Frugality Will Change You

Ninja, over at Punch Debt in the Face, wrote an article last week about being addicted to savings that got me thinking. Or, thinking harder, I suppose.  The attitude that he talks about towards savings is one that I’ve noticed in myself and others who have gone the way of the Frugaler.  He calls it an addiction.  I think it’s something a little more sneaky.  Something that creeps up on you and then grabs hold and won’t let go.  Something many will call “Habit”.

Views vary on how we pick up habits, but, by definition, a habit is something that you do over and over without much thought.  An unconscious task that you repeat.  It’s no coincidence that many addictions are also referred to as habits.  Smoking is sometimes referred to as a bad habit.  A pot of coffee a day is sometimes referred to as a bad habit.  But, a savings habit is a good habit.  One that many will struggle to establish.  Drug habits, smoking habits, and coffee habits are all habits that are easy to pick up because they cause a pleasure response in you body.  A savings habit is a bit harder to pick up.  But, as Ninja will attest, it can be done.

How?  Repetition.  Do something repeatedly, for a long enough time period, and it becomes a habit.  Being a successful Frugaler is a product of habit.  We start off forcing ourselves to turn off lights as we leave a room, shop for good deals before buying something, save a certain amount out of every paycheck, and set aside a certain amount each month for charitable giving.  And, before we know it, those things that we started off forcing ourselves to do become habits and we do them automatically, without having to think about doing them.  If there’s one thing anyone with a bad habit will tell you, habits are hard to break.

I know that I’ve felt it.  I often spend a month or more deciding on whether to buy something or not.  Especially if it’s on that fringe where it may or may not be necessary.  I’ve spent weeks bidding on items on eBay, determined to get an item at a specific price point.  Something that I could have paid a few dollars more for and had weeks earlier.  Like the junkie looking for his/her next fix, I’ve got a saving habit that I can’t quit.  The more I do it, the harder it is to spend any money at all.

Of course, like anything that’s good for you, there is a line where it becomes slightly less good for you, and then can become downright bad too.  Saving is good.  Pushing your savings to a point where you’re taking it to extremes is less good.  And becoming a downright miser is bad. Setting savings goals is a good way to limit the extremity of your saving.

A Frugality habit will change you.  As your savings tasks become habit, it becomes easier and easier, and eventually, you hardly notice it.  What are your savings habits?  How did you establish them?

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Easy Ways to Earn, Make, and Give Free or Cheap Gifts

With Christmas less than two weeks away, you may be feeling the crunch to get the perfect gift in time. Or perhaps, your gift budget is running low, yet you still have quite a few people on your list to give gifts to. Here are easy last minute solutions to earn free or cheap gifts for the season.

1. Swagbucks:

Many people have mentioned the fun and ease of Swagbucks. Have you signed up already? Are you participating every day to get bucks? Spending just a few minutes each day searching, doing the daily poll, and other small and fast tasks will add up quickly. You will easily receive more points for every person that signs up under you. Once you have someone sign up under you, every time they earn a Swagbuck, you earn one too. For easy earning, sign yourself up and then have your spouse or family member sign up under you. My husband and I spend minimal time on Swagbucks and earn at least a $5 Amazon gift card each month. I know you may be thinking, “What can $5 buy me on Amazon?” With no taxes (in most states) and a prime membership, $5 can choose from a lot of small and affordable gifts for kids and friends. Also, the Amazon gift card available on Swagbucks can be combined in your Amazon account to add up to a greater amount.

2. Coinstar:

While Coinstar does not exactly reward you with free cash, it can turn your huge coin collection into real hard gift cards. When you cash in your coins to Coinstar and redeem them for gift cards, including the Amazon e-gift certificate, you do not have to pay any extra fees that are usually associated with cashing in coins for cash. Coinstar recently added gift cards for Chili’s Grill & Bar, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Papa John’s, and Toys”R”Us. You may be surprised by how many coins you have. Even cashing in enough to earn a $5 gift card puts you $5 ahead in your spending budget.

3. Homemade:

Homemade gifts can be wonderful gifts. They are thoughtful and usually cost more time than money. So if you have the time, try making things from scratch. Here are some ideas for fun gifts to make under $5:

  • layered cocoa in jarsMake homemade caramel sauce and pair it with homemade hot chocolate mix. Place them in small glass jars with a cute note saying, “Have a sweet Christmas”.
  • Pair a small bag of gummy worms with a notebook full of quotes from books, a pen, and perhaps a book (check the local thrift store for great deals). Attach a note saying, “To my favorite book worm”.
  • A bag of popcorn with a handmade ticket that says, “Admission to One Free Movie Date with me” (Of course, this may cost more than $5 when they do wish to see the movie, depending on what time you go).
  • Cover a wooden letter (check your local craft store) with yarn for a home decor gift great for the whole family.
  • Fill a tea cup with several bags of tea and pair with a side of homemade scones or tea cakes.
  • Bake bread from scratch and pair with homemade or store bought jelly.
  • Homemade play dough for children.
  • A big tin of homemade cookies or brownies.

Just because your Christmas budget may be tight this year, there is no reason to stress out over gift giving. Most people are appreciated at the thought behind the gift. Always pair the gift with a special card or note to really show the gift receiver how much you appreciate and care for them.

photo credit: shimelle

Couponing Doesn’t Need to be Extreme

Every day, I hear people say that they don’t use coupons because they don’t have the time to go through the papers and mailers and clip the coupons. “It just takes too much time” they say. Those same people, will spend hours budgeting and finding ways to save themselves money, but they don’t see couponing as a viable use of their time and efforts. While coupons may not be as important to your financial health as a budget, they can be just as good as many of the other saving methods that you will employ.

With the popularity of extreme couponing, it’s no wonder that people feel that they need to spend hours each week pouring over newspaper inserts, clipping coupons, then sorting them all into categories and then making plans for where they’ll shop and what they’ll buy. In their mind, they see piles and piles of inserts, and closets full of extra supplies that they’ll need years to use up.

Box o' couponsCouponing doesn’t need to be extreme, though. If skipping your daily latte can be a good strategy for saving a few dollars a day, so can clipping a few coupons. Taking a few minutes each week to flip through the inserts in your paper and clipping the few coupons that you find for the things that you buy regularly can easily save you a few dollars a week. Signing up for manufacturer email newsletters can often result in an electronic coupon to print out once or twice a month. A few extra emails a month is a small price to pay to save a dollar or two.

Now, the thing to remember here is that you aren’t going to retire off of the money you’ll save. And, you certainly won’t be sending your kids to college with it either. But, saving money is saving money. A few dollars here, and a few dollars there all adds up in the grand scheme of things. Heck, maybe you clip coupons so that you can treat yourself once a week to that latte that you’re currently skipping.

Anything that can be done, has been done to an extreme. But, just because the extreme version of something is popular, doesn’t mean that it has to be the only way. Just like there are people who run extreme marathons of 100 miles or more, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a runner. Just because there are hyper-milers who squeeze every extra bit of MPG out of their cars, doesn’t mean that you can’t employ a few of the same methods to save a bit on gas. And, just because there are people who spend hours each week clipping, sorting, and analyzing coupons, doesn’t mean that you can’t spend a few minutes each Sunday to save a few bucks.

photo credit: sdc2027