On DIYing, frugality, and myths about frugal people

Aaaaages ago, my husband read some article about common myths about frugality. (This interested me because I've been a DIYer for a long time, and often the reasons for my DIY projects have involved saving money as well as wanting to make my own version of something. You may know what I mean!) He read it aloud to me and I was interested but not paying full attention, so I had him email me the link. That email has sat in my inbox since then (February 10!) and I keep thinking I ought to read it again and do something interesting with it. I think writing a blog post inspired by it is something cool enough! So here goes.

Image source: My friend's IG

Why I DIY


I'm a DIYer. You probably are, too, which is why you're reading this blog! Thank you! I love to DIY my home projects and wardrobe because...

  • DIY projects are empowering! The DIY trend is a growing movement, and it's no wonder. Learning to make, or remake, things by hand gives me the confidence--and self-sufficiency--to create whatever I need or want.
  • Saving money is nice, as is conserving resources, and reducing waste. Restyling my wardrobe lets me shop my closet instead of relegating ill-fitting or dated fashions to the trash bin. 
  • Style is all about self-expression. I can make own trends by adding a unique touch to what I wear and put in my home, and show off looks that I love.

On the frugality article


I've been money-conscious since before I had money. In high school I saved up my allowance and, rather than spending it on my lunches like was my parents' intention, I spent it on clothes and makeup and brought my lunches from home. I was always aware of my account balance, and rarely did I overdraw. I didn't open credit cards or spend beyond my means, through high school, college, grad school, and beyond. I always had a big savings account and was able to pay for most of grad school and then the down payment on our house.

So when I read the article, some of the points really resonated with me. Here are the big seven, and see what I mean--


These made a lot of sense to me. For a long time I would have said yes, I'm frugal by choice. I could have decided to spend more and save less, sure. I was happy buying less and deciding not to buy fun things I saw in stores or on Amazon. I didn't mind spending five times as long shopping for something at a discount, instead of paying full price the first place I saw it. But, I also didn't spend every hour of every day worrying about the cost of things, and have never filled my wallet with more coupons than it could hold. I also have been pretty happy with my ability to dress for the season and year, and am a very skilled thrift store shopper--meaning, I can do it fast, efficiently, effectively, and come out with better stuff than I would if I shopped at the mall. Also, all of this stuff came relatively easy for me.

But do I want to be frugal?


If I had read this article when I was a poor graduate student, I would have high-fived myself in the mirror. This all sounds great, right?! Even when I started this blog, I worked part-time at not-great jobs, and saving money and knowing how to shop at Goodwill and the bulk foods section was a serious pro to me.

But now, a few years later, we have a little more money to work with and I wonder about the time I put into shopping for a good deal. I've spent way too much time trying to buy shoes this fall. Partly it's because I don't want to pay full price at Nordstrom, but partly it's because the right thing just isn't out there.

Looking at this list of myths, my thoughts are 1) Frugality doesn't have to mean denying yourself things, and can be enjoyable. Go me! and 2) Frugality means putting a lot of thought into things. That sounds hard.

Time is money, they say. I think if I'm taking time away from more important things to shop at the farther-away, cheaper store, or continually looking for an even better deal, it'd be a shame. But then I think about the levels of frugality, and the larger benefits that may occur over my life if I continue some of this attitude. Not only will I save money, but I'll help the planet and maybe inspire others. Like the last part of the article says, "We can all help fight misconceptions about frugality since we're all examples of stereotypes that don't fit in some way or another. Maybe the larger social trend of moderation is here to stay. If so, let's help shed the thinking that has marginalized thrift and popularized excess."

Excess


Thinking about our culture's demand for more stuff really bums me out. Even with DIYs--do I really need all those homemade, crafty decorations? Really? It's just more plastic and fabric and glue to store, so I need a bigger house and more electricity and gas to heat it.

Have you seen The Story of Stuff? It's a little video that came out in 2007, way before widespread recycling and Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. I haven't watched the whole in years but if you have a moment, check it out. A good reminder that cheap stuff isn't always good.


What about you? What are your feelings on the balance between saving and relaxing? ;) Do you make goals for spending, saving, and DIYing?

28 comments

  1. Great post! I agree that frugality is often seen as cheap, and in my past that has been what it's meant. But now, as an adult with a career, I've turned a corner. Frugal can mean buying quality and not the cheapest item. Instead of buying the same pair of $15 heels that keep breaking and scuffing, I went for a real pair of heels. The quality is awesome and I'm hoping they last a lot longer than my cheapie heels.

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  2. Your point about who needs more lovely homemade decorations to store in a closet really hit home. Lately I've been making a life with less stuff in it--even thrifty, diy, pretty stuff, a priority. Because even if it's free, I feel like there's a cost when you have a life filled up with stuff, and I don't want that life. So I'm working on "slimming down" and not adding more "great deals" to my home!

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  3. I have considered myself to be very frugal... but I also agree with what you are saying when sometimes you spend too much time trying to get the better deal... I feel sometimes that my time is worth more spent doing something else - like being with Austin, family, friends etc.

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  4. It's really funny, I've been sewing clothes, and I feel like it hasn't saved me much money (I'm picky about materials!)...but, I get so much enjoyment from it, considering how stressful med school is :)


    i do need to work on making my own morning coffee or packing lunch...too many good coffee shops here!


    I like being all DIY and 'creative...because I get to do something with my hands that isn't taking notes or studying. Whether I save huge amounts of cash or not...I love it, and that's what matters.

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  5. Frugality is a necessity for me right now. I'm currently unemployed so we're living entirely on my husband's salary. I've been trying to watch our consumption and waste of pretty much everything in our household and one area I was really able to improve was food waste. When I was working we'd both come home tired at the end of the day and would too often opt to eat out (we live in the heart of San Francisco, so there's like a billion restaurants within walking distance of us) even though we had groceries in the fridge. It seemed like every weekend I'd be emptying the produce drawer of wilted lettuce and moldy tomatoes. We're much better about meal planning and eating at home now.

    The other major way I've been able to save us money lately is mending our current wardrobe instead of replacing it. My husband is always ripping the elbows out of his dress shirts (I have no idea how he keeps doing it), but I've come up with a great invisible mend and have put funky patches on some sweaters that needed mending that actually elevate the style of the sweater.

    Being an academic my entire career I've definitely always lived on a budget, but my current unemployment status is certainly showing me some of the areas I still had waste. I hope I can keep these newly learned habits going once I start work again!

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  6. Mostly true for me. And, what is somewhat ironic about this is in my opinion people who are actively "couponing" are probably spending way more money than they would ever need to should they just buy the stuff they actually need for their household. I've seen so many "I've saved $65" type brags posted with a facebook photo featuring multiple packs of liquorice, bags and bags of Doritos and liters of soda, piles of toilet paper, laundry soap and more candy than I could eat in five years. Yes, we need TP and soap. But no one NEEDS junk food.

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  7. This is a great post! I've always been a frugal person even when I was young. I remember as a kid if I didn't have something, I would make it. My parents never spoiled us kids. I learned to be creative! As a kid I always saved my money. When I started working and going to college I found myself spending more money than needed. Then it sort of caught up with me. Now, I wish I had saved more money in college, like I did when I was a kid. I think not having much money as a child made me want to save more. Now, I feel that saving money is important.


    Now, that I am married, I've been very frugal. When my husband I got married we had a DIY wedding way under $10,000. I did not sacrifice anything for my wedding and so many things! My husband works full time now and I don't currently work at the moment. I have to find ways for my husband I to save money. We buy all our dry goods in bulk and store all of it in jars. We eat a lot all natural foods as well. I make a lot of food from scratch. We don't really use coupons in our house because all the coupons I ever seem to find, are for junk food or items we don't buy. Plus, that stuff is more expensive than bulk food we purchase. When it comes to our house, I tend to make a lot of things. If I can't make something, I will go out and purchase it. When I do make purchases, I tend to look for things on sale and items made in the US. I also shop at stores like Goodwill to find good quality items for the house. For the past two years now, shopping for quality has been really important to me. I'm so tired of spending money on junk that ends up breaking within the year. In the long run, spending money on junk means I'm wasting more money.


    I've found that a lot of things I've purchased that were made here in the US, were actually a lot cheaper than a lot of things I've seen made in China. I like the quality of all the things I purchased made here in the US. I find that by purchasing items made here in the US, not only helps bring back jobs to America but it also helps me to save money. I'm buying quality items and not junk. When I find an item in a retail store, boutique or even at Goodwill that is made in the US, I get really excited. I know that I'm making a purchase that will last a long time. One of my favorite little boutiques to shop at sells American made clothes. There prices are comparable to shopping at a retail store. The quality of the clothes, I find are really good. At Goodwill I have also found houseware items made here in the US. Knowing, that I'm saving money and purchasing good quality items really does make me happy. I know that it will befit my husband and I in the future. I also feel that living a more frugal lifestyle helps us to live more simply. It may be more work to make things by hand, but in the end it's really worth it!

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  8. I have to say that DIY is definitely a creative outlet for me, I don't always think of it as saving money (although it ALWAYS has so far!). I love the satisfaction of creating and making something completely my own. It's not to say that I don't like emulating other garments/projects, but something that I made myself means more to me.


    Frugality is a choice for me. As for my history, both of my parents had families that were well-off, then lost their money, so they understood what it was to work hard for themselves. I grew up without having to hear the word "no" very often, but around middle school, I just got sick of the "stuff." I never really asked for much anyways, but whenever we had birthdays, holiday presents, etc., it just seemed to be too much for me. Add to that the fact that my mom never threw anything away (it always has a purpose!), so I didn't feel the need to consume much. I must mention, that I do love repurposing, so some of my mom rubbed off on me!


    As for being frugal in the real world, I don't feel bad about spending where it matters (car safety, etc.). However, fashion and decor (as much as I love it) isn't a need, it's a want. I will DIY projects that look simple, but I would never show up to a business meeting in a DIYed skater skirt. I'm pulling out my business suit for that one!


    Still, most of the time fashion costs a pretty penny. That's why when I see someone wearing a Gucci-labeled tee, I hear the wise, wise words of Macklemore in his song Thrift Shop "Yo - that's fifty dollars for a T-shirt." True.

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  9. This really resonated with me.
    I'm a uni student still living at home, but that's going to change in the next few years, which had made me start thinking a lot about how I want to live my life, frugality being a big part of that.
    Why? Is it a necessity? I think it's partially yes, and partially no. I can live comfortably at the moment, but I am well aware that it might not always be that way, and it's good to develop habits earlier on. Also, even if I had a good amount of money, I could not justify spending it on full priced clothing and shoes etc. I don't feel like that's a responsible use of resources, materially or financially.
    But it also ties into my DIY side. I'm a long term patchworker, who's starting to dabble in dressmaking, and so planning and executing sewing projects is a great hobby for me! And I get lovely clothes and homewares out of it. But even if I wasn't a crafty person I think I would still live simply. I love opshopping (thrifting), for the cheapness, but also for the style of it.
    My style has never been one that follows trends, and in a way I think that's how expenses get out of hand; if one slavishly follows fashions in both clothing and home decorating. Red oing your wardrobe and your room design every yearor so is neither responsible or sustainable.

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  10. (long-time reader...big fan!)
    This was a great post! I really like bringing the time spent into the equation. When I sew, my mum always says, "you only save money if you're time isn't worth anything." Of course, she doesn't mean it in a nasty way--she means that applying a drier, more economic model shows the cost of DIY more clearly. If I give myself minimum wage, a cotton T-shirt costs me $48.00--roughly the same as a free-trade one (and this doesn't even include the amortized cost of a machine + the time it took to learn to sew!)

    Time needs to be budgeted the same way money does! Some people (not you, obviously) can be very self-righteous about saving money with DIY, forgetting that for many of us time is as much a luxury as money is. When I sew, I consider it a hobby, not a job--so I don't consider my time to "cost" anything. For many of us sewers, I think the value of a skill, plus the pride we get, plus the fun of sewing a major consideration, not just cost.

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  11. Hi thankyou, we need to reserve resources globally and have a fairer distribution. Our choices are relative, a child with no food cannot choose to make a sarnie instead of a big mac. Food for thought, closer to home our pressures to have things is just as real to us. I was a teen in the 80s and made everything, (not well, self taught by hand). I have gone back to it second nature, and like you am quite chuffed at times, the next generation will rebel, its all cyclical.

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  12. My husband and I are frugal, and it has become a game to see how far we can make our money go. Making things for oneself has many benefits, including intellectual stimulation, creativity, artistic expression, gratification, and, usually, saving money. I know many people, who are constantly yearning to buy more things, without realizing that the quest is more gratifying than the having. For most people, the pleasure derived from buying retail wears off very quickly, so they immediately plan to accumulate more. This cycle of wanting, acquiring, briefly enjoying, and then wanting something more or different usually leads to discontent, and often leads to living beyond one's means, which causes stress and more discontent. I consider the time spent on researching a cost-effective solution, for whatever I want to achieve, and the time spent making clothing, that looks great inside and out, part of the fun. How much fun can it be to rush around the mall buying things one doesn't need with money one doesn't really have?

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  13. Those are interesting points. For us, frugal isn't too much of a choice. I'm a stay at home mom, married to a teacher. Every penny is spoken for (sometimes several times over), but we make it work with frugality and creativity, and I think it's made us more creative, because some weeks we have to be.

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  14. Ha! Great point! I don't look at coupons much but I guess they wouldn't do me much good anyway for that reason.

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  15. That's true, DIYing is a hobby - like archery or 4-wheeling or whatever! - and can have a purpose in itself as well as a practical benefit!!



    Making coffee and lunches at home does make a big difference though!

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  16. Absolutely. I'm working toward that goal as well!

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  17. That's a great mending solution! It's so handy to have those skills! Meal planning is something to get used to but not eating out all the time makes a huge difference on budget!

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  18. True, coupons do tend to be for crappy processed foods and chemical products. :/ our CSA is much better stuff, also for a great deal! I agree, I'd like to only buy quality things when I can!

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  19. True, DIYing is a hobby before it is a necessity for most of us. But sometimes it comes in handy!

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  20. True. My husband and I used to always say we'd like to continue to live on our college/post-college salaries even as we earned more, so we could save and not waste. It's a balance of need and want, definitely!

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  21. So true!! I don't make a lot of clothing because seriously, I could buy it for much cheaper even if I bought it from an American-made source and got the good stuff. It's nice to mix fun DIY trendy things with quality pieces like good jeans!

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  22. So true. I don't remember the term for it but there's a philosophical principle about when we attain the thing we want, we don't "want" for it anymore so it loses its appeal. The hunt is more fun than having something in a dresser drawer!

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  23. Frugality to my husband and me is being responsible, not spending more than we earn and being smart about our financial decisions. We choose to do this - we're not forced into some life of financial servitude. We're working toward being debt free and then being able to pay cash for major purchases. We each get a monthly allowance and how we choose to spend it is up to us - I buy fabric and he saves his. :)


    On another note, I'm responsible for a major textile recycling project in our local community and we get A TON of clothes - not only from individuals but from a lot of thrift stores. There's already so much clothing out there, why not reuse/remake/repurpose? I never understood why something needed to be new to have value. Why not look to use what's already available? Great post!

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  24. Very true! When my boyfriend and I talk our long term plans, we want to live as simply as we possibly can, and save the money for travelling

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  25. Truly frugal people are smart! We are frugal at the moment because we MUST be, but my husband and I are both getting the biggest kick out of shopping at Goodwill. We live in Florida (for another 8 months) but our son goes to college in Wisconsin. We just scored a $1000 casmere winter dress coat for....$5.99 at our local Goodwill! How insane is that?!?!? People in our town give away the craziest stuff. Our teens find all of the brands that they are craving there, and thanks to pop radio, it's also cool to shop there.
    That all being said, I've always been a less-is-more kind of girl. I didn't wear make up in college because why spend money on it just to wash it off at night?
    I have a friend who is a Coach purse junkie and owns more than any person needs. I personally have 2 handbags that I bought at JCP back in the 80s. Folks ALWAYS think they are Coach. I never correct them. 35 years and still gorgeous. Quality over quantity.

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  26. Really enjoyed this post and couldn't agree more. For me, the biggest pros of DIY-ing are:

    1. Never having to be the girl wearing the same dress as another.
    2. That smug feeling when your outfit/home project cost next to nothing, but looks a million bucks.
    3. Clothes that fit like a glove.
    4. More money to spend on having fun (and going places where you can show off your creations!)
    Love your blog. Keep up the great work!

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  27. Ok, sorry, but I have to tell you, I kind of squealed a little when I saw that you replied :P

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  28. There's nothing wrong with being frugal. I don't know whether for me it came from my Mum or from my uni days with no job and next to no money, but managing to get by and being happy that way.

    I don't feel the need for all the excess and love finding bargains and making my own things. You don't need a load of money to be happy.

    Cheap stuff isn't always good, but then again expensive stuff is no better, hmmm it is difficult and there is a nagging when I buy stuff about where it has come from and what or who has suffered for something that I don't really need, but then if I buy less then that has gotta be better than buying more right?

    Hannah.

    http://surfjewels.tumblr.com/

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