Saturday, December 5, 2015

the philosophy of spending SMALL while living LARGE

In the past year, Mr. Frugal Rock and I have made some changes to our lifestyle that have greatly impacted our quality of life and decreased our spending. It wasn't a big conversation that prompted these changes, but we began considering and trying to be more intentional with how and where we spent our money (and our time). Looking back it probably first began with our decision a few years ago to purchase a smaller home, where we had to really look at the function, utility and beautiful-ness of each object or piece of furniture. Any person who is living in 1500 square feet or less can relate this problem. This led us to downscale from a dining room table the fit 10 to a small round table with home-made built in benches for cozy board games and exceptional amounts of storage in a small space*. It also reflected who we are and what we enjoy. I am not a hosting-a-big-dinner-party kind of person, but a quiet night with friends- totally my speed!

In the past year though, we have really looked at every aspect of our lives and tried to find ways to reduce. So where has this led? It led to a conscious decision to keep our heat low (even a few degrees can make a difference) and avoid additional electrical expenses- like putting up Christmas lights**. While some were big savings decisions, others were smaller lifestyle decisions that made less of an impact on our wallet. One of the major lifestyle changes was related to what we purchase. In the wake of an abundance of Black Friday purchases/Holiday shopping it can be all too easy to get sucked into the consumerism of the season. I myself am a sucker for emails from Amazon relating the AMAZING deals. But wait, you say, isn't it better to purchase something on SALE than on full price??

While that may be true- it becomes NEEDS versus WANTS. If there was something that you genuinely needed and it's on sale- here in the cold north, a winter coat comes to mind, I say go for it. However, for most of us there are already 2 winter coats in the closet and this latest purchase is the more 'stylish' in coat for this new season, than it falls pretty quickly into the WANT column. So why does that new gadget, item, piece of clothing have that allure for us? Advertising and marketing firms are working hard to try and sell you happiness- not a new coat, but the feeling that new coat will supposedly give to you. And most of us have felt that high after buying that perfect item. But how long does that last for? Here are three questions to ask yourself before you go online or brick' n' mortar shopping:

Do I own something that currently serves this purpose?
I caught myself at REI last week during one of their FREE classes (great for learning a new skill on a budget), looking at a new pair of snow boots. They were amazing- on sale from about $300 to $150- a huge discount. I probably tried them on initially because of the sale price, and than once they fit the sales lady was doing a admirably subtle job of letting me know all the ways that these boots were special. It took me a moment of walking around the store with the boots under my arm before I reminded myself that while $150 is much less than $300, $0 was actually the amount that I needed to spend on snow boots, as I had a pair that get the job done the few months of the year I need them, and while these matched my winter gear perfectly, lets face it, none of my neighbors will notice when we are all ankle deep in snowdrifts shoveling our sidewalks. While I was initially disappointed about not getting the boots, I haven't thought about them again until righting this post- a sure sign they were a want, not a need.

What am I hoping for from this purchase (will it help me achieve something, or learn something new)?
This comes from a desire to move away from buying stuff, just to have more. Recently, I have used the bar of what am I "hoping to achieve from this purchase" as a litmus test for spending. For example, I love being outdoors. I feel most zen and at peace when I can spend at least an hour outside doing something active and enjoyable. My favorite activity most of the year is going hiking, even for a short period, but day hikes are wonderful! In the past, winters have always been hard for me, I struggle with the days getting dark sooner, not being able to get outside as often, or as comfortably as you can the rest of the year.

While a lot of this is in our heads, and we can get out and enjoy long walks and time outdoors even in our cold Wisconsin winters, it can feel more challenging. As a result, I purchased our family snowshoes this year to push ourselves to get outdoors and to allow us to still get to enjoy our hikes through nature. This purchase has a few benefits for us- it allows us to learn a new skill and embark on a new experience (snowshoeing), enables us to get outside for more of the year, and encourages healthy physical exercise. That feels like a win! Of course we didn't go out and buy the most expensive ones. We also tried rentals first (to make sure we actually liked it) and ultimately shopped around before getting a good online deal. This passed the test of helping us achieve something new- in a way that a new video console system, digital cameral, etc. wouldn't. While marketing experts want you to achieve 'happiness' even for a short-time for purchasing their product, maybe think about if this item will bring you 'joy' or a long-lasting sustaining feeling of accomplishment.

What is my estimated use of this item?
What is the true cost of the item? This is something that takes a bit more time to figure out. When determining the cost or if any item is 'worth' the amount, I find it helpful to think of the amount as more than just a number. For example, I want a new dress and it's $200. If you make $25 a hour that's a whole day's work just to purchase this one item. If my intention is to where it once, that feels like an unreasonable cost, not only from the hourly wage standpoint but also from a time standpoint. 8 hours of work is a lot of time to commit to purchasing an item. However, if it's an item that I am going to use often- for example, almost daily, that $200 doesn't seem like such a high cost.

Another helpful way of looking at spending is to compare it to a normal monthly cost- for example the electric bill, mortgage payment, car or student loan payment. For example, $200 could be the equivalent of your student loan payment or 1/2 of a car payment. By stopping and reflecting that you could make an extra student loan payment or that it was nearly a car payment, it can help put the purchase in perspective.

Sometimes after putting the big purchases in perspective, folks still have a hard time realizing how those small purchases can add up. Even something like eating out once a week for lunch during the work week can add up quickly! As a former Cousins Subs junkie, I would relish the idea of going there for lunch despite the fact that this 'cheap' lunch was easily over $10 a pop. To really get a sense of what you are spending try recording each purchase you make a month- or for ease and sake of time, consider an app like MINT that you can link your accounts to, which will also easily break down your spending into categories, that you can choose or customize. If you are feeling really inspired, make a budget and MINT will email you weekly status reports on your spending and let you know how much you have spent in each budget area that month. As we learned from School House Rock: Knowledge is POWER.

So um...where does the LIVING LARGE part come in?
So we talked about ways to not spend money on purchases, and the importance of valuing both your dollars and your time. A lot of times financial advice sites talk more about what not to do, than what TO do. So we talked about ways to reduce spending, but what are some things that you can enjoy for free or low costs since you aren't spending your green on joyless consumer products. What are some good no cost or low cost ways to spend your time?

Go to free or low cost community events!
In my city, there are an abundance to free or low cost community events. One local coffee chain, (Collectivo for the locals!) offers free musical events at their locations, that include musicians from the symphony or the opera. Now of course, you should at least buy a cup of coffee once your there, so you aren't taking advantage but $2 for a night out is pretty low cost! Another community great is Boswell Books, known for it's great local bookstore feel and it's HUGE event list. Almost every night there is a free event at Boswell with book clubs, local/national authors giving talks, demonstrations, etc. Also, if you are going to spend your money on a book, may as well buy local and than get the authors signature right away! Finally many local athletic stores, like Athletica or REI offer free yoga or instructional classes and experiences. While ultimately they may be wanting to see you the latest goodies, it can be a fun fulfilling night out learning something new! While it may take some research to find good, local events in your area, it is totally doable and may challenge you to try something you haven't thought to try before!

Get outside!
If you live in the US, you should already be aware of our AWESOME national and state park systems. Many states have large state forests or park systems. While you can buy a day pass, if you plan to use it throughout the year, invest in a cheap yearly pass, and see how much enjoyment you can get out from $28. Having been a Midwest resident my whole life, and a long-time hiker/camper, I can say that there are still many parks and trails that I have yet to explore. In addition to the state/national parks, many cities have their own parks, bike trails, etc. that just need to be explored. Try taking a weekend and be a tourist in your own town- go on a walk or get your bike out and check out the trails. This past fall, getting outside and exploring trails, led me to find mountain biking trails in the middle of my city, in a very unexpected place. Sometimes the joy of discovery can make your day that much brighter!

*watch for a future post from Frugal Rock Finance with a tour of the Home of Frugal Rock

** I'm sure I'll get some flack for this one.
What do you think? Are there questions that you ask yourself before purchasing an item? Have you ever made a large purchase that you later regretted? What are some of your favorite ways to spend your time on the cheap?


  1. Congrats! Excellent and sensible reading. Thank you for helping me ponder my next few months, hot in the holiday season of spending.

  2. Thank you Marcia for the comment! Glad you visited the blog! There is always a sense of pressure this time of year to spend more, so it seemed like a good time to talked about it! Thanks again!