulsive buyer I used to be; I am a more contemplative, deliberate shopper, albeit one who now prefers higher valued quality items over lower valued stuff.

In the end it still seems like my spending is for better value and results in less outlay in general.

Aditya August 10, 2009 at 10:09 am

Excellent article! Especially when funds are tight.
Thanks, Aditya

Miriam January 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for an informative article which is currently being featured at the January Prosper Biblically Blog Carnival.

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