Being careful or frugal is what some refer to as being tight. Though this might legitimately be the case, many have no choice, trying to make ends meet on a low income or budget.
One definition of FRUGAL is “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful”. TIGHT however can be used to describe very close fitting clothes, no space, drunk, or in this comparison, stingy or mean.
Years ago, there were no such things as credit cards or interest free loans, so if we wanted anything, it was either the ‘Never Never’ (hire purchase) or saving until you had enough to buy it outright. Times have changed, and so have priorities.
According to the media, in 2011, the average salary for a full-time worker in the UK was £26,244 (approx $40,300). A single person had to earn at least £15,000 ($23000) a year before tax to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living, and a couple with a single earner and two children needed at least £31,600 ($48,500).
From the Gov.uk website, the minimum wage in 2011 for over 21s was £6.08 ($9.35) per hour. Imagine then a couple without children managing on a joint income of just £10,000 ($15,400). If they are homeowners, then local taxes, possibly a mortgage, utility bills plus any loans have to come out of this figure and they must survive on the remainder. Forget any state help. There are many desperately in need who are either too proud, stubborn or embarassed to ask, some who feel they don’t need it, and some who aren’t eligible regardless of their circumstances.
To make the most of what is available, one has to look at the way we live and ask ourselves three things. Do I want this? Do I need this? Will my life end if I don’t have it?
We need shelter, heat, water, and food to survive. If you are lucky enough to have no mortgage or rent to pay, you save on probably the biggest outlay of any budget. If not, there are some good mortgage deals to be had but in some instances, it is actually cheaper to rent.
Heating and water usage is up to the individual and so can be ‘tweaked’ to suit. If you run a multi-fuel stove in the winter months, have you ever thought about using the radiated heat to cook a stew in a pressure cooker? Several hours on top of a fire already going is cheaper than 30 minutes on an electric hob. Turning down the thermostat and reducing the time your central heating is running will also save money on your fuel bill. You can always put on another jumper or go to bed half an hour earlier. Surprisingly, you may well find that you function better in a slightly lower temperature anyway. Low energy lightbulbs can also save a little on your electricity bills. Don’t use a tumble dryer on a sunny day and use your microwave for steaming veg rather than boiling on the hob. Plan meals in advance, utilising your oven to cook more than one item at a time. A few pennies saved here and there soon mount up.
If there are just two of you, having a water meter may also save money. Modern toilets have dual flush systems, and showers use less water than having a bath, but beware, power showers use more. Today’s automatic washing machines are all designed to be energy conscious, not only washing at lower temperatures but having an economy wash which takes less than half an hour, using less water on each rinse cycle. Rainwater collected from the gutters in a water butt can be used on the garden. Use a bucket and soft brush instead of a hose to wash the car or windows. Wash the dishes manually rather than run a dishwasher and use only half a bowl of water.
Food however is possibly where to make the biggest changes and savings.
We all probably eat too much so cutting down portion sizes by 15% won’t really hurt. By using smaller dinner plates, you’re unlikely to notice anyway! Bake your own cakes rather than buy them, and if practical, make your own bread too. Have you checked the ingredients that go into that jar of sweet and sour pasta sauce you’ve just bought? You can probably make it yourself and agreed, it will never taste the same as your favourite brand, BUT it will be better for you as you know exactly what went in it, plus you can cut down on the sugar and salt used as preservatives which is what gives it shelf life. Instead of buying meat by weight, look at the number of meals you can get per pack. If the pack sizes get smaller, still apply this rule if you can and increase the veg content in your recipes. Ready meals can be a rip off as they are not filling and can be laden with additives. Buy the basic ingredients and make your own cottage pies, spaghetti bolognese and lasagnes. For the latter, if you double up on tomatoes and onions, you can do the ‘Two-fer’ trick, and make your mix last 2 days, which will also halve your red meat intake. Experiment with rice and pasta instead of using potatoes. A kilo of rice provides 2 people with at least 3 meals each for curries etc.
Take a serious look at the way you shop and how often. Do you shop for convenience or practicality? Is it really cheaper to travel 10 miles to the supermarket for a few items compared to buying them locally from the grocer or butcher? Could this shopping wait until you have a large shop to do, thus justifying a trip? Always make a list of what you need, give yourself a price guide and stick to it. If you think it’s too expensive, either buy less to keep within your budget, look for a cheaper alternative, or don’t buy it at all. Don’t be wary of discount shops either. Many of them stock brand name toiletries at reduced prices, and some of their non-brand cleaning products are equally as good as their expensive counterparts for a fraction of the price. If enough people leave unacceptably high priced items on the shelf, the supermarkets will eventually reduce them.
Buy One Get One Free offers are not necessarily savings as weights may differ and some actually work out to be more expensive. If food, will you really eat it all before it goes off? If you have a freezer, certainly take full advantage and freeze any extra on the day of purchase. Growing your own veg is also a good way to save money. If you live in a close community, get together with your friends and all agree to grow something different, then ‘barter’ between yourselves to get variety at no extra cost. There’s nothing like picking an apple off your own tree for apple sauce or a crumble, or making tomato pasta from those fresh off the vine.
Most of us run a car, therefore we have to pay road tax, insurance, MOTs and servicing, not forgetting of course the fuel that goes in it. Supermarket fuel may be cheaper, but not if it’s a 20 mile round trip just to save a few pence a litre, so combine your shopping trip with fuelling up. Some supermarket fuels have been rumoured to be sub standard, but only you can decide if the fuel you buy is giving you the best mileage from your vehicle. It is also your decision as to what kind of vehicle you drive. Bigger beasts drink more fuel and cost more to insure and tax, yet some older and smaller vehicles attract a higher cost than newer diesel or petrol cars that have low emissions.
Shop around for your insurance, and don’t accept your renewal notice as the cheapest or best deal. Be careful though, as you may be getting less cover paying less with someone else. You could also be cheeky and ask your current insurers if they can reduce the premium at all if you renew with them. They may ask you to limit your mileage or increase your voluntary excess but if the saving is worthwhile, don’t dismiss it without thought. Did you buy your vehicle new? To keep the warranty valid, you may need to have your servicing done by the dealer or a specific garage. In the UK, new vehicles don’t require an MOT for 3 years, but if you have low mileage, you may not need to have a full service every year, and some have servicing every 2 years anyway with a free ‘interim’ service in between for the first 5 years.
Luxuries such as the internet, television, dining out, gym membership, theatre, holidays, second homes etc are again personal choice but for those living frugally, they are not essentials and therefore absent. Why have the latest in mobile phone technology for a premium if you’re not going to use it, or don’t need it? Pay As You Go is perfectly adequate, if you need a mobile phone at all.
However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to money. Whether you are considered ‘careful’, ‘tight’, ‘stingy’ or ‘frugal’, there is a difference as to what you want and what you need, as well as how much you have to fork out and how much is left over to live on.