How to Develop a Frugal Spidey Sense

frugal habits

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Today’s post is an awesome guest post from Mrs. Picky Pincher! She is the blogger and resident money-saving maven at Picky Pinchers. She writes about living the good life while paying off $225,000 of debt. Hope you enjoy!

It was the winter of 2014. I was a newly-minted adult with a college degree in my hand, face brimming with unbridled optimism. I sat in my newly furnished apartment, wearing my “grown-up” high heels and drinking a cup of Keurig-brewed coffee. I marveled at the wonder of credit cards and how I could afford nearly anything I wanted. The world was mine to explore and enjoy—thanks to the folks at Visa.

If it’s not obvious already, I had zero clue of how I should manage my money. My apartment was full with objects I bought on credit and never used.

The infuriatingly spendy cycle continued without interruption—until I was hit with a surprise. It all started when I had a measly 23 cents in my checking account. “No biggie,” I thought, “Payday is tomorrow!”

Except it wasn’t. My company was going through rough times and payday was delayed. To make matters worse, I had to buy a new set of tires for my car, which clocked in at $600. I didn’t have $600 lying around and promptly panicked.

I stumbled my way through the situation without grace and with plenty of crying over pints of ice cream. But it was a wakeup call. I had a variable income and I spent all of it each month. I had no savings, credit card debt, a car loan, and student loans looming on the horizon.

It was time for a change. I needed to develop my frugal spidey sense—and fast.

How I Developed A Frugal Spidey Sense

No arachnids were involved in my transition from a Spendy Susie to a Frugal Francine. But a few concrete steps helped me adjust my mindset.

The Envelope System

I had to quit my credit card habit cold turkey. Any digitized form of money was too tempting for my Amazon Prime obsession. I had to switch to cold, hard cash.

I went old school in my approach and used the Dave Ramsey envelope system. At the beginning of each month I withdrew enough cash to cover my groceries ($200), gas ($50), and ‘fun’ money ($50). I promptly locked my debit card and credit card in a safe so I wouldn’t be tempted to use them. Bills like my rent and car loan were paid automatically through my checking account, so I didn’t have to worry about those.

The envelope system was a little extreme, but it taught me the difference between wants and needs. I had $200 each month for groceries—and that meant I could either buy chocolate bars or I could buy a bag of rice. It took a few lean weeks to realize I had to prioritize real food over treats.

My mentality quickly changed as I realized I was an adult and had to make good decisions. I still built occasional treats into my budget, but only after making sure all of my necessities were met first.

The Three-Day Rule

Although my money management significantly improved after the envelope system experiment, I still had my spendy moments. If I saw a shiny $20 bill leftover in my envelope, I’d use it on a whim to buy more useless jewelry.

I knew the point of the envelope system was to build self-control, but there I was, making the same mistakes.

I decided to implement a three-day rule for any fun purchases. For example, I recently saw an incredible throw pillow at the store that perfectly matched our home’s color scheme. Every fiber of my being screamed, “DO WANT,” the second I saw the pillow.

I left the store without said pillow and mulled over the purchase for the next three days. I considered how badly I needed another throw pillow when we already had two (and Mr. Picky Pincher hated them to begin with). Would I appreciate the extra throw pillow in five years? Could the $15 be better spent elsewhere?

At the end of the three days I decided not to buy the pillow. I had bigger plans for my money, and I didn’t need another object cluttering my house.

I’ve mentioned this method to other people and they’ve said it’s deprivation. I don’t think I deprive myself whatsoever; I just take the time to make calculated purchases instead of buying things on a whim. If anything, I feel more rewarded when I do go back to buy an item I really want. The delayed gratification feels like Christmas morning!

Make It Yourself

I honed my keen frugal spidey sense by taking on some DIY projects. I made my own throw pillows, sewed my own dresses, and made common food staples at home. Pinterest’s DIY boards quickly became my best friend.

I realized that I could make exactly what I wanted for a fraction of the price. Homemade goods usually were the same or higher quality as things from the store—and I had fun making them! I didn’t feel the need to buy movies, video games, or go shopping because I kept myself busy.

DIYing items had a fantastic effect on my frugal spidey sense. If I see a fancy fig jam at the store I think, “Ten dollars for this? Psh, I can make this myself for $2.” I evaluate how much I would actually spend to make an item. If it doesn’t fit my expectations, back on the shelf it goes.

Final Thoughts

Frugality comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s about making prudent money decisions that you won’t regret later. I know everybody has their own frugal spidey sense—it just needs to be nurtured. The financial peace of mind that’s come with my frugal spidey sense has been so freeing. I wouldn’t go back to my old ways even for one million chocolate bars.

We want to know: How did you develop your own frugal spidey sense?

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4 Responses

  1. Really enjoyed this post!

    I’ve always been fairly frugal, but a couple of years ago I decided I wanted to go “next level” with it. I had to study my habits and do quite a bit of research to find the places where cuts would be the most beneficial. Unfortunately, some of these cuts have yet to be implemented for various reasons, but the ones I have made are making a huge difference. The weird thing is that I’m enjoying every second of it.

    • Matt Spillar says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post! I love finding new ways to optimize my expenses as well, it’s sort of a game to find the best deals. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Miss Balance says:

    I’m the same with saying ‘$10? I could make this myself for $2’ and it does seem to get a few raised eyebrows because to other people that equals effort…There are certainly some things that are cheaper to buy as a once off, but if I plan on using a range of spices, or a jam, or other concoction regularly I’ll always try to make it myself. Besides the money saving I also know exactly what has gone into it, so often healthier too.