Friday, March 23, 2018

Post 7--Poverty and Wealth--My Frugal Tips

Last night Emily's friend Ashlie spent the night. The two of them used to be roommates, but now Ashlie lives in Roseburg, goes to college, and coordinates weddings and other events at this big, lovely old house.

We were talking about money.

I said, "I read this article about a young woman who was making almost $60,000 a year and she could barely keep on top of her bills! So she decided to be frugal and lived on 'only' $28,000 and saved the rest."

I may have rolled my eyes before I continued. "I can't FEATURE being single with only yourself to support and spending $60,000 a year. I mean, I would have to work HARD to spend that much!" A bitter note may have crept into my voice. "And now she's written a book about it that's getting published and it'll probably be a bestseller! So annoying!"

Ashlie started laughing. "Umm, I wouldn't have any trouble spending $60,000 a year!"

I stopped ranting. Wow. Normal, smart, cute Ashlie gets how that's possible? All right then.

I think maybe I'm an outlier in America.

Not only can't I comprehend making and spending that much money frivolously, I also can't see how people fail to see the connection between the constant supply of Doritos and Mountain Dew, and the lack of money in savings.
Or why it actually matters to people how expensive your car is.
Or how students can take out such huge loans without seriously doing the math.
Or how certain people can be ok with buying gourmet deli meat (for their dogs!) at Grocery Depot, using food stamps, since you can't buy actual dog food with food stamps.

America is an incredibly wealthy country, and yet it seems that there's so much ill health in the financial realm, from welfare's misguided incentives to middle-class credit card debt to Monsanto using its power so unethically.

But those aren't mine to fix or understand.

I do, however, consider myself an expert at frugality. If you want to seriously save money, pay off debts, live within your means, or be a stay-at-home mom, below is my advice, all of it from personal experience.

The key factor here is that these were steps I took after I was an adult and in a healthy relationship where I could take volition over all these areas of my life that were out of my control as a teenager living at home.

I told you yesterday it would be less hardcore than taking your own cheese to McDonald's, but I'm not sure that's the case.

1. Face the financial challenges with a sense of creativity, possibility, and fun. There's going to be a lot of saying No, but there are Yeses if you look for them. Money is a tool, and you are going to handle it wisely. It doesn't have to control you.
2. Improve your emotional and spiritual and relational health. Addictions and bad life choices come out of broken places inside. You might not be able to afford therapy, but you can go to church for free. Or AA, if you need to. Forgiving is free, and prayer, and apologizing, and going outside for a walk.
3. Maximize your "people" wealth through family, church, mentors, neighbors, etc. Find ways to help them in exchange for them helping you, or just to be kind, as a relational investment. Find a roommate. Carpool.
4. Make a budget. Face your debt. Figure out the numbers. Save first, then spend. And set aside a little bit—for us it was $5 a month—just for a fun personal indulgence, whatever you choose.
5. Forget being cool. Clean and appropriate are good, but name brand anything is a financial drain. Shop secondhand or rummage sales. Or dumpster-dive. Drive an older car. Accept hand-me-downs. Wear things out.
6. Drink water. Stop drinking pop. You can make coffee at home but don't buy coffee at coffee stands or even 7-11s. Don't buy Doritos or chips of any kind. Pop your own popcorn instead.
7. Don't go to concerts, plays, games, or movies, unless they're free. But if someone asks what you want for your birthday, you can ask for tickets. Make friends who are ok with doing free things.
8. Cook from scratch. Get a secondhand crock pot. Buy and cook up dry beans and rice. Bake bread and cookies.
9. Learn as many skills as you can: cooking, baking, sewing, cleaning, car repair, hair cutting, drain unplugging, basic carpentry, mending, basic plumbing, canning, gardening.
10. Don't eat out. Pack a lunch. When you travel, pack a cooler of food and jugs of water. If you can eke a McDonald's meal out of your grocery budget, go ahead. Taking your own cheese is optional.
11. Focus on the little costs. Do the math. You might feel like it's the car repairs and tuition that put you under, but it's the lattes and impulsive Panda Express lunches that get you in the long run.
12. Give God 10% of your income, even if it seems impossible or insane. He isn't obligated to do miracles on your behalf in exchange, but he will.
13. Don't be afraid to say No to expensive obligations, like an assigned food for a church dinner or an assigned price on your child's gift exchange at school. I didn't follow this advice, but I wish I would have. It's ok to say, "We can't afford this right now. Can we do something else instead?"
14. Live with a sense of gratitude and abundance. When you're on a tight budget, an unexpected bargain is an incredible thrill. Enjoy it. After you have more money, life is easier but that thrill is gone.
15. If you want babies, get married first.
16. Marry someone with the same financial goals as you, roughly.
17. Do fun free stuff. The Fourth of July parade. Hiking. Concerts at local churches. Playing in mud puddles.
18. Go to garage sales. Comb your children nice and neat, and take them along. Let them carry paper banana bags and look for stuff in the Free boxes. All the garage sale ladies will ooh and aah over them, and will grab good stuff off the tables to fill the children's bags. Trust me on this. It's not freeloading, exactly, because you're making their day, and your adorable kids will properly thank them of course.
19. Focus on elaborate homemade cakes and fun games for your children's birthdays. Give small and simple presents.
20. Learn from financial advisors and sources like Dave Ramsey or The Simple Dollar. We took an invaluable week of lessons from Lester Miller when he came to our church. I don't know if his material is still in circulation, but it was excellent.
21. Decide your parameters with taking government aid. We didn't feel like it was right to take food stamps or welfare, but after a few medical disasters that wiped us out, we got our children on the Oregon Health Plan.
22. Don't take on debt for furniture and vacations and toys. A reasonable mortgage can be better than paying rent. And going into debt to buy or start a business can be terrifying but also the right thing—but get lots of advice from wiser people first.

Like I said, it will feel like your life is full of No's, but you will develop an amazing sense of accomplishment and a financial intelligence that will benefit you the rest of your life.

Feel free to add advice from your own experience.

Tomorrow: How things turned out for my parents.


  1. The Baritone3/23/2018 10:37 PM

    As a humorous reply to point #6, I recently ran across a picture of a mug of coffee that said:
    "Instead of going to Starbucks, I make my coffee at home, yell my name out incorrectly, then light a $5 bill on fire."
    (And yes, I admit that I do occasionally go to coffee shops) :-)

  2. I feel sorry for wealthy people. By being able to satisfy their every whim with available money, they are depriving themselves of the ability to become creative. Creativity can be developed by thinking outside the box and that gets to be fun because you are not hampered by trying to keep up with the "Jones". Create, standing back and looking at your creation and wondering how I can improve on this is what is fun. Yes, frugality feeds creativity. Love your points on how to be frugal.

  3. Perhaps as a house wife with lots of time to do all those things! Being single and paying a mortgage requires spending more because we spend our time at work, not cooking beans, mending or second hand shopping.

    Not disagreeing with you exactly,just saying the assumption "time is free" for a single person is just not true. Our lives just are more expensive by default.

    1. Just being a housewife doesn't translate in oh my goodness I have so much time on my hands what shall I create next. While it is true that it is our priority to feed our families sometimes we just slap something onto the table because everyone is hungry and I just did sooo much laundry and the house is turned upside down by the cute children ECT ECT. My sister is single and she doesn't have time to cook all the gourmet meals, but she does have time to cook rice and beans. I find even for myself that I'm not always content to eat rice and beans and really would enjoy going out to eat instead of eating what I cook.

      I guess what I'm saying is that neither married or single we don't have any excuse not to live frugally. My dad always said, you always have the time to do what you want and it is so very true although it didn't always sit well with me to have it said to me.

    2. Putting beans in a crockpot before going to work takes the same amount of time whether you're single or married with children. Shopping second-hand takes about the same time as shopping at the mall and is a whole lot more fun! Mending in the evening while catching up on your favorite TV show is relaxing. It's all a matter of perspective and wanting to be more creative, or more in debt.

  4. My husband and I made it through the early years of our marriage by doing many of your points. Number 12 is a must. We are at a place financially now that following all your points doesn't seem necessary, but more of a challenge. If we took the challenge we would certainly have more to give to the church, worthy causes or charities and also our retirement account. We are not big spenders and don't go in debt for things but your list shows there are ways we could live more frugally.

    I have appreciated this series and thank you for sharing.

  5. Many museums have a free or reduced price admissions day. Find out when that is and you can have world culture for nothing. The public library is the best! If you are a student, you may be able to get discounted services, but don't fall into the trap of thinking "oh, I'll get this and save lots of money" because if you don't need it, you're not saving any money by buying it on sale.

  6. Dorcas--I have enjoyed this series. If nothing else, it has clarified for me the stark differences in life view between someone who has been poor, but had the backing of a practical and generous community, and someone who has just been dirt, on the street, homeless poor. I have been neither of those things...though we have never been more than middle class, I realize that I am just an observer when it comes to real poverty.

    I think you make a number of valid points...the one that particularly struck me was the concept of not giving money to people in need. It got me to thinking about our nation's welfare system...and how the money could be better spent on training and small business set-ups and good housing, basically setting people up to provide for themselves, rather than desperately trying to figure out how to take the (not enough) welfare $$$ they are given and stretch them to cover living expenses AND bettering their situation. I am a firm believer that there NEEDS to be a social safety net; but perhaps handing out money has been exactly the wrong way to go about it.

    I want you to know I have really appreciated this series, and you're going to think I'm nitpicking here, but the minute you mentioned Dave Ramsey, I cringed. I think the guy leaves a LOT to be desired...I blogged about him several years ago--here is the link if you want to read the post--

    1. Perhaps you should bite the bullet and actually read Dave Ramsey's books. I don't trust writers who criticize without studying the original documents. He may have one or two things that could be better, but his teachings about how to handle money have helped thousands of people get out of debt and go on to live better lives. Not all his readers/followers become gazillionaires. Most just live normal (the new debt-free normal) lives filled with the joy of not having to be so stressed about debt.

    2. I totally agree that the welfare system is seriously flawed and doesn't do well with long-term solutions and change.
      As for Dave Ramsey--our 19-year-old son took the course and afterwards was discussing IRAs and savings accounts with his dad. For real. With any course/teacher, you have to be discerning and careful. I didn't take the course but my husband did, and learned a lot, and felt like it put our son on a good footing financially. But it might not be right for everyone.

    3. I went back and clicked on the links included in my post about Ramsey (written 5 years ago). Apparently, he removed the objectionable "20 things" list, because the link leads to a different article entirely. As I said in the post, I was not aware of Dave Ramsey before the hubbub about the 20 things list, but that list, and his handling of the reaction to it, did not entice me to learn more about him or his methods. What I DID learn about him looked a little too much like poor-bashing to me.

  7. We did it all when we were raising our five but we were blessed to have a church family who cared for each other. We were all just as poor but we were so rich in friends and support. Then we moved 500 miles away from that wonderful group of people and that is when we felt poor. I did bring cheese for the occasional McD's burger because I would not pay 50 cents for a slice of cheese! We never felt sorry for ourselves because we were too busy just getting it all done and over and over God opened the windows of heaven and blessed us beyond anything we could have imagined.

  8. I've always felt that classes in money management and frugal living should go along with getting help from the government or any other entity. Your tips are some of the ones that should be taught! It's like the difference between giving a man a fish, and teaching him to fish. Without education and training a person will never learn a different life. Mentors among family, whether biological, church or other groupings, can do the same kind of teaching. If we don't learn how to earn money and manage it successfully from our own parents then we need to be led to someone or some resource from whom we can learn. Other than teaching me to tithe, I didn't learn much about money management from my parents. Trial and error got me in debt; marrying a man who didn't know anything about it either and was deeply in debt, didn't help. My first learning came from Amy Dacyczyn and her Tightwad Gazette. From there I read every book I could get my hands on about being frugal and managing money. Without the mentoring of those writers we'd be in a world of hurt today. Because of them we are in a good position and watching another generation safely navigate the temptations and hazards of adult life.

  9. These are great tips. My husband and I and our teenagers, went through the Dave Ramsey seminar about 5 or 6 yrs ago and it completely changed our financial lives. No more panicking when bills were due, always tithing, etc. We wish we would have heard that kind of teaching when we were first married.

  10. I love this. My mom (Edith Schlabach) sent it to me yesterday. I love all your wisdom and advice regarding finances. My husband and I are very much learning and we do LOTS of surplus store shopping & thrift shopping! Thanks for sharing!

  11. My husband and I were both working low paying jobs with no family insurance when we started talking about getting married. We thought about the military, and went to see the recruiter. Two weeks after we were married, my husband left for basic training. Housing, utilities, and medical are all included in his benefits. No, we aren't rich, but we aren't struggling for daily necessities either. Plus, we only have one daughter. I'm able to stay home with her and homeschool her .The Army pays for us to travel and see the world. In another 11 years, we are hoping my husband can retire after serving 20 years and have retirement money and medical to help when he moves on to another job. I realize the military isn't for everybody, but it can be a good option for some.

  12. Also, fasting one day a week has wonderful spiritual, physical, and economic benefits. And does wonders for the flavor of beans!

  13. My tip, invest in a 5 quart pressure cooker. Use it to cook cheap, but tough, cuts of meat. Also use it to cook dried beans. Takes a fraction of the time, thus gas/electric on the stove top or energy for the crockpot. Some for potatoes. Just a few minutes of pressure and they are ready to be consumed!

  14. Creativity is unlimited and the sense of accomplishment you receive from learning new things is invaluable. Just yesterday I figured out how to twine grape vine clippings from a neighbor into beautiful wreaths. Being can do is rewarding.