Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Works for Me! Frugal Websites
Today's Works for Me Wednesday theme from Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer is all about websites.
My current favorite websites are about living within your means. My definition of frugality encompasses getting exactly what you want for as little outlay as possible, while avoiding buying things just because they are cheap or wasting money on things that turn out to suck. With that in mind, here are my recommendations and habits as a thrifty net citizen.
1. Getting my game on.
The ability to be frugal and remain on a budget is similar to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime. I need to do it in a flexibly creative way that motivates me, or I will drop it faster than a toddler can empty an unprotected tissue box. (3.52 seconds, in case you're wondering.)
One key component for me is saving money in ways that give me a sense of accomplishment. By finding sites that tell me about stuff like home design stuff I can do well myself without looking hokey, luxe baby clothes I can copy or find used, or cheap versions of material goods I can upgrade on my own, I stay in the game and want to stay on the savings wagon. Some things can't be faked, but by comparison shopping I can at least know for sure I've found a decent price. Shopping around also requires time, and denies my NOW NOW NOW impulses.
Design Mom & her sister Oh Happy Day are good places to start for my daily dose of hip things though neither include frugality in their design lust criteria. DM in particular has a great blogroll to surf through, often holds giveaways and is at least as satisfying as a subscription to a design magazine without all the piles of magazines. (I do LOVE realSimple, though!)
Sweet Juniper, a talented SAHD writer ex-lawyer, talks about finding great stuff at thrift stores in Detroit so rapturously you can't help getting caught up in his vibe, and about being thrifty as a cultural heritage.
From there, if I need more creativity inspirations I look at sites about whatever it is I'm focused on at the moment. Lately that's been Apartment Therapy, Martha Stewart and Strobist. Find what you like, and look around to see what other people have come up with. Don't be turned off by big price-tags; look for items that might work in your own home and could be copied or emulated DIY. If it turns out to be something worth saving up for, then you'll know where to find it when you're ready.
2. Actual advice on living cheaply
I've recently discovered Want Not, which is a site written by the very pretty Mir (short for GUESS WHAT most awesome name?!). She posts daily on all sorts of deals, coupons and sales at both online and brick-n-mortar shops. She also posts often on her level-headed financial philosophy and between her and her savvy commenters I have picked up some good tips. Frugal Hacks, Parent Hacks and Dave Ramsay's anti-debt site are other good bets.
3. Sites where I am a regular customer
Craigslist, baby. In-person, local, cash-only, no-surprises is made for me. I've bought and sold high-end furniture, strollers, and musical instruments there. (My family jokes about finding their Christmas gifts posted there but I swear I haven't done that... at least not with anything they gave me!) My current favorite searches include "murphy" (we want to build a wall bed for our guest BR queen), "joovy", "tandem" and "double" (we're looking for a schmancy double stroller but I'm allergic to paying $280 for one). I've seen some really neat things go through the free pages, but in Portland you have to be VERY fast on the trigger to snatch those puppies so I hardly even look at that section anymore. Some folks swear by FreeCycle, but I found it annoying. Restaurant.com has some great deals, especially when they have a coupon special for 60% off their vouchers. I like the sites everyone else goes to, like Amazon and iTunes, but it has to be a pretty serious deal for me to actually pull the trigger and buy from them.
I often search the internet for thrift and resale shops in my area, and even at retail I like to know before going anywhere in person what the going rates are for things I'm hoping to find. The customer reviews & ratings at bigger sales sites are invaluable. I don't go to five grocery stores or do a ton of coupon printing (though I do clip from the paper) like some hard-core frugal folk, but if something costs more than $20 I usually compare prices online.
The internet is filthy with frugal parenting and how-to-stay-home mom sites. Some are better written and more regularly updated than others, but a quick trip through a few blogrolls should yield a crop you like. One site I found linked from who knows where is A Year Off, in which a family strives to get rid of anything extra and avoid bringing new crap into their lives for a year. They aren't doing it to save money, but the principal of living in moderation is a good one.
Finding inspiration, goods, philosophies, ratings and hacks is pretty much what the internet was born for. Keep your eyes open and your cynicism on high, and you can find some great tools. Cheaper is not always more intelligent in the long run, if it turns out to be junk. Budgets need room to build a life you enjoy, and that shouldn't be impossible if you calmly pick your indulgences & apply your throbbing brainpower.