Sunday, April 6, 2008

Frugal living more about priorities than sacrifice

NEW YORK (AP) -- When mathematics professor Annalisa Crannell needs new clothes, she doesn't head for the mall or outlet stores or even discount stores.


Annalisa Crannell holds a blanket she made from old shirts and an old sheet.

Crannell is an aficionado of Goodwill Industries shops. And she'll pass by the racks with $7 blue jeans and head for the bins where the jeans sell for $1. She's also happy to take friends' castoffs.

"Am I the biggest tightwad on the planet?" asks Crannell, a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "No. But I'm more frugal than most of the people I know."

A lot of people could learn from Crannell, who teaches at Franklin & Marshall College, and others who have adopted thrifty habits that they feel are both ecologically sound and help them cope with the rapidly rising costs of food, fuel and other necessities.

The word "frugal" might sound a bit old-fashioned, but the concept is as modern as today, says New York financial planner Stacy Francis.

"Keeping track of where your money goes is the most important financial task you can undertake," she said. "It really doesn't matter what you make. It matters what you spend."

She said many people didn't worry much about money when the stock market was rising, home values were soaring and the job market was solid. Those conditions have changed, and "when cash is tight, spending needs to get tighter, too," Francis said.

Some people have turned frugality into a lifestyle.

Annette and Steve Economides of Scottsdale, Arizona, try to live the life they describe in their book, "America's Cheapest Family Gets you Right on the Money."

The Economides, who don't use credit cards, believe consumers need to avoid debt, spend less than they earn and embrace a thrifty lifestyle.

"It's not about sacrifice, it's about priorities," Annette Economides says.

The couple suggests people start on the road to frugality by making a spending plan.

"Some people think 'budget' is a four letter word," Steve Economides said. "It's not. And it's not a noun either. It's a verb. And it's an action verb."

Budgeting requires a family to estimate future spending, based on what has happened in the past, and to set aside money to cover what a family considers important, he said.

What if it doesn't look like the money will go far enough? That's where frugality comes in.

Take grocery shopping. The average American family of four spends between $800 and $900 a month on food, Steve Economides said. By shopping more carefully, a family can cut that in half, he said.

The Economides, who have four children, watch the store circulars and ads so they can stock up when items they use frequently are on sale.

"Around Thanksgiving, when turkey goes on sale for 35 to 40 cents a pound, we buy several," she said.

They limit meals out in restaurants, plan menus in advance to take advantage of seasonal -- and thus cheaper -- produce, and use coupons to hold down food costs even further.

They shop just once a month, to reduce the time they have to spend in stores -- and the gasoline they use to get to and from the supermarket.

For Crannell, frugal spending in some areas, like clothing, frees up money to be spent on things she cares more about.

She and her husband, Neil Gussman, invested in energy-efficient windows for their home several years ago. She walks to work, but when she does drive it's behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius Hybrid car, which runs on gas and electricity.

Crannell likes yard sales, especially those where an entire neighborhood cooperates because there's a bigger selection. She shops at a local farmers market and sometimes makes vegetarian meals, partly because she believes they're healthy and partly to cut down on high-cost meat.

Crannell also believes in teaching her children the fine art of thrift shopping.

"Nigel, my 8-year-old, loves to go to yard sales with me," she said. "He can get toys for a quarter at yard sales. In fact, he's so cute that he can get things for free.

"He has more toys than he knows what to do with." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Extreme recycling: Food, furniture, diapers

(LifeWire) -- Madeline Nelson finds a bag of slightly bruised apples and day-old bread left in a supermarket's Dumpster too tempting to pass up.


Cindy Rosin rummages through discarded produce in trash bins outside a Manhattan grocery store.

Click to view previous image
1 of 2
Click to view next image

"A lot of perfectly good food is thrown away," says Nelson, a spokeswoman for, a New York City group that promotes "freeganism," which eschews conventional commerce in favor of a lifestyle that uses minimal resources.

Freegans try not to buy things new -- not even food.

Jumping into a garbage bin may sound scary, but Nelson, 52, who lives in Brooklyn, says it's no big deal. Humans, she says, are "hardwired to be foragers."

For the thousands who search online for free merchandise, pick up roadside castoffs and even dig through Dumpsters, paying for everything they need is yesterday's news.

At a time when many Americans are on tighter budgets and worrying about environmental conservation, the practice may get more popular.

Roadside treasures

Sometimes opportunities present themselves.

"I have picked up several free things over the years from the side of the road," says Kara May, 38, a Seattle stay-at-home mom. She recalls her acquisitions with a sense of achievement: There was the easel for her daughter; a set of like-new ceramic casserole dishes; a toy dump truck. Send us your recycling photos, videos

"I'm saving money, but I'm also reducing the amount of stuff that needs to be produced and that eventually may end up in a landfill," says May, a founding member of Going Green Family, a Seattle grassroots organization that helps families run environmentally friendly households.

New York City resident Christina Salvi, 32, agrees that curbside shopping is the way to go. "My whole apartment is furnished with discards," she says. "I find really great stuff all the time. Here in New York, it's kind of obscene how much goes into the trash."

Salvi helped launch FreeMeet, a local recycling event where people share their unwanted items. "Our goal is to have everything find a new home," she says.

Free commerce

Before hitting the mall, find out whether someone in your city is getting rid of the thing you want, says Deron Beal, 40, founder of, a Web site built on the premise that "one person's trash is another's treasure."

Here's how it works: As in the "free" section of, users post what they're giving or seeking, then coordinate the details. On thousands of Freecycle message boards, the dialogue looks like this: OFFERED: Two Pez dispensers. TAKEN: Krups espresso machine. WANTED: Garden hose that works. OFFERED: Adult diapers, size small.

It's an eclectic mix, but that means there's something for everyone, says Beal. He launched the nonprofit group four years ago with 20 or 30 friends. Now it has 4.5 million users, he says, with 70,000 newcomers each week helping to reduce the growth of landfills.

At the heart of, Beal says, is a spirit of giving, not getting: People in South Dakota collected prom dresses for teenage girls; a 95-year-old Arizona man looks for old bikes he can fix up and give to disadvantaged children; others have joined together to find clothing and supplies for orphans in Haiti.

Beal uses the site, too, but only for giving. "My wife has made it clear that it's good for purging, not collecting," he says. "But I did get a George Foreman grill once." The people giving it away turned out to be neighbors he had never met. "When I picked up the grill, they also gave me a half dozen eggs from their chickens," he says. "It's a beautiful example of community giving." started last year to provide a similar service, and lists hundreds of organizations across the country with the same goals.

Dumpster diving

Curious about Dumpster diving? keeps a city-by-city listing of prime Dumpster locations, from bakeries to bookstores. Large chain stores in wealthy neighborhoods are particularly prone to tossing edible foods, Nelson says.

If you go, she advises, bring a friend (in case the lid closes on you) and wear gloves to protect your hands from glass and other sharp objects. Ask your local police department first whether it's OK -- some cities have criminalized Dumpster diving. Don't salvage things that need to be refrigerated or show traces of mold, and thoroughly wash any food you've taken from a Dumpster before consuming. It's also a good idea to conduct a smell test of any food you may take; if it smells bad, it probably is spoiled and should be avoided.

Nelson says freeganism has nothing to do with income. She says many divers, herself included, have at least moderate incomes: "It's really about boycotting the consumerist system."

But not everything can be found in a Dumpster. Nelson admits that some things must be acquired the old-fashioned way: at the store. Like cooking oil -- "You can never find enough of that." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

No comments: