Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Live Frugally

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve just moved. One of the things that happens when you move is that you get a chance to reassess your life . You reconnect with your past, you re-imagine your future and you start noticing things about your life that might have passed you by because you hadn’t opened a certain cupboard in four years.

One of the things I’ve noticed is how frugally our family lives in London compared to when we lived in the United States. Some of that has to do with the global economic recession of the past few years, some of it with the exchange rate, and some of it with the exorbitant cost of living in London.

But we’ve also made some smart choices about how to cut costs and I thought I’d share some of those with you today:

1. Don’t buy books. OK, this may sound insane coming from someone who regularly posts about books and reading, but it’s a good piece of advice. Owning a lot of books not only wastes a tremendous amount of space, but you have to ask yourself  how often you actually re-read them. (In my case: almost never.) Books are expensive. The average hardcover book retails for about $26 right now. Whereas in the library, you’ve got loads of choices and they’re all free. So as long as you request them sufficiently in advance, the sky’s the limit to how many books you can read without ever spending a cent. (OK, I’m not counting late fees….)

2. Don’t buy movies. I have a good friend here in London who watches a lot of films. But whenever I recommend one to him, he always says “Great! I’ll go buy it this afternoon!” This friend isn’t loaded and I always wonder why on earth he spends so much money on movies when you can subscribe to something like Netflix (US) or LoveFilm (UK) and see all the movies you like for a low monthly fee. (Or get them at the library for nothing. See above). We own a few films, but most of them are for the kids and almost all have been presents. It just strikes me as a really easy way to cut down your budget without losing out on anything.

3. Make your own coffee. This one is a no-brainer. If you add up all the money you spend on buying coffee out everyday – let’s say you spend $2.50/day on some kind of fancy coffee drink, that adds up really quickly:  $16/week, $74/month, $888 a year to be precise. (This is, by the way, is exactly the sort of logic we used to use when I worked at Chicago Public Radio in order to exhort listeners to donate to our station.) For $800, you can buy a really nice espresso machine these days, and possibly even a grinder to go with it. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually prefer my own coffee to the stuff they sell on the High Street. I can even send you a video on the optimal way to tamp your espresso (free of charge.)

4. Buy second-hand items. For years I resisted this. Part of the reason was that my mother always shopped at vintage clothing stores when I was growing up and for that reason alone, I was hell-bent on not doing it. But now I see her infinite wisdom. And it’s not just clothing. We’ve furnished half of our flat in London with (really nice) second-hand furniture that we’ve acquired from other American families who come here for a few years and then move on. Over the past few years, we’ve chalked up sofas, rugs, waffle makers, night lights, you name it…and all at a really moderate price. I’m a member of a local women’s group that lists such second-hand sales as part of its services. But many schools, churches and other community organizations do this sort of thing regularly. So keep your eyes peeled…there are some real treasures out there and people are often dying to offload them.

5. Do some travel writing. Granted, this one is going to be easier to implement for the journalists and writers out there. But it’s amazing what kinds of deals you can get on hotels and travel arrangements if you agree to do a review. We’ve done a ton of traveling around Europe over the past few years – to places like Helsinki and Vienna and Croatia – and most of it has been possible because I arranged to do a review of the hotel where we were staying. Note: you don’t necessarily have to be a professional writer to score this kind of gig. One site that I write for is mostly just a bunch of mums offering tips for family-friendly travel. And once you’ve done one of these reviews, getting more gigs is a piece of cake. Try it! You *will* like it.

Image: Unphotographable Otto Espresso Machine by CoffeeGeek via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

  • Reply Lynn C

    June 2, 2010, 6:47 pm

    Hah. How many times do people re-read books varies A LOT. YOU may never do so, but I don’t own a single book that I haven’t re-read at least three times, and many of them I read at least once a year.

    I also have a lot of films, which I consider to be a cost-savings, actually. Two adults out for a movie, $10 each for tickets (more if it’s “3-D”) plus a drink (to share) is $5, plus taking the kidlette to the babysitters, plus paying a babysitter for 3-4 hours, ($30) and then we usually go out to dinner before or after ($40). By comparison, a $15 dvd is pretty darn cheap.

  • Reply Eva

    June 2, 2010, 7:39 pm

    This is an excellent list, Delia! We don’t buy movies right now – even our favorites – because of the changing technology. Husband doesn’t want to invest in expensive Blu-Ray because he’s convinced something else will come out soon. And as far as books, I almost always buy used. We have a couple great used bookstores here, and I LOVE spending time browsing the shelves.

  • Reply Madeleine

    June 2, 2010, 7:56 pm

    I love this list, especially as I just changed my hours to part time and I am looking for ways to be more frugal. I have to object, only slightly, to #1 -Don’t Buy Books (and on highly personal reasons). First, I have to acknowledge that while I don’t live in a large house, it is big enough to store lots of books, so space isn’t too much of an issue. But as someone with children, but not a lot of time to take them to the library personally, I think it’s important that they live surrounded by books, and that as they grow older, they have, in their home, a library that they can begin exploring when the mood hits them. Growing up, my parent’s house was full of books that I picked up and put down at my leisure. Not only my parent’s books, but my older brothers and sister’s books. (I never would have read Jude the Obscure if I wasn’t bored one afternoon and my brother had to have it for school). Sure, some of the books may have been too advanced for me, but if I was interested enough, I was forced to stretch myself. But perhaps my real objection to this tip is that I’m notoriously forgettful about returning library books, and the amount I pay in fines usually far exceeds what I would pay for book themselves by the end of the year. So may I suggest – “If you have to buy books, buy them used.” (And Delia – I know you are a huge book person, and your children are amazing readers!)

  • Reply delialloyd

    June 2, 2010, 8:08 pm

    Interesting thoughts, Lynn. I guess when I was talking about movies I was comparing buying them to renting them, not going out to the cinema which is, indeed, a whole different ball game! Thanks for weighing in…

  • Reply delialloyd

    June 2, 2010, 8:11 pm

    @eva and @madeleine-yes, meant to add: if you must buy, buy used! We used to have an Oxfam around the corner from our previous house and I was always running in there to buy or donate books, usually for the kids. Totally agree that having kids surrounded by books is a great thing-also a great gift!

  • Reply J

    June 3, 2010, 4:59 am

    While I am all for cutting costs in these hard times I have to caution against used furniture and clothes. In the US there is a growing bed bug epidemic. Experts agree that the primary means of spreading bed bugs is used furniture and travel (hotels are infested). A friend who had bed bugs will only buy clothes at a vintage or thrift store if she can seal the items ( double knotting a plastic bag) and immediately washing and drying the clothes on high. Used furniture? Huge no no. I think London is dealing with a bed bug epidemic as well. Contrary to it’s name bed bugs do not just live in beds. They love wood and fabric and paper.

    • Reply delialloyd

      June 3, 2010, 11:14 am

      Thanks J, point well taken. Funnily enough when we moved into our new flat there was a bed w/mattress in it and I immediately said “out!” fearing bed bugs. Cheers

  • Reply J

    June 3, 2010, 5:00 am

    PS Treating your home for bed bugs? The opposite of frugal!

  • Reply Cecilia

    June 4, 2010, 7:59 pm

    Great post, and thanks especially for that last tip! I never knew…

    We’ve been trying to cut costs here too and one of the best things we did was get rid of cable. We really don’t watch all that much t.v. and this cut felt great.

    I also have to say that I love owning books, but thanks to my son’s fundraiser and the regular book sales at the local library, I’ve found economical ways to keep this habit. Two weeks ago I bought 40 lbs of books at the library sale for $3, and many of those books were in excellent, like new condition.

    Other small changes we’ve made: mailing things on time (we’ve spent a fortune on express mail), making our own greeting cards instead of buying, shopping at Asian grocers.

  • Reply delialloyd

    June 5, 2010, 9:35 pm

    thanks Cecilia. Agree that second hand books are the wa to go. Just curious though: why asian grocers?

  • Reply Shelley

    June 13, 2010, 8:40 pm

    Delia – I’d no idea you were a ‘frugalist’! So pleased to know that! Books are one of my weaknesses, and though I normally use the library, I often receive books as gifts. I put a slip of paper in each that says ‘Last read’ and put the new date on each time I re-read it. Then, if the date is 5 or 6 years old, I really don’t mind so much putting it up for sale on Amazon or putting it in the charity bag.

    I’ve missed a trick with that hotel review. How do you approach them and are their other review website’s? (I don’t have kids…)

    Up here in Newcastle, the Asian shops often have big bags of all sorts of beans I never see in the supermarkets, also polenta (cornmeal) and popping corn. London supermarkets may be more cosmopolitan in the selection at supermarkets, but I’ve found those items are far cheaper at Asian groceries. Also, shopping in the green markets for fruit and veg saves a mint. It means more trips to different places, but I stock up at the Asian place and at the supermarket (frozen and tinned goods) and go to the green market every 10 days or so. Our food bill averages about £90 for the two of us for a month.

  • Reply delialloyd

    June 14, 2010, 10:11 am

    Hi Shelley. Thanks for this comment and all the others-wow! Glad to hear about the Asian shops-I’ll have to look into that. Re: travel writing. I was recommended by a friend who also works for the site. If you do travel a lot I’d say identify some online travel writing sites (there are zillions) and offer your services! Good luck.

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