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A broke but beautiful life: Frugal is fabulous

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From The Broke and Beautiful Life: Small Town Budget, Big City Dreams by Stefanie O'Connell. Copyright © Coventry House Publishing, 2014. Reprinted with permission of Coventry House Publishing.

Frugal Can Be Fun

The other common misconception of frugality is that it's prohibitive to having fun. In my experience, though, I've found the opposite to be true. Not only is frugality a smart practice for prioritizing spending, but it has fostered innovation, critical thinking, and creativity, too. If anything, my frugality has opened more doors and opportunities than I ever thought possible.

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Frugality is never about what you can't do, it's about learning and loving what you can; finding the freebies, the savings, and the strategies to live fabulously in the present while simultaneously planning for the future.

What's Keeping You from Being Frugal?

The resources for saving and information on the best deals are easily accessible to anyone capable of a simple web search. And yet, shoppers often fail to maximize their savings and select the best value options. If you find that you're consistently paying full price and missing out on simple savings, perhaps it's time to ask, what's keeping you from being frugal?

Old Habits. If you've shopped for clothes, groceries, or toiletries the same way for years, you've likely developed a method. The mere suggestion of a change in brand, be it toilet paper or sugar, might make you feel uneasy.

From the time of day that you shop to the way you organize your shopping cart, there's a great deal of habit and routine involved in the purchase process. While knowing what you want and how to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible is great for expediting the process, it's not necessarily the best financial choice. Being overly committed to a certain brand or store can keep you from seeing deals, specials, and alternate products that might provide a better value.

Even the savviest shoppers can miss out on savings opportunities if they remain too entrenched in their methods of searching for deals. Just think of how couponing has evolved since the early 1990s. If you never adapted to the online world, or more recently, the smartphone and app era, think of all the savings strategies you'd be missing.

Limited Time. Constraints on time leave less room for research, comparison shopping, and bargain hunting. If you wait until the last minute or find yourself rushing, you're more likely to purchase the item that you're most familiar with, rather than getting all of the information you need to make the best value assessment.

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Tools like smartphone savings apps are a convenient way to save money while saving time. From comparing gas prices with GasBuddy to checking grocery costs with MyGroceryDeals, savings apps aggregate information in the palm of your hand so that you can search for deals and comparison shop on the spot.

Limited Energy. When you're exhausted after a long day or struggling to keep your kids from tearing apart the store racks, your lack of energy will likely have you searching for an exit strategy rather than a deal. Shopping on your own time, if you have that luxury, is best for bargain hunting.

Limited Information. Overspending stems from a lack of information or simply not knowing any better. Research helps, as does spending time improving your financial education. Keeping your financial literacy skills sharp and up to date provides you with a context and understanding of what constitutes a good deal. For example, knowing a bit about current interest rates and financing options will help you shop for an auto loan or negotiate with a car dealership or bank.

Information Overload. As helpful as it is to have as much information as possible, information overload can lead to purchase paralysis – the inability to make a purchase for fear of not getting the best possible deal. For example, if you've thoroughly researched the average price of cross-country flights and checked all of the discount airlines and aggregate flight sites on a daily basis, you might find yourself holding off again and again, anticipating a price drop or a new piece of information that will lead to a better deal. The inability to go ahead and pull the trigger may cause to you miss the window of opportunity on securing the best price.

Limited Resources. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. For example, when shopping for a home, the higher your down payment, the less you'll have to pay in interest over the life of your mortgage.

Justifications. Our own justifications and excuses are often the biggest culprits of savvy shopping sabotage. Phrases like "I need," "I deserve," and "yeah, but…" should raise a red flag, even if you're only thinking them! These are all ways to justify spending, and if you have to justify it, it's probably not the best buy. Of course, the occasional splurge here and there is understandable, but consistent justification of splurges can lead to a consistent pattern of poor spending.

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Fostering Frugality: Start Small

The easiest way to start implementing frugal lifestyle choices is to start small with day-to-day habits. Setting a precedent for savings with your most basic life tasks can help develop your frugal mindset so that you can save on larger purchases and make better value judgments in the future. Think of it as fiscal hygiene – preserving your financial wellness through daily maintenance and upkeep. Here are some examples of day-to-day actions that foster frugality and secure savings in the long run.

  • Exercise. According to the World Health Organization, physically active people save about $500 annually in healthcare expenses. Get your heart pumping to boost your immune system and reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Prevention pays.
  • Cook. Stop paying for convenience and cook your own food! It’s not a dangerous or highly specialized skill. You are entirely capable of doing it, even if your go-to excuse is “I burn toast.” Start simple with sandwiches and salads, or toss everything into a pan for a quick and easy stir-fry. Planning your meals and eating at home will easily trim your food costs, and, if done properly, your waistline.
  • Floss. It wasn’t until I had to spend $250 on a tooth extraction and another $1,800 on a dental implant that I became a daily flosser. Those numbers are real, and I’m not going to part with another $2,000 just because I didn’t take that extra minute each day to floss. Do yourself a favor, start flossing now and save yourself the cost and pain of cavities, root canals, extractions, implants, crowns, and gum disease.
  • Use Public Resources. Free public resources like libraries are shockingly underutilized in favour of more expensive alternatives. Did you know that public libraries often loan CDs, DVDs, periodicals, musical scores, and eBooks to their members? Before signing in to iTunes to purchase the latest season of Game of Thrones or download the latest bestseller onto your eReader, check your free local resources first.
  • Comparison Shop. What’s your typical shopping behaviour? Do you search for what you need, or do you put the first item in your line of vision into your cart? Do you always choose the same brands regardless of price? Do you buy whatever is on sale?

The sooner you get into the habit of questioning traditional retail pricing and your approach to it, the better. Take the time to research the best values, develop price comparison strategies, and learn to use money saving apps like RetailMeNot and PriceGrabber to their fullest capacity.

Track Your Finances. ATM fees, overdraft fees, late fees, interest payments… How much money could you save if you were more diligent about tracking your finances? Seeing how and where you spend money allows you to take a look at your financial footprint and pinpoint exactly where you can afford to cut back and save big.

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