What frugality gets you

Making small daily decisions to save money can help you afford for bigger, more important purchases and investments.

By , Guest blogger

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    In this Aug. 1 photo, Ann Brown and her daughter Julie Anne shop for school supplies at a Staples store in Little Rock, Ark. Making small frugal decisions, like waiting for a sale to shop, or turning down your thermostat during the winter, can help you afford bigger, more important purchases and investments.
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This past weekend, I attended GenCon 2010, a gaming convention in Indianapolis, IN, with a group of several friends. I had been saving up to attend this convention for a while, and that savings consisted largely of money saved in the way I described this morning: making lots of small choices that saved money and didn’t negatively impact my way of living.

During the convention, I had many opportunities to chat with people and I found that at least a few of them had done the exact same thing. They didn’t have the income or resources to travel to such things regularly, but they chose to cut back in other areas. Some of them didn’t own televisions at home, for example. Some of them ran small side businesses for income. Others simply did frugal things, like eating meals at home and putting the savings away for their trip.

In each case, the rule of thumb is the same: they took money away from something of less importance to them to use the money on something of more importance to them.

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Translate this to your own life for a moment. What things in your life would you love to be doing but you can’t because you can’t afford it? What do you sit around daydreaming about but never actually do because you don’t have the money?

Maybe you are deeply passionate about travel, but you can only travel once every few years.

Maybe you dream about having the perfect home entertainment setup, but you balk at the price of the television and other equipment.

Maybe your idle thoughts focus on something like attending a convention related to your hobby, but the trip and the expenses are just too much.

You spend years dreaming about these things, but they just keep being out of reach.

That’s where sensible frugality plays a role. The trick is to cut back – hard – in the areas that don’t matter as much to you and save that money where you’ve cut back. This enables you to live your life without misery. (Of course, there’s nothing saying you can’t also choose to make sacrifices in specific areas important to you, too.) At the end of the year, though, you find yourself with the money for that trip or that television or that convention – and you can just do it.

I’ll give a very specific example.

I’ve seen an absolutely gorgeous 60″ LED HDTV for sale at Sam’s Club for about $2,400. It’s beautiful – I won’t deny that. If someone deeply wanted an absolutely amazing home entertainment setup, they might very well make this television the centerpiece of that room. I could see someone who played a lot of video games and/or watched a lot of television purchasing this flat screen and installing it happily in their living room.

But they can’t afford it! What’s a solution to get there?

The person spends $300 a month on their energy bill. Installing a programmable thermostat will cost about $40 up front, but the reduction in energy costs will be about $50 a month or so if properly programmed. This adds up to a total savings of $560 over the course of a year.

The person does three loads of laundry a week. Making their own detergent saves $0.20 a load. Over the course of a year, that adds up to $31.20.

The person drinks a couple bottles of soda a day. Switching to refillable bottles of water stored in the fridge eliminates about $1 a day in spending, giving you $52 more (and it’ll do wonders for your health).

The person commutes 20 miles to work every day for an 40 mile round trip. Setting up a car pool with just one other person four days a week eliminates 80 miles of driving a week. Using the government reimbursement rates, that simple switch will save you $1,040 a year.

The person eats out three times a week. Eating something inexpensive at home once a week instead of eating out saves the person $10 a week, adding up to another $520 over the year.

The person subscribes to a couple premium movie channels that he barely watches. Eliminating these subscriptions and joining Netflix instead reduces the monthly cost from $25 to $9, a savings of $192 a year.

Those moves saves the person $2,395.20 over the course of a year. If he’s socking that money away faithfully in an account bearing 2% interest, he’ll wind up with $2,420 at the end of the year. Time to go buy that television.

Here’s the thing, though: none of those changes required much time investment and they didn’t affect that person’s quality of day-to-day life much at all. He didn’t give up anything life-affirming, but at the end of the year, he had enough cash in hand to make that daydream come true.

You can just substitute in your own “dream” and your own frugal methods of getting there right into this plan. Browse big lists of frugality tips and free things to do and be selective with them, trying out only the things that work for you. Keep track of what you actually save and sock away those savings.

Eventually, you’ll find that you’ve built up some money for whatever it is you’re dreaming of. Even better, you’ll find that this kind of savings is very sustainable and it’ll help you keep building for whatever dream comes next after that.

You can use it to pay off debts. You can use it to build an emergency fund. You can use it to fly to Maui. You can use it to redo your kitchen. Whatever it is you dream of, sensible frugality can do it.

You just need a goal – and you need to start taking the little steps to get there.

Are you ready to start today?

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