Somewhat Frugal

Thought I Was Frugal

This post had originally been intended to write about how frugal I am and to urge you to embrace the concept of frugality.  If you click on a post by someone called the Money Mensch, you would be right in expecting that it is written by a Jewish person with a large amount or some specialized knowledge about money.  Perhaps someone who has made and lost a vast fortune and then re-made one.  Perhaps someone who invested so well that he or she embraced the FIRE trend, having become financially independent and having retired early.  Perhaps a Jewish person who embodied one of the most well-known stereotypes of those who share my religion: frugality.

Well, you would be wrong.  I have neither made nor lost a fortune.  I have invested fairly well but not enough to have become wealthy.  I am far from being either financially independent or retired at an early age.  I plan on "semi-retiring" in about eight years at the age of fifty-five, which some would consider young but I do not.

After reading a book, numerous blog posts and articles on the topic of frugality, and then taking a quiz, I now realize that I am partially or somewhat frugal.

Thank you Money Mensch for taking the Frugal Test.
Your Frugal Test score is 56. We recommend you print this page for your records.
The Frugal Test Ratings:
0 - 20Uh-Oh...you really need to learn from those more frugal than you.
21 - 40You have some frugal traits but they are overpowered by your non-frugal traits.
41 - 60With just a few more tips and tricks about how to be frugal you can improve your frugal state of mind and your financial state.
61 - 80You are close to being in the frugal zone but you have a bit further to go until you will see any significant financial results.
81 - 100You are clearly in the frugal zone... but do you know all the tips and tricks of the frugal millionaires? Not even they know every tip and trick.
I actually checked two books about frugality out, but one of them talked about things like making your own clothes, building your own things, purchasing everything in bulk, raising your own food, cutting the cord, raising your thermostat to 80 in the summer and 60 in the winter, and other things that my family and I would not actually embrace although we should.  Especially cutting that ridiculously expensive Comcast cord.

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With painful lessons from two recessions in the past sixteen years, dwindling prospects for those without highly marketable skills, and with the threat of robots and AI taking over many jobs, those of us in the middle class have learned that job and income insecurity has become a way of life.
This is where frugality comes into play, accepting the wisdom of managing one's finances with a margin of safety in mind.  Basic things like creating a rainy day fund for those unexpected expenses that we should actually come to expect, spending less than you earn, paying off credit cards in full every month and saving for retirement should not necessarily be considered being frugal in my book.

If you are spending your income on unnecessary things like gadgets, new clothes or the most frivolous thing in my book, a new iPhone, then do not complain when you have to keep working into your late sixties or your children have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to obtain an undergraduate degree or you have to wait until the first of the month to do your grocery shopping.

A healthy household's balance sheet should allow one to pay for what you need, plus a few unnecessary but important things like we are currently paying for (two Disney World trips for our daughter in three months) and still set some money aside by Paying Yourself First like I do with every paycheck come rain or shine.

As the primary breadwinner for my family, it is incumbent on me, with the support of my wife, to plan for our family's future and know when to be frugal and when not to be.
I would like to say that we always or usually are frugal, but that would not be entirely accurate as I have learned by thinking hard about it for a few months.

The more I think about it, the results of the frugality quiz that I took is accurate.  I scored a respectable 56, with points gained for things like spending on education, purchasing things only when I need them, paying some extra principal toward our mortgage and driving our vehicles into the ground, replacing them less than once per decade.

I was docked for things like our family eating out five times per week, constantly buying bottled water, tipping twenty percent when we eat out, not having a will or a trust and struggling with living on less than we take in every month.

I took a few other quizzes with similar results, the U.S. News quiz calling me "not too frugal" on six of the eight questions and the Your Money Mind quiz correctly identifying me as a Protector, with a primary goal of seeking security and safety, making personal sacrifices to maintain said security and over-emphasizing delayed gratification.



Things We Are Not Frugal About

When I tell you that we have sent both of our children for weekly private music lessons for many years, you may think of us as not frugal.

Ditto with our daughter's periodic horse riding lessons, our son's fencing lessons for years when he was younger, and sending our daughter to Walt Disney World for a marching band trip this past December, then again this month with her poms team for the national UDA competition.  Having my wife and son go to Florida to also stay at Disney World to see her march and hang out for four days this past December at a tune of nearly $3,000 also would not qualify as frugality.

No, we have money flying out of our account faster than I can keep track of it and faster than I have it coming in.

Speaking of Disney, taking your wife and children there six times during a period of seven years, staying on property at Port Orleans French Quarter for a week every time with six day park hopper passes and spending plus or minus $5,000 every time is probably not considered the most frugal thing in the world.

Purchasing $400 to $500 in groceries per week for a family of four plus one small dog would not seem overly frugal to many people, especially the single mom frugality bloggers who would spend that much or less in a month. Our son has taken up cooking and if he is making something that requires fresh basil, white wine, shrimp, pine nuts, multiple spices or whatever, we will buy it.  We figure that no matter how much the ingredients cost, it will be less than going out to fine dining, and some of the dishes that he has prepared of late would rival or exceed what we would order at most places.

We now shop at Whole Foods a few times per month, which is not a frugal thing to do.

Eating out thirty times per month, or an average of once per day, between the four of us does not smack of frugality.  We typically dine at quick casual places like Panera, Jersey Mike's, Panda Express, Portillo's, Noodles & Company and Chipotle rather than full-service restaurants, but it still adds up when we go several times per week.  Add in the one or two good restaurants that we go to, and we typically spend another $500 and up per month dining out.

Not very frugal.

One could argue that paying our son's entire undergraduate college costs in excess of $100,000 is not very frugal.  Or I could flip that notion on its head and claim that by forsaking vacations and most every luxury and saving money for our son for many years, I was very frugal being able to save up that huge amount considering my salary and while supporting a family of four on it, to boot.

Paying Comcast about $175 per month for cable, home phone and Internet does not feel particularly frugal, considering that neither my brother nor my sister pays for that and both have higher incomes than we do, considering my sister's husband's income as well.

My brother makes more than the four of us combined and does not have cable or a home phone and runs his law business mostly with his iPhone and a laptop.  For him, his iPhone is a necessity since he is not just using it to text, surf the web and watch TV shows.  I would not call him very frugal, as he makes two to three times as much as I do but also spends two to three times as much.

Frugal About Many Things

Now that I have made a case for my and my family's lack of frugality, let me share some of the ways that we are frugal.  Probably more frugal than you!

Case in point, our cars.  Not too proudly, I drove a rusty 1998 Subaru station wagon to and from work every day and to the many other places that a middle aged Money Mensch like me would drive for several years.

Not exactly a chick magnet.
Going grocery shopping?  Drove the rusty old Subaru.  Picking up my daughter after poms practice?
Old Subaru.  Picking my son up from his private college?  Parked the rusty old Subaru in between a new Mercedes and a new BMW.

I say that I am not too proud because I know some people looked down on me due to my old beater. Heck, I have seen teenagers point and laugh at me, a middle aged guy in business causal clothing driving home around 5:00 p.m. in the kind of car that a sixteen year old with $500 to his name would drive.

Oh well, what I want to tell those who judged me for driving a beater it is that  I doubt that they had saved up $200,000 to help put two kids through college and are saving for retirement with every paycheck.

The car that my wife drove is not much better.  I leased a new 2006 Chrysler minivan back in that year, made lease payments on it for thirty months, extended the lease by another year, and then purchased it off of the lease with another three-plus years of payments.

After paying that van off in 2013, we had not made a car payment for over four years.  Even though I earn a six figure salary, I was fairly content to be driving a hand-me-down rusted out station wagon from my mother although I was formulating a plan to upgrade and replace our cars this year.

I figured that twenty years out of the old Subaru is enough.  It leaked almost all of its fluids out every three to four months, but it would probably run until it hits a million miles if I had let it.

Darned if Chevrolet or Chrysler can make a car like that!

Unfortunately, my trusty rusty old Subaru suffered a anticlimactic death a few blocks from our home in late November, forcing me to lease a new car that very day.  I just refused to pump another $600 into an old beater that had already cost me thousands to keep on the road over the past few years.

Despite our frugality regarding cars, my wife now drives a 2018 Subaru Outback and I now use the old van for my commuter car.  My frugal side plans on purchasing the car in November 2020 when the three-year lease expires and then paying it off over a few years and driving that one until 2030 if possible.

Do you know anybody who still watches tube TVs?

Even though most others in our neighborhood do not send their children to college or, if they do, do not contribute much toward the payments and have their kids borrow tens of thousands of dollars, they sure do have great TVs.

I see their TVs flickering in their living rooms when I am walking my dog, and I see the empty boxes outside for garbage pickup for their fifty- and sixty-inch plasma "smart" TVs.  The same people typically have cars in their driveway that are five years or newer.  Two of our neighbors purchased new BMWs this past summer.

For all I know, these folks embrace the Millionaire Next Door philosophy and choose to live in humble 1,000 square foot ranch homes in a lower middle class neighborhood that has been populated mostly by Polish contractors and Islamic immigrant families and a few young white English-speaking couples since the Recession.  But I suspect otherwise.

They all drive nicer cars than we do, so call me frugal when it comes to cars.  I just want something that will transport us from Point A to Point B and then back again safely.  We have not had working air conditioning in any of our cars for at least five years.
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We still own two tube TVs.
Yours Truly may be the last owner of tube TVs even in our very modest neighborhood.  I do not really care, although sometimes when I am watching a movie with great effects or an exciting sporting event like the Cubs playoff run last year, I did lament not having better than a thirty-two-inch tube TV.

So call me super frugal when it comes to our TVs.
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The four of us have pay-as-you-go phones.  They are all Samsung phones purchased at Walgreens along with Tracfone cards.  Not an iPhone among the four of us, although our daughter wants one very much and I am inclined to get her one.   "All her friends have one" and she has trouble messaging them from her phone because they all use iMessenger, which excludes her.  Not to worry, she messages them quite a bit from home using our iPad.  No, we do not boycott Apple products; we just do not have iPhones.

It is nice not paying Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile even one dollar ever.

Sometimes it takes me over two months to use up the $30 card that my wife purchases for me, but I am obviously not a guy who uses my phone a lot.  Our son does not use it much, either, except for when he is away at his college and calls us most nights.  But I would still rather pay for more minutes as we need them than to pay $120 to $200 for unlimited talk and data for four people, like many families that we know do.

So call me frugal when it comes to phones.

Everything that I am wearing from my underwear to my shirt came from Kohl's.  Ditto for our son and my wife.  Our daughter, being somewhat more fashion conscious than we are, has about a third of her clothes from places more "upscale" than Kohl's.  Like all other Kohl's shoppers, we use our 20% or 30% off coupon, plus the Kohl's bucks that my wife accumulates, thus "saving" a significant amount of funds when we shop for clothing.

We are frugal when it comes to purchasing clothes.

Things that round out my own frugality are my shoes, my watches and my briefcases.  Shoes are all Croft & Barrow from Kohl's, my three watches are a ten-year-old Timex Ironman which I wear about ninety percent of the time, a Seiko that was given to me by my aunt and uncle upon receiving my master's degree in 1998 and an Armitron that my grandfather gave me more like thirty years ago.
The briefcase that I use every day was given to me by my father-in-law and the two that I do not really use were both given to me by my parents over twenty years ago.  They are fairly nice and one could even be considered an "upper middle class" briefcase, having a combination lock, but I have not used it for about fifteen years now.

I have yet to spend a dollar on a briefcase, although I would not mind buying a nice soft brown leather one someday if I ever make the extra income that I read, think and write so much about.
I would like to get a fancy soft leather briefcase someday, but it is a low priority.

Call me super frugal when it comes to my shoes, watches and briefcases.  You could probably replicate every one of them that I own for about $500.

I am a frugal traveler.

As a matter of fact, I only left the Land of Lincoln twice last year, and both times only to Wisconsin. One time, I spent three days in Mad-City, including a night out drinking with two Millennials, and another time was just a short day trip to the Mitchell Park Conservatory and the Mars Cheese Castle before we headed to Starved Rock for three days.

If you were looking for a travel blog, you definitely came to the wrong place.

I am not saying that I would not like to travel more.  I have had several years when I went to Disney World for spring break, Las Vegas for the big ICSC ReCon convention, Michigan's upper peninsula in August, and training in various cities throughout the country in a year, but that has not been for a few years.

We spent a week in Arizona for spring break of 2016, but did not travel as a family this past spring because our two children's spring breaks were separated by a week.

I do have plans to visit New Orleans with my son for a week next month.  Also, even though I am not going, I am certainly paying for my wife and son to go to Disney World this past December, and am getting ready to pay off the balance on our daughter's band trip.  We are also making a deposit for her to go there again in February for a national poms competition, so even though Yours Truly Middle Class Guy is not going anywhere exciting, at least I get to pay for others to go.

Being home by myself for three days this December might not be so bad, anyway.

Somewhat Frugal

As it turns out, when it comes to being frugal I find myself and my family in the middle of the road, just as we do for many other things. We could most definitely be more frugal when it comes to these multiple Disney World trips, eating out thirty times or more per month, and the upper middle class horseback riding and private music lessons that our daughter takes.

When it comes to my super frugality with cars, phones, TVs and lack of traveling, it would probably behoove me to loosen the purse strings a little more.  The problem is, we have not exactly been living below our means the past few years.

To me, being frugal is a combination of your mindset when it comes to spending versus saving or instant gratification versus delayed gratification and your family's income.  I believe that a family that earns $400,000 and spends $350,000 is more frugal than one that earns $50,000 and spends $52,000.

Although things may vary a bit from year to year, my wife and I will earn about $115,000 this year with about $82,000 take-home pay after taxes, insurance, pension contributions and social security.  A fair amount more than that will be going out, primarily due to paying our son's college tuition, room and board.

Should we eat out less?  Probably.  Should our son work a few hours per week to help pay his own way through college?  He should and he will.  Should I keep Paying Ourselves First come Hell or high water with every paycheck?  Most definitely.  Should I bite the bullet and buy or lease a new family car next year?  I suppose that depends on one's own definition of what constitutes being frugal and what constitutes being too cheap.  There is a difference.

What do you think?  Are you frugal?  If so, then why?  If not, then why not?  Are you somewhat frugal like my family is?  Do you plan for how much of your income to spend or do you just go with the flow, doing your best to pay for everything while squirreling away some funds for the future like I do?
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Source: Market Chess

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