Frugality by choice and willpower?
September 6, 2017 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I have lots of reasons to be more frugal, but continue to falter towards instant gratification especially with creature comforts. This is happening because I don't feel the pressure of consequences pushing me to make better choices. Hope me.

I was raised in material comfort so I've never had to really stretch my dollars. Right now many things are happening in my life that I should be trimming the fat for. I'm okay, and will continue to be okay, but it will make future experiences less uncomfortable if I can rein myself in.

I am naturally in the moment when it comes to these things. I would like to practice more self control. Like the self control of a person who was raised around frugality.

For example, my partner finds and downloads audio books in a clunky format -and they are horribly cumbersome for him to listen to, but it gets the job done. I just download the Kindle version with audible narration. My partner will make a special trip to the Mexican grocery for the cheap rice. I search the nicer local store for the sprouted variety in the single serve bags so I don't have to keep my rice in the freezer to prevent pests. My partner will buy and repurpose something broken from a salvage store and I think that it isn't worth the effort to save a few bucks. But over time his practices are much better for us than my own and I'm having trouble changing.

Today, I prepped lunch for the week, but after my baby nursed all night again I decided that protein levels in my prepped lunch were inadequate and picked up some fast food. (I brought black beans and rice and it was a perfectly respectable level of protein. I just decided I wanted something else.)

I can tell myself justification for my choices, especially the food ones because I am chronically sleep deprived and aware that this can affect willpower, but bottom line I need to learn to err on the side of spending less and being more inconvenienced. I would rather learn it without life *making me* learn it. I am not a fan of deprivation, but within the hot fire of transformational life events I can reframe it all as some spiritual test. Without that pressure I default to this current pattern. Can you help me? Have you had to do this before the pressure of consequences was bearing down on you? How can I have a frugal mindset more consistently? Thanks.
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (40 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
(a) Some month, actually go through your cc/checking records and add up everything you spent on something frivolous. Given your self-description, it will probably be a shocking amount. Multiply that by 12. Think of what you could have with that you don't have right now.

(b) Take the money out of your hands. Automate transfer of the funds you think you shouldn't be spending to somewhere you can't easily get at them. This creates friction and requires you to make choices to spend.

Yes, often it's more convenient to spend [x] to do [y] better or more easily. That's why the option remains on the market, so to speak. What you need to do is force yourself to really contemplate whether doing [y] is worth whatever it is you would otherwise be saving for. Make those decisions conscious ones.
posted by praemunire at 10:29 AM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Speaking as a very frugal grandma here: honey, you're nursing a baby, you are absolutely entitled to whatever makes your life easier that you can afford now. Once that little babe starts sleeping through the night start thinking about small ways to save. What works for some may not work for others. Your time is valuable and only you can decide how much it's worth.
posted by mareli at 10:34 AM on September 6, 2017 [56 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's fine to sit down and think strategically about where you can cut back, but please consider yourself and your needs. Based on your previous questions, you have had an incredibly stressful couple of years, and I don't think you need to pressure yourself to forego convenience and creature comforts as well.

If you're running up your credit card buying designer clothing, that's another conversation and it would be helpful to look at the underlying cause, but rice and beans when you're sleep-deprived? Kindle books? Unless you're seriously stretched financially, you're fine. Give yourself license to enjoy those things. You deserve it.
posted by delight at 10:41 AM on September 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that worked for us was to come up with monthly challenges (not strictly tied to money but almost always saw savings). We did these for a month - some seemed difficult but in the end it was only for a month. Some made us more mindful of our spending. There were also other unforeseen benefits such as inviting friends over more often during the month we didn't buy drinks at restaurants or bars.

If you can come up with monthly challenges, and successfully complete them - not only can you concretely measure the savings, but you may develop some new, better, habits.

If feasible, you could try things like:

No fast food
No shopping at whole foods
No buying new things (unless absolutely necessary)
No new books (use the library's ebook/audiobook service)

A couple things we did and their effects:

No buying drinks at bars/restaurants
This wasn't "no drinking", we could buy wine/beer etc and have it at home. It wasn't "no going to bars", we still went to bars and saw our friends - we just didn't purchase drinks. This had the fortunate (for us) upside that we invited friends over more often then we used to (which continued well after the month was over).

No buying new things
Amazon is so easy. We either searched for something used first if we absolutely needed it, or just put it on a list to buy at the end of the month. Then at the end of the month, we re-evaluated whether or not we needed it. Oftentimes we did not.

Eating vegetarian
We already had eaten mostly vegetarian but decided to go for a whole month of only vegetarian. This added more go-to vegetarian recipes to our arsenal and helped us understand the amount of vegetarian protein our bodies needed.

posted by czytm at 10:52 AM on September 6, 2017 [13 favorites]

I think for a lot of us who are "naturally" frugal (may or may not actually be natural), the kick we get from a frugal choice is similar to the kick we get from treating ourselves.

I am a big fan of czytm's kind of challenges, and I really do enjoy them, or at least get some kind of sense of accomplishment when the month is up. Kind of the same way I would feel about lifting heavier weights or running/biking a longer distance, or solving a tough problem at work.
posted by mskyle at 10:57 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm just going to agree with the people here who are telling you to go easy on yourself. Saving a few minutes when you're sleep deprived and caring for a baby is not a small thing. The world is really harsh in general right now, or maybe always. You deserve some soft corners.

That being said, I struggle with the same kinds of things, and I think it helps to not make it an all or nothing affair. Instead of resolving to pack your lunch every day, give yourself one day to get fast food. One Kindle book a month. The fancy foods that mean the most to you. I think total deprivation makes you rebel, or at least it does me.
posted by missrachael at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think maybe your partner's habits are tripping you up a bit, because he practices a pretty extreme form of frugality, and you'd be better off trying for a happy medium. So, for instance, you don't need to make a special trip to the Mexican grocery store for rice, but you also don't need to get the super-expensive single-serve pouches. Try buying a one or two-pound bag of rice at your normal grocery store. (Are you actually getting pests in your rice, or do you just think you will? I don't think you should.) Can you check if the library has an audiobook before buying it, or maybe even check the available audiobooks at the library to see if anything looks appealing? I don't think you need to buy broken things from the salvage store, but can you make an effort to fix things before you replace them? I think maybe you should not see this as a spiritual test, but rather as an exercise in making some small, relatively-painless changes that will nudge you towards frugality.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2017 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Wow.

Nursing moms with multiple jobs do not need to be buying things at the salvage store or spending their precious, limited energy saving pennies. That is penny wise, pound foolish.

The question to ask yourself re any purchase is, "will this make my life easier?" and be realistic about it. To use your example: rice takes half an hour to make properly in a pot on the stove (17 to cook, another 15 to rest.) If you have time to make rice that way, God bless! In that case, buy a bag of rice at your regular grocery store (the time and gas cost of going to the other store just for a few cents less on rice makes no sense), and get in the habit of making it.

But, if like most primary parents of an infant you do not have half an hour to wait for the rice, because your baby might start crying at any moment and you're tired and what you need is to just make and eat a bowl of dinner and be done with it because you're hungry and exhausted which new moms generally are, then be realistic, eat the rice baggie if that's what you like, and don't feel bad. DON'T FEEL BAD. Your energy and time is a limited resource too, and unlike money, you can't really replace it.

The reason I'm so emphatic here is, I was a penny-pincher as a new mom. I was so scared about our cash flow with me not working, and I just scrimped wherever I could. And it was MISERABLE. And it was POINTLESS. We would never have missed the dollars I saved on heat, nice food, etc -- and my attitude cost me comfort and contributed to the very hard time I had adjusting to parenthood. Don't be me. Spend what you need to be comfortable. Pinch pennies later if you need to.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:26 AM on September 6, 2017 [27 favorites]

I think maybe your partner's habits are tripping you up a bit, because he practices a pretty extreme form of frugality, and you'd be better off trying for a happy medium.

As someone who grew up poor and has a ton of poor people habits, I agree with this. A lot of frugality can lead to false economy. Like I currently use a chromebook, which saved me money, but I have bought 3 cheap computers in the last 5 years while my husband has used the same one computer. A big bag of rice isn't going to save your money if it takes forever to cook and you decide to go to McDonald's instead.

A happy medium, to me, is choosing things that save money but do not actually majorly degrade the experience of using or consuming them. Like we were ordering fast food too much, so I got some of those frozen skillet meals that can be made in 10 minutes. They're nutritionally very similar, can be prepared with about as much effort as calling up and ordering take-out, and while they're expensive for grocery store meals ($8 for two portions) they're much more affordable than a $40 meal out. Similarly, find the cheapest mainstream grocery store in your area. I save $50-75 a grocery trip just by going to Shop Rite rather than Hannaford. But the food is the same. Some fast fashion sucks, but walmart is fine for leggings and costs significantly less. Maybe not as much less as when I bought leggings from, but they fit me and don't get holes in them, unlike the leggings I was buying from wholesalers, and they're indistinguishable from the ones I could buy from Old Navy or the Gap but much cheaper.

If all your frugal choices are functionally miserable feeling then it's going to be impossible to stick with them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2017 [10 favorites]

I agree with the advice to go easy on yourself, especially in your situation! But since this is something your partner is obviously good at, maybe an in-between solution is to outsource some of these tasks to him/her. In other words, buy that takeout lunch you want today, but also ask your partner to help you pick up ingredients for a similar lunch to bring next week. Let your partner know what books you want to read and ask him/her to help you download them the clunky way. I'm sure your partner will love to help while scratching his/her money saving itch!
posted by beyond_pink at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would like to practice more self control. Like the self control of a person who was raised around frugality.

It sounds like you're equating frugality with self control, making frugality a moral choice rather than a practical one, and honestly this construction sounds like a way to preemptively beat yourself up. I have poor self-control but was raised by frugal parents; my frugality is like mskyle's, motivated less by a virtuous restraint and more by the satisfaction of scoring a deal.

Frugality is also not just about what you do or don't acquire, but what you do with what you have or how much you can stretch it. I buy the hand and dish soaps I like, but mix in a little water to make the refill bottles last longer. You don't need to fix things up from salvage, but you can repair or repurpose things at home -- e.g., my last set of bedsheets got cut up into cleaning rags at the end of their lives, and lots of my spices live in Grey Poupon jars (yeah, I buy bulk spices because the supermarket markup is offensive, but turn up my nose at generic Dijon mustard - pick your frugal battles 😉). Don't stress about this too much, just try to get in the habit of looking at something before trashing it and considering whether it is salvageable or has another use. Not everything will, and that's OK.

As for the instant gratification -- frugality doesn't have to mean self-denial. Explore modes of frugality that actively answer your needs. Lots of libraries partner with streaming services now -- maybe your library card can hook you up with electronically available audiobooks, ebooks, music, etc. If space and time allow (but nthing all the folks reminding you to be kind to yourself and take time for yourself), you can make a large quantity of freezable food, like lasagna, freeze it in individual portions and then just chuck 'em in the oven or microwave when you want a zero-effort meal. I'm making lots of kitchen suggestions, because I like to cook; the shape of your frugality will ultimately reflect what gives you the most satisfaction.

Go easy on yourself, and good luck!
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 11:35 AM on September 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

It's not clear to me if you're working/getting a paycheck right now, but here's what I do:

- open a high interest savings account (I like the Barclays Dream account which has a monthly deposit limit so if applicable open multiple)

- set up an auto-direct deposit straight to the savings account of an amount I'd like to save (set it high)

- let the remainder go to your regular checking as usual

- never use the savings accounts for your day to day expenditures, just completely pretend that they don't exist (you can later move this money to retirement accounts, long term investments, college fund, emergency savings, big purchase savings, etc)

- spend as usual from your checking account

If you have less liquid cash available to spend you'll naturally fall into more frugal habits without having to make rules or strictly limit yourself. It may take a few cycles to figure out a healthy pacing for you, but it'll eventually come.
posted by phunniemee at 11:41 AM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Try logging all your spending. All of it. Just thinking about logging it is often enough to check it.

Make it a bit harder to pay, too. Put your wallet in a more inaccessible location. For awhile, go out in the world only with cash. Or only bring your ATM/debit card.
posted by bearwife at 11:58 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agree with those telling you to take the pressure off yourself - this is just a set of decisions and priorities, not a moral issue. If you want to change your decisions and priorities, that's a perfectly ok decision, but there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with prioritizing convenience or cost or taste.

If you do genuinely want this, though, and if you're willing to invest a moderate amount of time and effort into learning a new tool (there's definitely a learning curve to this), YNAB can be a great way to draw a more direct mental line between one-off decisions today (which are all under your control - it's not a tool that tells you how or what to spend/prioritize, just one that helps align your decisions with your own priorities/values) and the impact of those decisions on the future. It's a cult classic budgeting tool, which is the weirdest concept ever but there's a reason for it. If you do decide to try to learn it, I definitely recommend doing a webinar or two to learn the "method" rather than just trying to use the app alone.
posted by mosst at 12:10 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Frugality is a useful habit. For some people, buying stuff is about a sense of I deserve nice things. I can be helpful to work on I deserve to have savings so that it's less a feeling of doing without and more a goal of financial security. My parents grew up in the Great Depression, and I learned it from them. I also see frugality as a way to have less environmental impact; if that will motivate you, great. And I hate paying interest, so every time my credit card gets paid off, I feel some satisfaction because making banks richer is no fun. it will make future experiences less uncomfortable if I can rein myself in. Keep this in mind - your motivation is to make future you's life easier.

If you have credit card debt, work on eliminating it 1st. I carry almost no consumer debt, and it's liberating. Set a goal of saving a certain amount, maybe 2% of your income. Put the money in a separate account as soon as it comes in. I suspect a Roth IRA would be a good account, but it's not my area of expertise.

I agree that your partner's approach may be a bit much for you to adapt to. There's plenty of room in between.
- Rice. Does the cheaper store have other stuff you like? Go to that store once a month and buy rice, and some of their delicious homemade tamales for the next day's lunch. Instead of I have to always take my lunch and it's a drag try taking lunch 3x week, and buying lunch 2x. I've actually come to the conclusion that my lunches from home are way nicer than anything I'd buy and certainly healthier. For days when I forget to bring lunch, I keep Trader Joe's canned dolmas at work. Tasty, cheap.
- What do you drink? If water, great. If soda, that crap will kill you. I make a big batch of iced tea - pot of 4 decaf tea bags + 1 can froz lemonade + 3 cans water, and I put it in clean iced tea bottles. Not too much sugar. Inexpensive.
- Beans & rice? all week? Try making wraps. Beans, rice, salsa as the basic ingredients, then add 1 or more of cooked sweet potato, sausage, leftover meat, arugula or other greens, black olives, onions, cilantro. Sour cream and/or cheese if you eat dairy.
- When you make spaghetti sauce, make more. It's not a ton of extra work, but then you can freeze 2 or 3 containers of pasta & sauce for lunch next week. Same with most foods you make. Leftover steak in your burrito is not a sacrifice. Chicken, white bean and green chili soup, regular chili & rice.
- There have been many ask.mes about frugal cooking. I googled a few, but it's just a start.
- Audible? Your library probably has an audio book option. If it's a pain, complain to the library and see if there are better alternatives.

Your partner can help. Team up on reducing takeout by planning meals. Enlist them to help you download the frugal audio book and podcasts. Go to the library with them. The library will also have great music for the baby, cookbooks, etc. It doesn't have to be a chore if you go together and discover new music, get videos, magazines, etc. My small library is only okay, but it's still an amazingly rich resource.

You didn't really describe the exhaustion of having a baby, nursing and working. Go, you. Recognize that you are pretty badass, and you can do whatever you decide to do.
posted by theora55 at 12:17 PM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Okay, so one way to do this is to give yourself a "fun" budget. Like, you can spent $50 a week on frivolous stuff. Then you get your treats but also limit your spending. Also, have you checked your local library? I have access to two different library systems and get most of my kindle books that way - they do ebooks and audio and it's great. YMMV of course but do check it out. Are you reading while you're nursing? Don't feel bad about buying yourself some books!

BUT I want to address the food thing, as someone who nursed a baby who was a terrible sleeper for 2.5 years. The reason you wanted fast food, not rice and beans, is that fast food has more fat and calories. Rice and beans alone might have enough protein, but it's not going to fuel your nursing enough. Please consider adding stuff like cheese, avocado, etc - you need more or you're never going to be satisfied. As a nursing, working mom to a baby - you have got to be gentle with yourself and take your own needs into account or you will lose your mind. I find I tend to treat myself more when I'm feeling down about other things too - isolated, or sick, or frustrated at work/with kid - so that's something to keep in mind. Having been there myself, please, please, please be gentle and kind and give yourself permission to make your life easier. What you are doing is SO HARD.
posted by john_snow at 12:33 PM on September 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm going to add to the chorus of 'stop putting so much pressure on yourself!' You're a working nursing mom, ffs, and comparing yourself to your partner is not going to end well because right now it's like trying to run a marathon after weeks and weeks of sitting on the couch. Baby steps are still progress!

People have made excellent suggestions, and I want to second YNAB, batch cooking, and getting your partner involved (if that's feasible and won't drive you up the wall.)

Re: the rice, in particular. I'm Indian, okay, my grandmother would roll in her non-existent grave at the thought of her granddaughter resorting to boil-in-a-bag rice. But honestly? Sometimes, boil-in-a-bag rice can mean the difference between getting takeout and eating at home. Rice is a pain in the ass, and you have my Good Indian Girl (tm) permission to just buy the damn single-serve sachets rather than slaving over a hot stove for like 40 minutes.

Also, it's not just monetary savings that matter. Making a special trip to the Mexican just for cheap rice, for example costs gas, time, and energy that could outweigh the actual money to save. It's worth looking at the overall picture before beating yourself up over a few cents.
posted by Tamanna at 12:46 PM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

With all three of your examples there is a vast middle ground. In between downloading (presumably pirating?) off-brand "horribly cumbersome" audiobooks vs. buying every book on Amazon: make a habit of checking the library first, watch out for Amazon deals. In between massive bag of cheap rice and microwavable rice packets: basic rice in quantities you'll use before it goes bad, at the same supermarket where you buy other groceries. In between salvage yard and buying extravagant furniture on credit: a world of reasonably priced, reliable household goods.

I don't think that I am extremely frugal by any means, but I do think I live a sensible, non-extravagant life. Here are some questions I regularly ask myself about my purchases and spending habits:

About groceries: what's the unit cost of this item? Can I use this item before it goes bad? Can I freeze or store this item? If I'm buying something expensive, can I balance that out with a more frugal meal the same week? Is this on sale somewhere else? (I use the Flipp app to check store flyers on my phone)

About housewares and clothing: how long do I think this will last? What do trusted sources say about the brand? Will this be compatible with items I already own? Will this item make my life easier (really and truly)? Do I have space for this item? Can I get it on sale? Am I choosing to buy something cheap that I don't expect to last and that's okay, or am I trying to make a long-term investment?

About eating out and treats: is this going to make my day better? What's the value of my time right now? Can I get this treat cost-effectively (such as taking half a meal home for lunch the next day)? Am I making a habit out of this? When I factor in the fun of say, a night out with friends or quality time with my partner, do I feel happy about this spending?

I think everyone has different places they fall on the spectrum when asking these questions, and there are lots of factors for each decision. Getting yourself into the habit of interrogating yourself before forking over the money is a good one. Knowing your own priorities and limitations is important.
posted by cpatterson at 12:47 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am frugal with my time and not my money. I think your partner is taking frugality to the extreme to the detriment of time. Unless you're in dire financial straits, why go to separate grocery stores? Your partner is giving up time with you and the baby just to save a small amount of money on rice. Your time now is precious.

I will almost always choose to save time over money. It's worth it to me to use a grocery delivery service and to pay someone to clean my house. I think of it as buying more time for myself to enjoy life.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think something else to think about is: your partner's version of frugality isn't the only version.

For example, there is a fair amount of space between buying a thing from the salvage store and buying the newest, most expensive version of that thing. You could buy a good quality thing and then take good care of it for years. You could buy it second-hand or used but that in good enough condition to work as soon as you buy it. You could buy a new, cheap thing that works perfectly fine. You could buy a new, fancy thing that is on sale because it's an ugly color and no one else wants it.

This is also true of food. There is a lot of middle ground between buying rice specifically from the Mexican store because it's so cheap and buying fancy rice in individual packets.

Anyway, when you think about frugality, I think the first step is figuring out what you'd like frugality to look like for you, and not just accepting your partner's version whole cloth.
posted by colfax at 12:50 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just want to chime in with gratitude to everyone for the practical ideas as well as the hard-to-remember reminders to increase my self-compassion. I didn't even know my partner's frugality is extreme.

Yes, we have gotten pests in the rice and other grains and I am tired of trying to keep them out of my rice but I'm afraid if I store it in the freezer I will forget it exists.

Definitely drink water, buy in bulk when logical, those sorts of things already, but I am also lazy about price comparison and other sorts of efforts to save, when maybe I shouldn't be. Or maybe since I'm sleep deprived it is ok to be lazy if I can afford it. Which I can, but as I said we have some things happening in the future I would rather be better prepared for. So better habits would still be useful and save my future toddler mom self. I definitely prefer to be frugal with my time but there are other ways I could be more conservative in my choices and find a middle ground until there is more breathing room.

I have marked some best answers but all this feedback is wonderful, especially all these strangers telling me it is ok to make myself a bit more comfortable. Keep 'em coming as you are inspired to do so.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:59 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ugh, so many typos, sorry about that.

One thing I forgot that's cut down on my impulse Amazon purchases, especially for the Kindle: I don't have my payment information stored on the site (or any site, really) so whenever I want to buy something, I have to go dig out my wallet and actually enter my card information. It's enough of a PITA that I haven't bought anything from Amazon since I deleted my info.

Relatedly, I pay for everything by card, but I keep my debit card in a sleeve that has a picture of my savings goals on it, which also cuts down on random impulse purchases.
posted by Tamanna at 1:02 PM on September 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I see 2 huge, separate problems here: 1) you're doing the financial equivalent of a crash diet, along with the equivalent of getting frustrated/miserable after eating nothing but carrots all week so you eat a whole tub of ice cream and 2) you've decided to start this "crash diet" while nursing a newborn, which is already adding considerable difficulty (and lack of sleep) to your daily life.

Is there a reason you have to improve your frugality at this very moment? Has your partner been complaining?

I would strongly suggest delaying this push for self-improvement until things settle down a little. And when you do, just like when dieting, you'll have much better longterm results by focusing on lifestyle changes that are relatively painless but healthier financially. Pure willpower doesn't take you far - most people get tired of feeling deprived pretty fast. The trick is to make changes that are better for you but don't make you feel like you're making a huge sacrifice every day. Those changes are different for everyone, as is the stopping point - for example, it sounds like you wouldn't be happy at your partner's level of frugality, but maybe you could still trim down a little without too much pain.
posted by randomnity at 1:28 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

if you're looking for reference on what frugality looks like, I'd suggest that buying stuff from the secondhand store is at the extreme end of frugality and, depending on the item, can be a very bad idea. Anything you can wash is ok. Anything you can't, I would never. You only have to pay for fumigating your house once to learn to be very careful with what you bring into it.

And as someone above noted, a lot of your examples involve spending time, and the money savings may not make sense. If your husband is still unemployed then his time might be well spent tinkering with broken stuff to fix it -- but not if that means he isn't available to help with more important tasks. Your time probably isn't spent well that way at all.

The question isn't "can this be bought cheaper" but "what value am I getting from this purchase"; where the value includes everything, objective and subjective. You then assign importance to the various elements of value based on your circumstance. So say a new suit hasn't got a lot of value if you have a perfectly good suit already; but if you don't, and you need it for an interview, then it does. If the Mexi-mart is on the way home then maybe it makes sense to stop and buy the cheap rice there; but if you have to plan a trip to get there at the expense of time that you could be spending with your kid, then it doesn't. If buying cheap stuff in bulk just means that it's going to go bad before you use it, or make your pantry too crowded to use; or - worse - bring you pantry moths, then that is not a savings at all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:52 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

You're a working nursing mother, and your partner who has time to go to the thrift shop and repair things?

Why on earth are you still making your own meals. HE should be making meals. If he has the time to drive a whole other grocery store for a just a few ingredients (wasting gas and money, fyi), he totally has time to do meal planning and make bunch of homemade freezer meals for your.

Sometimes buying Kindle books and getting occasional fast food is not a financial problem. You sound like you're comparing yourself to your husband and not realizing that actually, he's kind of crazy.
posted by Ahniya at 2:27 PM on September 6, 2017 [17 favorites]

I just saw from your previous questions that your husband was unemployed. If he hasn't found a job, he needs to take over household management, starting yesterday. He needs to be making the meal plan, doing the shopping, cooking the food, including lunches for you that are emotionally and physically satisfying. He needs to be managing the chore chart and house maintenance tasks like daily and deep cleaning. Laundry. Etc.

If one partner isn't bringing home a paycheck, they take over as the house partner. Them's the breaks. You cannot, and should not, be doing it all.
posted by Ahniya at 2:32 PM on September 6, 2017 [15 favorites]

Yeah, when I first started your question, I was thinking of all these ideas for you, but when I got to the part where you're nursing AND working a regular job, my biggest frugality tip is that since you are doing all the feeding duties for your infant, your partner needs to be feeding you. I'm mad that you have to pack your own lunches. He should be prepping and packing your meals for you right now.

And when HE MAKES YOUR LUNCH FOR YOU, beans and rice is great, but not just rice with beans in it. It should be something actually interesting and tasty enough that you don't prefer fast food. Hoppin' John with sauteed greens; burrito bowl style with marinated chicken or tofu with cheese and greens and salsa on the side. If you want to stick with something, you have to enjoy it, and not many people are able to long-term enjoy eating boring stuff. He should be working on making meals for you that are more than just the cheapest possible option.

I am pretty much like your partner in these matters. I've got a bunch of workarounds and processes and technologies that appear pretty complex from the outside like his ebook process sounds. They're actually fairly easy once they're set up and you learn the processes, but key to me doing those things and sticking to them is that I enjoy doing it and when I manage to work around some overpriced system or product with my own solution, I feel like I've won.

For one thing, I figure out my use cases. So for my cell plan, for example, I looked at my usage and realized that 90% of the time I was using it, I was at a fixed location with a landline and wifi, and 99% of the time I wasn't, I could wait. And my husband just refuses to even use his phone, so I need to keep the landline. So I got us both these (now grandfathered) plans that cost about $7 a month and accumulate minutes, and then we have a basic landline that's like $20 a month. And because we use our cell phones rarely, we accumulate enough in our accounts that we can buy new phones every now and again with the credits. It is slightly complicated, because I have multiple numbers (although I may get around to fixing that part some day). And I don't even think of it as complicated until I try to explain it to someone. I have a backup plan all ready to go too, for when they finally kick all us grandfathered accounts to the curb.

Also, when I do some cheapskate project, I like to go back and find out what it would have cost for a professional and/or out of the box version. Lots of them are more lifestyle upgrades than they are necessities, so I probably wouldn't paid full price for them, but I still like just kind of adding up what I would have paid. And, of course, I also count the environmental savings from reusing and repurposing things, which I do a lot of.

It's a hobby and it's something I enjoy doing, really. It wasn't always, and I did make a conscious decision to do that for life reasons, so it required an initial surge of willpower, but after a bit, I really did start enjoying it. And I think you should try the same. Later, though. Not yet. If you tried to make those sorts of changes right now, it would be very slow going, and you would probably end up abandoning the idea. It takes more energy and creativity and flexibility that anyone can muster while they're sleep deprived and depleted, so it probably wouldn't work, and it'd add to your stress.

Ask your partner to step up right now, get some fast food when you want it, and later, after your kid is a little more independent and you're getting enough sleep, then you can get better at it than he is.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:33 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I would just forget this whole idea that her partner is 'better'.

He's clearly one of those people who penny pinches for a hobby. It's a fine hobby, but it's not a moral victory. It's a hobby. And it sounds like it's impact OP negatively, especially if he's the one bringing pests home from the thrift store, which is extremely likely.

OP, your life needs to work for you. Not your husband. So long as you aren't blowing your budget repeatedly, and your budget includes savings, you're doing fine. Taking care of yourself includes both saving money and not driving yourself crazy with penny-pinching.
posted by Ahniya at 2:38 PM on September 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: To avoid any confusion, Mr. Potato has a job now, and also does a ton of the childcare and cleaning. I enjoy cooking, and so I do a lot of it but also delegate grocery shopping and specific food tasks when I want and he is always eager to help. We both have better support systems, and our lives are much smoother than they were during my earlier Asks. Not perfect, but more normal stressors that we can handle as a team.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:54 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

My answer is based on the location you state in your profile.

An easy way to be frugal without much thought is by going to Wal-Mart. It isn't pretty like going to Publix, but many of their prices are as much as a dollar lower for the exact same item. That said, they frequently sell out of popular items for just that reason. They often strike items that aren't high sellers as well, which can be annoying when you come to rely on them being there.

Vegetable stands. If you can find a good one near you (a big if) you can often get organic fruits and vegetables for less than in a store. Regular produce is even easier that way. Farmer's Markets are similar, though those usually only operate a couple days a week.

Always ask cashiers if they have coupons behind the register. It's one question and many do. If not, it was only a question. Don't buy store memberships unless you're really going to spend so many dollars and recover the cost of the of the membership via the discount. That requires spending more money than many people realize, and chances are you will not return to the store to spend that much money. Stores count on this which is why they loooooove pushing memberships. Case in point: unless you really want to buy in bulk and keep boxes of goods in your garage/basement for months, or have a large family for whom it makes sense to buy in bulk: big-bulk stores, insert names here, just aren't worth it, again imo.

Don't skimp in items that will break after one use. The dollar store that actually sells all its items for a dollar is great for some everyday items, like dried spices, bleach, cans of tomatoes without additives, Dial Hypoallergenic soap in 3 packs, and so on. This store is not good for things like dog toys for big dogs, socks, $1 per roll of paper towel, etc. Don't bother with other "dollar" stores which generally price things way above one dollar.

There is Aldi, though I only went in once, shuddered, and left. It wasn't worth it to me to be *that* frugal. Which brings me to my final point: if you can afford it, be frugal only when and where it pleases you. Any additional hassle isn't worth it.
posted by Crystal Fox at 3:02 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agreed with everyone else to go easy on yourself, but some thoughts:

+ I believe there is research that has implied that people who believe willpower is infinite (versus finite) in supply tend to exhibit better willpower. Evidence does not show a lot of support for the idea of "using up" one's willpower.

+ Some research also shows that people tend to be happiest when spending their money on 1) experiences and 2) other people to do things for them that they don't want to do. So single serving rice or precut vegetables may seem criminally lazy to someone like your partner (or my parents...) but if they make your life better and you can afford them, so be it.

+ Export all your transactions from online banking for one month (say August 1st-31st since it's still fresh in your mind) and categorize each and every one. You'll probably remember most of them. Then tally the total overall costs in each category. (I prefer doing this in a spreadsheet as opposed to a special app because apps are imprecise and IMO it's harder to customize.) Look over the categories. how much do you think you could save in each category? Is it enough to make the penny pinching worth it? In some categories maybe yes, in others no. I realized at one point that I was spending far too much on clothes, but much less on eating out than I had thought.

+ I grew up poor and know a lot of poor people and I'm going through a slightly lean period at the moment myself. If you or your partner or both of you have a steady income, it is probably not worth it to save $3 not renting a video on Amazon Prime, or whatever. Growing up that kind of thing was anathema (and I understand why, we had a big family = snowball effect) but as an adult I finally realize that it's OK to spend money on an app or something dumb under $5 without feeling like a monster or an idiot.

I try not to buy things that do feel useless, like overpriced herbs in bulky plastic packaging that go bad in a day, or whatever else. But honestly scrimping and saving is a full-time job or at the very least, a hobby. Spending money is not the worst thing if you can save and aren't ruining yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:25 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am sort of of the opinion that getting a thrill out of frugality is the best way to get good at it. Baby steps!
posted by stoneandstar at 4:28 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Collection of thoughts:

Welcome to mommybrains! Baby-nursing come with a whole lot of push for instant gratification because your entire psyche switches over to "baby crying... fix NOW NOW NOW" which means every problem tries to trigger the "fix NOW NOW NOW" reaction. It's like the part of your brain that makes plans more than four hours ahead shuts down. (You have to sneak planning in around the edges. Stealth planning. Ninja planning.)

You still have to do some planning and some kinds of budgeting, but a very large part of your mind is going to be hyper-focused on emergency readiness, and that gets in the way of sticking to plans, especially those that require denial of immediate needs or wants. The emergencies don't even need to be medical problems. Hungry baby, wet baby, itchy-clothes-baby, these are all emergencies from baby's perspective.

I grew up poor enough that frugality like your partner's is automatic for me; learning to spend money for temporary comforts is something I'm still getting used to. We bought plastic tubs for rice and other pest-findable foods, so we can buy them in large enough quantities to save on bulk. I got a lunchbox I actually like on Amazon, so I won't feel weird about carrying lunch to work, and I have enough space in it to carry a full meal. Husband listens to LibriVox audiobooks from YouTube.

If you need to cut down on expenses, the real decision is: Do you want less of the things you like (so, only 1 Kindle-enhanced audiobook every couple of weeks), or the same number of things, which means you need to find a lower-cost, possibly lower-quality, alternative? Or can you cope with "less of the things I want, plus unlimited much-lower-cost filler?"

Make a list of each of the high-cost things you're considering replacing. Make a list of each of their lower-cost alternatives. Note the features on the high-cost ones that make them better for you - instantly available, better sound quality, convenient package, whatever. Note the detrimental features on the lower-cost alternatives.

This isn't a straight pros-and-cons assessment; it's not a matter of "if one column is longer than the other, you go with the other." But it gives you a way to think about the features that are important to you, and then you can start deciding what changes would be easy to make, and which ones take more effort that you have energy for right now.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:17 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think your partner's methods are crazy frugal, assuming that he drives reasonably close to the Mexican store occasionally, and he enjoys fixing things. I don't think that they are necessarily the best choice for everyone though, depending on circumstances. People who buy broken things and then never fix them, for example. (As I pretend that there aren't three broken sewing machines in my back room....)

I think you should take advantage of your husbands instinctual frugality. Let your husband do the shopping, as he likes doing the unit price comparison stuff. If he wants to buy bulk rice, then ask him to cook up a big batch of it when he gets it home and put it in single serves in the freezer. Ask him to download and reformat audiobooks for you so that they work on your phone. If you need a thing, ask him to research and narrow your options down to two, and then you pick. Your job is then to be the "that's just cheap" boundary. If he wants to buy a secondhand cot that is a dangerous design, you say no. If he's driving 45 minutes to pick up cheap rice, you tell him to get his arse home and spend some time with the baby (or do the laundry), because it isn't worth it.

Sleep deprivation, or any type of deprivation, can lead to a desire to treat yourself. It can be a hard line to walk between being sensible and feeling like you never get anything nice, especially if you have money in the bank. I agree that giving yourself a small allowance for frivolities might help. A small amount per week, plus a book, maybe.

Personally, takeaway is one of my biggest budget killers. I get peeved and go and buy chips and a burger. But it doesn't fix whatever is wrong, and I find it easily spirals out of control. I adopted a blanket rule of not buying takeaway when I'm alone, and I'm happier for it. I now meal plan obsessively, but if I forget my food, I will go to a supermarket. Sometimes I will eat some strange meals of whatever I've got stashed in my desk at work. I also make sure that my meal plan has variety and is stuff I like. I imagine that meal planning when your calorie needs are changing (breast feeding) is tricky, and so sometimes, you'll get it wrong. I'm just wary of any plan that involves relying on takeaway habitually.
posted by kjs4 at 8:06 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

The very best thing I ever did for figuring out my priorities was to write down every single transaction I made every day. Card, cash, whatever. (This was the early 90's so it was just a small notebook I carried around and made a note in every time I spent money.)

To this day, I still think about the conclusions I made from that and while it has made me more frugal, I also understand the need to take care of and reward myself.

Since you're a nursing mom I think you should throw the concept of frugal out of your life, especially if your "splurges" involve food or any kind of self-comfort benefit that money can buy. You're doing the most important job you'll ever have in your life and the decisions you make now will affect your child for years to come. In terms of your own comfort you deserve to do what you need to so you can be your best self for your child.

I'd also suggest thinking in the long term rather than the short term. You may spend extra money on takeout rice and beans this year, but the long term benefits will be worth it - ie, having the energy and nutrition to feed your baby well, therefore it grows up better.
posted by bendy at 8:20 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with other commenters that as a nursing mom you should cut yourself some slack.

In general, I've found that trying to live up to a certain frugal idea has backfired. Like the beans and rice thing - I can easily imagine eating that and feeling unsatisfied and then spending more on unplanned food purchases. So I'd make sure frugal options are things that appeal to me and make me feel satisfied. I'd like the beans and rice better with some peppers and onions and cheese on top. Maybe a little chicken.

You can look at your overall finances and see if there's any truly unnecessary spending you could cut. But frugality often means giving up convenience and time for money. Buying clothes at the thrift store, for example, can mean spending a lot more time shopping - especially when you need something specific. Sometimes it's a trade worth making but as a new mom - assuming you're not in a precarious financial situation - I think you can just settle for not blowing money on frivolous things. You can plan on becoming more frugal after perhaps a year or so. If you enjoy doing research and bookmarking articles and planning, go crazy on that.
posted by bunderful at 6:06 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Though his focus is definitely more on the extreme early retirement approach to finance, Mr. Money Mustache has a couple of great posts on thinking about spending with a long term mindset and another, more realistic post about how with a little creativity, you don't have to self-deprive too much in order to save a ton of money.

As a new mom with a load of things already on your plate, I second everyone else here on the "be nice to yourself" sentiment, and I hope you are not beating yourself up over a $3.00 audiobook add-on or to-go coffee every now and again! Totally get fast food occasionally when you really want it! But the price difference between a #1 combo at a fast food place and a similarly satisfying lineup of foods from the dollar menu can mean a difference of like $3-$4. I like ErisLordFreedom's advice to make a list of some of the things you already spend money on and think about if there's a relatively painless way to cut costs on it.

Frugality as a self-imposed lifestyle and not as an inescapable circumstance only really seems to work if the time and energy expenditure involved doesn't outweigh the cost savings and/or if you can turn it into a personal game or challenge that you can derive enjoyment of on its own merits. (Ex: "Hey, nice shoes!" "Thank you! THEY WERE $3 AT A YARD SALE, BOW BEFORE YOUR THRIFT LORD.") Gamifying frugality can make it seem less like a chore and more like a fun hobby. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:13 AM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a ravenous nursing mom who is still getting up at least 3 times a night after almost 7 months. Just do not worry about food budgeting at all right now. I used to bring my lunch and if i was still hungry, fuck me i willpowered through till i could get home to eat. Not now. I get food as much as i want when i want it and I don't worry about the price increase because of convenience or whatever. Save money on things other than food (like clothes, tchotchkes, dumb expensive baby shit you will only use once) you don't actually need by simply not buying them. You need food like crazy right now.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:22 PM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

It would be really helpful if you described what you are actually currently spending (e.g. $X on groceries, clothes, dining out/fast food, entertainment, car, house). Whether you think frugality is extreme depends on your background (immigrant? culture? family?). I have an aunt (immigrant, Chinese, lived in the U.S. for over 30 years) who REUSES DENTAL FLOSS. As in she'll wash a string of it and hang it up somewhere near the bathroom sink. She had a modest-paying full-time job until she retired. And she retired with what I guess is over $200k in the bank and purchased a $400k+ house with a family member in retirement. And she dresses like a hippie hobo and has the most amazing vegetable garden and backyard chickens. It is a bit eccentric, but so much better than living paycheck to paycheck or Social Security check to Social Security check.

FRUGALITY pays off. A lot of people who don't have poor, immigrant Asian roots don't grasp (at all) that not going to Starbucks everyday (or buying avocado toast) will affect their ability to buy a house. They scoff at the idea that saving will really amount to anything. I grew up poor, am in my 30s and now have over $600k in cash, retirement funds and real property. I live WAY below my means and have saved over 40% of my income. Even when I was working at a big company I purchased most of my work clothes used off eBay and used coupons for meals. In the rare event I bought retail, I would sell it on eBay later on. For a few years I lived with my mother, which is okay in my culture. Do you coupon? Download apps that give you instant rebates like Ibotta, Checkout51 or Cartwheel if you shop at Target. Sign up for hot deals emails like Brad's Deals. Can you use Groupon for basically all your massages, haircuts, facials? If you have an extra room can you rent it out on AirBnB? Can you drive the same car for 20 years? The downside to frugality is that sometimes it will affect your social life or appearance. I lost a back tooth in college and never got an implant. I should have paid for better haircuts. But I didn't have anyone to teach me how to look or act middle class. Once you're not as busy with the baby, analyze all your expenses and find a cheaper way to obtain the same "stuff" that you enjoy. The security of having substantial savings is irreplaceable.
posted by KatNips at 7:16 PM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cortex asked me to follow up. My desire for frugality has become more of a need now, so these answers have been super helpful. Thank you all!
posted by crunchy potato at 1:10 PM on October 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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