If you’ve read this far, you’re probably onboard with the idea of frugality—or at least willing to give it a try. If so, congratulations. With SLN!, you’re about to embark upon a great financial voyage that will fundamentally change the way in which you spend, and do so quickly and easily. Before you cast off, let’s take a tour of your new and improved rowboat.
SLN! deals with household spending and nothing else. It doesn’t show you how to increase wages, invest savings, or plan retirements. Why not? Because these other personal finance issues are largely irrelevant unless you first acquire the habit of spending less than what you make. Your wages can increase exponentially, but if your expenses always outpace your income, you never get anywhere. And, of course, you can’t ever invest or retire until you first create a surplus of cash. Without question, frugal routines form the starting point and eventual key to financial success. SLN! launches you from the dock, and not from somewhere out in the middle of the stream.
SLN! consists of three parts: (1) a checklist with training wheels that covers a single topic—the purchase of products; (2) dozens of workaday checklists that cover a wide variety of household expenses; and (3) tools that make the checklists easier to use and, in the end, more profitable. Let’s consider each in detail.
In Part I, which consists of Chapters 1 through 7, the spotlight focuses solely on the purchase of products—transactions that you complete dozens of times each year. SLN! uses these routine dealings to introduce you to checklists and the basic themes of frugality. At this point you’re still a newbie, so SLN! takes it slow and peppers you with dozens of examples.
At Part I’s conclusion, the entire system for buying products gets reduced into a concise checklist that you can copy and take with you whenever you’re about to spend (see Appendix 1). (Of course, when you read SLN! as an e-book, you don’t need to make copies, you can simply power up your portable device.)
In Part II, which consists of Chapters 8 through 46, the focus shifts to the line items found in most American households. You may not think about your spending in terms of line items, but the federal government does. Since 1980, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted an annual Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES), which canvasses the habits of 7,000 households in hundreds of distinct expense categories. Like the CES, SLN! follows the principle that household expenses get easier to analyze when you break them down into smaller pieces. Chapters 8 through 19 cover line items which are commonly regarded as discretionary. These include miscellaneous services (barbers, tutors, carpet cleaners, etc.), recreation, restaurants, travel, and charitable giving. Next, Chapters 20 through 46 cover line items commonly regarded as nondiscretionary. These include taxes, telecommunications, utilities, insurance, healthcare, groceries, autos, and housing.
By design, Part II works as a guidebook. Don’t read it straight through—that’s both overwhelming and boring. Instead, use Part II like you use road atlases, almanacs, or dictionaries. These references are exhaustive on the subjects they cover. But they’re never exhausting because you use them only to fetch the information you need. Part II works the same way. Reach for it every time you pay for common costs such as phones, utilities, or insurance. Simply open the table of contents, locate your expense of the moment, and turn to the relevant chapter—the other checklists can wait for later.
Since you make most decisions about line items when you’re safe at home, the Part II checklists generally aren’t condensed. There are exceptions, of course. These appear in Appendixes 2-6, which, like the products buying checklist, you’re free to copy.
In Part III, which consists of Chapters 47 through 50, SLN! presents an ever ready toolbox that helps you make better use of this program. Chapter 47 discusses techniques for active use of the checklists (such as savings logs, debriefings, and goals). Chapter 48 shows you how to build checklists for any line item these pages don’t cover. (You won’t build many. Based on CES figures, SLN! addresses about 95 percent of household outlays.) Chapter 49 provides credit card strategies that will add hundreds of dollars to your household coffers each year. Finally, Chapter 50 outlines automated bean-counting shortcuts that will save you hours of drudgery if and when you decide to crunch the numbers.
THE POWER OF REPETITIVE REPETITION
Acts of deliberate repetition (row, row, row) provide a powerful way to reprogram unfrugal habits (spend, spend, spend). SLN! exploits the power of repetitive repetition over and over again. Here’s a short checklist (and please forgive me if I repeat myself).
□ Repetitive Structures
You get comfortable with SLN! fast because all the checklists are organized the same way—by chapter, strategy, and tactic. In Part II, where SLN! functions as a field manual for household spending, each tactic is coded. So when you see “ 45.4.3,” you know you’re in chapter 45, strategy no. 4, and tactic no. 3—a helpful feature if you read the e-book or discuss the checklists with others. Sometimes you’ll see additional entries below a listed tactic. If you see bullet points (•), those signify examples that explain the tactic in further detail. If you see additional boxes (□), those spell out sub-tactics that might require your further action. Finally, if you see short discussions labeled “CODA,” those describe moneysaving ideas that are worthy of mention, but unsuitable in most circumstances.
□ Repetitive Advice
As you use SLN!, you’ll notice that several different checklists suggest the same or similar tactics. This is by design. For instance, each time a checklist addresses insurance (Chapters 29-32), you’ll see recurring advice to increase your deductibles. And in checklists about healthcare (Chapters 33-36), you’re reminded several times to fund medical savings accounts that deliver huge tax advantages. And just about everywhere, you’re advised to pay for expenses with reward cards instead of cash or checks (but only if you pay the cards off every month). If, as in these cases, the same tactics pop up repeatedly, it’s an unmistakable sign that you should pop them into your own spending routines.
□ Repetitive Readings
Some checklists, you consult only rarely, such as when you shop for used cars (Chapter 43) or suffer through home remodels (Chapter 46). Most checklists, however, you revisit often, such as when you buy products (Appendix 1), dine out (Appendix 3), shop for groceries (Chapter 37), or stop at gas stations (Appendix 6). Practice eventually makes perfect. With each checklist-assisted repetition, you adopt a few more tightfisted tactics and a few more unfrugal habits bite the dust.
□ Repetitive Chores
Household routines often devolve into overspending. Edible groceries find the landfill, refrigerators eat up kilowatt hours, and appliances run half-full loads. To combat such waste, SLN! includes checklists that you can post wherever you incur losses: at trashcans, fridges, and clothes dryers (Chapters 22 and 37, Appendix 4). That way, whenever you’re poised to squander, a checklist will be there to nag you into submission (or to at least inspire deep feelings of submissive guilt).
□ Repetitive Themes
With checklists, you expose yourself to a steady diet of frugality’s core themes. You research products, sellers, and services. You think about incidentals such as shipping costs, sales taxes, and return policies. You procrastinate on your purchases (as you’ll see, that’s a good thing). As these themes ripen into ingrained habits, you develop a mindset that’s definitely outside the mainstream. But don’t worry about becoming a stranger in a strange land—you aren’t alone. As discussed below, there’s a place to hang out with others who feel the same way about overspending as you do (and no, it’s not Costco).
SAVINGS SUPPLEMENTAL: FRUGALFRINGE.COM
Any fringe needs a clubhouse. Nowadays, groups can dispense with bricks and mortar (expensive) and build their gathering places out of code and content (much cheaper). What does FrugalFringe.com offer? Feedback from your fellow checklisters, for one thing. And feedback from you, if you’re willing to share, and I hope you do—especially when it comes to your ideas about how to improve SLN! for future readers. There’s also lots about frugality that couldn’t possibly fit into this book: case studies, cost friendly recipes, unbiased product reviews, checklists for unusual line items, a motivational blog, clickable links to websites (including those cited in this book), and more. The site is FREE, so visit whenever you’re free as well.
ARE YOU READY TO SPEND LESS NOW?
You meet your first SLN! checklist in the next section. It gives you an effective system for product purchases—everything from aardvark cages to zydeco music. So if you plan to shop later today, read on. After the next few chapters, when it comes to saving on merchandise you’ll be loaded for bear, or maybe even for some overly abrupt cow, but never, let us hope, for any well-intentioned Moose.