The 6 Tenants of Frugal Living

Frugal living can get a bad rap. When I describe myself as frugal people may think of me as Scrooge McDuck, greedily pinching pennies and hoarding cash; cheap for the sake of being cheap. But I’m not just cheap. Well not most of the time.

Frugality is not about being cheap. It’s about being economical and simple. Conserving your limited resources and living simply, not extravagantly. It’s a very lagom way of living (as the Swedes say), not too much, not too little . Frugal living is intentional spending to align with your financial goals and happily living with less.

Cheap, on the other hand, often means that you are looking to spend as little as possible, often not caring about the quality and long term goals of your purchase. Sometimes there is some room for frugality and cheap to overlap, both are looking for a good deal and to save some money, but their intention is different.

Let’s take a look at the six main tenants of frugal living to give a bit more depth to understanding just what frugality is. They are:

  1. Spending with Purpose and Intention
  2. Balancing needs vs. wants
  3. Planning for the future
  4. Being content with less
  5. Don’t be wasteful
  6. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  1. Spending with Purpose and Intention

As I said before, frugality isn’t about being a pinch penny and not spending money. It’s about spending with purpose. It means that purchases are intentional, not impulsive, and are in line with your financial goals. Frugal living means asking yourself if the purchase is really something you need rather than a want, if its a good quality item you will use again and again, and if it is in line with your financial goals. That may mean that you avoid buying soda at the grocery store because it’s a want that ends up padding your grocery bill and you would rather use that money to pay off debt. It may also mean that you buy a more expensive, better quality pair of shoes that will last you longer than the cheaper, less well made pair. It may also mean that you splurge on a week long vacation in the tropics because it IS your financial goal. Whatever that spending looks like for you, its intentional.

2. Balancing Needs vs. Wants

This overlaps with intentionality, but its a bit more tailored. So much of our culture’s spending habits are built on wants: want the new thing, buy it, tire of it, want the next new thing, buy it, and so on. Frugality throws that spending cycle out the window and asks instead of every purchase, “is this a need or a want?” There’s nothing inherently wrong about buying something that is purely a want, but being aware of the difference is the first step to frugal living and balancing those needs and wants. We all have needs for food, clothing, shelter, medical care and they are all necessary for living. Your needs list may be a bit more extensive and 21st century to include internet service, a cell phone, a car, and other items that round out modern life. Frugal living is not about martyrdom and living off of beans, rice, and water while living in a box. Not at all. But what frugal living IS about is living your best life while economically using your resources. And economically using your resources means you know the difference between a need and a want and also whether that purchase will use your resources wisely and help you meet your financial goals.

It’s okay to buy something that’s purely a want, but being aware of that choice is key, as is making sure that the thing you are buying won’t put you in a bind in the long run. It sounds like I’m being dramatic but it’s true. So often the small wants can add up and snowball into crushing debt or can be the small budget destroyers that impede your ability to save much for retirement or vacation. Balancing needs and wants is such an important tenant of frugality because that balance keeps the wheels from falling off and keeps you financially on track.

3. Planning For The Future

Speaking of financially on track, what are you planning for your future, fiscally speaking? Frugal living keeps an eye on the long term, whether that is making sure you are socking enough away for college or retirement savings, buying your kid’s clothing out of season in a larger size to plan for when they grow into it, or just bringing your lunch to work. Whether long term or short term, future planning is a tenant of frugality because its a way to be economical about your resources. Anticipating your needs can allow you to take advantage of a good deal and stock up on your favorite toothpaste when it goes on sale, can help you plan your meals so you don’t grab take out because you are starving and have no time to cook or go home, and can help better inform your purchases as you think through whether you are actually likely to wear that new purse that doesn’t really match many clothes you own and is pretty impractical for your actual lifestyle needs (ie. I’m a mom of two small kids who doesn’t go out much so I have infrequent use for a tiny sequined purse). Thinking long-term is a core tenant of frugal living and also budgeting. You have to be able to anticipate your needs to be able to budget for them and plan how you will use money to make sure that you still have the money you need weeks after you get paid when a bill comes due.

4. Being Content With Less

Contentment is important for frugality because if you are content with what you have, you curb the desire to spend and accumulate stuff. If you are happy to enjoy the simpler things in life, you will likely be happy with a simple, smaller wardrobe, house, gifts, and vacation. I grew up with this principle in a very frugal household, so its never been a goal of mine to spend a whole paycheck on a Louis Vuitton purse (in fact I was given one once and sold it because I would rather have the money to pay down debt). Luxury goods and name brands that are expensive merely for the sake of exclusivity or status hold little appeal to me. If I splurge, its on a $80 shopping spree on ThredUP (gotta spend $79 to get free shipping amirite?). But contentment is not just about shying away from luxury labels; its about knowing I will be just as happy with a well made non-name brand purse as an expensive one. Both are valued by me for their beauty and utility, and I take no please from over spending on an item or experience just for the sake of spending. In fact, it makes me sick to my stomach to needlessly overspend. Contentment is about being happy with what you have and knowing that you don’t need more things to be happy. It does not mean that I have to be a martyr to go without things that truly make my life better and happier or that I always buy the cheapest thing available. Look to the other frugal living tenants listed above for why I may spend a bit more to get a better quality product (spend once and enjoy longer). It’s about knowing what is a need and what is a want, knowing what I can truly do without, and making thoughtful spending decisions. Knowing that I can have fun without spending a lot of money. It’s about being conscientious of how I spend and not trying to keep up with the Joneses (or anyone else I may compare myself to or feel that I should be like). My happiness is internal, not external or based on what someone else may think of me.

5. Don’t be Wasteful

“Waste not, want not.” Those words ring in my ears often. I hate the idea of wasting anything: electricity, water, food, gas, just about anything. Not only is it like throwing money away but it also wastes precious natural resources and animal lives (I’m not a vegetarian, just an over thinker). (Side note: Time is the thing I am most open to wasting because there is an inherent bliss in doing nothing for nothing’s sake but mostly I try to curb time wasting and improve my productivity and intentionality). That aversion to waste is built into me by my parents and grandparents. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and learned to reuse everything until it was wholly used up. Why buy tupperware when you have perfectly good yogurt containers. To this day I feel pangs of guilt when I put large yogurt containers in the recycling bin because I don’t need yet another empty plastic container in my already full tupperware cabinet. Guilt aside, looking to avoid waste is a core tenant of frugal living because it seeks to be useful and intentional with our purchases and use of those purchases, buying in bulk where it is cost saving, and reducing waste to the landfill by reusing and recycling wherever possible. This draws upon the other previously listed tenants of thinking long term both by buying what you know you will need and use in bulk for a cheaper price and not wasting that product and your savings along with it. Wasting money is the opposite of intentional spending and common examples of it are paying late fees for bills you knew you had to pay but procrastinated to pay, not trying to negotiate a lower bill on a service you have, paying for speeding or parking tickets because you just weren’t paying attention, paying a higher price for a ticket or flight because you delayed your purchase even though you know you were going to go etc.

6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Seeking to reduce waste is not just a goal of frugal living for its money saving aspects, but also for its environmental aspects. When you are trying to protect and conserve your precious money resources, you can also easily extrapolate that into trying to protect and conserve environmental resources as well. This is where frugal living and environmentalism happily overlap and co-exist. If you live a eco-friendly life you will often live a more frugal life, and vice verse. Buying a more economical car or riding a bike, living in a modest home, wearing your clothes longer before recycling them for scrap or donating them, not wasting food, focusing on long term purchases you will keep for a long time rather than cheaply made or disposable items you will soon relegate to the trash heap, all of these frugal living actions are also environmentally friendly. Being aware of the long term impact of your fiscal choices means thinking through not just the money side but also the environmental side: Will you use this over and over for a long time or will it fall apart quickly? Will you get your money’s worth out of this? What is the environmental impact of this item based on what it is made out of or how it will be disposed of? Is there another item that I can use that I already have or that is less impactful on the environment?

Together, these six tenants of frugal living encompass the overall hallmarks of frugality and invite a person to be intentional with their purchases, think long term, be content, evaluate their needs and wants, and not be wasteful, and to consider the environmental impact of a purchase. Taken holistically, they build the framework for a frugal, simple life.

How To Figure Out What Your Life Actually Costs (And If You Can Afford It)

I frequently talk to moms who are frustrated that they work hard and feel like they hardly see a return on their investment (ie. their time investment because the money they make disappears quickly). Unwatched, money can just slip through your fingers like sand (and time when we look back at baby photos of our kids *cue tears*). That unwatched and unplanned-for money can disappear as fast as Jeannie can nod her head.

And all too often moms watch that money disappear and stress about how they don’t know if they will have enough left after paying the cable bill for little Susie’s new track shoes, save for their upcoming vacation, pay for summer camp, and still put gas in the car.

The issue is not that the money is spent quickly, its that when money isn’t allocated to cover your life’s expenses it can disappear without making sure those expenses are met. Alternatively, you may find that you have enough money to cover all your expenses each month and no bills are being skimped on but your stress level is still through the roof because although you cross the finish line each month you aren’t sure how you got there and each month brings a new race to worry about.

It sounds like two different problems right? I mean, one mom has her bills covered and the other doesn’t. Well, no. It’s actually the same problem. The problem at this point isn’t whether the family makes enough money to pay their bills, the problem is that they don’t know if they make enough money to pay their bills. This is why people say that making a budget can sometimes feel like you got a raise because you can see the difference between your income and actual expenses.

So where to start?

Well, let’s start at your money coming in. Do you know how much your family/household income is? If you have a partner, do you know how much money they make? Do you even know how much money you take home monthly?

If you don’t know the answer to those questions, you are not alone. I balance my checkbook for fun (nerd alert!) and I have still gotten stumped about what my monthly take home pay amount is.

  1. Identify all your sources of monthly income.

Look at your bank statements and calculate how much your household take home pay is. Make sure you have checked all the accounts your paychecks are deposited into in case you are like me and split off some money into separate savings and checking accounts. Add those numbers up from all the accounts for all the sources of income: you, your partner, side hustles, alimony, FSA reimbursements for daycare and health care (yeah its still your income, just diverted), anything you’ve got coming in.

If you have a variable income that includes commissions, bonuses, tips, and the like, then make these calculations off either a) your base monthly income that you always bring in no matter what or b) calculate your annual income from last year or a really good estimation of this year (be conservative and only include things you are highly likely to get) and divide it by 12. If one partner has a set income and the other a variable, then run calculations for each partner’s incomes and add them together to get your household monthly income.

Additionally, make a note (yes, om paper please) of any money taken out of your paycheck for investing, health insurance, life insurance, and anything else that is taken out directly. It’s still your income and kudos to you for earning it but we are gonna set it aside in our calculations of your monthly spendable money for now. It will come into play later when we make some decisions about what changes to make in our spending/saving/investing but leave it where it is now.

*Feelings check!* Calculating all your income sources may make you feel a) astonished that you make that much because you assumed it was much less, b) appalled that you make that much money each month yet have not tracked it and/or haven’t made progress towards your financial goals that you had hoped for, or c) sad that it’s not as much money as you thought it was. Either way, your feelings are valid. If you need to stop and make a cup of tea or go for a run, so be it. Money evokes a lot of feelings, both good and bad, and that’s okay. But don’t let negative feelings get in the way of continuing to press on to learn about your money and how to get a handle on it.

Next, let’s calculate what your life actually costs.

I say what it actually costs because you may say that you spend $200 a month eating out but unless you’ve been tracking your spending I’m willing to bet you don’t really know. It’s really easy to guess but often those guesses contribute to our spending or money mis-allocation problem, if you will. So, start with where you are and let’s take a look at the hard numbers. Remember that whatever you find, acceptance is the key. How you spend your money is not a value judgement about you, it is actually just a list of what you value (or valued last month) and you are free to re-allocate your money to better suit your current values.

*yeah, that’s a real quote that Biden’s dad used to say. I looked it up*

2. Calculate your static monthly bills. This is everything that someone sends you a monthly bill or drafts your account for, often for the same or similar amount every month. Common static bills are:

-Mortgage/Rent (including pet rent fees)

-Utilities (water, gas, electric, trash, recycling)

-Entertainment & Connectivity (cable, streaming services, internet, cell phone, landline phone, newspaper)

-Daycare/Childcare/Tuition/Kid Lessons or Sports (this includes if you have a babysitter that comes on a regular schedule)

-Insurance (car, health, renters/homeowner’s, pet, life)

-Loans (car/motorcycle, student, personal, money you owe your mom, any loan you pay on monthly)

-Credit Card Debt- if you carry a balance include the monthly balance you pay toward that debt (not what you pay to cover that month’s spending) and also note how much you pay monthly in interest since you still owe the interest even if you just pay off your monthly spending and don’t touch the debt each month

-Regular monthly home maintenance (pest control, lawncare, pool cleaning, home maintenance fees/memberships)

-Any monthly subscription service or membership (like Hello Fresh, Birchbox, Stitch Fix, Carwash, apps etc)

-Medical- regular monthly costs for recurring prescriptions/medications/appointment co-pays

-Pet Food/Prescriptions

-Gym Dues/Streaming Exercise Subscription Fees

-Fixed, monthly transfers to savings or investment accounts

3. Next, calculate your annual bills. Annual bills, aka sneaky bills, can be easily overlooked since they often get forgotten about until Amazon shows up in a random week in November to charge you $129 for Prime. Ouch! Or, they are things that you will definitely need to pay a set amount for later in the year but you just aren’t charged monthly for it. Common annual bills are:

-Insurance (if you don’t pay it monthly, see categories above)

-Amazon Prime

-Satellite Radio

-Summer Camp (gotta save all year for this!)

-Subscriptions not on a monthly fee model

4) Calculate your monthly variable spending. If you have a joint account with your partner and use little to no cash, its easiest to look through credit card and bank statements for the past three months to look at your variable, non-bill attributed spending. If you do not share an account or use a lot of cash, you can also get receipts for every purchase and put them in a box, then tally them weekly. This spending encompasses every single other thing you spend money on in the month including:

-Groceries/Home/Personal care products- including toilet paper, cleaning supplies, feminine supplies, etc

-Eating Out/Coffee/Snacks at the gas station

-Gas/Oil changes/Car maintenance and repair

-Sports/team expenses- including lessons/activities expenses for your kids if not already a monthly expense, equipment, travel, snacks

-Medical expenses- co-pays, prescriptions, co-insurance, medication at the drugstore

-Diapers/wipes/diapering supplies

-Clothing for all family members

-Entertainment- including date night entertainment, movies, kid activities, etc

-Vacation travel/lodging/entertainment/food/souvenir costs

-Gifts- including adult and kid birthday gifts, gifts for your kid’s friends, teacher gifts, mother’s/father’s day gifts, etc.

-Holiday/Birthday celebrations/décor/activities/food

-Pet care- vet bills, boarding, grooming, treats, toys

-School supplies

-Personal care/beauty treatments for everyone- haircuts (incl. kids), hair coloring, nails, shaving, makeup, skin care, waxing, etc. Even if you DIY, include the cost of supplies.

-Home miscellaneous expenditures/supplies- new drawer pulls, air conditioning repair, air filters, furniture, printer, paper and ink, gardening supplies, doormat, paint, light bulbs, water filters, etc.

-Ad-hoc transfers to savings or investment accounts

-Any other miscellaneous spending not included in any of these categories

Some of these costs are seasonal, some only occur on occasion, but at some point in your three month account review you are likely to see purchases that fall into these categories.

4. Lastly, identify your variable annual bills. Purchases that are really more of an annual variable expenditures (like holiday gifts and vacations, maybe summer camp too depending on if that amount changes year to year) should be noted and the full amount extrapolated and calculated. For example, if you spent $100 in November and $500 in December on Christmas gifts, that spending is not going to be replicated in January and February, so note it as an annual Christmas gift expenditure of $600, or $50/month. If your three month review period does not include any of these annual variable expenditures, still make a note of them and look up how much you spent last year for those activities/events.

As you are tallying up your expenditures for that three month period, you get intimately familiar with where your money goes. Sure, you can find a budgeting software that links to your bank account and categorizes your purchases for you to save time, but hand-reviewing your purchases one by one actually confronts you with each individual purchase and reminds you of when and why you made that purchase. This emotional connection to the logical review of your spending can help you identify your spending habits. Now is not the time for judgement or trying to set an budget target amount for how much you want to spend on these categories in the future. We will get to that later. Just tally the amounts you spent in each category for each month and calculate an average monthly spending amount. If you had a large car repair one month, that’s gonna throw off your numbers so list it separately and and look at your average gas and car maintenance costs.

You will likely be surprised to see how much you spend in certain categories. You may think you spend more money on gas than you actually do, or you find that you spend more on clothing than you thought. If your numbers turn your stomach, don’t beat yourself up. We are all human and this is simply an exercise in identifying how much you spend on your life month to month. Not a value judgement or an identification on if you are bad or good with money, simply a calculation.

You may also see that opportunities exist. For example, you see that you spent $300 a month in dining out at frequent stops for fast food but really you would rather spend that same amount on a few nicer date night dinners and cook more weeknight meals at home rather than get burgers so often.

With those larger one-off or semi-annual expenditures, calculate the monthly average cost and that will become your sinking fund monthly amounts. Sinking funds are the key to making your budget work!

There’s nothing wrong with spending money on things that you value and make you happy, as long as you can afford it. Your Starbucks runs are not inherently bad! They are only a problem if they get in the way of you paying all your bills and reaching your financial goals.

So, let’s run the numbers and see where you are at. Tally all the categories you have collected your spending information for:

  1. Income from all sources
  2. Fixed monthly bills
  3. Fixed annual bills
  4. Variable monthly bills
  5. Variable annual bills

When running the numbers, you may choose to calculate your average income monthly or annually. I would suggest calculating your monthly income and allocate to each month 1/12th of the amount you need for your fixed and variable annual bills. I know, it’s tedious. But including those annual costs is way to know if you can truly afford your living expenses. And including them help you to make future decisions about what to keep and what to cut when a monthly cost (like dining out) gets in the way of an annual cost (like a vacation).

Now, compare your spending to your cash flow. Are you net positive or negative? Do you have money left over or do you have all your income each month allocated? Do you have too much spending and not enough income? No judgement here!

This is not an exercise to make decisions about what spending you will keep or cut. Those decisions are best made later when you are making your budget. Instead, this exercise gives you a bird’s eye view of your income and spending and includes all categories, even the sneaky annual bills, so you can truly see if you can afford your life.

If your monthly and annual spending breaks even or leaves you some income left over each month, then congratulations! You can afford your life as you are currently spending. If not, then you need to make some tweaks to not end up in debt or unable to pay your bills. Don’t worry, most people doing this exercise will find that even if they have money left over they want to make some major changes in how they direct their spending to align it with their true money goals.

If you find that your income doesn’t support your monthly + annual spending, then you have likely pinpointed the spending that is putting you into debt.

Now that you have an idea of whether you can afford your life based on our current income and spending, how do you feel about it? Maybe you feel elated to see that your numbers match up and you aren’t in the red, phew! Maybe you feel worried because you see a lot of red and your spending is higher than your income.

Either way, you will see room for improvement, big or small, and the next step is to align your spending with your financial priorities: setting up a budget!

Frugal Living for Working Moms

Have you ever wondered: How do I do it? How do I not continue to be broke all the time?

How do I save money, cook dinner every night for my family, work to pay down debt, care for my kids, husband, and dog, and maintain a house, all while working full time?

I’m exhausted and we always end up in the drive-thru lane for dinner and watch that money just fly out the window. How can that change?

I just want to take the kids on vacation to Disney world but we can’t even afford to go camping.

How am I supposed to save for college for these kids when I can’t even save up to buy new tires? And what about retirement for me?

I work too hard to be this broke.

I feel you. Wholeheartedly. I know exactly what you are going through. In our family, I am the breadwinner and sometimes only source of income. I work full time in a job I love and have no plans to leave to become a stay at home mom (that’s a stellar job, just not one I’m seeking).

No, I am not supermom. FAR from it (though if I could get some super powers via a cooking accident I will not complain). But I am a very frugal and intentional person. I think through problems and try to plan ahead (I am a bit of an over thinker honestly). Of course, how I do all those things is sometimes “not well” but at least I am usually making progress.

One of our family’s biggest problems is money. It’s probably that way for you too. How do we make the (either big or little) amount of money that we have work to pay our bills, take care of our immediate needs, cover some wants, and plan for the future? No matter how much money you have, where you live, what you do for work, how much debt you have, you probably struggle with this problem. Even if you have a hefty income you may find yourself broke and struggling.

I know what its like to lie awake at night wondering how that bill is gonna get paid. I know what its like to have your card declined at the grocery store and you have to start putting stuff back. I know the fear of not knowing how you can afford to get to work this week because all your money is gone. To break down crying in the parking lot at work because the mechanic called and you need to pony up a few hundred dollars you don’t have to fix your car.

And then there’s the comparing. Watching your coworkers and friends buy new cars, eat out for lunch and dinner, get new clothes, take vacations, and have houses twice the size as yours and oh so nicely decorated yet here you are barely able to make ends meet. And you know you make the same or more money as them but you are always broke thanks to all this debt.

Personal finance is just that, personal. What works for one person or family may not work exactly for another, but we can learn from each other’s experiences and use what we learn to help ourselves. Learning to manage our money is not something we all learn in school or at home growing up, but it’s something we all have to do eventually. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we fail horribly (*raising my hand*). Sometimes we make great decisions and major wins.

I have not figured this all out. NOT AT ALL. I am still in debt, very in debt actually. I still am living on a tight budget despite a good job with a good income.

But, I am making progress.

I can see the numbers go down on my debt tracker. I can not panic when I get the third flat tire in 5 months and have to once again pony up to replace an expensive tire that got yet another nail in it. I can see the money finally sitting in my savings account waiting to buy that tire. I can plan ahead and pay an arm and a leg in cash for summer camp for my kid. I can feed my family a meal I cooked almost every night and keep our grocery budget under control at about $400 a month for our family of four.

I am learning from my mistakes and trying to grow to avoid making as many new ones. I am here to encourage you to do the same. Join me as we take on personal finance and frugal living for working moms. Follow along as I work to get out of debt, simplify my life, save, budget, and live my best frugal life.

You can do this too. You work too hard to be this broke.

Catching up on 2020 and 2021

Well now I’m back…from outerspace it seems. Life has sure gotten busy and took my attention far from my blog. But here I am to tell you all what’s going on with me and what to expect to see here moving forward.

In March 2020 our whole world changed. Yes, we all went into quarantine as COVID-19 ravaged the world and especially here in Louisiana. But also in March 2020 our son was born! The rest of 2020 was a whirlwind of pandemic fear, newborn snuggles, exhaustion, postpartum anxiety and rage, and immense joy. I was juggling a quarantined maternity leave with my husband, a 3 year old, a newborn, and two dogs ALWAYS home. Then I started back at work teleworking and my daughter began virtual pre-kindergarten for a few months before converting to in-person school. My son and daughter stayed home with my husband while I went back into the office later in the year.

Financially, we actually walked through 2020 pretty unscathed, or even in a better position than we thought we would be. My husband’s work dried up for many months due to the pandemic but we offset that financial setback by saving on not paying for daycare for a year and a half for our son while my husband was rocking being a stay at home dad. We saved money on gas and not eating out or going anywhere. I mean, we don’t usually eat out much anyway but every little bit adds up.

My husband’s federal student loans were put on automatic deferment due to the pandemic and stopped accruing interest which really helped us make some forward progress on them finally. We were able to skip a couple of payments while I was on maternity leave and had little money coming in (I had no paid maternity leave and had to use a mix of saved annual leave, sick leave, and unpaid days). After I was back to work we kept making the regular payments and could finally see the balance go down each month instead of watching the interest accrue higher than the minimum payment amount. The interest accrual rate vs. our monthly payment is usually working against us so this was a welcome respite from that mountain of interest.

2021 continued much the same way as 2020. We are incredibly grateful that none of us contracted COVID-19 and most of our friends and family members stayed healthy. My husband and I got vaccinated as soon as we could in the spring of 2021 and our daughter got hers as soon as it was approved in November 2021. Sadly, one of our  neighbors and a friend who I served with on our HOA board died from COVID-19 in late 2021 which was just gutting, especially since by then vaccines were widely available. Also very sadly, our dog Julius passed away in his sleep on his 16th birthday over the summer. We miss him terribly.

We were grateful to have been able to still do some carefully orchestrated travel to visit our family despite the pandemic. In the summer of 2020 my parents and sister’s family all quarantined and drove in an RV down to Gulf Shores, AL and my family also quarantined and joined them so we could have a quarantined-together beach trip and our son could meet some of his grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins. Later that summer his other grandmother was able to travel down to Louisiana to meet him and he met his other grandfather and another aunt and uncle when he was a year old when we traveled to Tennessee for a family wedding. We followed as many CDC guidelines as possible and kept masked, distanced, and sanitized, and kept our interactions with strangers and unvaccinated folks to a minimum, which of course caused some ruffles occasionally when we had to set safety protocols or ask questions to be able to visit with people. We traveled in the summer of 2021 to visit both sets of grandparents again and say bon voyage to my sister and her husband as they packed up to move to Germany for work. In November we traveled to Germany and France to have Thanksgiving with my folks and my sister’s family which was an amazing gift generously funded by my parents (who are my retirement role models). It was an amazing trip and we are grateful to all have been able to safely travel and see the world despite a worldwide pandemic. Vaccines are amazing folks. Get them. They save lives. Also, they are literally your ticket to traveling and going to museums in Paris, for example

Blog wise and money wise, a lot has changed for me. I feel like the pandemic and addition of another kid to our family made me shift my priorities. I no longer am obsessed with making a any possible extra dollars to pay off debt. Sure, I want to get out of debt, that hasn’t changed. But my drive to make money has diminished, possibly because my mental bandwidth for side hustles has diminished. All mystery shopping dried up during the height of the pandemic and I didn’t have any time with juggling work and two little kiddos anyway. I was so overwhelmed that I had to drop my freelance blogging client because I was just exhausted and couldn’t get the work done on time and without burning myself out by trying to squeeze out one more thing from me.

So, I gave myself grace and stepped back and said to myself that it’s ok to not side hustle, blog, or do anything like that for a while. I stopped and refocused and thought about my priorities. First and foremost, my family is my priority and protecting their health and well-being includes caring for my own health and well-being and taking some time to relax and enjoy my life rather than just running through it.

Being home all the time and adding another small person to our crew made me overwhelmed and realize how unhappy I was with our home and our systems. Not that there is anything wrong with our home, it’s just not working for us and we need to declutter and organize to make what we have work better for how we live.

I don’t want to live forever in stress and overwhelm and I really wanted to simplify.

So I started by dropping things like mystery shopping and freelance writing because I couldn’t handle the time commitment.

I started trying to simplify our finances and signed up for You Need A Budget. I had been trying to avoid paying for budget software for years but found that this software saved me so much in terms of time AND money by allowing me to keep up with my spending and budgeting with a lot less time and effort, leading me to not ignore my budget for a month at a time and accidentally overspending. Also, I started using sinking funds thanks to YNAB and it’s been amazing. Total game changer. Having the money set aside to pay for an annual expense is mind-blowing and so much less stress than scrambling when that bill comes due.

I saw that I was spending hours upon hours each month cutting the grass and stressing about when I would be able to cut the grass because it rains so often in Southeast Louisiana. I enjoy cutting the grass and listening to podcasts while I do it, but the time commitment was too much. I was constantly interrupted by a baby who woke from their nap and needed to nurse, a hungry preschooler, or just really would prefer not to spend such a large chunk of my Saturday getting sweaty and covered in grass clippings and bug bites (again, yay South Louisiana). So, I ran the numbers and weighed whether we should get a riding mower, a robot mower, or pay someone to cut the grass. I figured out the costs for each machine, maintenance costs, and how to store it (we would have to build some kind of shed for a large mower), and figured in the time it would take to cut the grass, even with a faster, more efficient mower. Ultimately, it was substantially cheaper and more time efficient to pay someone else to do it and that decision really lifted that weight right off my shoulders. I’m helping support a local small business in my town and getting a much needed service that I appreciate SO MUCH after 6 years of cutting the grass myself in the Louisiana heat, sometimes pregnant no less. No more stressing about when it will rain or grumbling that the grass is a half foot high and the kids can’t play in the backyard. My weekends are substantially more relaxing, I’m not embarrassed by my yard (not are my neighbors), and I get to actually enjoy the large yard that we pay a mortgage on. So the cost is WELL worth it. I’m worth it. My family is worth it.

I’m all for frugal living and hate spending money paying someone to do something I can do myself, but I realized that during this season of my life, spending $100 a month to pay a grass cutter to come is a very worthwhile investment in my time and sanity.

Frugal living is not just about spending as little as possible, it’s about being intentional about your spending. Frugal living is about being simple, minimal, and not excessive. It’s about being grateful for and enjoying what you have rather than constantly being driven to buy and consume. It’s thinking about it something is a want or a need and choosing wisely. It’s also about understanding that wants are totally ok to have and want and that making intentional purchases to make our life better matters, whether that is donating to a charity to fight climate change or paying for a babysitter or a guy to cut the grass.

I’ve started embarking on a journey to declutter and simplify my life. That includes my finances, mental space, physical space, everything. I have been slowly making decisions on things in my house (including huge decisions like selling baby clothes and closing that chapter of my life) and selling everything that I can online or in person.  I’m using that money to throw extra money at debts and that seems like a much better use of my time for right now because it kills two birds with one stone that is leaving my house.

I’m starting to pick back up a little bit of mystery shopping and am even back here writing on my blog after a long hiatus. I signed up for Allie Casazza’s Your Uncluttered Home course (it was on super discount for $99 on black Friday and my Mom bought it for me for an early Christmas present). I’ve started working through it and will share future posts about my decluttering experience and a detailed review. I’ve also been reading/listening to other books and podcasts about decluttering, money, frugal living, minimalism, and parenting.  I feel like the more I learn and grow the better I am doing.

Join me as I share my journey decluttering, working to get out of debt, live frugally, and live a simpler, happier life. Yes, I still will have plenty of money saving tips, plenty of side hustle and mystery shopping tips, and lots of frugal living posts, but I will also be chronicling my decluttering journey since it makes a big impact on my financial and physical life as well. Let’s get this money and this house/life under control!

How To Avoid Mystery Shopping Scams (and Find Legit Companies to Work With)

We all would love something for nothing. Maybe even something for a little work, as long as it’s not too compliated right? What about getting paid for shopping? Sounds like a dream job. In fact, because it sounds too good to be true the mystery shopping industry is rife with imposters peddling mystery shopping scams.

Real, legitimate mystery shopping companies don’t sound too good to be true. They promise you a small yet fair wage for a small, yet specific task. Often you will get paid $10-$20 for about an hour of your time to conduct the shop and submit the report online, plus reimbursed for any purchase you had to make. They have very specific guidelines for what you are to purchase and how you are to interact with sales staff, as well as what pieces of information you are to collect and report back to the company.

Alternatively, mystery shopping scams absolutely sound too good to be true, pay a ridiculously high wage for a very vague and simple task. These are the task where you are told you will receive $100 to make a purchase of any item at Walmart and answer five vague and generic questions about the store. Or, and more commonly, you would be asked to wire money to someone via Moneygram or Western Union, answer five vague questions about the shop, including the transaction transfer number, and then told that you would be reimbursed for the transaction. But the reimbursement never comes because these are mystery shopping scams. So how can you avoid them?

Here’s some simple questions to ask yourself to avoid mystery shopping scams.

Did I Contact This Company?

Unsolicited contact from ANY company should be a red flag. Receiving an email or telephone call at random from a company that says they want to hire you as a mystery shopper should make you think, “How did they get my information? They don’t know anything about me, so why would they want to hire me?” This is an example of mass marketing fraud, wherein a scammer company sends out hundreds of thousands of spam emails to lists of email accounts that they bought on the dark web. They only need a handful of people to respond and fall for it for it to be profitable, so even though it seems like a lot of effort the odds are in the spammer’s favor.

Typos, Affection, and Dead Giveaways

Recieving boiler plate emails from a supposed mystery shopping company that are chock full of awkward sentance structures signal that the writer has a loose grasp of English and lacks professionalism. Most American mystery shoppers will work for an American mystery shopping company which contract with American retail companies. Not that you won’t find a mystery shopping company that is based abroad, but you should expect a level of professionalism and good grammar in their communications with you.

Additionally, be wary of overly affectionate communications. Emails that refer to you as “dear” and other pet names are a frequent red flag in scammer emails. As are emails that are overly professional and stuffed with awkward formalities or even threats. 

Always, Always Verify

This amazing thing called the internet allows you to research the legitimacy of almost any company. So please, take advantage of it and verify the company. Check out the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association website which lists their more than 150+ member companies around the world. Some legitimate companies sometimes have their good name besmirched by scammers who pretend to work for them. If anything seems fishy, contact the mystery shopping company through their direct phone number or email, not the one provided to you in an email from a potential scammer. Look for unbiased reviews of mytery shopping companies and experiences of people who have worked for that company. Google the email address or phone number that contacted you to see if it matches the true company.

Does the Pay Match the Work?

Mystery shopping is not a get rich quick scheme. It does not pay beaucoup bucks. The average payment for a mystery shopping job is $5 to $20, depending on the mystery shopping company, client, and complexity of the job. Sure, there are some outliers that pay $50 to $150 but those are usually for high end restaurants with complicated shop reports or ask you to take out a loan or open a bank account, something that would use your personal information and potentially effect your credit score. The complexity of the shop and time to complete and submit the shop report should match the compensation level. If you are being asked to do a very quick and easy shop that entails ordering food and timing how long it takes to be prepared, you should expect a small fee to be paid on top of the food reimbursement amount, likely $10 and under. In contrast, many mystery shop scams will promise fees of hundreds of dollars for ten minutes of your time.

A hallmark of common mystery shopping scams is that they will ask the victim to go to Walmart and “mystery shop” the Western Union or Moneygram there. They will be told to wire a few hundred dollars to a person somewhere else in the United Stated and then submit a report that merely provides the tracking number for the wire transfer and other non-mystery shopping related information. Usually mystery shops are required to capture the time in and out, the names and descriptions of the staff you interacted with, a specific interaction you are supposed to have or question to ask, timing how long you wait in line, etc. Fraudulent mystery shops do not ask that you provide this level of detail.

Also, most mystery shops will not provide you cash upfront to complete a shop. They will ask the shopper to take on the risk and front the money for the shop, complete it to the specific standards set out in the assignment, then get reimbursed and paid a fee after the fact. In contrast, most mystery shopping scams will mail a fake check that the victim is told to cash and then wire most of the money to a co-conspirator and the victim is told to keep the remaining $200 or so as their fee for the mystery shop. That is a very high amount to pay and the reason the scammers can afford to pay the victim mystery shopper so well is because the check will bounce after the victim has sent the money off and then they end up taking a $3000 loss in the end.

Remember, If It’s Too Good To Be True, It Is

If you find yourself unsure of if you should sign up for a mystery shopping job, review this list and ask yourself “is this too good to be true?” If the contact from the mystery shopping company is unsolicited, the communication is way too formal or affectionate to be professional, you are being promised way too much money for such a simple task, and you cannot find any information about the company, that is a major red flag. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Protect yourself and don’t fall victim to mystery shopping scams. Check out the companies, go to their legitimate websites to sign up, and tread carefully. Any work you find over the internet has the potential to be a scam so if anything makes you question its legitimacy, do a little digital sleuthing with your friend Google and see if you can verify the legitimacy of the company. You will be glad you spent those few minutes to verify it rather than jump at an opportunity to make $200 and end up losing your shirt instead.