The balance between frugal and just living poor.


When you are on a budget for reasons of saving for a house or getting out of debt, you are looking down a very, verrrryy, very long road.  There are times that you may become down hearted feeling like Cinderella while your coworkers go on expensive vacations, your friends buy new cars, the neighbor shows you her new shoes or his new chainsaw.  Everyone out there is having fun but you!

But guess what?  All of those people are probably getting into debt right as you read this and will be spending nights awake in the wee hours trying to figure out how to pay off the vacation or car.  Don’t be jealous, it always looks greener on the other side.

Living a simplified life of weekly and monthly budgets, seeking sales at the supermarket, and collecting all your wardrobe and housing needs from a thrift store can be fun when you make a game of it.  Finding free activities with the family is also a fun game.  Really!  But then there is the other side of it.  There is the denial of simple luxuries and fun.  You turn down the invitation to lunch with girlfriends knowing you can’t afford that lunch.  You don’t even think about a vacation on a cruise ship or traveling.  You haven’t gone to a real theater to watch a newly released movie in decades.  Fancy skin treatment is corn meal and coconut butter.  Fresh eggs mean that you go out to the back yard and get them yourself and fight with the hens.  Organic means that you grow it.  And although you would love some mango, it’s not on the grocery budget.

All this has its charm but it can still grow stale after years of doing it.  So, what is the answer?

I’m going through this moment myself.  We are going ahead to buy a house and, although we have tightened the belt for years and been through some lean times, we are making even more budget cuts.   I have some friends who are going through especially hard times as of lately and it is not by choice to purchase a house or pay off debt.  They have gone from living very well to being on food stamps and unemployment very quickly.  For them, this is traumatic as they have never experienced this and had all the bells and whistles of a good life complete with a good paycheck.  This can cause immense depression for families that have never struggled and then, suddenly, they are living as a poverty statistic.  Fortunately, here in America, there is a lot of help for those new to hard times.  Still, if you lived well and then crashed into this new level, those government supplements don’t quite cut it.  There will be a lot of downsizing that may need to happen to get through this challenging time.

For people like my family, we have lived small for years and we have gone through job loss and learned all the tricks and ways to have a sustainable life through the fat times and the very lean times.  I have downsized us to a level that could survive any financial crisis.  However, I’m tired of going without and I’m tired sometimes of not being able to shop and lunch and go to movies.  I want to go on cruises and travel.  I want a part-time cleaning lady, I want to go to whatever fancy health food store and not even think about a budget, just throw nice looking packages into my cart and whistle while I go down the aisles.  I want to donate to all the charities I see fit and donate big.  I really, really want to have all the cash I need to buy whatever house and where ever I like.

But then I see my friends go through hard times and I am grateful that we have saved money and pinched pennies.  I’m glad I don’t have credit cards and the cars are paid off.  I am grateful for all the years of being shrewd and tight with our budget.  Times can get hard fast and when you are prepared you will sigh a great breath of relief that you are ready.  That, in itself, is something to consider when you are crying about not having fun.

However, there does come a time when you need to relax and open that wallet.  We do need to contribute to the local cafe down the street, the local diner does need our support and if we all act cheap all the time the business’s will go under.  We do have to be a part of this economy and it’s ability to survive.  We also have to live a little.

So, when the debt is paid and you have saved some money, go out and have dinner once a month, go to a movie matinee every couple weeks, get a latte at the cafe on Saturdays.  There are ways to go out and have a life, spend money, and support the local businesses without breaking the bank.

  • Go to the movie matinee or find out if your local theater has a discount night like two buck Tuesday.  Bring your own popcorn and candy.  I know this isn’t what they like but who wants to pay $5 bucks for milk duds.
  • See if your bank gives points when you use your secured credit card.  I earn points and use them toward a Starbucks card.  I then have these $25 cards to enjoy for a month.
  • Buying a coffee instead of a latte is half the cost at a cafe and if it’s a mom and pops cafe they probably have refills for .50 cents.
  • Find used book stores and buy those books you love to have on your shelf.
  • Travel cheap.  We travel to other towns and stay with friends, pack picnics on the way so we don’t eat fast food.
  • Create savings just for fun and vacations.  Save up for a trip to 6 Flaggs (called something else now I suppose) or Disney.
  • During holidays go out and ride the Christmas train and do tours through the neighborhoods that go all out for the season.
  • In the fall visit the farms and pick pumpkins, do the corn maze.
  • Get involved in your local theater.
  • Join a book club.
  • Find friends that are also frugal and thrifty and won’t ask you out to expensive lunches.
  • Take the kids to eat at Taco Bell and eat off the dollar menu.  Kids don’t care, they just love going out.
  • Find the two for one coupon for going out.
  • Go out to dinner and split a dish and desert.  Drink water.  Tip well though or they won’t want your cheap selves to return.
  • Learn a new skill such as knitting.
  • Find ways to save more money and divide that extra for savings and fun.
  • Take up walking daily.  I love exploring our neighborhoods and I meet great people doing this.
There are other ideas.  Search on the internet.  Many people are concerned about money and the economy.  Millions of families are learning to live frugally.  Our grandparents lived like this and didn’t question it.  We have grown up with new cars and credit cards handed to us and that has been our downfall.  We are simply learning to go back to our roots and live simply.  Remember, your sanity and family are the first and most important thing.  Live so you can enjoy both.


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