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Personal Finance

Frugal spending habits that don’t suck

Being cheap, frugal, thrifty, you name it, I am totally it. I’m not embarrassed if someones uses those words to describe me, but many people have negative associations with it. Something I never really understood until I got older and you start to talk about money more often with your peers.

In fact, growing up in my house meant being frugal was something to be proud of. Mum and Dad would always smile with pride if I spent wisely or found a good bargain and I simply grew up thinking every kid had that positive reenforcement.

How wrong I was. So wrong, you’ll want to save this to Pinterest to reference back to these frugal spending habits. (yes, that was me trying to ask you to share on Pinterest. I appreciate the love)

The older I got the more I came to understand that all those words were closely linked to ideas of, not being generous, selfish, petty and uncool. Which again didn’t make any sense to me. Having frugal spending habits was a no brainer as a kid, and I didn’t understand why my peers didn’t/ don’t get it.

 

I don’t know if it’s just Chinese hospitality culture and how I was taught to treat friends and guests, but being generous and being frugal never contradicted each other in my family. The main reason was because all the frugal spending habits my parents used were centred on our own spending.

Most people see social spending as the first thing they cut back on.

They stop buying gifts, they stop going out, they don’t treat people to lunch or dinner anymore and overall give less to others.

A lot of people see social spending as a luxury and thus it’s the first thing on the chopping block when it comes to budgeting. But this needn’t be the case, and actually shouldn’t be the case.

Keeping and maintaining social relationships is important to your health and overall wellbeing in life. In fact, I would argue it’s more expensive to not maintain relationships.

A photo of you and your friends when you’re a cheapskate

So then, how do you be frugal without cutting on “luxury” and “unnecessary” spending?

Good question. You change your spending attitude to influence all types of spending in your life. I could list out specific frugal spending habits for you to follow, but it’ll mean very little if you don’t adopt the attitude of frugal spending.

That’s why this post isn’t going to be a list of specific spending hacks. Instead it’s a guide on how you should approach your spending in general.

Buy expensively and use it cheaply

Buying cheaply but using expensively is a common money trap many people with a poor money mindset fall into. The best example I can give you is the humble home printer.

Printers are cheap. Way cheaper than they should be. In fact some manufactures will sell you a printer at a lost to entice you to buy it. Why?

because printer ink is F*&#ing expensive! (oh man don’t get me started on printer ink, it’s a pet peeve expense of mine)

You can find many of these examples around you, but people are also doing it to themselves as well. When you buy items because they are cheaper upfront, but their maintenance costs is above average, you have fallen into the trap.

That old car that you constantly need to send to the garage for a fix, is a money trap. Those cheap plates you need to constantly replace because they break too easily. Money trap. That cheap refrigerator that isn’t energy efficient. Money trap.

A great frugal spending habit to adopt is to buy according to the amount it costs to obtain, run and maintain.

So let me share how you can try to avoid these money traps by developing certain frugal spending habits.

Quality over quantity

We live in a consumerism society where fast spending is the norm. You buy things, they don’t last long and then you buy some more. Gone are the days where normal high street brands are making items that last.

They want you to buy more and they will actively lower quality to get you to buy more. It’s your job to be smarter than the norm and understand that anything cheap in a store is simply, most likely, not going to last.

You get what you pay for.

Actually, if everything in this photo was 1GBP, then this shop is a bargain!

So that cheap H&M shirt that didn’t last for more than a season is going to cost you more than buying a shirt from Banana Republic that lasts you several seasons. Frugal spending habits don’t mean you buy cheap things. Frugal spending habits allow you to be cheaper overall.

Figuring out an item’s value

Which leads me to this point. You need to figure out the actual value of an item instead of only looking at the price tag. 

Most people only look at the number that’s going to be displayed on the till and this is a big mistake because value isn’t so simple.

Firstly, value is rather subjective and will be different for each individual because it’s influenced by our values and priorities in life. If someone values the immediate benefit of cool air in summer and doesn’t have much upfront cash, they’re going to find that a cheaper air-conditioner gives more value even if it’s expensive to run. Or buying on credit is worth it even though the air conditioner will be even more expensive.

That’s a very simple way of seeing things, but you get the gist.

Value is very contextual.

Secondly, there is no right or wrong way to value an item. Every method or thinking process is arguably correct in a certain context and for certain people. However, this post is focusing on the objective of spending no more than what you should and need.

So in that sense there are some common ground most people can agree on, and this is:

How much do you get from it : How much it costs

You want to get “how much do you get from it” to be as high as possible in ratio to “how much it costs”.

Which leads me to my next point.

Do not mindlessly consume without purpose

In order to figure out the above, you can’t be mindlessly spending your money on things without understanding what you want from it.

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I don’t enjoy shopping, so when I do go shopping I know exactly what I want and go get it without deviating to make the whole process as pain free as possible.

However, I understand most people actually enjoy shopping. It helps people destress, it’s a social activity and people just seem to like it.

But that’s where the money trap hits you hard.

People who go shopping that welcome the idea of buying something, but have no expectations of what to buy, are in the danger zone. You walk into a mall and you’re bombarded with visual stimulation. It’s not possible for you to hate and dislike everything you see.

In fact it’s quite the opposite. You’re going to find A LOT of items that you like, and since you already stepped in with the attitude of spending money. That is exactly what you’re going to do.

By the time you get back home you found yourself with things you don’t need. Things that give little value.

Don’t be mindless with your shopping. A good frugal spending habit is to know what you want.

Understand the pitfalls of a craze

Another pitfall of mindless spending is getting into crazes. There’s nothing wrong with being trendy and up to date with trends. You actually want to keep up with them to stay relevant, but it’s a massive money trap when you’re not following a trend, but a craze.

What’s the difference?

A trend is the gradual increase of adoption from greater society until it’s just another part of daily life. A craze is a sudden explosion of relevance that only a small facet of society adopts and then disappears.

The former is ok to spend on, it’s like computers and mobile phones or the latest subscription based streaming content. These are trends that are here to stay. The latter isn’t though. A craze comes by fast and dies even faster.

Be clear with what you want to achieve with your purchase

Up to this point of the post you might be thinking “ok, so I basically need to buy less and buy more expensively”. No, not exactly.

I’m not saying you can’t buy that fast fashion clothing item that’s only going to be relevant for one season, or that you shouldn’t buy that cool avant garde kitchen table. What I mean is you have to be sensible about the price you pay for stuff.

I wouldn’t be focusing on quality for a fast fashion item that I will only wear a few times. Just last Christmas I had to find a dark green sweater for the family photo. I could have bought a good quality one, but green isn’t really my colour and so I bought a secondhand sweater for $20 HKD (around $2.5 USD) off a street stall.

A bargain for something I’ll only wear a few times at most. But a horrible buy if I actually wanted something that will last.

This is the green sweater I got for $20 hkd. So ugly, it’s hipster cool…kinda

Another example; Hong Kong has many private gyms and these gyms can range a lot in price, but the government public gyms are actually only a fraction of the price. But is that the best buy?

It depends, if you want to join classes and have private instructors than a private gym will have those facilities but if you just need the basic equipment for your workout, then the private gym memberships don’t make any financial sense.

Know why you’re buying something and then you’ll know the value and hence the best price to spend on an item.

Understand where your dollar stretches the most

So now you understand the value of an item. It’s now time to maximise that value in reasonable ways. Why do I say reasonable ways?

Because there’s so many ways to do things and achieve whatever you want, but not ever single method is going to be worth it in a practical sense.

A great example is that show called extreme couponers? extreme couponing? Something along those lines. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t then here’s a clip of it here.

A good summary of this show is: American retail has severe communication loopholes when it comes to the manufacturer and the retailer, and these people have found crazy ways to exploit these loopholes. Anyway, I’m starting to go off topic. (If anyone wants to talk about that show with me, leave a comment. I can talk about it all day)

Here’s another clip for UK couponing, which I think is very amazing because UK doesn’t have as big of a coupon culture as the states.

But do you know what’s a common theme for all the people on this show? They’re mostly full-time housewives with school going kids.

They have a lot of time.

You wouldn’t be able to do this effectively otherwise. This means, most people wouldn’t be able to do it, and even if they did, they would probably think it’s not a good use of time. The amount of time to collect, cut, organise and shop for these discounts probably take up many hours in a week. And most of these people only save a few hundred bucks off their weekly expenses.

Many people could simply make more than what they can save from a minimum wage job. The point is, the methods you use to maximise your value should fit into your current life comfortably. Anything else, and it doesn’t make sense.

Developing frugal spending habits is the act of spending wisely for yourself. What works and makes sense for one person, doesn’t mean it’ll work or make sense for you.

Let’s go over some specific examples where it’ll make sense for most people.

Buying in bulk when it makes sense

A great frugal spending habit is to buy in bulk for a lower price per unit or buy in bulk at the right time.

Why buy in bulk and if you should, when should you buy in bulk?

oh man I have so many childhood memories at Costco…good times 😛

Buying in bulk when it makes sense is a big money saver. There are a lot of ways you can do it, but the general idea is, if it’s a item that isn’t perishable, but is disposable. Buy in bulk.

Toilet paper. Buy in bulk.

Rice. Buy in bulk.

Laundry detergent. Buy in bulk.

Your favourite white tee is on sale? Buy in bulk. (you can never have too many white t-shirts unless someone here can teach me how to keep them pristine white forever.)

Some items will naturally be cheaper when you buy bigger quantities, such as items on your grocery list. But there are items where buying larger quantities don’t equate to saving money unless there’s a sale or offer on them.

Here are some items I buy in bulk that aren’t items found at the supermarket.

  • White T-shirts
  • Socks
  • Bedsheets

Never be brand loyal if the quality and functionality doesn’t justify it

Brands. Where do I start.

Brand loyalty is the most stupid thing you can do to your wallet. And the subtitle of this section pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. This frugal spending habit is all about focusing on objective value and not intrinsic value marketing gives you.

If the brand isn’t objectively superior in quality and functionality, then it’s not worth it. Why pay more than you need to for a certain logo or tag?

ONLY Kanye West can sell a plain white T-shirt for $120 and call it a “Hip Hop T-shirt”… I am both impressed and disgusted at the same time.

A lot of people have this deeply ingrained idea of associating certain brands to be better. But that’s not the case all the time. It’s all in your head because the large companies spent millions in their marketing campaigns to make you think this way.

Stop it. You bank account is hating you for it.

A great tip to avoid falling into the spells of brilliant branding is to simply look at it for what it is. That, is a shirt. That, is a table. That, is tomato sauce. You get the point.

Get rid of the brand in your decision making process and it become a lot easier to overcome any subconscious false biases you have. Frugal spending habits are all about being smarter than the the marketers selling you the item.

Other resources you should check out:

 

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13 comments
    1. Winnie MD

      I have a newsletter you can sign up to on the side…I think I forgot to place it in before publishing. Oops. But you can find it on the side now 🙂

  1. Lana

    Love this. You’ve got a strong point here about the money traps and maintenance cost.
    I’m always looking out for ways to cut my spendings and bring consumerism to an end. Buying fewer things of high quality rather than loads of lower quality is what I’ve been onto lately. The only thing is, when it comes to clothes it’s like a Russian roulette game. Expensive does not always mean quality 🙁

    1. Winnie MD

      Completely agree with clothing quality. Brands and the price tag doesn’t correlate to quality much with clothes. But I think it’s just trial and error to gain experience. I don’t think I’m great at it, but when I do buy clothes I can tell if it’ll last by toughing the fabric.

  2. An Historian

    Great post! I would agree with many of your points- a lot of spending is for no other reason than having more things, which not only hits your budget but the environment, as well. However, I tend to go for the mindset with my wardrobe that if I am not willing to pay full price for something, I don’t love it enough to buy it. I only buy 3-5 new pieces a season (including everything but socks and underwear), so I’m not spending too much! However, if people are only buying things BECAUSE they are on sale, I would recommend spending time figuring out what it is you actually like and what is worth spending on. Cheers!

    1. Winnie MD

      That’s a great point. Definitely only buy what you actually like, but basic pieces in your wardrobe like plain t-shirts, tanks, sweats etc are things I would never pay full price for. Their pieces I wear roughly and will need to replace eventually.

  3. Vox

    I agree that being frugal is about spending wisely. In fact, I maintain that even when I have a million dollars to spend, I will still look for the best deal when I got to make a purchase. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Beth

    Such a great post! Printer ink and lightbulbs are two of my biggest buying pet peeves (and with lightbulbs there are definitely perks to buying quality). I will say I have found that for some goods bulk buying doesn’t pay off when you can coupon and shop sales to get toilet paper and paper towels at a much lower price per item, but considering how often socks disappear in our laundry room buying those in bulk definitely makes sense.

    1. Winnie MD

      My sister lives in the states and she talks about how cheap toilet paper is with coupons hahaha! Apparently there are store coupons and then on top of that each box has a coupon on it for you to use next time. The retail industry in USA baffles me.

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