Frugal fringers don’t get the urge to buy very often, but when they do, crucial habits kick in. They consider all kinds of alternatives that involve no purchase whatsoever. Fringers know these alternatives by heart, and by ingrained habit, they act on them regularly. This chapter converts their routines into a smorgasbord of tightfisted tactics. Choose any of them and you’ll satisfy your hunger for something new—and do it without making a purchase.
□ 1.1.1 Avoid the Purchase Altogether
As any frugalist will let you know, you can, in many instances, “do without.” To profit from this advice, however, you don’t need to adopt some overly Spartan lifestyle. The fact is, doing without often involves no real sacrifice at all. The small trick is to find some way other than a purchase to erase your need or want. Review these examples to spark your own creative ideas:
- Storage Sheds. If you’re about to buy a shed, then maybe you’ve crossed the threshold of having too much stuff. A purge might be in order. If you own items you haven’t used for years, show them the door. Sell on eBay, host garage sales, or donate to local thrift stores. When you erase the need for extra space, you sidestep the cost of outbuildings.
- Filing Cabinets, Photo Albums, and Bookcases. Scan tax returns and bills to reduce files. Scan photographs to save on albums. Download e-books. A Kindle holds 3,500 of them, and at an inch per book that works out to 300 linear feet—the equivalent of 20 IKEA Billy model bookcases (you save $1,200).
- Wine Refrigerators. These keep bottles cool, but a corner of the basement does the job for FREE (and without electricity).
- Paper Shredders. To remove the need for this gadget, sign up to receive bills and statements via email. Any other confidential paper can be torn asunder by hand.
□ 1.1.2 Wait Until Later
Procrastination, for lack of a better word, is good. When you expand the time that passes between your first impulse to buy and the moment the dollars slip away, many wonders occur. Prices drop. Sales happen. Products improve. Rebates appear. Coupons turn up. You decide to do without. In short, if we procrastinated on our purchases half as well as we do on our chores, we’d all be much richer. Some examples:
- Annuals. Buy them a couple years after publication and save big. Little information changes. Do this for anything with a year on its cover, including atlases, almanacs, restaurant ratings, and travel guides.
- Movies. The average delay between theater and DVD release has narrowed to about four months. If you and a date watch 25 first run movies at the multiplex, you pay $500. If you wait awhile and rent from Redbox.com, the cost tumbles to $30—and you also save on snacks and sodas.
- Holiday Stuff. Frugal fringers mark their calendars this way: Valentine’s Day items go on sale February 15, Easter supplies on the Monday after, Fourth of July stuff on July 5, Halloween gear on November 1, and Christmas goodies on December 26. Buy a day late and leave the seller a dollar or more short.
- Championship Memorabilia. When my beloved Red Sox won it all in 2004, my heart ruled my head as I paid retail prices for commemorative baubles (it had been 86 years since the last championship). After a few months, I watched in horror as my keepsakes began selling at steep discounts. When the Sox won again in 2007, I waited to buy. This time around I saved nicely.
- Seasonal Stuff. Buy at season’s end and stow away for next year: garden tools, shovels, bikinis, snow parkas, etc.
- Fine Art Prints (and Everything Else). Let’s say you want to buy a framed print. Before you rush into a purchase, test the level of your desire. Search Google Images for a high resolution image, right click your mouse, and set the picture as your computer screen’s wallpaper. If after several weeks you’re sick of it, you’ve erased your urge to spend without expense. Actually, this post-a-picture-and-wait technique works for any discretionary purchase. And instead of downloading the image, you can always rip a photo from a catalog and tape it to the fridge. The familiarity of seeing your object of desire every day often breeds contempt for spending money on it. And it’s much cheaper to experience that contempt before you buy rather than afterwards.
□ 1.1.3 Use What You Already Own
Fringers follow this creed: “use it up, make it last, wear it out, or make it do.” In other words, you can burn through several blenders in a lifetime; or, instead, you can treat your current blender with the utmost respect it so rightfully deserves. I don’t know what you own, so forgive some more war stories from my own experience:
- Televisions. My Sony Trinitron, circa 1989, still works and interferes with the purchase of an HDTV. There’s something cool about owning a TV that’s old enough to order itself a beer (come to think of it, maybe that’s why the picture’s so blurry). While I think things over, prices continue to drop.
- Printers. My laser produces streaky pages, but until the toner empties I make do with poor quality and use the library’s machines whenever I need perfection.
- Grill Covers. The Weber’s vinyl cover looks worn after six winters, but some black duct tape applied in a geometric design converts it into a unique artwork. This temporary fix buys time to find a low-priced replacement.
- Odds and Ends. Some items enjoy useful afterlives. In our house, worn kitchen sponges assume new duties as bathroom scrubbers. Empty jars see new service as storage containers. Old toothbrushes move into auto detailing.
- Clothes. Go closet shopping. Your old duds have been stashed away for so long that they’ll now seem new.
□ 1.1.4 Make it Yourself
This saves money sometimes, but not always. Just try to make bookshelves for less than IKEA charges—no can do. Consider these situations where you can craft your way to savings:
- Household Cleaners. Revisit chemistry class by mixing your own cleaners. Common ingredients include white vinegar, borax, and baking soda. Search online for “homemade household cleaners.” Important safety note: never mix bleach with ammonia.
- Personal Care Products. Search online for recipes to make mouthwashes, toothpastes, deodorants, and soaps.
- Bottled Water. Filter water yourself.
- Greeting Cards. Bypass Hallmark with construction paper or emailed greetings. Visit eGreetings.com or 123Greetings.com.
- Meals at Work. Not only are brownbag lunches cheaper, they usually take less time to prepare than visiting a deli at the noontime rush.
- Herbs. If you spend more than $15 a year on fresh herbs, plant some seeds in a pot, add water, and watch your assets grow.
- Comforter Covers. Sew two sheets together for a product that looks as nice as the store-bought version.
- Hummingbird Food. Forgo the packaged stuff. Mix one cup sugar to four cups of boiling water. Let cool. Serve. I’ve used this recipe for years and never received any complaints.
□ 1.1.5 Get it for Free
We live in a wealthy society where our affluence often produces effluence in the form of FREE stuff. Any fringer can list many favorite giveaways. Here are some of mine.
- Used Stuff. Make that a cofFREE maker, if you please. Visit Freecycle.org or check out the FREE section on Craigslist.org.
- Music. Visit Pandora.com, Spotify.com, and many others.
- Movies. If you have a DVR, make it work overtime whenever premium channels offer FREE movie weekends. Visit OpenCulture.com, FreeDocumentaries.org, and Crackle.com.
- Shareware. Visit OpenOffice.org or CNET.com.
- C-Span. Visit C-SpanVideo.org for 195,000 hours of content. A search engine finds your favorite topics, people, and books.
- The Nation’s Library. FREE films and sound recordings abound at the Library of Congress. Visit LOC.gov.
- Gifts. If it’s acceptable in your family, request your latest object of desire for the next holiday. Or ask everyone for gift cards that you can combine to buy a big-ticket item.
- Wrapping Paper. Wrap for FREE with Sunday comics or pages from holiday catalogs. In the Red Sox championship years, I saved copies of the October sports sections (they were black and white and red all over) and used them in December. Try it when your team wins.
□ 1.1.6 Borrow
Before buying, the frugal few always consider the possibility of borrowing. Lenders are plentiful. The library offers books, DVDs, audio books, and CDs. Some communities sponsor “tool libraries” where, for a small annual fee, you can check out just-the-right-tool for a remodel. (For a comprehensive list of these libaries, visit LocalTools.org.) Friends and family possess other items. To prosper as a borrower, return everything promptly and offer to lend out your own things.
□ 1.1.7 Trade or Barter
Look for websites that specialize in specific goods.
- Media. Visit Swap.com, PaperBackSwap.com, SwapaCD.com, and SwapaDVD.com.
- Video Games. Visit Swap.com and Goozex.com.
- Cribs and Bibs. Visit SwapBabyGoods.com and ThredUp.com.
- Clothing. Pair up with someone your size and trade. Or visit RehashClothes.com, SwapStyle.com, and BigWardrobe.com.
□ 1.1.8 Rent
Don’t buy an extension ladder if you’re using it once only. Rent instead. Many rental centers display photos of their inventory online. Also, check out peer-to-peer sites like Zilok.com, which match renters with owners. They’re like dating services for table saws. Rent sports equipment for new activities: kayaks, snowboards, mountain bikes, etc. Consider rentals for party supplies, recreational vehicles, medical equipment, and formal clothing. If your need for a vehicle is sporadic, check out car share programs like ZipCar.com. Rental companies—Hertz and Enterprise among them—now offer by-the-hour rates as well.
□ 1.1.9 Flip
As fringers know, flipping isn’t just for houses. Sometimes, you can buy pre-owned items, use them awhile, and then resell them. Like rentals, this works well for short-term needs: chain saws, paint sprayers, step ladders, wedding dresses, prom dresses, maternity wear, and baby clothes. A flip often costs less than a rental. And sometimes, you can even resell for a profit. One warning: you bear the risk of not finding a buyer, so investigate the resale market’s strength beforehand. (EBay provides data on recent sales; visit the advanced product search feature and check the box for “completed listings.”)
□ 1.1.10 Try Group Buynamics
If a fringer caught you perpetrating a purchase, you might hear this: “why don’t you have one of your groups buy it instead?” You can join forces with others in many ways:
- Volume Discounts. When buyers transact as groups instead of individually, quantity purchases become much easier. Go in with others on sides of beef and fifty-pound bags of pinto beans.
- Direct Buying. Wholesalers ignore individuals. But you receive ample attention if you join forces with friends to shop for six units of the same big-ticket item.
- Warehouse Club Memberships. I often hear singles lament that they don’t buy enough to justify the annual fee. This minor hurdle is easily cleared: they can band together with others and designate one shopper to act for all. Afterwards, everyone can meet somewhere to divvy up the bounty—paper towels and otherwise.
- Shared Intelligence. Open book club meetings with the latest frugal tips. Introduce friends to great new products.
* * *
You’ve now reviewed ten frugal alternatives to making a purchase. That wasn’t too hard, was it? You may even think that this list contains nothing new, and that, on occasion, you’ve even chosen some of these tactics yourself. But the key is this: you probably haven’t opted for these alternatives very consistently. With checklists, you embed these frugal options into all your transactions. And over the course of your next 100 purchases, you’ll select them more often than ever before.
A short summary of this chapter appears below and as part of the concise products buying checklist in Appendix 1. Pick a dollar threshold—$50 works well, $25 works better—and use the checklist each time you face a purchase above that level.
Remembering to use your checklist is easy. Anytime you’re about to spend—before you open a wallet, grab a checkbook, or pull out a credit card—you’ll recall the best knock-knock joke ever and know it’s time to consult a checklist. As time passes, you’ll probably have your own ideas. Write them down in the spaces provided and let other checklisters know about your insights at FrugalFringe.com. If you ever need a refresher about your alternatives to buying, simply reread this chapter.
STRATEGY NO. 1: DON’T BUY ANYTHING
□ 1.1.1 avoid the purchase
[address my need without buying]
□ 1.1.2 wait until later
[season’s end, next sale, new models]
□ 1.1.3 use what I already own
[repair, fix, upgrade, closet shop]
□ 1.1.4 make it myself
[filtered water, cleaners, work lunches]
□ 1.1.6 borrow
[library, friends, neighbors]
□ 1.1.7 trade or barter
[media, toys, duds]
□ 1.1.8 rent
[tools, sports gear, tuxedos]
□ 1.1.9 flip
[buy, use awhile, resell at profit]
□ 1.1.10 try Group Buynamics
[buy with friends]