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Extreme Frugality – Where to Draw the Line

by Colleen P Moyne (Colmo) (follow)
I'm a freelance writer living in the beautiful river town of Mannum in SA, dreaming of the day I can retire from the 9-5 to write full time.
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While doing research on money-saving strategies, I have often come across some interesting publications and blogs on ‘extreme frugality’. That means taking cost-cutting to a point where it compromises your health, well-being, safety or standard of living.

I've read alarming stories of people who condone stealing toilet paper from public toilets or raiding the dumpsters outside supermarkets for discarded food. My response is this…if you feel the need to do that, you need help. There are all sorts of agencies that can provide assistance if you are really struggling financially.

Dumpster Diving
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Then there are stories of those who lived through the depression era and had no choice back then but to cost-cut as much as possible, and are still unable to break the old habit. Many (including my father) still pinch pennies at the cost of a decent standard of living- purely out of habit, not of need. We’ve all heard about elderly folk who are reluctant to use their air conditioner on sweltering days and end up suffering heat stroke or de-hydration.

There are the characters who proudly boast that they re-use a tea-bag three times or separate their two-ply toilet paper into two rolls (I don’t quite get that one – wouldn’t you then have to use twice as much?), or the family who doesn’t use toilet paper at all but instead uses cloths which are then washed and re-used.

Lock. Money. Frugal. Saving Money.
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Here’s a quick list of what I see as reasonable frugality and what’s not….

• Reasonable – Picking up other people’s discarded household goods on hard refuse day. Not reasonable – Crawling into dumpsters or around refuse depots.

• Reasonable – Taking advantage of a free taste-test at the supermarket. Not reasonable – Taking more than one offered sample or going back for seconds, thirds, etc.

Empty Cans. Beer Cans
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• Reasonable – Saving your cans and bottles, picking up discarded ones from the ground, or accepting them when offered by others. Not reasonable – Rummaging through bins for bottles.

• Reasonable – Waiting until you get to work to take advantage of a free morning coffee. Not reasonable – Taking coffee or other goods home from your place of work.

• Reasonable – Cutting down on food portion sizes and skipping snacks. Not reasonable – Skipping meals or eating unbalanced meals.

I like to think I’ve got the balance pretty right between living a frugal life while still enjoying a good standard of living. I have found ways to reduce my overheads and free up money for the nice things in life.

Here’s what works for me….
I live in a modest-sized, simply-furnished home in an affordable area, drive a small car that is very economical. I have a small credit card amount that is for emergencies and if I want something special that is not urgent I will use lay-by. I plan my budget 6 to 8 weeks ahead, always allowing some spare money for myself. I still go out to lunch or dinner with friends or to a show now and then.

I did some research and found the cheapest insurance, electricity, internet and phone deals and also found a bank that not only offers no account keeping fees, but rounds off my money and transfers the excess cents into my savings account automatically.

Cutting Dollar Sign. Saving. Frugal. Budget
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I rarely pay full price for anything. I shop around and do my research. When it comes to groceries, I always use a list and set a maximum spend amount but allow for flexibility when it comes to menu planning so I can take advantage of specials. I have no problem with generic brands and have used them for so long I wouldn’t know the difference. I LOVE op shopping for clothing, accessories - even jewellery, and many of my household items are also second-hand refurbished or restored where necessary.

Those are just a few of my strategies. None of these practices compromise my standards or detract in any way from my enjoyment of life. In fact, the more I can save on these basics, the fewer hours I need to work and the more time I can spend on the fun stuff. I love my life.

So, have you got the balance right? Are you wasting it on unnecessarily expensive overheads and having to scrimp on enjoyment?
Or are you practicing extreme frugality – compromising your well-being by cutting costs on the necessities of life? Trust me – it is possible to achieve a balance.

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Interesting and thought provoking article.
Several times in my life I have been on the breadline. I am on a very small pension now and for another 5 years (10 years with no assistance from Australia as part of my dependent working visa) My pension is from England is frozen and doesnt go up every year and at the moment gives me around $750 per calendar month to live off!
Thank goodness I found a local community shop.
I visit Coles, Woolworth and then back to Coles after 4:30 on a Tuesday Evening for some fantastic bargains in food. I sometimes share them with two refuge neigbours who live close by. In the last 2 weeks picked up 3 Steggles chickens for $4 each! Also a 1k Tub of greek yogurt for 50C that I gave to a neighbour. I find $11 brie and blue cheese for less than $2 and freeze them.
I only remove items of furniture from skips or by the roadside that I can use.
I cook a $3 dinner for 50 people on a Sunday .night and the food is wholesome and nutritional. I eat two cooked small meals a day and do not spend more than $2 on a portion of meat. Fish is usually frozen Basa.
Kmart has some fantastic bargains like $3 T shirts. Shorts and trousers are purchased out of season. Then once a year I buy a really nice dress but only if its reduced. Shoes when discounted.
Thanks for the article
A good article but if no one expects you to dumpster dive then why are you bothered whether or not someone else does it? Shops throw out perfectly good food in sealed containers, kitchen ware, clothes, toys, all of which then add to our ridiculous landfill level. I've met people who are more concerned with the waste than getting free food and in fact give away a lot of what they find.
Really interesting article, although I think it assumes that frugality is a choice, not a necessity. Certainly it is for me now- we've challenged ourselves to pay off our mortgage in half the time. However, when I was a student, it was a very different story.

More than half my income went to renting a room that was still 30 minutes from the uni. I rode my bike instead of paying for public transport, didn't eat out, or meat, etc. but still by the time I paid rent, bills and bougt uni books, there was very little left. It was common for me to have to go into the bank a day or two before each pay day to remove whatever cash I had left (Less than $20 so the atms won't do it.)

I dumpster dived- a bunch of students would go around Lygon st, after the bakeries and supermarkets chucked things. I'm not talking rotting food, or half eaten food, but 5 boxes of sealed cereal one day past their used by date, etc. to be honest, I probably could have scraped by without it, but if you were supporting a family too? Suddenly having enough food and not skipping meals becomes far more important.

I'm not saying it's a good situation to be in (although part of me loves that it reduces our society's outrageous wastage), but judgement before you know someone's circumstances is always dangerous.
Thanks for the feedback Rachael. To clarify, I only listed dumpster-diving as unreasonable because of the dangers. I agree that the amount of waste is appalling and it's good to see the food rescue programs happening with some of the supermarkets now. I know that sometimes we do what we have to in order to survive. In the past I collected the free lettuce leaves from the supermarket (rabbit food,) washed it and made salad for my kids. Cheers, Colleen
Interesting article colmo! In my experience, drawing the line in frugality is a blurred one! My goal is to put as much money into savings as I possibly can and don't feel that my family are suffering or living at a sub-standard in order to do so. I have low power bills but we are certainly not sitting in the dark with candles as our only source of light! I make everything from scratch where I can, including my own cleaning and body care products and I only make purchases when necessary. I try to live by the old adage of "make do and mend." I admit there are some people out there who's money saving ways are a bit extreme but each to their own.
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