Friday, December 18, 2009

Frugal by nature

By Robyn Davis Sekula

In the past few years, my income has increased. In fact, it’s more than tripled. It’s been terrific. But I have spent so many years not making all that much that I’ve developed some thrifty habits. And even now that I’m making much better money, I’m not willing to let go of most of my frugal ways.

Why? Mainly because I enjoy getting a bargain. Plus, I believe that most items in the world are overpriced. Children’s clothing is among the things on the top of my list. Since my first daughter was born, and I wasn’t making much money, I picked up most of her clothes at yard sales. I then passed those on to my twin daughters a few years later. To this day, they still wear hand-me-downs. It doesn’t make one bit of difference in their lives. I find that coats, sweaters and fancy dresses are among the most overpriced and the most under-used by children. I regularly pick these up in almost new condition and pass them along to my children. Or I buy new clothes at the end of one season and use them a year later. But I never, ever pay full price for any clothing. It’s just about never worth it.

Books and toys are also just as good used as they are new, for the most part. I buy books for myself, my husband and my children second-hand. They read just the same and can be less than half the price of new. They’re essential in my home for all five of us.

However, one of my frugal habits has gone by the wayside. Now that I need to dress professionally, I do not buy second hand clothes for myself or Greg. Adults are hard on clothes. We keep them for a long time and wear them for years. I’ve gotten picky about my clothes. I buy quality items, usually from Land’s End, Talbots (actually an outlet they have in Lexington, Ky.) and Coldwater Creek, which is a wonderful catalog company. The clothes wear well and stay with me for a long time. Also, fit matters, and you simply can’t try on clothes at Goodwill or yard sales. I do buy the occasional item at a yard sale, but not often, and only if it’s very cheap. If so, and it doesn’t fit, I donate it to Goodwill and move on.

I’ve also given up the routine eating out that tends to drive the lives of those with small children. Now, Greg and I go to nice restaurants and hire a babysitter. It’s an expensive evening out, but extremely valuable to us. We spend money now on things that mean something.

So where does our money go? This year, I made $25,000 extra over last year’s income. I made a point not to blow it. I paid off our van, which had $10,000 in debt, and put away $5,000 each for us in Roth IRAs. I also doubled our payments to our second mortgage, and at the end of the year, doubled the amount we’re putting away for the kids’ college funds and through Greg’s 403 (b) at his work. I’ve also built up savings. We did splurge on a new TV, but not much else.

The point is this. I simply LIKE being thrifty. After 15 years of working in professional jobs where I made sometimes as little as $15,000, I have gotten into frugal habits that stay with me. I now can afford some things of quality, and I buy those things when I need them. I probably won’t ever start shopping at Gymboree for all of my kids’ clothes. Yes, they sell great stuff, but good gracious, $50 for a kids’ dress is nuts. It pains me to pay that and know that it will be stained and outgrown in a matter of a few weeks. What I really love about being frugal, too, is that I’m going to pass these habits on to my kids. They are having a happy childhood, thank you very much, doing simple things like baking cookies and playing dressup, and reading books with us. It’s all they need.

I don’t really like expensive jewelry (too flashy) and cut flowers just die. Want to get to my heart? Buy me an iTunes gift card. Nothing means more to me than permission to buy music.

We dumped cable TV this year because we realized we really don’t watch $60-some worth of TV each month. Instead, we have Netflix, and their wonderful Roku watch-instant player.

The best thing you can do for your family’s budget is find the things that you’re spending on that really don’t matter to you. Do you read the magazines that come into your home? Do you actually watch much TV? How often do you take out that boat? Where is the fat in your budget, and what happens if you trim it?

I’d love to hear your own stories of frugality. Post in the comments section.


  1. Thanks, Robyn, this is fun. My thing about living a frugal lifestyle is that eventually, you don't have to. If you'll work hard and make good choices when you are young, you'll eventually be able to buy things you really want. Many Americans know the costs of almost everything, but the value of practically nothing. Thanks for helping us so it to others. - Dan Danford

  2. Hi Dan - I guess what I wonder is whether or not frugality becomes more habit than reality. I don't have to buy my kids' clothes at yard sales. I WANT to. It reminds me of the idea of a Millionaire Next Door - someone who has the funds to do more than they do, but simply doesn't want to.


Family Investment Center Videos