I live in one of the most expensive places in the USA. A gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread – frequently $10 each in many of the stores here. Rent is on par with Manhattan.
I’m not wealthy. Far from it. According to the guidelines here, my income puts me well below the poverty line. And yet, I live here. I eat pretty well. I get to travel from time to time. I make sure my child has everything she needs and doesn’t live in a poverty mindset. I grew up ‘poor’ and it did a number on my ideas of self-worth. I do my best to make sure that she has and does as much or more than her peers in terms of experience, possessions, and more.
So, how do I do it? The same way I traveled the world without being rich. I make decisions. I never had a fancy computer or digital camera when I was a travel blogger. I always stayed in the cheapest decent lodging I could find. I ate street food when street food was good and I almost never bought clothing, gear, or anything else new or at full retail price. I went years without having a car. I maintained my residence in countries where the cost to do so was a tiny fraction of what it was in the US. And – I hustled my ass off. I looked for opportunities to make money, to arbitrage, and utilize new opportunities.
It’s different here and now, of course but those skills are still serving me. I buy the food I want but always with an eye to when it is on sale. I like to drink cold water from water bottles so after I buy a plastic bottle of water, I refill it with our excellent tap water multiple times. I’m constantly selling things I bought for low price for a higher price on eBay. I scour garage sales and the swap meet for arbitrage opportunities. I rarely buy ‘new’ things for myself but on those things I do buy new, I look for quality that will last for years without needing to be replaced. I cook or prepare 95% of my meals (let’s just say fruit is prepared, okay). When I travel, I use miles and points and I look for the best times and dates and prices. I buy what I need and virtually nothing gets wasted. This sits on the borderline of an obsession – seeing food rot in a refrigerator or cupboard actually sort of offends me. I scrimp. I get gas where I save $5 on filling up my tank. I drive a paid for car and even though I hate doing mechanic work – I fix it myself whenever I am able – no payments here. My abode is rented and fits the space between what I absolutely need (my own space, a kitchen, security, privacy) and the lowest price. I could save $5-600 a month living in a roommate situation or in a less desirable neighborhood, but at 51, I know that money would not be worth it to my mental health, my budget, or my overall health. I don’t have a TV or a microwave. I don’t want either. I don’t drink much alcohol because it’s expensive and also not good for my health/mind/body/spirit. I don’t smoke weed or use other drugs. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I rarely eat in restaurants. When I go to the movies (which I sometimes do), I don’t pay $8.50 for a soda or $14 for a bucket of popcorn, I smuggle my $4 worth of food and drinks in. I don’t pay $14 for a movie ticket. I have movie pass and pay $10 a month for 3-4 matinees or 2 regular features. The list goes on and on….I am doing all this cheap living stuff that I learned from decades of Rough Living to offset the cost of living in paradise. It’s working, kind of, but it’s a bit exhausting too and when I end up spending time with people who don’t have to make these kinds of mental adjustments – It can feel shameful, embarrassing, and worse.
It’s part of the reason I stopped doing luxury tours of Oahu. Spending the day with people that would throw down on a 8 hour drive around the island what I pay for monthly rent began to have serious negative consequences on my mentality. I was a seething ball of resentment and when I picked up a family that was paying $5000 per night to stay in an AirBnB (4 months of rent for me!) , I hated them without meeting them. To be honest – they were actually assholes once I did meet them. More problematic is my tendency to overcompensate when I meet with friends and family that don’t have to worry about money. I buy the round, treat for dinner, or pay for everyone’s movie tickets – in part, it’s because I want to and it feels good to splurge on people I care about – but I also recognize that in part it’s compensation for the shame I feel, that same stink of being poor white trash that haunts my inner being. Don’t get me wrong though – I love paying for those I care about or picking up the tab – one of the reason’s I wish I had more money is because I would love to be able to do that more. It feels good to share. I guess the hard part about it is that I recognize that for others – $100 isn’t a big deal but when I throw down $100 on a meal – it’s actually 10 days worth of meals versus just $100. Does that make sense? $20 is four omelets with toast, a plate of fried rice, five bowls of noodles, three smoothies, and a couple of sandwiches – or something like that.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing this. I guess it’s because I recently found myself feeling cheap – feeling shame as I found myself not wanting to leave leftovers on the table of a restaurant and also feeling ashamed of wanting to ask for a to-go box. It was a silly and unimportant moment – but it’s been echoing so I’m letting it out.
Do you live frugally? What are your best techniques?