19 October 2008

Three Frugal Indulgences I Love (and two I don't)

It's not often I read a book on a subject on which I consider myself an "expert," but FRUGAL INDULGENTS would definitely qualify. Having lived in New York for a year and a half, I am all about trying to get the most out of my money. It's fitting that I mooched this book (subtitled: HOW TO CULTIVATE DECADENCE WHEN YOUR AGE AND SALARY ARE UNDER 30) because that's just the kind of smart thrift the authors promote. Here are some of their tips I loved and some I will not be cultivating:

Great ideas:
Cutting back on fancy food in order to go out. Authors Kera Bolonik and Jennifer Griffin are spot on when they say that eating out is both an expensive pursuit and one that's very easy to cut out. Nowhere is this more true than at work -- peanut butter sandwiches four times a week equal a concert ticket; two months of that can be converted to a plane ticket.
Shopping in a way that makes your life better. Bolonik and Griffin aren't absolutists; their only sin is not to go out and have fun at all. But they advise using your dollars in a way that will have the greatest benefit towards your life as a decadent person. The chapter on clothing actually breaks down your basic wardrobe options into categories by where to find what you need among vintage stores, retail and "simulacra-wear" (Gap and Old Navy-style basics).
Looking on the bright side. Some of the authors' advice is clearly tongue in cheek -- take the section called "Bed: The Poor Man's Opera," in which it is argued that sex is free entertainment -- but the overall tone of this book is pretty congratulatory. Far be it from them to shame you because you don't make a lot of money; rather, your determination to make it by any means necessary should be congratulated. For this reason I wish I had read this book when I first got to New York, instead of getting depressed because I couldn't save 15 percent of my miniscule income.

Not so great:
Not having a budget. Different systems work for different people, and even I don't have a hard-and-fast, down-to-the-penny budget any more. FRUGAL INDULGENTS talks a lot about maximizing your entertainment dollars (i.e. if you're going to a first-run movie and you have to pay full price, go to a fancy indie theatre to enjoy it the most) but not so much about the big picture. But it would be useful to read this book along with a more traditional personal finance book that will tell you the rules, even if you choose to break them.
Relying on richer people to get you things. Maybe I'm just bitter because I don't have any friends with expense accounts, opera subscriptions (what, with family circle tickets just $23?) or giant apartments for which they need a house-sitter. It's not the concept of getting by with help that bothers me, it's that as we all know, people can be unreliable. If you're steering towards an uncertain generosity, you could be headed for a crash.

Overall, I'd recommend FRUGAL INDULGENTS; it's a fun read that will make you think about how to have more fun with the money you have. I will consider myself a proud member of what they call the nouveau pauvre.


Elizabeth said...

Bagging lunch always seemed to me a really easy way to save money, but it seems like EVERYBODY else at work buys their lunch EVERY DAY. Am I missing something?

Ellen said...

I know the phenomenon of which you speak. Some people I know turn the eating out rule on its head and would rather eat bowl after bowl of cereal at home so they can eat out at work. Or they might have some other kind of plan -- occasionally when I have to go out right after work, I'll buy a big lunch that can serve as dinner too and then eat a snack when I get home. And some offices have better eating-out options than others.