The Fun of the Frugal Life
Guest Post by Amy @ Growing Like Trees
When I was expecting our first child, just after we’d bought our first
home and moved to a new town, my husband cut his working hours from 40
to 20 per week.
Being the adventurous type, I thought, “sure, we can live on half
our income — no sweat!”. Little did I know. Our house payment was
2/3 of our income. Fuel took up most of the other third (since my
husband’s work was over an hour away). A quick look at something
remotely resembling a budget told us that yep, it’s impossible to live
on this amount.
Fortunately, God isn’t really bound by the possible. So we threw
out the budget (too scary), and embarked on finding ways to live
cheaply without feeling “poor”. Our journey has resulted in our being
incredibly thrilled with the our lifestyle and income level (I doubt
we’ll ever work full-time again!). This is not a guide, it’s just a
“how we’re doing it”. Please don’t think that I’m telling you to do
all the same things.
I read up.
“The Complete Tightwad Gazette
” by Amy Dacyczyn changed my life. For a
year or so, I read it more faithfully than the Bible, soaking up not
just its tips, but it’s whole attitude — that what we give up now is
in favor of something we want. It’s not deprivation. We gave up half
of our income on the hope of being involved with missions in our
future. It’s our dream, and it’s worth the cost.
We learned to choose our
acquired tastes. Some people like caviar, we, instead,
developed a love for potatoes and rice. We also learned to love
cooking. With the purchase of a good-quality Asian foods (our
weakness) cookbook, it wasn’t long before we liked our own cooking
better than any restaurant.
We don’t have a
TV. I know most people can’t imagine life without one,
but for us, it has really helped us not feel like we need all the
“stuff” they’re pushing. I think we want a lot less that most people,
and that means that we can be happy — thrilled, really — with less.
We buy used
whenever we can. I was an easy convert to used clothes when I realized
that I couldn’t really tell the quality of a brand new item in the store — it’s
all starched and hanging prettily, then two washes later it’s old and
worn. But if I find something at a thrift store or garage sale that
looks terrific, it’s stood the
test of time, and will look terrific for a long time yet.
This is especially true with kids clothes – I doubt I’ll ever buy new
A second advantage of thrift store shopping was adjusting my price scale.
Ten dollars didn’t used to seem like a lot for a new shirt. Now,
anything over a dollar makes me cringe. I know that some thrift store
somewhere probably has something suitable, and it’s a quarter. (Note:
I happen to live in thrift store heaven, and we really do find stuff
for a quarter frequently. Last spring, on a sale day, I bought 8 wool
sweaters in perfect shape for a 12.5 cents each ($1 total). Your
results will probably vary.)
My husband joined in by teaching me to be creative with my wants. In
my pregnancy cravings, I would say “I need Arby’s french fries, NOW”, and he’d
reply, “Okay, you want salty and greasy”, and proceed to make grilled
ham and cheese for supper. (Bold, isn’t he!) It worked. And it works
with other things too. I don’t have to have “this specific shirt at
this store”, instead I have learned to say “I’d like a shirt with a
criss-cross front like this”, and watch for it at a thrift store.
To help myself get used to not buying everything I wanted, I
started comparing stuff to the
price of groceries. I picked a conservative amount that I
thought we spent on weekly groceries — $15 was my price in my head
(though I doubt we actually ate that cheap), and priced things in
comparison. Would I rather have lunch at a restaurant with my friend
or a week of groceries? Hmm, how about I just cook at my house. Did
I want those new shoes more than two weeks of groceries? No, mine are
still usable, just not “cool”. A haircut instead of this week’s
food? Well, maybe it could wait a little while longer. I’ve heard of
others figuring out how many hours their husband would have to work to
pay for this purchase as a spending deterrent – I’m sure that would
Speaking of haircuts, in one of my more adventurous moments, I asked my husband to cut my
hair. Note that I do not recommend this. After three
hours of chopping, he sent me to a barber to have it fixed. I still
couldn’t bring myself to spend the money we didn’t have (especially
right then), but my neighbor was a stylist, so I bartered her home-baked
goods and fresh jam for a haircut every once in a while. Dear Chester
was determined to improve, and checked a book out of the library to
learn. Now he’s pretty good, but still painfully slow.
As we learned to live more frugally, we were careful to reward
ourselves. I wasn’t too keen on washing out
cloth diapers, even though they were astoundingly cheaper than
disposables (especially since I’d been given stashes of diapers from
other moms). I convinced myself to give it a go by paying myself a
dime for each diaper I washed out. I also paid myself a quarter for
each load of laundry that I hung on the line. (I made sure that my
payment to myself was about half of what I saved through the activity,
so that I was still saving money). When they accumulated to six
dollars or so, I went out and bought a lovely piece of fabric that I
had my eye on, but couldn’t give up a half-week of groceries for. I
still have the fabric — it’s almost too precious to cut into.
We also motivated ourselves by making saving into a game. Once a year or so, we hold
a “saving money month”, in which we spend as little as possible. We’d
check our bank balance at the beginning and set a goal for the balance
at the end of the month (something that seems unachievable). Then we
eat only what was in our freezer and pantry, don’t drive anywhere
unnecessary, and try to buy nothing for the month. At the outset, we
designate our reward for meeting our goal — once it was a night in a
hotel, another time it was a meal out to our favorite restaurant in a
nearby town. Last year, it was sending an extra gift to some
missionaries. The “rewards” are usually about 10 percent of our
savings goal. And we’ve always met that goal. And it gets more fun
Finally, and this one will vary from place to place, we asked
around to find local
ministries that distribute food and clothes. For example,
our local rescue mission gives away clothes and food to people who meet
income qualifications. There’s also a local ministry that collects
expired and otherwise old or unsellable food from grocery stores and
gives it away to anyone who comes (regardless of income). One of the
bigger local churches holds a monthly “clothing exchange”, where people
drop off clothes they no longer want, and anyone can come pick up
clothes. Everything is free, there’s no income guidelines, and you
don’t have to bring clothes to take them. It draws quite the crowd –
even local mall stores have started donating their excess inventory.
(Brand new clothes for free – now that’s cool!)
In all of this, we’ve made
giving and saving a priority. When we got married, we
decided on a percentage of our gross income that we wanted to give, and
gave it. Each year, we’ve tried to bump that percentage up a bit. We
did the same thing with saving through a 401K (except that we haven’t
bumped that percentage up each year). I’m pretty certain that back when
our paychecks were $600 for two weeks that had I known we were “saving”
10 percent in a 401K, I would have thrown a fit — we needed that
money! But you know what? God provides beyond our wildest dreams, and
we’ve always had way more than enough.
We have so many reasons to be grateful. I think that’s my favorite thing
about being in a money crunch — noticing the different ways that God provides.
He has always been so lavish. I prayed for cloth diapers. Six ladies
gave me their stashes. I gave cloth diapers to everyone I knew. When
our computer died, God arranged for someone to give us their “old” one
— twice in a row so far. The same happened when our couches gave way
to bouncing kids, and our dining room table when we outgrew it. Most
of our food is free from the ministries above, and people at church
give us money for the gas to get there. I could go on and on. (wait,
I already have).
We’re not poor, we don’t go around asking people to give us stuff.
God just sends things our way. We’re overflowing with gratefulness. That’s what
makes the frugal life fun!
Amy is a wife, mom to four, homeschooler and part-time
computer programmer living and loving life in Jesus’ arms.
She blogs at
More frugal fun over at Biblical Womanhood!
Thank you for this post. Money and things definitely aren’t everything and we can be happy if not happier with doing without. I haven’t seen the Tightwad Gazette in a while, so I’m going to check it out of the library this weekend. 😀
Very nice guest post here! I love the Tightwad Gazette books too and really gobbled them up when we bought our house 7 years ago. I think I’ll read them again…. 🙂
One thing I really struggle with is coveting. It would be so much easier if our family and fellow church members were also living a frugal life. But many of our family members are pretty affluent and that makes it very difficult to live in harmony with them. I do love them, no doubt about it, it just makes for difficult situations at times. I do see it as a test from the Lord though… What is more important to you, my child: having things and keeping up with your neighbors, or serving Me humbly and from the heart?
15 dollars a week on groceries!!!! 15 dollars??? Where do you live, the most rural of rural America? (please hear jealousy, not condescension) I, unfortunately, live in Canada and the most expensive city in Canada, the land that doesnt seem to believe in coupons (grrr). Is it wrong to covet someone’s thrift store? 🙂 I would LOVE to shop in your thrift store (I am drooling just thinking about it…mmmm, deals). In our thrift stores, the average price for a nice shirt/sweater that doesnt have any holes in it and still has shape is $4-8. I love the idea of a clothing exchange on the scale you mentioned. I have heard of clothing swap parties, but never something as big as a church doing it…that sounds like an idea to pitch to the leaders of the ladies ministry….now you’ve got me thinking. Thanks for all the tips!
I know what you mean when you talk about struggling with coveting. A year ago, we were looking for a new church, and almost stayed at one that was really affluent. In the end, we felt so out of place in our not-quite-the-latest-fashion, and we realized that we didn’t want our kids growing up with that struggle as a normal part of their Christianity (the “if you were really a good Christian, God would have blessed you financially” syndrome). So we moved on. But it was a hard call. It’s hard for me to not envy, and equally hard for me not to judge (“You spent how much on that? WOW!” types of things). I love how God uses all of our circumstances to grow us 🙂
Jessica — yep, I live in a pretty-low-cost-of-living area. It is in a mid-sized town though, and the rural areas are even cheaper (but probably not on groceries). It’s a huge blessing. And I doubt that I ever spent just $15 a week on groceries. It was just the figure that I aimed for, and pretended to meet 🙂
Thanks for the kind comments!
How refreshing! Thank you so much for sharing. I just love Amy Dacyczyn. Her book changed the way I think too. It’s a lifestyle and a choice, not deprivation.
Thank you for sharing. I sure wish we could lower our grocery budget too. Its so hard. I think I have it as low as it can go now without compromising health issues to the extreme like eating junk food only…LOL sad how eating junk food is cheaper often.
I found a lot of amazing ideas as well on cutting costs while mothering in Jonni McCoy’s books (think I spelt that wrong…) anyways they are frugal families, miserly moms and miserly meals. I have read all 3 and would like to own them (I got given miserly meals as a gift recently!) Her stuff is very helpful and she also has a website. I also love the dollar stretcher which also has a website and a main index on how to save money on just about anything. Hope this helps someone as well.
I love her tips. I am a thrift store shopper and it is silly to spend $10 on a top that will not be the same after 2 washes. I would rather go to a thrift store than a mall anyday.