Having grown up in a particularly frugal household, I had one of the best examples I could possibly hope for in my mom. She salvaged across the board, saved every last penny (literally), re-used everything, was the queen of fixing-upping and stealthily managed to find only the best deals, which meant not resting until this was accomplished. As a child, more often than not, all of this just irritated and annoyed me. I'd rather not re-use my sandwich baggie today, thank you. I'd really rather have the "official" KIX cereal, please, thank-you-very-much.
You get the picture. But, now that I’m in my own house, trying to make
my own ends meet, I find myself trying to imitate her in those ways as often as possible. Yet, I can tell
you that no matter my endeavors to take all the right steps: re-use, save more, use less, etc., my successful
attempts at frugality took one very important key first: organization.
I’m not a highly organized person, I should get that out there in the beginning. But, I have also come to
realize that this has been the downfall of my previous attempts at living within my means, as heartfelt
as they were. Being frugal and maintaining that pattern takes effort. It takes a starting point. It takes
keeping a record, and it takes constant re-evaluation. If you’re attempting to do everything everyone tells
you: you’ve given up eating out and make only homecooked meals; you set aside savings and you shop
only at thrift stores, but you still can’t seem to make ends meet, I highly suggest you attempt to put some
serious organization into your attempts and see what happens! Here are some easy tips to get you started.
You really do need a starting point, and having these goals and ideas in your head just won’t cut it. They
need to be on paper and they need to be visible. Write down where you are and where you want to be in
terms of how frugal you are currently living. Do you want to cut down your gas bill? Do you want to
cook 90% of your meals? After you’re done, go ahead and put the list aside for a little while. EASY and
painless! Refer to this list whenever you get discouraged… You can either: a) see how far you’ve come
or, b) see how far you have to go and find inspiration to get re-energized and re-enthused!
Organizing What You Have
Okay, so this one is a little harder and a little more time consuming. Actually, what I really mean by this
is “Organizing Those Dreaded Pantries, Cubbies and Hide-Aways.” Unless you know what exactly you
have already, chances are pretty good you’re going to be buying more of what you actually don’t need.
And, whether it’s innocent or not, I have to tell you: it’s not helping matters. I recommend going through
your food pantry first, I think that’s the easiest.
Organizing What You’re Going to Buy and When
This connects to the last. As you’re going, keep a running list of staple items that are on the verge of
running out. This will give you an opportunity to stretch out bigger purchases over a larger period of
time. There’s nothing worse than finding out that your weekly grocery budget is potentially shot because
your fifty pound bag of flour is suddenly gone and you also don’t have any sugar, cinnamon or cans of
chili beans. This is also a really good idea for things like cosmetics. Ever run out of foundation and face
lotion in the same week? I have. And it hurts! You can also do this for really large purchases that you
want to see happen over a longer period of time, like a one-year or five-year plan. Maybe you’ll plan to
replace your refrigerator in July, so you need to budget accordingly to create some cushion in and around
that month. Perhaps in two years you want to buy a car and will need to have room for those monthly
payments. Start saving now accordingly.
Organizing What You Spend
Thanks to technology, this is actually much easier now than I imagine it was 25 years ago. It’s also pretty
imperative. Start keeping every receipt and keeping track of what you spend, no matter how small. You
can sign up online for some really helpful programs or, if you’ve got a smart phone, download a free
app that let’s you input amounts instantly. You’ll be amazed at this: just knowing that you you’re going
to have to write a purchase down can actually change your mind about whether or not you make that
purchase! Sneaky, but it works. Plus, you’ll be able to budget more accurately when you can see where
your money really is disappearing.
Lists, Lists, Lists
I know, two of these points have already included lists, but I really cannot emphasize them enough.
Having worked for a variety of retailers, I can tell you this, “They’re on to us!” They know our
weakness: we’re clearly emotional shoppers. We will easily respond on a whim to the latest product that
we suddenly can’t live without, even though we didn’t know it existed five minutes ago. Walk into stores
armed with a list, and stick to it! You may not leave with a pretty, shiny new “toy”, but you will walk out
feeling confident and feeling in control of your budget.
Alright, enough of the advice! Go get started organizing and just see what happens!
Tara Alley is a freelance writer living in sunny Orange County, CA, and attempting to embrace the frugal
life. When not baking or reading, she also writes for Coffee Home Direct.