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Frugality's about value, not about being cheap

For both practical and personal reasons, on some items, go ahead: Splurge

By Gary Foreman

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear New Frugal You,
We've been trying to seriously reduce our expenses for the last year or so. I've looked at just about every bill to see how we could make it smaller. But, it occurs to me that sometimes spending less might not be such a good idea. So my question is: Where should I be looking for savings? And where should I be a little freer with my money? Where do you look to spend less? -- Looking for Savings

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Looking,
You're absolutely right. It's pretty hard to cut spending on every single purchase. In fact, it might even be bad to reduce expenses in some areas. So let's look at some areas where I really try to save and some where I'm a little more willing to part with a buck.

I admit that there are some areas where I'm downright cheap. There are things I really hate to spend money on.

Disposables are an excellent example. With rare exceptions, quality isn't an issue. You're going to use it once or twice and then throw it away. So my theory is, don't dispose of any more money than necessary.

Some food items also fall into that category. There's very little or no quality difference in instant oatmeal or various canned veggies. So why not buy the generic and save a few cents?

Clothing for hanging around the house is also unimportant to me. I'm not going to impress myself with designer shorts. Any old pair of cotton gym shorts will do -- the cheaper the better. If they get torn or stained, I don't mind replacing them.

I hate spending money on utility bills. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for water, electricity and trash pickup. But it bugs me to see lights burning in an empty room. I get no value from the extra wattage used (and paid for).

Designer stuff is another pet peeve. Yes, sometimes a brand name will denote good quality, but only rarely do designer clothing prices have anything to do with quality. Typically, they're higher because the designer is famous. The designer may be a household name, but I'd prefer to not help them get rich. Plus, I don't want anyone to think more of me because of the clothes I'm wearing.

On the other hand, there are some areas where I'm willing to part with a few more dollars -- places where I think that spending a little more makes frugal sense.

I admit to being a car guy ever since I was a little boy. I just love them. That doesn't mean that I have to buy or lease a new car every three years. But, it does mean that I'm willing to buy a new car, even though a gently used car is a slightly better value. I figure I'll drive it eight years or longer, so the extra expense isn't that great. Plus, I know exactly how the car was driven and maintained.

Education seems like a good expense to me, whether it's college or continuing education, formal or informal learning. Yes, you can spend too much, but in many cases, education pays for itself. One thing that I am very cautious about is borrowing money for education. I prefer to pay for it out of earnings or savings.

I'm willing to spend a little more on dress or work clothing. I don't have to wear a suit or jacket often. But good quality and tailoring doesn't go out of style quickly (the opposite of designer clothing). So spending a little more now is a good investment.

For most of us, work clothes are a necessity, whether that means suits, uniforms or jeans. I'm willing to spend more to buy quality clothes that will last longer. It saves me money in the long run.

It's the same thing for tools, especially those that I use at work or often at home. Poor quality tools are hard to work with and tend to break at the worst possible times. Now, that's not to say that you need to buy top-end tools if you're a weekend DIYer. You probably don't want to buy the cheapest tool available, but you don't need top-of-the-line, either.

And, don't think of tools in the narrowest sense. For some of you a cell phone or computer could be essential to your work. That makes it a tool.

One other area that that tends to open my wallet is memories. Underneath this frugal exterior, I'm a little sentimental. Things that remind me of good times have a special value to me, so they're worth spending a few dollars.

Your list will be different. Just remember that ultimately being frugal isn't about being cheap. It's about getting good value for your money.

See related: Living a thrifty lifestyle, Tips for finding fun while staying frugal

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Published: July 14, 2011


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