Radical frugality

When I worked as a newspaper writer, I had a net income of about $25,000. Yet I always felt we had a fulfilling life, and didn’t wish we had more money. That’s largely because we were happy to do without a lot of things that people take for granted. I’ve made a list of some of these things and how much money we saved by not buying them.

Some may find our lifestyle a bit ascetic, and it’s not for everyone. But being dropouts from consumer culture has enabled us to focus on what is truly important to us: home, family, friends, reading, gardening, etc. And just about all of these examples of radical frugality reduce our carbon footprint and enable us to make a small contribution to a livable planet.

So here’s the list of 15 things we don’t use, or use sparingly. The dollar figures are average annual expenditures, derived from Internet sites or my own guesstimates. If you think they’re way off, let me know.

1) Cable TV, $1,400. We got rid of cable 16 years ago and put an antenna on our roof. We get perfect pictures on four PBS stations, plus CBS, ABC and Fox.

2) Alcohol, $900-$4,000. The first figure is for wine with dinner every night, the second for two beers at a bar every night, or for alcoholism. I’d like to be able to take a drink now and then, but it gives me headaches and insomnia.

3) A Second Car, $8,000-$10,000.  That seems high. We have one Prius that three people share. We live only a mile from town, and most places I can reach on my bicycle. Driving a hybrid car saves us $500 to $1,000 a year on gas.

4) Restaurant Meals, $2,500. I go out to lunch with friends 5-8 times a year, but rarely go out to dinner. Why bother when cooking is so much healthier and more fun?

5) Mortgage, $7,000-$10,000. About 22 years ago we refinanced and got a 15-year mortgage that’s now paid off.

6) Credit card interest, $884. Can you believe that’s what the average household spends? That one should be the first to go.

7) Lottery tickets, $360. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “The Lottery: A Tax on People Who Can’t Do Math.”

8) Coffee, $360. That’s for a cup a day at a coffee shop. I love coffee but treat it as a dangerous drug.  It improves my brainpower in the short term but I can have sleep problems even 18 hours after drinking it.

9) Cigarettes, $2,900. That’s for a pack a day. I quit at age 22 when I realized how unattractive smoking made me to women. Rarely does one see a smoker in Amherst who’s not a student.

10) Cellphone, $464. I may have been the last newspaper reporter in the U.S. without a cellphone. I have a tablet but have never wanted a cellphone. Betsy just got one for the first time.

11) New Clothes, $1,000-$3,000. The only things I buy new are underwear, socks and running shoes. Everything else I get at the Salvation Army store or church sales.

12) Oil heat, $900. Well, actually, we do have an oil furnace that goes on mostly while we’re sleeping in winter, but our primary heat sources are wood and solar.

13) Vacation Travel, $4,580. That also seems high. We haven’t been on an airplane in 20 years, and go to the Cape twice a year to visit my sister. We paid $600 for a week at a Maine cabin without electricity three years ago and really liked it.

14) Clothes Dryer, $500. We hang our laundry outside, except in the winter when we often hang it over the woodstove. Pegging it to a clothesline is a task I enjoy, and hanging it inside in the winter adds moisture to the air.

15) Air Conditioning, $500. We have lots of fans for the hottest days, and since I like weather extremes I don’t miss the AC. Since I grew up in pre-AC Washington, D.C., I’m not fazed by any heat and humidity that New England throws at me.

The total amount saved on these 15 is between $32,248 and $42,348 a year.

So all in all, because of our frugal lifestyle, we’re feeling financially secure. Eight months ago I made a list of ways in which we could loosen up a bit and spend more money, but we’ve acted on only a few of them! Maybe this lifestyle just suits us.


11 thoughts on “Radical frugality

  1. The savings are substantial, yes. Sigh. Now how to get that job (even) if it is low-paying) that will provide me with a basic livable wage…

  2. The savings are substantial, yes. Sigh. Now how to get that job (even if it is low-paying) that will provide me with a basic livable wage…

  3. I liked the idea of being a “dropout from the consumer culture.” My husband likes restaurants but they are often noisy, so it is hard to have a conversation, and home cooking is often more healthy, as you state, so I’m with you on that one 100%.

  4. Yep! I always thought the best way to save money is NOT to buy something that you don’t really need, even if it is on sale.

  5. Your price for two beers a day at a bar is somewhat high.

    I’m surprised you don’t make your own ale, wine, and rum. They are easy and inexpensive to make, if one has the necessary equipment, and sales of excess production can be lucrative.

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