Every family prioritizes their budget differently. In our home where we manage primarily on one income, we feel we live well and are proud of our how we handle our finances. Our frugal living comes with inherent sacrifices, but we have money for things that are important to us like cooking well, traveling (within limits), and giving to our favorite charities.
Yet I’ve noticed a creeping pressure to spend in other areas that makes our frugal living sometimes harder. There are social expectations that our family will “splurge” on certain things like extracurricular activities, cable television, eating out, or grand vacations.
None of these things are bad, and every family has different ideas about what is important. If we had more money, we would enjoy eating out more often and take nicer vacations. With our budget, though, we had to rethink some purchases that other people might consider normal parts of life.
Our Frugal Living Means Not Spending Money On:
1. Social gatherings at restaurants. We enjoy occasional restaurant dinners with family, but we often politely turn down most other invitations. (We opted out of two recent restaurant outings with our church but happily attend budget-friendly potlucks there.) Rather than go into details, we usually give a simple, “We can’t make it.”
We do take turns hosting friends for home-cooked dinners and going to our friends’ homes.
2. Direct marketing parties. I don’t attend or host them. They’re marketed as opportunities to hang out with friends and pamper yourself, but I can’t participate knowing I have no intention to buy most of the products.
3. Exotic vacations. Some families go to Disney World or on cruises. We camp. In a tent. Every year we explore at least one new state park. We also love to take day trips to destinations or attractions near our home. In addition, we spend time each summer at my parents’ home near Lake Michigan. The kids play at the shore and we see extended family at backyard cookouts.
We are saving for a Disney World trip when our kids are old enough to remember it and to handle long days walking around the parks. My husband and I didn’t visit Disney World until we were older, and it was still a magical place.
4. Expensive extracurricular activities for the kids. They aren’t enrolled in fancy gymnastics centers or sports programs. We’ve done low-cost swimming and dance lessons through our city, and my oldest child is in an affordable, noncompetitive gymnastics class run by an experienced teacher who works out of her home (which was custom-built with a high ceiling in the basement!).
Especially while children are young, some of the best activities are free or cost little, like picnics, library story time, playgrounds, and hiking at state parks.
5. Cable television, or similar services. We have no Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon on Demand. We have a television with an antenna, and we are fortunate to have a vast public library with access to most things we want to watch.
6. Movie theatres. When movies come out, well-meaning friends say, “You have to take your daughters to see that!” We smile, nod, and typically wait until those movies are at Redbox or the library.
7. New clothes for the kids. Most of their clothing is from garage sales, thrift stores, or consignment shops. It’s tempting to buy new when I see other kids wearing cute, obviously new duds, but I can’t justify the expense. It helps that we live in a middle-class neighborhood and my oldest child attends the local school where very few kids wear designer clothes, so she fits in fine.
8. Products from school fund raising companies. I’ve noticed many people buy every time they’re approached by a cute child selling something because they want to help. Yet the products are pricey and often involve junk food. The school’s profit is small and we do better to donate money – or time – directly to the school. I have volunteered quite a bit at my daughter’s elementary school since she started there nearly two years ago, and I do more good tutoring kids in reading or math than I ever could buying frozen cookie dough. While we sometimes order Girl Scout cookies, we aren’t afraid to say no to those either. They are good causes, but we shouldn’t feel obligated to give every time to every organization – we’d go broke if we did!
9. Eating at restaurants when we travel or visit attractions. When we go on road trips, sometimes we have no choice but to buy restaurant food, but when we can, we like to pack picnic lunches in a cooler. During colder months, we eat in the car and I pack non-messy sandwiches and other easy finger foods. Our girls like to eat Lunchables purchased on sale – a treat for them – in their car and booster seats. During the warmer months, we love stopping at rest stops where there are picnic tables, playgrounds, and restrooms. It gives us a nice opportunity to spend time outdoors and lets the kids run around and burn off steam after being cooped up in the car. I like packing our lunches when we travel because we have greater variety in the foods we eat and they are healthier. Sometimes I get tired of the standard hamburgers and fries from the usual eateries.
When we visit local attractions, we often bring our lunches, too. Our zoo allows outside food, which means we don’t have to buy $8 hamburgers. When our extended family visited an amusement park last summer, we got our hands stamped and went to our cars to eat our own food for lunch. Looking around the parking lot, we weren’t the only families tailgating.
What are your family’s frugal living spending priorities? What “expected” things do you say no to?
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