This is a list of day-to-day activities (that we engage in at present times or did in the past) that manifest some aspects of frugality in our lives - nothing too extraordinarily profound, but interesting nevertheless. The list is presented in no particular order for no particular reason. Wherever possible, I have included links to resources, recommendations, or additional reading material, feel free to explore these links at your leisure (there are no referral links). In the text below, the term “we” will usually mean me and/or my wife.
- We use thrift shops (Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc.) for general purpose household items (non-essential odds and ends). Stuff like brushes, brooms, containers, etc. However, we avoid buying food stuff at these stores â€“ just donâ€™t feel comfortable enough. A quick tip here - certain items like cutlery and dishware are usually cheaper at Walmart than at these stores, so don’t just shop blindly at thrift shops.
- We drive a 10 year old used car and try to maintain it regularly (as much as possible). It does gives us problems, and generally costs a lot for repairs, but we have figured out that itâ€™s more economical (for now) to keep this junker than to buy a newer (better) car.
- We change oil every 4000 miles (or 4 months) instead of the dealer recommended 3000 miles (or 3 months). Also, bought ourselves a prepaid oil change card - it’s sort of buying oil change in bulk; got us a 25% discount over individually paid oil changes. Also, the prepaid card is for 10 oil changes - that’s enough to last us for about 3 years; probably even protects us against inflation. My dream is to do my own oil changes in future, but I am not there yet - and I am not sure if that is going to work out well. By the way, here is an nice article recently published by a fellow blogger on the topic of oil change, make sure you go through it sometime.
- Instead of pesticide sprays for roaches, we use boric acid â€“ one pound of boric acid costs about $2 and works much better than most other expensive chemicals. Now-a-days the roaches are gone (except the occasional visitor from outside) and I think thatâ€™s because of a combination of boric acid and a clean sink. Come to think of it, a clean sink and a clutter free home are free ways of getting rid of roaches - that’s cheaper than boric acid.
- I wear some clothes like this one in the photograph:
Itâ€™s a picture of my favorite piece of clothing - a 4+ year old blue jeans from Walmart. This is in accordance with the 2nd rule of graduate school - No one cares about what you wear (the first rule is - It’s OK to procrastinate). Anyways, I think I have the capacity to keep wearing this pair of jeans for some more months (may another year) before I start feeling embarrassed about it’s condition. Probably, my wife will be embarrassed to walk with me sooner than that. Note that this is just an example; not all my clothes are in this condition, although quite a few of them are older than 5 years.
- We generally buy clothes only if there is some kind of a discount sale (some stores like JC Penny and Goodies have a *sale* everyday and I am not talking of such stupid sales). I should mention here that I have a mental block against buying used clothes - I just won’t be able to wear them.
- We rent a small apartment (small = relative small as compared to what other married couples generally prefer). Earlier, I have mentioned on this blog that we spend about 11% of our gross monthly income on apartment rent+utilities.
- When I was single, I always had roommates to share my rent with. Typically, 3 (sometimes 4) of us used to share a 2-bedroom apartment. Looking back, I think I saved a bunch of money by living like that during my early days as a graduate student.
- Around that time (when I was single), I slept on a $8 sleeping bag for about 1.5 years. Laugh (or shudder in disbelief) if you want, but that’s true - a bed was just too expensive for me. OK, may beds weren’t that expensive, but I was pretty comfortable on a sleeping bag, so the thought of a bed didn’t really come out as a priority at the time.
- We don’t have cable. Why? I don’t think we have enough time to watch what an average cable connection offers here. Plus, we are not *attached* to any particular television program or series. We get crystal clear reception for a number of popular programs (Raymond, Simpsons, Friends, House, etc.) using a $9 antenna from Walmart.
- We used to pick up furniture from the dumpster - we don’t do it anymore because now we have everything we wanted. But there was a time when we used to drive around major dumpsters around our area to look for stuff that we could use…these dumpster-drives were strictly restricted to furniture. We haven’t tried it yet, but you can get some great free stuff through the Freecycle Network.
- We use wholesale warehouses (mostly SAM’s Club) for certain items that can be bought in bulk. Our consistent warehouse choices have been: milk (yeah it’s cheaper there), sugar, rice, tissues, chocolates, chicken, kitchen towels, juices, and a few more that I don’t readily recollect. Considering the amount of stuff we buy from there, I am sure the membership fee pays for itself in about 4~6 months.
- We use compact fluorescent (CF) lights only in our home. CF lights save money and I personally like the white light (I am aware that some people don’t like it too much). We use a combination of those spiral CF bulbs and those long fluorescent shoplights.
- We use the school library for most of our books (thanks to a very well-equipped library on campus). However, occasionally, there are certain books that we *need* to buy; for buying books we usually first compare prices online (I am a bit partial to this nifty website for book price comparison: AddAll.com) and at times, we also check our local Half Price Books store. By the way, especially for graduate students, professors are good sources of expensive academic books - they are generally hesitant in lending books to undergraduates, but for grads they won’t mind - all you got to do is ask.
- We regularly use “The New Release” DVD kiosks that give us latest movies for $1 (+ tax). The downside is that the movies that we *want* to watch are not always available (and sometimes there are long queues at these kiosks) - in such situations we head over to the local Hastings, get our movies and return them the next day to get some credit (like a $1 discount on the next rental). Earlier, I have written a post about how you can rent movies for cheap; check it out and see if you have some of those options near you. Using our school video library is the most frugal thing to do, but unfortunately, our school does not allow us to take the movies home (which I think is dumb) - you got to watch it in the library.
- We always apply for available assistantships and/or scholarships to fund our graduate studies (both me and my wife). Throughout our graduate education, we have been funded through some kind of an assistantship position (teaching or research) and that has helped to pay a major chunk of our tuition and fees in addition to providing a nominal stipend. Plus, there are occasional additional scholarship opportunities that we avail. Life would have been tough without these financial supplements.
- We carry homemade lunches to work. Usually, these are leftovers from the previous night. Sometimes, it’s just an apple or a banana. It’s probably been many months since we last ate outside for lunch. It’s not like we don’t eat outside at all - there are those occasional nice dinners at nice restaurants - but those are few and far between.
- We usually get our groceries at a local farm market - fresh produce is often cheaper (and fresher) here than at Walmart. A nearby Walmart Supercenter serves as a backup. Check out if you have a local farm market in your area through this website.
- For vacations, we usually try to locate some good friends near our destinations who would be willing to host us - it saves a bunch of money on hotels. Most of you probably remember a few of my recent posts about our trip to Philadelphia/New York - we were hosted by our close friends during the visit. There are some disadvantages to being hosted by friends, but let’s not talk about it here.
- We book our airline tickets early and do a lot of comparison shopping before finalizing the tickets. I usually first visit Kayak.com (after some people recommended it to me) and then I sort of comb through individual sites to see if something else is available there that Kayak is missing. Strangely, most of the times we have had better deals when we booked directly through airline websites, instead of such portals. Btw, did you know that Cheaptickets and Orbitz are different brand names of the same parent company: Travelport.com? And that Expedia and Hotwire are different brand names of Expedia Inc.? Even with these relations existing between websites, you need to check them individually - although, Cheaptickets and Hotwire are generally cheaper than Orbitz and Expedia respectively, the options are not always matching. Apart from these options, I would recommend checking with Southwest Airlines for cheap tickets after my recent experience with them.
- I walk to school/work everyday - no car means no parking permits and that means a bunch of money saved. Here are some detailed reasons on why I walk to school. Also, after a couple of my bicycles were stolen, I have given up on that mode of transport; so I can also say we are saving money by not buying bicycles (which would eventually be stolen).
Yeah, it’s the same pair of jeans I showed above in #5
- We don’t carry balances on our credit cards (well except 0% APR balance transfers). I was once foolish and did burn my hands with them; however, things have changed for the better over time and now I completely pay them off by the end of every month. It’s been more than a year since we last paid finance charges on any of them - in future, I don’t think we will be paying interest on our cards - ever.
- For minor car repairs, I have bought a “Haynes Repair Manual“. Stuff like replacing headlights, battery, etc., becomes a piece of cake with the manual. A couple of times, I have also been able to dismantle a part of my dashboard (and some area underneath it), to reach a noisy air conditioning fan and discovered some dry leaves which were causing a huge racket (if I remember correctly, a local shop quoted about $100 for the job). However, if you are not confident enough, I would recommend not messing with your car. Always remember this - if you open a can of worms, it takes a bigger can to put them back inside.
- We dilute our dishwashing liquid. We first mix a little bit of our dish washing liquid with water in a separate bowl, and then use the diluted solution for washing dishes. This is an after-marriage change suggested by my wife - before that, we idiots (me and my roommates) used to drop blobs of dish washing gel on plates in order to wash them. I don’t think diluting the liquid is a huge way of saving money, but it’s a pretty frugal way to use dish washing gel. On a stingier side, I am also in the habit of extracting the last drop of shampoo from almost-empty shampoo bottles by filling some water in them - doesn’t save diddly-squat of money, but it’s a fun thing to do.
- We use our student identity cards almost everywhere to get discounts on almost everything - restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and a lot more. It’s one of those little perks of living in a small university town. Lowest discounts are about 10% and good ones are up to 25% at certain places.
There are a lot more frugal things we do, but they are probably not worth writing and reading about.
Before you start getting some unreasonable ideas about our lifestyle, I need to make it clear that we are far away from being an epitome for frugality. If I start compiling a list of “un-frugal” things I/we have done, it would probably beat this list of frugal things by miles.
If you have a some peculiar things/features to share regarding your frugal way of life, feel free to leave a comment.