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A couple of weeks ago, I set up poll asking what drives people’s frugality.

Part of the reason I asked is because a lot of frugal living blogs/personal finance sites are really focused around paying off debt. People detail their debts and progress in paying them off in their signatures on every comment/forum post – most of them are well in five figures and one person I saw talked about having US$1million of debt (!!). But that’s not why I’m frugal – and it’s not why a lot of people I know are frugal – so I wondered what it else it could be.

As of this morning, most people who voted were pro-actively frugal – just over 20% of people said they were either frugal to live within their means or to avoid getting into more debt, and just under 9% in order to save for something, mostly something in particular. Only 3.5% of people were doing it to pay off existing debt.

Adding to the proactively frugal number, over 26% are frugal as a side effect of living a simple/green life or for other political/philosophical reasons (such as anti-consumerism or stuff minimalisation), and another 12% said they were frugal so they didn’t have to work/earn as much.

Over 10% said they actively enjoy being frugal – mostly that they have to be creative and learn new skills to live on a tight budget. And another 12% said they’d always been frugal and couldn’t imagine living any other way.

I realise that the results are not necessarily representative of the population at large, even the frugal population at large, just a selection of the people who read this blog and took the time to vote, but I find it interesting all the same. We hear so much about debt – not just when on the personal finance sites I mentioned above but in the media – that it’s good to hear that not everyone is rampantly spending with free abandon.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Yes, I know I’m having a no spend week/fortnight+ at the moment but one of my exceptions was food because it was an impromptu decision not to spend anything and I knew we’d be off to the supermarket this week for our once-monthly shop. If I’d planned the week more, we’d have gone last week but we didn’t really want to leave it any later than this week because it’ll be crazy busy next week and the week after.

So, anyway, during our visit to the supermarket last night, I spotted the following things:

  • 1kg of their normal (not best or basic) own-brand carrots cost 98p. 1.5kg of own-brand carrots (same level) were £1. (My mum spotted this last week so I was looking out for it.)
  • 1kg of own-brand sod-the-peasants demerara sugar was £1.55. 1kg of branded Fairtrade demerara sugar was £1.50.
  • Similarly, a 1kg jar of organic, fairtrade own-brand hot chocolate was nearly half the price of some non-organic, non-fairtrade branded stuff — that’s a lot of money for just a name on the jar.
  • Some breakfast muffins were on the reduced for quick sale shelf – apparently 40p reduced to 39p. Super-saving! ;)
  • A few weeks ago, I got some discounted-for-quick-sale cat treats at Home Bargain for 29p and the cats (and dog) love them – they were basically strips of dried meat, not too much crap. John asked about buying more of them and we saw them at the supermarket yesterday – they cost £1.50 a pack, equal to £15.30 a kg. You could buy fresh steak for less than that! I think we’ll make homemade dried treats for them as well as the dog…

We felt like we were being quite conservative – applying the “no spend” ethos to unessentials – but the bill ended up being more than normal. We did buy 5.5kg of flour, nearly a year’s supply of stock cubes/bouillon (to supplement stuff we make at home – they were on offer and are something we always forget to … stock up on), £12 worth of sausages (mostly long-lasting chorizo for cooking & lunches and Polish kabanos), two months worth of decaff Earl Grey, and some household supplies we’d usually get elsewhere – but it was still strangely high. The shape of things to come? Sigh.

The other day, I had one of those slap-forehead moments – I realised it’s far too easy for me to buy stuff on Amazon and Paypal. It’s one of the things that sparked off my impromptu no-spend week.

My credit card details are saved on both so I don’t even have to stand up and get my card, just click and done, money spent.

On other shops, where I can’t pay with Paypal, there is a lot longer consideration time. I’ll add stuff to basket then tell myself I’ll fetch my purse in a few minutes when I get up to wee or let the dog out, then the few minutes becomes a couple of hours and the excitement of buying the item has dissipated and instead of getting my card details, I close the browser window and the money is saved.

John often talks about delaying all purchases for a week after initial “ooh” – making a little program that stops you completing a transaction in one go and forces you to go away for a few days and think about it. I suspect we’d buy a whole lot less stuff if we did that – but in the meantime, removing my credit card details from Amazon & Paypal is a good start.

(While I was there doing that, I’ve also changed my “email notification” settings on Amazon so they’ll stop spamming me with “check out this awesome offer” adverts every few days. Since I hate adverts and freely unsubscribe from everything, I’m not sure why I didn’t do that sooner either!)

I’ve decided to have an impromptu no-spend week this week. Well, actually, not a no-spend week – a no-spend fortnight-plus, until the end of the year.

No spending days/weeks/months are an often promoted technique by frugal/anti-consumerism people but I’d never really done it before. Many of my days are no spend days, I probably have no spend weeks more often than I think too – it’s not something I’ve felt was an issue I needed to address. But recently, I’ve been buying a few too many (used) books online, or too many (second-hand) things off eBay and I realised I wanted a bit of a self-enforced time out.

Since I’m really wanting to cut down on my frivolous spending not essentials, I’m giving myself five exceptions:

  • Food – I’d need to do a lot more planning to avoid spending any money on food for a fortnight (although, to be honest, John pays for most of our food anyway so it’s not something I spend a lot of money on these days). I will try very hard though not to buy any take-out though or pick up a chocolate bar while I’m out and about – only buy food to be prepared at home.
  • Food/medical treatment for the animals if needed – definitely an essential not frivolous thing. Although no random ad-hoc treat buying for the cats or dog – they’ve got enough at home already.
  • Bills – I think I’ve paid all the automatic direct-debits for the month already but if any are still due from my bank account, they’ll come out anyway.
  • Bus fares – necessary for getting about – not that I leave the house much really. Will probably be only a few day riders (at £3.30 a pop) depending on how much I have to go to Bingley for rehearsals over the next few weeks. No taxis home though – I’ll wait for the next bus and/or make sure I get the last one.
  • A birthday present for someone because, as usual, I haven’t been organised enough to buy it in advance and avoid having to face Leeds city centre on the run up to Christmas, ugh. I don’t tend to buy birthday presents for people – just give presents at any time when I see something I think people will like/need – but this person is an exception.

My main worry is that I’ll just rely on John to buy me things instead – take-out food or the Saturday newspaper – so I’ll try hard not to do that.

My main temptation will be going to the city centre to buy that birthday present. I’ve not been there for months and probably won’t be going again for a good long while, so the spendaholic devil on my shoulder will tell me to take the opportunity to look in the clothes shops for thick woollies I haven’t been able to find elsewhere or check out what bargain wool is on offer this week in the market. I could use another warm woollie jumper but I don’t need one, and I certainly don’t need any more actual wool. I’m a sucker for non-repeating bargains. Resist! Resist!

The key thing I want to get from it isn’t the desire to never buy anything every again, it’s to make me conscious about when I do spend money.

Have you had a no-spend week/fortnight/month/year before? If so, got any tips to avoid temptation?

Last week on Move to Portugal, Laura mentioned that they’ve realised it’ll be a lot cheaper to cut her husband’s hair at home than have him go to the barbers every month.

She asked if anyone else had any related frugal tips and I left the following comment:

My boyfriend has been shaving his own head (or having me help) for years.

He’s gone through a couple of sets of cheap, rechargeable battery clippers but now swears by some mains powered ones – a lot more powerful so the job is done faster and his dad has had a pair that’s lasted 20+ years. He just wishes he’d got them sooner.

When I had long hair, I used to trim it myself to keep it free from split ends – curly hair is very forgiving ;) Now I have it shorter so I go to a hairdresser – but only once every four or five months or so. As [another commenter] Carla says, keep it simple – don’t have an elaborate style that needs constant attention or products, and you’ll save loads.

When I lived close to a hairdressers training college a couple of years ago, I used to go there – would cost £4 for a cut (or £2 on half price Tuesday) and would easily rival a cut I’d have done in the city centre for £30! (Actually, that’s another saving idea if you don’t feel like cutting your own: it used to cost me £30 for a hair cut in the city centre [Leeds], £20-25 at a good salon in a poorer suburb about a mile out (where I lived), and now I live about 8 miles out, it costs me £10-15 a cut. Pretty much the same quality cut, much lower price!)

On the subject of hair, we also clip our dog ourselves rather than paying £45 a pop. We bought more good mains powered clippers and a pair of hairdressers scissors (for the bits that need trimming not shaving) for that price instead – far cheaper in the long run. The first time we did it she looked a little ragged for a couple of days but we quickly got better at it and now she looks gorgeous all the time ;)

Saying I get my hair cut every “four or five months” is actually a bit of optimism rather than accurate – it’s more like every eight or nine months because I hate going to the hairdressers (the enforced small talk mostly) but by that point, my hair really starts bugging me so I’d rather go slightly more often. The hairdressers I go to now is around the corner from our house – less than a minute’s walk away – and is more than fine for my basic cut, and so much cheaper than heading to a fancy salon in central Leeds (extra expense + bus fare + time).

Regarding Lily, it’s win all around us clipping her here. It’s a great bonding experience, she finds it a darn sight less stressful than she would going to a groomers (she feel asleep during the clipping the last two times), and it’s far, far cheaper. Our aim with her – as with ourselves – is to be clean-ish & presentable-ish and we can meet those goals here. She wouldn’t excel in Crufts with our grooming but she’s clean & pretty enough to dunk herself in mud in the woods, and that’s all she (and we) care about.

As well as his head, John, my scruffy boyfriend, shaves his not-so-designer stubble with his clippers too – he has no need to be baby’s-bum smooth so no need to spend money on expensive razor blades & shaving cream. Another time when laziness = frugalness! ;)

Yesterday, our friend Strowger tweeted a link to this article by “essayist and programmer” Paul Graham about “stuff”.

I would urge you to read it if you’ve got five minutes. If you haven’t got five minutes, the message is “stuff, clutter, is bad, m’kay?” but it says it somewhat better than that.

It’s a topic I’ve touched on a few times on this blog – and it’s a concept I believe even if I don’t always live it. But this paragraph leapt out at me:

The worst stuff in this respect may be stuff you don’t use much because it’s too good. Nothing owns you like fragile stuff. For example, the “good china” so many households have, and whose defining quality is not so much that it’s fun to use, but that one must be especially careful not to break it.

Paul Graham on “Stuff

I think this not only applies to “fragile stuff” but anything that’s “kept for best” or “kept to be enjoyed at a later special time, not now, not all the time”.

We don’t have “good china” or a pristine room solely for entertaining guests. We don’t have a fancy car that we worry about parking it on the street or in bad areas. We don’t really have “Sunday best” clothes – we have items we don’t wear every day, that are a bit smarter, but we don’t wear them because we prefer to wear other things, not because we’re saving them for a special occasion.

But on smaller things, I’m guilty of wasteful behaviour when “keeping stuff for best”.

For example, I frequently delay pleasure to, in theory, enjoy it all the more at the end. Sometimes this pays off: I finish a meal on my favourite bit of it so the taste of the delicious, seasoned meat stays in my mouth rather than the overcooked, watery carrot.

But other times it promotes waste. John gets annoyed when I save a piece of cake or sweets until I really, *really* want it/them – but it goes stale or sticky before that time arrives. Or, slightly different but part of the same thing, a craft project sits half finished forever because I worry I haven’t the skills to complete it PERFECTLY (when I could finish it in a “good enough” way immediately).

It’s funny, I knew I wasted cake sometimes. And I knew exactly why I wasn’t finishing that half-made quilt. But it was only after reading that paragraph that it really drove home to me quite how bad the habit is – how wasteful it is of the world’s resources, of money and of my mental resources.

Definitely something I need to change about myself!