Happy Post-Super Bowl Monday everyone! Did you watch the big game? Were you cheering for anyone or did you just tune in for the halftime show (hand is raised)? Today I’m taking a minute to post out of my usual Tuesday/Thursday schedule in response to an inquiry I put on the Sweet Cayenne Facebook page about a dive into a month of frugalness that Ryan and I are calling “Frugal February.” Everyone that saw the post seemed really interested in learning what this is all about, so I’m here to put it all out there in the vast expanse of the Interwebs. If this isn’t something that interests you, come back tomorrow for my usual recipe or foodie-related post!
A quick disclaimer: we (my husband Ryan and I) are not financial advisors. We are not attempting to suggest that you follow any of the information that is discussed below; we are just sharing some financial goals and strategies that are working for us personally. Please seek professional financial advice if you need direction in financial planning and goal setting.
Ok, so before we talk about what Frugal February is for us, let’s get this out of the way:
What Frugal February Is NOT
- A miserly lifestyle
- Being selfish or money-hungry
- Turning a blind eye to the needs of others or the benefits of being generous/giving sacrificially
- An obsession
- A fix-all for financial difficulties
- An attempt to talk up the fact that we are trying to save money
And it’s probably not a lot of other things. It’s just a plan that we’ve set up to help us reach a financial goal. Because having a plan is better than not having a plan, right? So, on to the actual plan!
What the heck is Frugal February?
A short month of financial micro-management - Basically, Frugal February is a month-long exercise that helps us look at our annual savings goal through a microscopic lens. With this, we hope to ensure that we are on the fast track for meeting our goals by the end of the year, if not before. We are hoping that having a month of heightened financial awareness will keep us accountable in making sure that our savings goal isn’t some “lofty idea” that was made in a moment of being inspired to make New Year’s resolutions. We want the goal to be an achievable one that we are both motivated to reach!
An exercise in self-control - In our culture of advertisement-saturated social media, we are under the constant influence to buy more stuff. Messages we are inundated with include “you will be happy/beautiful/accepted/satisfied/good enough/successful once you have “x” thing. The “x” thing is usually a material item that is achieved with spending money, whether it be a luxury car, a home in a certain zip code, a room that is Instagram-worthy, or a wardrobe full of “status symbol” labels.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way - I am NOT saying it is wrong for people to have those things OR that people who have them do not have self-control. What I am saying is that for me personally, it is a beneficial exercise in self-control to practice a month of frugalness so that I protect myself from spending above my means in ways that are motivated by materialism.
When I deny myself the opportunity to buy on impulse or give into advertising, often times I find that the denial results in a realization that what I thought I wanted/needed was not really worth the expense after all. More than likely, the short-term denial will lead to long-term conscientiousness about what purchases are really worthwhile, and what purchases I can do without. This can also have a tremendous impact on feelings of gratitude by heightening my awareness of what I already have.
An attempt to front-load your annual savings goal: An example of this would be that if you plan to save $20k by the end of the year, you could make an aggressive step towards achieving that by “front-loading” your savings and reaching let’s say, 75% of the goal by the end of first quarter of the year (January - March). If you are saving money in a tax-advantaged retirement account like a 401k or an IRA, a benefit of front-loading these accounts early in the year means that you take advantage of potential growth that would occur during that time frame. While your retirement account may not always go up over the calendar year, it may be advantageous to invest early in the case that there is a rise in your retirement account over the calendar year.
*If you are one of my younger readers and are scratching your head at this point, don’t worry! Retirement accounts/401K’s/IRA’s are just ways to save money for your future. My best advice would be to ask your employer about these when you get your first job out of college - you will get it all straightened out in time!*
How We Are Implementing Frugal February:
- Our eating out/restaurant budget will be cut in half.
- We will save gas $$ by only making the 35-mile trip to Nashville every other week (as opposed to a weekly visit).
- We will not get haircuts or professional/salon services.
- There will be a conscious reduction in our entertainment budget - do we REALLY need to see a movie, rent a Redbox, etc or can we find things to do that are FREE?
- We will make conscious attempts to avoid retail purchases (like clothes, things for the house, makeup, etc).
- When grocery shopping, plan the weekly menu based only on grocery items that are on sale/special/price reductions or that have a coupon. This also involves searching for more budget-friendly recipes (let’s just say, we are eating a lot of beans, think bean soup, etc. - ha!).
All of these Frugal February changes are made in addition to our usual money-saving efforts, which I will briefly list below for anyone who may be interested.
Our Money Saving Strategies:
- Personal Capital- We use this free online tool to help us organize our purchases so that we understand what our monthly expenses are in certain spending categories.
- Scott’s Cheap Flights - This international-flight savings alert is what we use to plan when and where we will travel abroad if that is a goal for our year.
- Coffee - We do not buy coffee when we are out. We always make it at home (exceptions include vacation and occasional coffee dates with friends).
- Don’t pay for beverages - We always drink water at restaurants (ALWAYS, even if we are out with people for “drinks.”).
- Restaurant savings - If we want to save money on a restaurant, we will choose a place that doesn’t provide table service - this eliminates extra money spent on tipping!
- Buy groceries instead of going out to eat - Most people already know this, but did you know that in most states, groceries are not taxed??? If they are taxed in your state, it should always be less than your state sales tax. If you go out to eat, you will pay a sales tax, which can be anywhere from ~6-10%. This isn’t the case with groceries (meaning food not ready for immediate consumption). It’s kind of a double-whammy in tax savings because, not only are groceries tax-free, these items cost less than what you would pay for them at a restaurant.
- EBates - We use EBates to help us plan online purchases. You get cash back for any purchases made through a slew of online retailers (we will typically purchase all clothes and home goods online because of Ebates cash back). We have gotten up to 10% back on a few of our purchases!
- Online grocery shopping - I will use Walmart Online Grocery for all cleaning supplies, personal care items, and pantry staples because it keeps me from impulse buying in the store. Also, the convenience of shopping online at home allows you to compare prices in other online sales ads from the comfort of your home!
- Consciousness of energy/water/electricity use - This entails turning the air/heat down whenever we’re not home. Do we really need that light on? Are we using the dishwasher/washing machine/dryer at full capacity only? Are we opening/closing our curtains and blinds in an attempt to block heat or keep heat inside?
- Only buy clothing/makeup/household goods when there is a sale/special/discount available - I never buy anything that I don’t get a discount on!
- Carpool to work - Ryan does this with a coworker that lives nearby.
- Stretch out haircut visits - I typically go 2-3 times per year and Ryan cuts his own unless he gets a good coupon in the mail!
- No cable/satellite.
- Avoid on-going monthly memberships (magazines, music, etc).
- Check out books from the library - Because you rarely re-read books! Why buy them when you can get them from the library at no charge. You can also check out movies, music, and TV series from the library.
- Take your lunch to work. This saves a TON of money!
- Clean out your e-mails and unsubscribe from lists that tempt you to spend $$
- We do not buy lottery tickets (just sayin!).
- AirBnB - We always use this to save money when traveling (it is especially cost-efficient with International travel). We rent out a room in our house for a little side income as well!
- Make use of tax-advantaged accounts provided by your employer - If you are a full-time employee with benefits, please PLEASE ask HR about your retirement benefits. If they offer a 401k with a payout match for what you put in, take advantage of every penny, if you can... it is basically free money for retirement!
So that pretty much sums it up! Frugal February may not be for everyone - I get that! We tend to be fairly frugal out of necessity - it is not like we make a ton of money! We are simply trying to be good stewards of what God has given us and to manage our finances in a responsible way. It’s a plan. We are just using it personally as a tool to help with self-discipline and gratitude/appreciation for what we already have. It is also an opportunity for personal growth by which we can benefit from “perceived” self-denial and discomfort.
What does the latter part mean? If you think about how we truly grow, it is through the challenging times and situations that make us uncomfortable. I am sure each of us has encountered some of life’s less than pleasant circumstances. Often times, these are the experiences that grow us the most. So, this self-imposed denial is an attempt to step into the “uncomfortable” situations (in a small way) with the goal of coming out the other end a little bit better.
So, that was completely unlike any post I’ve done before! Let me know if you want to hear more about any of the money-saving tips we use by leaving a comment below or by contacting me via e-mail. Also, if you want a free one-page guide to get you on track with a simple savings plan, Ryan and I put together a nice little tip sheet with 7 Steps to Fast Track Your Savings. You can download it for FREE by signing up for my blog post updates here.