The Frugalista Challenge! Eight Good Reasons to Live La Vida Frugalista



When I got the chance to be on ChicagoNow Radio last Saturday, co-host Amy Guth issued herself a challenge to try frugal shopping for 30 days. She's going to do it by following the frugalista advice you find here as well as that at ChicagoNow's newest frugal blog, Fantabulously Frugal, which focuses on shopping for fashion and other fun stuff.

Amy has already begun her monthlong oddysey by studying the holy texts otherwise known as the Frugalista archives. She will have a lot of questions for me, which I will post and answer here. I think she's also going to grace us with a guest post or two.

My first piece of advice for Amy is coming right now. Are you ready? Here it comes:

Before setting out on a cost-cutting push, think about why you want to be more frugal. There's a reason that Weight Watchers is the most effective weight loss program -- goal weights. (OK the social support is also big there but stay with me here.) Just like with losing weight, goals are helpful if not completely essential in a successful savings regime.

Confession time. Having specific goals is an area that I need to work on myself. I know my family could be even more frugal if my goals were more specific. Even that princess of the $35 grocery shop, Money Saving Mom, admitted that her household's frugality started to slip after they met one goal and hadn't yet set new ones. 

So here is a list of common, worthy goals for embarking on a more frugal lifestyle. Select from the below list, and then if you're feeling chatty, share in the comments section why you chose the goals you did. Or if your goals are not on the list, please do share those too!

I have some loose goals in mind for my family -- spend less than we earn so we can live without dipping into savings, save for the kids' college, save for our home maintenance and improvement, for buying a car, and for taking a vacation. Oh yeah, and increase those retirement savings.

These goals are not nearly specific enough. My goal for these goals is to designate specific dollar amounts I want to save in each of these areas, maybe even separate savings accounts for each, and specific dollar amounts in our monthly budget to add to each account.

There are other reasons to embark on a more frugal lifestyle besides saving money for a specific thing. Feel free to mix and match between general lifestyle changes and concrete goals.


  • Pay off debt. If you have consumer debt, in my opinion a more frugal lifestyle is not optional. Always make this your first goal before selecting more fun goals. Eat your veggies, and get rid of those credit card balances!
  • Save for a specific purchase or situation. Like those purchases I just mentioned above. You might want to choose both a fun goal and a serious goal. For a long time I've kept that nagging "save for college" idea in mind, and it's not that motivating; it just brings me anxiety. But last night, I started browsing vacation home swaps online, and the thought of starting a vacation savings account has reinvigorated my frugality muscles.
  • Give yourself more wiggle room. This is what originally drove my push to become more frugal: After going from two incomes to one and having more kids, my family consistently bumped up against checking account overdrafts and dipped into savings here and there. This is just not tenable and in this economy too risky of a lifestyle.
  •  Get a better lifestyle. I think a lot of people don't realize that frugality doesn't have to be about self-denial or obsessing over making some big material purchase. At its best, frugality is about freedom from having to work a job you don't like or put in overtime. When you sign yourself up for a car payment or a cell phone data plan, think about the work you're committing yourself to that you might have been otherwise able to avoid. My family's move to frugality was about preserving a lifestyle choice we had made: Having a stay-at-home parent. But one of my fuzzy, back of the mind goals is to free up our family even more by allowing my husband to work for himself or exercise his artistic talent more.
  • Feel calmer. A lot of people -- especially busy moms -- I meet want to try frugality techniques not because their household is going broke but just because they know they could do better and it is stressing them out. I say, try some baby steps that don't take too much time and you can relieve this source of stress. Any cash you save is just a bonus.
  • Be greener. Cutting out unnecessary acquisitions is such an easy way to lessen your environmental impact. Some green projects cost more than they save you -- converting your home to geothermal heat, let's say. But when I watch Oprah's Debt Diet series, I'm struck by how much time, money, gas and energy the indebted families are spending just acquiring stuff.
  • Set an example for the kids. My kids are a big motivation for me to live frugally, and not just because I want to save for their financial security and college expenses. I want them to grow up in a home without money stress. I want them to learn to manage their own money wisely and not think they have to have a lot of stuff to be happy.
  • Share more. When I get to the end of the year and realize that I can't swing as many charitable donations as I'd like to, it's not a good feeling. I mean, look at my life, then look at the life of someone truly in need like these kids featured on the front of the Trib today. It's just not right that my family should use up so many resources without leaving plenty for sharing. Also, the freebies I get from drug stores and grocery stores have allowed me to donate all kinds of stuff to local shelters and food banks, and to help friends and family, all of which feels great.
  • Have fun. Honestly, one reason I bring home freebies from the drugstore and grocery store is because it's fun for me. It's a free hobby. Think of it this way: We pay for video games -- or even more for slot machines -- to light up our brains with that "I've won!" feeling. I get that feeling for free when I pull a particularly good coupon out of the CVS coupon printer.

OK Amy Guth -- what are your reasons for trying out la vida frugalista? And how about you, readers?

Photo by Thirteen of Clubs, used via Creative Commons license.




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1 Comment

Amy Guth said:


Ok, I'll get the ball rolling here...

I'm not really a debt carrier, I don't have children and I'm already pretty green (though I guess we could all do a better job on some level), so I can pretty safely put those reasons aside for me personally. All in all, I love my life and lifestyle, so I'm not looking for any real upgrades in that area, per se, either.

When I took on the challenge, I thought that my reason for doing it in the first place was to see if I could continue to live just as I live, buying the things I like to buy, but to find a way to do it for less and without driving myself crazy and spending a ton of time hunting down the best deals. But there was another layer: *Why* for less? What good would that do?

So, really, while the answer is the same, technically, the underlying reasons and goals are a combination of a few that you listed: to share more, without a doubt (I believe strongly in worldly justice through charitable acts and efforts to causes important to me), to get more wiggle room for sure, which would lead to being calmer (my thinking being that the more 'cushion' the easier it is to breathe easy) and one of these days, I'm going to buy myself a 'getaway' house (and "one of these days" could be any day if I take a systematic approach to saving for that in particular).

But, I have to admit, I had not considered the "fun" angle at all when I took on the challenge. Just shy of one week into the challenge, though, I can see the fun in it. There is a certain satisfying thrill, a feeling of "winning" even, when getting a great deal and, yes, that is pretty fun.

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