There is a word that seems to have disappeared from our modern-day lexicon. That word is thrift.
Beyond the ubiquitous “thrift store,” we don’t throw around the word much in this century. I think that’s a crying shame. The 1970s and '80s were replete with books and tips on thriftiness. Those were hard times with high interest rates. But now, we’ve lived so long with so much. Some studies report that more than 50 percent of Americans are living right up to or over their income. Which means I have a lofty goal to Make Thrift Cool Again.
To me, thrift has a better connotation than penny-pinching (ouch, painful), tightening the belt/purse strings (constricting) and even budgeting, which can seem overwhelming and too big to even touch.
Thrift is a simple, tidy, one-syllable word that packs a punch. It involves an entire mindset of being prudent with the mighty dollar. It means really thinking through every purchase, second-guessing a need for more things and making do with less. I am not always the model of thrift, but our family is preparing for a large upcoming expense, so I am more aware than usual of our spending habits. These are just a few of the ideas I’ve learned over the years of being consciously thrifty:
1. Cook at home. From scratch. Eating out is expensive.
2. If you do eat out, share meals. Most portions are too large for one person anyway.
3. Eat smart. Buy dried beans instead of canned. Cook steel-cut oats instead of munching on cold cereal — ounce for ounce you’ll get so much more food, and it’s healthier too. Eat the leftovers. Buy fewer snacks, which are mostly air, sugar and/or salt, and packaging.
4. Take advantage of free local services, like the library. Check out books instead of buying them. Look for community activities that cost a few dollars or are free. Attend local museums on the free community days. Look for free festivals.
5. Nature is a great source of cheap entertainment: Hike, bike, visit the lake or the ocean. Camp instead of staying in hotels.
6. Take food with you. Pack a lunch for road trips or air travel. Plan ahead.
7. Borrow and share. We don’t need to own everything ourselves. Borrow board games, kayaks or camping gear from friends. Share a subscription or membership to Costco or Amazon, or go in on a streaming service with other friends and family.
8. Quit services that have a high monthly overhead, such as cable or the gym (especially if it’s being underused). Evaluate which memberships are worth the price. We quit Costco this year as an experiment — it has, ironically, saved us several hundred dollars on groceries.
9. Learn to do things that require a monthly expense, such as cutting hair. I have four boys. I’ve cut their hair every month since they were little. If a boy’s haircut costs $20, I estimate I’ve saved our family about $12,000 by doing this service myself. That’s the price of a four-door sedan! Other things you can learn to do: sew things like curtains or throw pillows (or clothes, if you’re really ambitious), tackle simple household projects like drilling, painting or installing tile; changing the oil in the car; canning/preserving food; upcycling used furniture, etc. YouTube is an incredible resource for learning new skills.
10. Shop less. Find fewer occasions to step into the store so you won’t be tempted to buy more things you don’t need. Avoid online sites that you find hard to resist. Eschew seasonal décor and knickknacks. Avoid cheaply made clothing that looks like a great deal but will fall apart or look ragged in a single season of wear.2 comments on this story
11. Beware of the “few bucks” spending. A quick drink at Starbucks, a smoothie at the gas station, a pack of gum or lip gloss at the checkout counter. These small, seemingly innocuous purchases add up.
12. Always shop the sales. Learn not to buy anything at full price, whether it’s clothing, shoes, a car or appliances. Be willing to walk away if you’re not certain you’re getting the best deal.
Making Thrift Cool Again means taking pride in living below our means, socking away money for emergencies and having the peace of mind that we are not caught up in the cycle of conspicuous consumption. I can’t think of anything cooler than that.