By Sleeping Mama
This is a guest post: “Sleeping Mama” is a 30-something mom to a two-year-old little boy. Her blog, Sleeping Should Be Easy, chronicles the day-to-day life of her toddler, from proud moments to challenging days and everything in between.
I buy Pampers instead of generic, shop at a farmers market, and buy new toys for my toddler. Despite all that, I still claim to be a frugal mom.
How? By choosing to spend on what’s important to my family while aggressively cutting back on what’s not.
Take diapers, for instance. We tried several brands and even considered cloth diapers, but Pampers won my baby’s heart (and bottom). If I ran my budget strictly by the numbers, I would have insisted on buying the least expensive brand, regardless of its performance and ease. Instead, I’m willing to spend more on what works for us and find ways to lower costs as much as possible (I buy Pampers in bulk online using my credit card rewards mall, which gives me an extra 15 points per dollar for that particular online store).
Buying organic food is another example. We shop at the farmers market so for several reasons—to support local communities and eat tastier food among them—but we limit how much we spend per week (that $30 fish would just eat up our budget!) and use most of our purchases to cook at home.
Frugality is a lifestyle, and like any long-term lifestyle, needs to be sustainable. Yes, we could deprive ourselves and live bare bones, but that mindset will hardly go far and is likely difficult to maintain. Instead, we’ll gladly pay the cost of something we enjoy (assuming that it doesn’t eat up most of our income) and skimp on everything else.
So while diapers and food remain a high cost for our family, we’ve tightened our budget on a few other categories:
We frequent the library
Every week I borrow at least six library books for my toddler to read. I can run a search through my library’s website, place holds on the books I’m interested in and pick them up at my convenience—all for free! If my toddler isn’t interested in particular books, I don’t have to worry about buyer’s remorse since we don’t own them. We still buy him books, but at least he’s “test-driven” them before we even spent a dime. The library also hosts free children’s events such as story time or musical performances that we’ve attended.
We cook at home
We hardly eat at restaurants and rely on home-cooked meals. Since we don’t mind spending time in the kitchen, we’re able to save quite a bit, especially since we use leftovers for lunch at work the next day.
We hang out at the park and find free entertainment
My toddler loves going to the park, whether it’s to run on the grass, climb around on the playground, look for pine cones, scoop some sand, or even simply sit and pick flowers from the ground. We’ve gone to practically every park there is in our city. We also find free entertainment or venues: parades, festivals, free museum days. Even shopping centers offer free playgrounds or fountains (if you can avoid walking into the stores!).
We don’t drive fancy cars
When the time came to replace my dying Corolla, we were tempted to take the money we’ve saved and use it as a down payment for a fancier (or even larger) car. But we had enough money saved that would have allowed us to buy another basic Corolla with cash, which is what we did. For us, we just wanted a car that functions and provides basic comfort.
We look for promo codes and printable coupons
Although we buy our toddler new clothes, we opt for lower-cost brands and look for promo codes or printable coupons. Any time I shop online and there’s a field to enter a promo code, I’ll quickly google the store’s name and the words “promo code” to see if anything comes up. Or if I’m planning to go to the actual store, I’ll google the store’s name and “printable coupons.” Usually there’s a code for free shipping or a coupon for a percentage off your purchase.
We don’t buy our toddler too many toys and gifts
This past Christmas, we bought our toddler one gift—and it cost $16. For his birthday, we didn’t buy him any gifts and instead threw a little party with his immediate family. Children don’t really need too many toys and gadgets. I even think boredom is good for them since it forces them to crank up their imagination. And when we do buy him a toy, we’re almost always sure he’ll love it (because we know what he’s interested in) and they’re usually good-quality, long-lasting toys.
What’s important to you?
Our expenditures may be similar to some families while completely opposite for others; neither is necessarily more frugal than the other. So long as you’re clear about your priorities and your budget has room, you can continue spending on what matters to you and cut back on those that don’t.