This is a guest post from Edward Antrobus. Edward is a construction worker, blogger, tinkerer and a househusband. He writes about frugality and occasionally rants about what he thinks the personal finance community gets wrong.
Recently, I embarked on a quest. Instead of getting ideas from other personal finance bloggers, I wanted to get the opinions of average people on the topic of frugality. I started asking friends and coworkers one simple question: what is your favorite way of saving money? When I asked Peggy, her answer was cutting back on quality.
At first glance, that seems like a bad thing. Skimping on quality; doesn't that mean it will break or wear out sooner and have to be replaced more often? That should make things more expensive in the long run. But that's not what Peggy meant. What she was actually referring to would be lifestyle deflation.
People are pretty familiar with the concept of lifestyle inflation where you let rises in your income get spent with rises in your purchases. When you made $12k per year in college, you lived on ramen. When you graduated and scored a $40k per year job, you upgraded to steak.
Lifestyle deflation would be just the opposite. In the summer time, we work 60+ hours and can make $1000 per week or more. But in the winter, hours get scaled way back and most of us don't make $1000 in an entire month. While a lot of that summer money gets saved to make it through the winter, lifestyle fluctuates a lot between those seasons as well. In the summer, Peggy likes corned beef sandwiches. In the winter, she's eating bologna.
If you experience money getting tight, look through your expenses and see what you like having but can live without. Maybe you can switch to a cheaper lunchmeat. If you prefer Starbucks but don't mind 7-11, drink that for a while. Or better yet, invest in a $10 coffee maker and brew it at home.
A lot of people are going to have stable income throughout the year, but expenses can vary wildly throughout the year. If you have a big family, like I do, Christmas can be an expensive time of the year, even if you give frugal gifts. Between my wife and I, we have to buy 6 birthday or anniversary presents for family members in the month of September. And of course, even keeping the thermostat low, we use a lot of heat in the winter. All told, fall and winter cost a couple thousand dollars more than spring and summer do.
So we cut back on our meat consumption, and what meat we do buy is cheaper cuts. Chicken three times per week and the occasional steak get replaced with hamburger and lots of pasta. New releases at the theater fade off in favor of the discount theater and Redbox.
The beauty of seasonal lifestyle deflation as opposed to living it year round is that you can cut tighter than you might be willing to full time. There's no way I could give up meat year-round, no matter how expensive it is. But going a week is no problem. There is also no reason to limit it to just times when money is tight. You could decide to have a “No-spend November” or give up meat for lent and accomplish the same thing – extra money in your bank account at the end of the year.