Wednesday, August 13

Is frugality an "either/or"?

Not too long ago, I wrote that perhaps the most important thing about frugality was mere thinking ahead.

I received two comments, both of which had the same tone: It's easy to think ahead, but their real weakness lay in social invitations. When asked to a movie or play or some other activity, they didn't want to spend the money. But they also hated saying no.

This startled me as a general concept because I had never before assumed that frugality left only two choices.

A whole spectrum of options

The cliche is that life is rarely black and white. And it's a cliche because it tends to be true. Similarly, frugality has its various shades.

Some people think that frugality must entail clipping coupons; others never bother. Some immediately cancel their cable; others keep it as the one allowed form of entertainment.

The word "frugal" means different things to different people. There is no one definition suitable for every scenario.

And for this reason, I never stopped to consider that people might box themselves into a corner of yes/no; black/white; social/recluse.

It's all about degrees

While it's admirable to want to save all the money possible, you shouldn't cut yourself off from any activity without considering other options. And there are almost always frugal options to be had.

Once again, it comes down to thinking ahead. If you have thought up some more affordable alternatives, you won't feel as uncomfortable when people invite you to spendy activities.

To get you in the spirit, I've listed a few broad categories I could think of, along with a few frugal options:

Evening movie
  • A matinee the next day
  • Seeing something at the cheap house (in Seattle it's $4 to see second-run movies)
  • Video rental
  • Meet up after the movie for a review and some quality time not spent in the dark, staring at a screen and not talking
  • Have free tickets ahead of time for these occasions
  • Have the person come over and watch a related movie (the same actor/actress/director/film series)
  • If the friend hesitates, promise to overcharge for soda and put down fly paper for sticky floors


  • Matinee is again a good option
  • Find out if there's a pay-what-you-can night
  • Offer to meet up afterward and check out the film version so the friend can compare/contrast.
  • The Entertainment Book tends to have coupons for local theaters.

Expensive outdoorsy activity
(Something that requires pricey equipment: rock climbing, kayaking,etc)

  • If given enough notice, try to borrow the equipment from friends -- or ask the people inviting you if they know anyone who would let you borrow some gear.
  • If not given notice, ask how much equipment rental is -- it might not be as bad as you think
  • Again, the Entertainment Book usually has buy-one-get-one coupons for a lot of athletic activities
  • Suggest alternative forms of exercise: taking a long walk around a scenic area, biking, hiking
  • Tell them to come over to your place after the activity and you'll feed them junk food. (They can afford it because they just burned all those calories.) Or if they're health nuts promise them Gatorade or trail mix or something.

  • Try to schedule it to coincide with happy hour
  • Drive to the bar and have a built-in excuse to limit your drinking
  • Suggest the cheaper version of a night at the bar: A trip to the liquor store, some good music and someone's living room. (Drunken board games are always fun)
  • Offer yourself up as the designated driver. (Some places will even give you free sodas all night)
  • Go out and just don't drink alcohol

Girl-bonding/pampering (manicures, etc)
  • Find out if there are beauty academies nearby. Gene Juarez has two schools here in Seattle that offer much more affordable rates. (The students are supervised.)
  • Buy some over-the-counter items (facial masks, deep hair conditioners, skin scrubs, nail colors) and make your own spa. If you feel really industrious (or frugal) there are plenty of recipes online for these items.
  • Suggest a night of chick flicks and junk food instead
  • Say that you aren't up for it yourself but you'd be happy to hang out while she gets herself pampered.

The point is, when you have alternatives, you have choices. You almost always have more options than you realize. It's time to make use of them!

Tomorrow, I have a kind of follow-up piece about why, exactly, we're so terrified of saying "no." Successful frugality depends on your being able to stick up for your budget. So this is an important issue.

I'm sure there are other categories that I'm not remembering, so feel free to write in some examples and I'll do my best to think up alternatives. Or, if you have thought up another alternative, please add a comment.


Blogger Claire said...

Thanks for the suggestions! You're right, there are frugal alternatives to spendy activities. I'm looking forward to your next post because you're absolutely right - successful frugality requires you to be able to stick up for your budget. Normally, I don't have an issue with this, but as I mentioned on your previous post, it can cause me problems sometimes.

August 14, 2008 at 6:09 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Thanks for writing Claire. I'm always glad when my nosy opinions actually have relevance to someone other than myself!

August 14, 2008 at 9:35 PM

Blogger sborg said...

I like your suggestions. Recently, I have taken to mentioning to friends that I am learning how to golf. I truly was not mooching, but I was surprised at how many golfers trade in almost brand new clubs. I may be obtaining some of those at either free or drastically reduced prices :)

September 8, 2008 at 8:47 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Sborg, I love it! Great idea!

I had forgotten how disposable golf gadgets are... I wish more hobbies were like that. Think of all the beads I could get.

For such a great suggestion, I'll go ahead and enter you in the secondly weekly giveaway, which will post later on today.

September 8, 2008 at 10:28 AM

Blogger The J said...

With my friends it tends to be dinner out. What I've been doing is "oh, you know what? I can't make it until (half hour to 45 min later), but I'll join you guys for dessert!".

Yes, the desserts are horribly overpriced, but I get my outing (and get remembered on future invites) for about $5.

September 26, 2008 at 6:13 AM

Blogger Abby said...

brilliant! I'll have to remember that one!

September 26, 2008 at 11:47 AM


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