Be yourself, and save.

thFrugality bloggers are all about the hacks, i.e., the conscious ways they stretch every dollar. My daughter recently wrote about unconscious savings – or, rather, savings she didn’t specifically pursue.

“I have an awful lot of unintentional frugality, just based on how I live my life,” Abby notes in a piece called “Life’s accidental savings.”

Among them: working at home (huge savings there), not having a pool (they’re fairly common in Phoenix), skipping manicured hands and a manicured landscape, not eating red meat or drinking coffee, having hermit tendencies, and laziness.

What she calls “laziness” has to do more with spoon theory than sloth. A near-fatal neurological illness left Abby with some permanent health issues, one of which is chronic fatigue. So when she says she’s sometimes “too lazy” to make a junk food run, it probably means she’s not sure she would be able to get back out of the car and into the house after the errand was completed.

(True story: Once when walking home from the bus in Seattle, Abby considered lying down on the public sidewalk because the two steps up to her front walkway seemed just too much to manage. She did make it into the house, but I expect she used her last spoon to do so.)

Judging from the comments sections, she’s not the only person accidentally saving money.

Her readers cite habits/personality traits like hating to shop, loving to cook, going for up to a year without a haircut, buying used books, and working out at home with YouTube videos.

The nice thing about accidental savings? You get to feel a little better about the frugal fails!

For example, Abby acknowledges that she and Tim don’t cook often enough. Dining out costs a lot more than cooking, which causes them continuing consternation. But they don’t buy work attire (let alone dry-clean it), get weekly mani-pedis, drink coffee or hit the clubs, so for now it’s a draw.

Lifestyle-based budget boosters leave some wiggle room for the stuff you truly want. A reader named “TLC” says she should probably dress a little better at work but she just doesn’t care enough. The money she saves on professional togs goes to restaurant meals and professional massage.

Can I play, too?

I’m with her on that last. No machine runs for 56 years without some maintenance issues, so when I drastically retooled my budget one of the line items was “a monthly two-hour massage.”

Bonus: A licensed massage therapist I know is about to go solo, which means the monthly cost will actually go down by $35. You could look at that as an extra $420 per year to put into my Roth IRA or my emergency fund. I might look at it that way, too. But some months I’m going to look at it as “the option for another massage if I truly need it.”

Some other default lifestyle settings that save DF and me quite a bit:

  • We don’t have a television.
  • We cook all meals at home, buying almost everything on sale or from the “manager’s special” bin. We make our own yogurt, and either bake our own bread or buy it for as little as 50 cents from a bakery outlet.
  • The local newspaper hires me to review theater, which means two free tickets and a $60 honorarium.
  • We do our own cleaning and home repairs.
  • We garden, both for fun and because fresh fruit and vegetables are delicious. We also preserve food that we grow or glean.  
  • We live in a small-ish home that’s easy to heat, clean and maintain.
  • Ours is a one-car household, and his 15-year-old Subaru doesn’t cost  much to insure.
  • We have library cards.

Your mileage may vary

Does this make us boring? Maybe. Some people can’t understand how we can live without television. But I have a frugal hack for that, too, based on my pickup truck theory of life: My friend Linda B. records anything she thinks I’d like, and every so often I’ll go over to share chocolate and gossip while watching a ton of TV.

We wouldn’t have time for regular TV viewing anyway. After all, we have a piano, a radio, a ton of CDs and vinyl, many unread books and, right now, seeds to be started.

Your mileage may vary. Maybe you can’t see yourself without a daily coffee or a weekly pedicure. As long as the books balance and you’re setting money aside for your future, I say go with whatever gives you a satisfied life.

So how about it: In what ways do you save money just by being yourself? Have you always been this way or have your priorities changed over the years?

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  1. I like to eat out occasionally but tend to choose local family owned restaurants or cafes. I like the idea of putting something back into the local economy and having a treat at the same time. Very occasionally I have my eyebrows professionally shaped and tinted. A massage I would really love but would be very pricey where I live. I still though, find it very hard to treat myself after years of being a single parent!!

  2. Everything you said, plus I make and mend my own clothes, or buy them at Goodwill, SallyAnn, or similar venues.
    The idea of spending money on wearing makeup and a/or mani-pedi makes me cringe.

  3. I am all about the library! It was something that I enjoyed growing up and cannot let go of! My bf is all about eating out, and so I’ve been trying to bring him back into the home cooking route. And last but not least, I enjoy having a cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning. I could never leave the house to just get that.

  4. Betsey

    I have found a new career that thrills me to my being. I was hired by a local newspaper to write feature stories. Since I love to meet people and am naturally curious, it’s a great fit. No longer do I need to sit in an office dressed up and bored. I work from home.
    I also cook, do not buy new clothes (who wants to look like a pregnant teen anyway?), go to the cheap theatres if I want to see a movie, volunteer, and generally do what I want when I want. Church is the core of my interaction with people.
    There are also lots of free things at the college here. Last Sunday I saw an excellent production of “The Mikado” with professional actors for free!!! Their music and drama departments have free concerts and events with a free will offering sometimes. If I want to see a basketball game, one of the local high schools is within walking distance.
    Many times I do what you do, Donna. A friend will come over for popcorn and a movie from the library.

  5. I live much as you do, Donna, especially the unmanicured hands and no TV. I’d say the art of old-fashioned conversation is the prime way I unconsciously save money. I’d rather interact with live human beings than electronics. They cost less and are more interesting (to me at least).

    I see us frugal people as underdogs in a materialistic culture. My favorite new book is actually about how underdogs win: “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. I’m giving away an autographed copy of this book. Please drop by if you’re interested.

    Hopping into my carpool with Cory in a minute. I’ll converse for an hour and unconsciously save more money.

  6. A big money saver for me is not going out that much to bars, and not drinking a lot. When I do go out, I usually have no more than one drink. That seems to be where most twenty somethings’ extra money goes!

  7. Husband and I are retired and we really like to get out of the house often. Also, hate to cook. But a lifetime of frugality still hangs over our heads like a rain cloud. We have lunch at Costco fairly often in their outside food court. That $1.50 hot dog and coke is in every cell of my body by now.

    A month ago we had lunch at a “real” restaurant with a gift card. I couldn’t get over eating a meal with walls around us. 🙂

  8. lostAnnfound

    We rarely eat out, drink just during social occasions (weddings and visiting friends), do pot-lucks with friends for getting together, and do not have smart phones. I work from home, so it’s jeans & t-shirts, which last a long time. And when I do need to get something “dressy”, the Goodwill store & Savers are great places to shop.

    We are not big spenders, but we have cut back even more recently (helping where we can for the first daughter who is a sophomore in college, next one is graduating H.S. in two months). I think once the kids are gone we will go back to our “old ways” – still conscious/frugal about what & where we spend, but also budget in a splurge now and again.

  9. Joan V.

    By reading the other comments, I see that I do what others are doing. I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, Bells (a factory outlet) or Kohl’s clearance racks. I don’t eat out during the week – I take my lunches to work. I cook my meals at home during the week. My treat is to have a Starbucks with my family on Friday nights before grocery shopping. It’s a nice way to unwind from a week of work.

  10. Great post, “a 56 year old machine” LOL, very funny. I will have to say I can go 3 months without a haircut, I prefer to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner than to go out for food. I wait for sales before buying the things I want. Only get the things you need all the time, and the things you want only sometimes.

  11. Cathy in NJ

    My small house is the biggest source of unintentional frugality. When you don’t like clutter and don’t have a lot of places to store stuff that you don’t need, you think twice before you bring anything home that is not consumable. My skyhigh NJ real estate taxes and heating and cooling bills are less because of a small house. I shop consignment, Kohl’s clearance and yard sales. I actually avoid Goodwill because I had a tendency to buy too many items and clutter the house.

    • Donna Freedman

      DF’s mom has a rule: If she brings home something new, two things must go. That makes her very careful indeed about what she obtains.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. Our biggest “unintentional” savings came because of homemade cooking. We’ve lived next door to an elderly couple for 12 years. He’s been volunteering at the food bank and farmer’s market for 30+ years. A few years ago, he told me his wife was no longer able to cook (they were both 90), so I started sending meals over. He began bringing me their food bank offerings and leftovers from the farmer’s market. It evolved into an informal co-op that includes other neighbors, and I get at least $50-$60 of free food weekly.

  13. Christy

    I barter for my hair cut and highlights, that saves me $130 each time.

    I don’t drink coffee or alcohol.

    I water down my dish soap and hand soaps. If you reuse a “foam” hand soap pump, fill it 1/3 with regular liquid soap and 2/3 water it’s the consistency of the foaming soap.

    I freeze bananas that start to turn (if they get that far). Just throw them in the freezer (in the peel). They will turn black but they are great for use in banana shakes or to use to make muffins and bread. Just thaw a few minutes, peel and mush. I even arranged for a local market to save me their unsold bananas, apparently there are several ladies with this arrangement, but the market manager says the rest are old ladies.

  14. Christy

    oh, my local coffee house sets aside used ground coffee for gardeners. Keeps a lot of bugs and grubs away. Kinda saves you money in the long run, but I find less aggravation or wasted time is just as valuable as saving money.

  15. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. On top of that, my last vertebrae is sitting on bone and I have two herniated discs and the L5 is pushed out of position. I understand thinking the last few steps are impossible. When I get into the tub and take a bath, I need to lie down for thirty minutes. Then, I wash my hair in the sink and need to lie down again with a towel around my hair. Some people, especially Walmart workers harass me about what I cannot do, making my life miserable.

    I do understand how Abby’s life can be hard. It makes perfect sense to me, even though our conditions are not at all similar.

  16. I think it’s funny when I read top 10 lists on How to Save Money and I’m already doing most of them just by being who I am. I hate doing my hair, it just gets longer and longer until I eventually get sick of it every few years and donate the growth. I don’t like shopping so I take lots of hand me downs especially for the kids. My husband and I love to cook, we only have one car, I already work from home. I love gardening. I’d rather watch a movie at home then at the theatre. I think maybe we are the minority though.

  17. I hate wearing makeup, getting my hair done, and being fashionable (my mother tried too hard to school me on being ladylike). I buy clothes on sale or at consignment or thrift stores, I also wear hand-me-downs from friends and family. When I need furniture or household items, I go to thrift, second-hand, and consignment stores because I just can’t stand the overstuffed oversized ugly monsters on the sales floors of furniture stores. I bring lunch to work because it takes too long to go out for lunch (laziness) and I don’t like coffee, so there’s instant savings. I dislike TV, so I don’t have cable, and I have the most basic pay as you go cell phone because I am too impatient to learn to use a so-called smart phone. I prefer my dumb phone that doesn’t take photos, it just lets me make phone calls. I love to read and have a great local library, so that saves me money, too. I swore off of Coca-Cola (sorry, shareholders) for my health (sodas deplete phosphorus and hasten osteoporosis) and lost weight while saving that money. But I still splurge on chocolate with nuts, and the occasional massage. Now I just have to get control of my pen-collecting habit.

  18. Lisa O'Brien

    Enjoy the article & the comments! It is nice to see that not all people love to spend money. A simple life can be very rewarding!

  19. SO not boring!!!! It is everything that makes my heart sing! I saved a ton this year because I didn’t even get a flyer for black Friday. Gift cards are going to be purchased and then I’m calling it quits. I cleaned carpets on black Friday, maybe that’s the way to keep your money in your pocket. Or perhaps its because my SIL doesn’t watch her kids and is disrespectful. It’s pretty hard to watch kids and host. The carpet was the loser. The great part about it was she saw him do it and left it.


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