Frugality? Are you sure?

Being frugal is almost a catchcry these days. Who can be more frugal? Can I out-frugal the neighbours? Can I be greener, leaner, simpler than whomever?

Well, to be honest, I don’t care much about who I can be more frugal than. It’s important to me, so I’m going to be as frugal as I can without denying my family things that I believe to be important.

The reasons, for me, are fairly simple. At one point, I had nothing. I had no steady income, three small humans to feed as well as myself, and only basic benefits that didn’t go far enough to pay the bills.

I had to tighten the belt. If it weren’t for family who showed up with food, one of whom managed to get me a job, we would have struggled so much harder than we already were.

Then, I can tell you I used every frugal strategy I could lay my hands on.

  • I only bought the basics and made everything else from scratch
  • I used cloth nappies out of necessity rather than out of desire
  • I went reusable for menstrual products
  • I didn’t go anywhere I couldn’t walk to
  • I didn’t buy anything superfluous

It really hit home to me, not then, but later, that some people go through more than just twelve months of struggle like this. Some people spend their lives in this stressful situation. I don’t have words to explain how tough this must be, or even to truly comprehend this myself.

So now that things are not so tough for me financially, I still do the frugal. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I want to make sure there’s a buffer between me and any more financial hardship, so I’m building an emergency fund. I want to make sure that when we need something important, we have the funds to pay for it. I want to make sure that I can pay for school fees and swimming lessons. I want to make sure we can pay the doctors fee if one of us should get sick.

So here’s a list of what I’ve been doing to make sure we stay with our heads somewhere above the waterline.

  • Meal plan, simple plus frugal. Only buy what you need, and plan it out so you know what you’re feeding everyone rather than having the dinner time stress of trying to decide at the last minute
  • Accept when people offer stuff. My dad gave me a huge tub of laundry detergent that was sitting unused in his shed. He wasn’t going to use it, so I took it and two months on we haven’t even used half.
  • Wear the kids out by taking the dog for a walk to the park. It’s free, everyone is getting out in the fresh air, and the littles are tired at bedtime after the physical activity
  • Use the library. We can get books, DVD’s etc for free. It’s a win for us as we have a DVD and pizza night with no rental fees
  • Dry the laundry on the clothesline. Winter is tougher than summer, but I’ve strung up lines in the shed so we can dry towels and bedsheets more quickly in the wet months
  • Substitute items on the grocery list. I LOVE Coca Cola. I know how terrible it is for me, but I’m not going to give it up anytime soon, or ever. But instead of buying two bottles, I buy one of Coke and one of the supermarket brand cola. It doesn’t taste the same, but it’s kinder on the budget
  • Buy in bulk. Things like toilet paper, nappies, wipes, rice, pasta, meat for the freezer. If you can store things you use often, buying in bulk is cheaper.
  • Accept hand-me-downs. Not just for kids, my sister cleaned out her wardrobe and since I had been complaining that I had no jeans that fit anymore, she passed some to me. The ones that were too small for me, my eldest daughter got and she was as stoked as I was.
  • Don’t buy what you don’t need. I had two saucepans, and needed a third to use for non-food items (body products etc). I told my mum I was going to visit the op shop and instead she handed me one of hers that she didn’t actually need. Then again, not everyone needs a non-food saucepan, so if you only need two, don’t buy a third.

So, I’m still frugal. And there are tons more little things I do to stay that way. I stretch mince dishes with kidney beans, I bake my own bread and cakes, and I never buy coffee when I’m out. I’m not as frugal by necessity now, but by choice. And by making that choice I can afford the school excursions, swimming and dancing lessons, occasional visits to the café with the kids.

I don’t feel deprived, and I still have fun. So do my kids. And hopefully the kids won’t even notice that we don’t have everything so-and-so has, but will notice that I was there, taking them to the park and the library, cheering them at swimming, doing their hair for dancing and making sure they were clothed, fed and educated. It won’t matter to them now, but maybe, when they have kids of their own, they’ll know mum tried. If nothing else, I tried.