Monday, May 4, 2009

How to be Frugal Without Being a Scrooge

Do you consider yourself a frugal person?

Do you enjoy seeing how little it takes to “get by?”

Do you have no other choice?

Either way, it is important to approach frugality with the right attitude, especially if you have children.

I don't work (for pay) so it is necessary for us to limit our spending. My husband and I have decided that we would rather do without luxuries than to have a ten-year old boy fending for himself after school or all summer. I am a firm believer in the old Proverb
“… a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” [29:15]

We were comforted in our decision to have me quit work after we watched two of Jeremiah’s friends suffer the consequences of not having a parent at home. These young boys (my former students) were free to roam the town after school and began shoplifting from local stores and stealing money from family members. Sometimes, just because a ten year old can be left alone, doesn’t mean he should be.

How do we as parents live a frugal lifestyle without adopting the “bah, humbug” syndrome? How do we help our children adopt a frugal lifestyle without them feeling like they are suffering? See 5 tips below that have helped me over the years.

1. Do “with” and your kids won’t notice the “without.”

If you “do” lots of things with your kids, they won’t really complain about what you “don’t.”

  • Make dinner special by serving your food by candlelight. We do this a few times a year, but you could do it for birthdays, holidays, special accomplishments or even to reverse a “down in the dumps” day. Spending 50 cents on new brightly-colored candles is way cheaper than McDonald’s.
  • If you’re doing without cable or satellite TV to save money, make a big deal over watching your favorite shows online. Teach the kids to pop the popcorn and dig in for the evening. We frequently gather round Tim’s computer to catch the latest Lost, 24, and Dancing With the Stars episodes.
  • Make a family event out of going to the library to check out free DVD’s. Our local library lets us check out 3 DVD’s for a full week. Jere loves spending 30 minutes or so digging through the library collection.
  • Take meals outdoors! Throw a blanket on the front porch or in the backyard and serve everything alfresco. (And make sure you’re telling the kids you’re eating alfresco. They’ll think that’s cool.) Don’t forget breakfast. Kids will always remember eating warm pancakes and sausage out in the early morning chill.
  • Affording school lunches can be a problem when the kids want the latest Lunchable or pudding pack. At our school we have some creative mothers who save money and create a lunchtime sensation as well. Every day I see bananas and oranges with love notes from mom written with Sharpie on the peel. The other kids get jealous. Some mothers send lunches in brown paper sacks decorated with all colors of markers. I see lots of sandwiches in dinosaur or heart shapes, or carrot discs carved in the shape of a flower. Kids with creative lunches don’t feel left out.
  • Let kids plant their own garden. They will feel like contributing members of the family when they get to pick tomatoes, carrots or peppers that they have grown. Even if you are lacking in space, many veggies can be grown in containers on the porch. Plus, you save money!
  • Get together with other families throughout the summer for softball games at the park. We do this 2-3 times during the summer. It’s much cheaper than pro games and we usually do a potluck picnic. Can you imagine the memories you help create for your child when he gets to tag an adult “out?”
  • The most valuable 75 cents we spend every week is on our local newspaper. It is full of free or low-cost community events. We have gone to concerts, parades, art shows, dance performances, health fairs, car washes, animal shows and sporting events for free. Your child will never feel deprived with a life so full of learning and fun.

2. Can’t afford a vacation? Re-Word it!

At one point in my son’s life, he was getting a little discouraged. It seemed like all of his friends were bragging about their upcoming vacations. Some were taking a trip to a resort with several other families, others were going to Disneyland, and another went to Alaska.

“Why don’t we get to go on a vacation?” he whined.

Tim and I got creative. Maybe we couldn’t go on a two-week vacation somewhere exotic, but we could swing a day-trip somewhere on a Saturday. We planned several day-trips throughout the summer, but called them “vacations.” Jeremiah looked forward to them with excitement---it didn’t matter that we were only gone a day, he was going on “vacation!” When his friends talked about their vacations, he had his own to brag about.

  • We found a local lake about an hour away and spent the day playing in the sand and surf. Total cost, besides gas? $8 to get in.
  • We got up early one morning and drove several hours away to Bryce Canyon National Park. We hiked a little way into the canyon, took lots of pictures of the beautiful formations and spent about $15 on souvenirs.
  • There is a play area about 90 minutes from our house. Whenever we passed it, Jeremiah would look longingly at the go-carts, batting cages, mini-golf and arcade and beg to stop. Our usual answer was, “Not today, but maybe someday.” One Saturday, we told him we were going shopping. We lied. You should have seen his face when we pulled into the arcade parking lot instead. It was one of his favorite “vacations.”
  • Tim’s sister owns a cabin in Utah’s wilderness. We stayed overnight, but touted it as a “vacation.” Cost---$0, plus gas.

3. If you work for someone else, work hard at your job.

What does this have to do with being frugal? A lot! I have this philosophy that says,

“If you must work for someone else, then make yourself his or her
valuable employee.”

By coming in earlier, staying later, being honorable and ethical, finding ways to increase profits, having a great attitude, and representing your boss well, you will make more money. In times of enforced frugality, more money is definitely a plus.

By working hard, I eventually made it into management positions in whatever job I had.
Higher position= more money. Bosses generally love to reward high-functioning employees.

  • At one job, during a time of difficulty, my boss gave me the option of closing the store, or staying open to deal with customer complaints about the situation. I chose to remain open and get bombarded with angry consumers. My boss gave me a $500 bonus. Being ethical paid.
  • One boss gave me a free car. I’m still driving it eight years later. See odometer picture above.
  • Another boss sent me to another city for training. He told me to take along my husband and son. He paid for us to stay overnight in a hotel and paid for all our meals. The city was only 2 hours away so staying in a hotel was not a necessity. Mini-vacation! Hot tub included!
  • I received a new wireless color printer from my boss, “just because.”
  • Same boss also told me to pick out whatever I wanted for $500. I got a new camcorder and groceries for the next two weeks.
  • Free laptop.
  • Had Christmas totally paid for one year because of sales contests that I won.
  • One boss gave me a $500 check as a “thank you for all that you do.”
  • My husband won a performance contest last year at work and we got an all-expense paid trip to Lake Powell to stay on his millionaire boss’s houseboat for a weekend.
  • I promise you I do not offer my body in any way to get these incentives.

4. The love you give always comes back to you.

Love people. It’s that simple. When you realize that each person you meet is a one-of-a-kind entity, it’s easy to do.

I realized this during a moment of profound introspection many years ago. I was especially appreciative of my friend, Tracie. You know, I thought, you are one of the few people on this earth who gets to know her. There will never be another Tracie. How privileged you are to be on the earth at the same time she is. I now think this thought with everyone I meet. But what does this have to do with being frugal?

More than you might think.

If I visit a business more than once, I make it a point to get to know the people who work there. I am one of those strange people who asks bank tellers, grocery clerks and librarians for their names. Why not? The love you give always comes back to you.

  • By getting to know the local bank tellers I won $50 to an Ace Hardware store. They called me when the bank was running a contest with prizes donated by local businesses. “You have to come sign up. Maybe you’ll win something!”
  • The same bank tellers called me to tell me they were having a customer appreciation day. “Come over and get some free lunch!” I took hubby and son for free sandwiches, chips and drinks. We also got some free pens, pencils and t-shirts.
  • A grocery store clerk that I had befriended stopped me. “We’re giving away a Dutch oven. You have to enter.” Won it.
  • The parades in our county are a goody-fest, with water bottles, t-shirts, pens, pencils, Frisbees, beach balls, cups, and other promotional items being thrown into the crowd from the floats. Many times, I have had things thrown right to me because I had taken time to get to know the business owner.

These are just a few examples of how caring about other people comes back to you. Call it Karma, call it The Secret, call it the universe balancing itself. I still call it love.

5. Bless your children with the abundance mentality.
Never tell your children. “We don’t have enough money to do that/ buy that/ go there.”

Always explain it as, “We choose to do other things with our money.”

When children grow up hearing, “We don’t have the money,” they develop the poverty mentality. They grow up thinking that they are deprived. They wonder why others “have” while they “have not.”

Children with the poverty mentality sooner or later end up with the “entitlement” mentality. “The government owes it to me.” “After all I’ve done for my boss, I deserve more.” Once your child latches on to the entitlement mentality, you have very little hope of ever having a happy child. Nothing is ever good enough, or even simply “enough.” They always feel a lack.

A woman I know is a manager of a business. She employs many adults who have the poverty/ entitlement mentality. Recently, the business decided to reward its employees by giving them and their immediate families (no matter how many in the family) tickets to a water park, valued at about $35 each. Instead of gratitude, the manager mostly heard this:

“Are you paying for my gas to get to the water park? I shouldn’t be punished because I chose to accept your offer.”

“So and so has seven people in her family. I am a single woman. It’s not fair that she gets seven tickets while I only get one. Can I invite six of my friends?”

“What if I don’t want to go to the water park? How are you going to compensate me?”

“Can I have the money instead?”

“Why are you discriminating against people with smaller families? Everyone should get the same amount of tickets no matter what.”

You owe me. I don’t have enough. I deserve more.

Sickening, isn’t it?

Tell your children the truth. You do have enough. You simply choose not to buy a new 52” LCD HDTV because it’s more important that mom is home with her children. Or you choose not to go out to eat at restaurants because it’s more important that daddy pursue his dream of starting his own business.

There is enough to go around. It’s all about choices.

For me and my house, we choose to be frugal and we choose to be happy about it.

And just so ya know....I spent 5 minutes driving back and forth in my driveway so I could capture the shot when my odometer hit 200,000.

Do you have any frugal tips of your own to share? I'd love to hear them! Please put them in the comments section.


  1. Oh wow Randi!

    First, I can't believe you went the extra mile (ha ha, or km) in order to capture that shot.

    Secondly, I love your tips. Many are ones we use as well. Just to name a few, I try to make his lunches a bit more interesting - the other day, I used a cookie cutter and surprised him with Tuna sandwiches in the shape of stars.

    We have special picnics outside all the time..

    We borrow DVD's and tons of books from the library ALL THE TIME

    We went to Toys R Us today and just looked.. I warned him ahead of time we weren't going to buy anything and he was good with that because we were there to look at the cool things so he could look and tell us some things he might like for his 6th birthday coming up.

    He has fun helping me do stuff around the house.. like clean up the garage and use the HUGE broom..

    You know.. we do a lot of things that don't cost money. We also do things that do cost money, but I have found the ones that are free tend to be the ones that seem to hold the most value longer-term.

    thanks for a lovely post!


  2. Daisy: You had me laughing with the "extra mile" quip! That was pretty funny.

    That's amazing that your son was so good in Toys-R-Us. I would have had to drag my son out kicking and screaming. Luckily for us, the nearest store is almost 2 hours away.

    I like the idea of using star shapes for your
    tuna sandwiches. Was it Starkist tuna? Ha ha ha! (It's clear we have the same sense of humor.)

    It's nice to know there are other frugally-minded moms out there. There is so much to do, that we never feel deprived. It's funny though, OTHER PEOPLE think we are deprived and feel sorry for us. Oh well!

    Thanks for stopping by, Daisy. It's always nice to see you, either here or on your site!

  3. Randi,
    This is a wonderful article, worthy of magazine publication. I know that the internet has killed off most magazines but does "Parents" magazine still exist? There's got to be a spot for this somewhere. Do you ever check the writer's markets?

    Also, this article is bursting with "thought" ideas -- think of such things as "Frugality would be an estimable virtue if it were ever a choice" or "The difference between virtue and vice is that vice is usually a choice" or "Happiness has a way of eluding those who feel entitled to it" and on and on and on. I'm going to pass on these since I've borrowed enough from you (The five thoughts inspired by your shyness piece were all picked up by Terri at The Quote Garden and have begun showing up elsewhere on the internet.) You might fashion a few thoughts and contact Terri (or else I'll contact her for you.) The Quote Garden is a great portal to the net, and quotes credited there to will get you a lot of hits.


  4. Robert,
    Thank you so much for all your kind words. To be honest, I have never really checked out the writer's markets. Because of your encouragement though, I may attempt something like that.

    I continue to stand amazed at your ability to look at a piece and immediately "see" quotes all over the place. I have always been a lover of great quotes, but have never been a creator of such. You've inspired me to break out of my comfort zone and try something new.

    However, I still think you should publish those you've already created without worrying about "borrowing" anything more from me. Most writers I've talked to admit freely that writing is a borrowing game. They see a post someone has written and off they go to expound upon it in their own language. Or a photograph on an artist's site is "borrowed" and becomes a poem on someone else's site. I will check out the Quote Garden. Sounds like a quote-lovers haven.

    Thanks again, Robert, for coming here and for adding immensely to this site. I feel honored whenever you come to visit.

  5. Hi Randi,
    Thank you for the wonderful post full of ideas.
    I enjoyed reading it and glad could pick up many thoughts. I always felt lacking to creatively talk to my child and make him more a happy and contented child - who thanks for everything he gets and makes him believe he gets it from God, instead.
    I thank you for the - bless your children with abundance mentality.
    As Robert said it's worth magazine publication!

  6. Solomon: Thank you so much for your nice comments.It is always a struggle when raising children to instill in them a thankful spirit. I have learned that when I am thankful, they are thankful. It sounds like you are a wonderful example as a parent. I have seen you over on Janice's site,haven't I? Thank you very much for stopping by my site and for letting us get to know you a little better.


You won't be paid for it, but at least you'll know that you have contributed intelligence to the universe...

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