I'm a big fan of being frugal where you can and where it doesn't matter as much, so that you can afford the things that you really need when it's crucial. I wasn't always like this; I didn't used to have a very good handle on money when I was in my twenties.
I took a bible study on Financial Stewardship from Crown Ministries and it was eye opening. It really brought home to me that stewardship wasn't just about how you spent your money, it was also about how well you used your resources. Instead of buying something at full price, buy it slightly used or on sale, recycle or continue to use.
I've found that most people who have to have something brand new all the time have more personal ego and pride involved than common sense. It's not that new isn't fun or nice, but when you refuse to shop second hand or take it with a bad attitude when it helps your long term goals then it seems to me to be very self centered.
I was just thinking the other day of all the things we do that help cut costs around here.
With food, I make a lot of my own items. I make my own oatmeal and pancakes for breakfast. And I don't mean with a mix; I make it by taking an extra 5 minutes to get the items out of the pantry, measure them and cook. 5 minutes! And you would not believe how much money that saves. If I had a waffle iron, I'd make my own waffles in big batches, freeze them and then have my own Eggos for breakfast! If I had more freezer space and if Rafe was home, I'd make breakfast sandwiches and freeze them also. If anyone is interested, I can post our breakfast menus sometime.
I buy tubs of plain yogurt and use them in place of sour cream (healthy and cost effective). I also use plain yogurt in smoothies, especially if I am using canned peaches or other fruits that already have syrup. I mix jam in with it to create my own flavored yogurts. When I find flavored yogurts on sale, I mix equal amounts of plain yogurt into the prepared yogurt and then have twice as much. Over the years the yogurts have become sweeter and sweeter, and you'd be surprized at how much flavor is in it when you mix it, with much less sugar.
We do the same thing with fruit juices. We cut all our juices in half. Neither Rafe nor I like super sweet things, so we cut our juices. They are much more refreshing and thirst quenching, without that sickly sweet after taste.
We use meat as a condiment, not always the main ingredient in a meal. We use lots of rice and beans, and lots of intense seasonings to perk up meals.
I tear our dryer sheets in half (thanks to Connie for that tip) and they work just as well. The only difference is that the smell isn't as intense.
Our cars are paid for and we're going to drive them till they drop. Yes, we do wish we had a fancy new car. And truck. But there are other goals we're working on that are more important.
If Amelia really needs something, then I buy it at a thrift store. Last week I went to Goodwill and I found a great pair of sandals for her for 1.99, and a pair of tennis shoes for 2.99, and honestly, that's a little pricey to me. But they were almost brand new, the tennis shoes were still in the box. I'll take pictures and post them later. I browse Freecycle (where everything is free), Craigs List and Parris Island Yard Sales (online garage sales similar to Craig's List but with pictures). I found 2 brand new huge coloring books that were originally priced at $6 for $1. And I picked up some books for her at 50 cents each.
When I shop for Amelia, I think about the end use of the clothes. Do I need super perfect cute shorts and top when she is going to be using them for play clothes outside? She gardens with me, so they are just going to get muddy and dirty - that's half the fun of being a kid! So I pick up jeans for 75 cents and shorts for a quarter. Believe it or not, I've found Goodwill is pricier than the volunteer run thrift shops. These shops are usually for good causes - there is one here for abused children, and another one for cancer patients. They don't have the same overhead that consignment shops or resale shops have so their prices are much cheaper.
Would I love to have brand new? Do I look longingly at the doll houses and other toys for her? Absolutely. But our money can go farther when we bargain shop. All those pennies here and there added up to us being able to pay off all our credit card debt this year, our cars a few years ago, and start saving for our retirement and future college for Amelia. That money is what helps us be able to fly home when emergencies happen (as happened one right after the other for a few years in a row), or to fly or drive home to visit family because it's cost prohibitive for them to visit us. It helps us to have date nights (when he's home), or to explore the unique areas we live in and will never have a chance to see again.
I guess it's all about choices. You have to decide what you're willing to do without in order to afford what you need and what you want. For some people, cutting their juice in half with water would be the worst possible thing they could think of, but perhaps they would easily bike to work instead of walk. Especially in these times, you have to take a hard look at giving up something in order to get what you want.