What Frugal Families Can Teach You about Saving Money

A present for Dad, a present for Sis, a present for Aunt Ethel, a present for the dog. . . . It’s that time of the year when everybody is watching their wallet. Holiday spending will do that.

And, come the new year, we think about ways to save money once again. Frugality sets in.

Frugality is not a bad word. It’s not about being Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s about being prudent with money, educated as a consumer, and sharing those lessons with our children. “Being frugal is really just being smart about how and where you spend your money to get more for less,” the website FrugalFrieda.com explains.

Some do take it to an extreme. Every so often, there appear stories of frugality beyond the norm, like the one featured on ABC’s FABLife in October—the story of a Tennessee family that took a “shopping break” for an entire year. No morning latte, no online shopping, no takeout meals.

The family did not deny themselves the essentials or even entertainment experiences. But, when Scott Dannemiller’s suitcase broke before leaving on a business trip, he did not buy a replacement. He took his daughter’s lovely lavender backpack with him while his bag was in for repair.

There were no new clothes, toys, books, or new items for the home. There were no birthday parties for the five- and seven-year-olds, just creative ways to celebrate. When invited to parties, they brought gifts they made at home.

“For us, it was about reconnecting as a family and sharing experiences,” Dannemiller said. “The thing to remember is that in the grand scheme of things, this was not a big deal—a lot of the world lives on $10 a day and for families all over the country, this is their every day, not a fun experiment.”

Then, there was the story of Danielle Wagasky, a Nevada mom who went from spending $800 a month on groceries to stretching $14,000 a year to cover her family of four’s needs. Claiming to cut her grocery expenses in half, Wagasky, wrote about her five-year project in the book Living a Beautiful Life on Less.

Wagasky’s top tricks for saving before entering the supermarket: shop only on a full stomach and go with a calculator in hand.

“If you go hungry, you are just begging to have a cart full of guilty-pleasure foods. You can’t make a week’s worth of meals out of those ingredients, but you can wreck your budget by purchasing them,” she says.

Why the calculator?

“You are more aware of how much each item is adding up. You suddenly weigh the options a bit more with name brand versus generic. You think twice about adding all that candy into the cart.”

We recently asked Facebook users for tips on how they save money. The responses went beyond cash-back credit cards, tax-break holidays, and redeeming aluminum cans. Here are some of our favorite answers:

  • Find fashion at thrift stores: “We haven’t bought new clothes for years,” wrote one mom. “Thrift stores provide name brand, gently used clothing for really reasonable prices.”
  • Consider used toys: “Last Christmas, I purchased almost-new toys, games, books, etc. for less than $400. If I had paid new, it would have cost me well over $1,200.”
  • Buy in bulk: “We get a whole cow at a time,” says one respondent. “No sense paying for high-priced cuts of meat when you can pay the same price as a burger.” Consider a separate freezer and sharing your purchase with another family.
  • Produce food at home: “We garden and have six chickens and two ducks that produce an egg each day. Some we sell.” Plant vegetables and fruit trees.
  • Coupons: Clip, clip, clip—but only buy products you actually need and use.
  • Phone apps: Manage your grocery list. Some automatically apply coupons to your store purchase.
  • Yard sales: “Wonderful deals—another way to re-use and recycle.”
  • Shop Tuesday and Wednesdays: “That’s when major chains mark down their meats for quick sale.”
  • Flyers are your friend: “Sometimes, it’s well worth going across town for a great deal.”
  • Utilize your crock pot: “Save time and sanity.”
  • Ask for a discount: “The worst they can say is, ‘No.’ ”

What are your tips for saving money? Please share them with our readers, and look for more efficient ways to keep your family well-fed, well-entertained, and well-educated on Learning Liftoff.com.

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