Tell us about you

As we plan for the rest of 2014, we want to learn more about you and your interests.

Tell us about you (check all that apply):

What do you like about the Frugal Community blog? Let us know in the comments!

Goodbye and Hello

Dear Frugal-Community Readers,

This is the last post that you will read from me, Grace, the author of the frugal-community blog. I will be leaving my job at the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary and moving to a position at Kairos and Associates. Writing for this blog for the past two years has been one of the highlights of my work at Luther Seminary. This blog has given me the opportunity to explore many aspects of frugality—from grocery shopping to student debt to new year’s resolutions and so much more! This blog has also challenged me to live my life more frugally in concert with my writings for the blog. I have learned, as I hope you have too, that frugality is not only practical but fun. Frugality has helped me to align the ways that I use my money with my values and for that I am grateful.

While my time at frugal-community may be coming to an end, I am eager to share that I will be continuing my frugal tips and musings in my new blog, the Classy Frugalist. The Classy Frugalist will focus not on graduate students but on living frugally as a young professional. If you are interested in digging into the New Year’s Resolutions, that will be the topic of my first series of posts. I encourage you to check out the blog, the twitter and maybe even subscribe.

There are great things yet to come with frugal-community, stay tuned to learn more!

Sincerely,

Grace

The Classy Frugalist

2014 New Year’s Resolution Poll

This week I am beginning a new series on the New Year’s Resolutions based on the New Year’s Resolutions post I wrote last week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out! I will be going in-depth with tips and advice into three of the resolutions but before I can do that I need to know which resolutions interest you the most. Take this poll below to vote on which resolutions I should explore:

Thank you for participating!

Frugal New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

Photo Credit: Toni Girl via Flickr

Photo Credit: Toni Girl via Flickr

Will 2014 be your most frugal year yet? Most people who make a list of New Year’s resolutions will include at least one item related to spending, saving or sharing their money. Whether you are preparing to take on a daunting list or you haven’t even given a thought to New Year’s resolutions, why not make a frugal goal for the coming year. Here are twelve ideas to get you off to a good start in 2014:

  1. Cut a Bad Spending Habit: We all have bad spending habits and they can really add up. Whether you buy clearance clothes because they are a bargain but you never actually wear them or you over-indulge in pre-packaged foods, this is a good time to identify and begin cutting your bad habit. Learn a little more about yourself by tracking your spending for a few months. This will help you see your spending habits, both the good and the bad, and help you set goals for this year.
  2. Organize Your Financial Life: Take some time this year to organize your financial life. Whether you decide to create and maintain a budget, download a finance app to help you stay on track or begin logging all of your expenditures into a spreadsheet, keeping your finances organized and up-to-date can save you a lot of stress and anxiety.
  3. Increase Your Charitable Giving: Often times charitable giving ends up being the last thing on the list when money comes in. Why not begin making it a priority? If you are more of a spontaneous giver, why not begin making your giving more consistent? Need help choosing a charity? Check out this article.
  4. Build a Savings Plan: If you don’t have a savings account, you might start saving money (even $20/month) for an emergency fund. If you already save, you might consider creating a plan that involves short-, mid- and long-range saving goals including retirement and emergency savings.
  5. Live Within Your Means: Challenge yourself to actually live within your means this year by being intentional about only spending what you are earning.
  6. Borrow Less: Do you struggle with credit card debt? This year you could create a plan to eliminate your credit card debt and begin paying your credit card bills on time. Do you have a lot of student loans? Make a plan so can borrow less this year by reducing your expenses or finding other sources of financial aid.
  7. Declutter Your Home: Begin 2013 by decluttering your home, especially your closet and your pantry. Keep an eye out for items that you can reuse or give away. Make a commitment to use up what you have.
  8. Reduce Your Monthly Expenses: Are you using all of your cable package? Could you cut your grocery expenses by eating frugally and using coupons? Could you lower the temperature in your apartment or turn off a few more lights? Reducing your expenses, even by a few dollars a month, can save you a lot of money.
  9. Start Saving for Pleasure: Have you been dreaming about buying a new car, computer, decor item or even going on vacation? Start saving for this item now by setting aside a little money each month. Make a do-able plan to help you reach your goal, so you can decrease or even eliminate having to buy on credit.
  10. Be A Patient Spender: We all know how easy it is to buy things on impulse whether it is a candy bar, clothing or electronics. Big or small, those impulse buys can add up. Try to curb your addiction to impulse spending by waiting 24 hours for items under $50 and 30 days for items over $50. If possible, wait for sales.
  11. Align your sharing, saving, and spending with your values: Take some time in this new year to consider your values. Then analyze your saving, spending and sharing of money to be sure it aligns with your values. Make goals for 2014 to increase this alignment.
  12. Be More Thankful: Living on a student’s budget, it can be easy to think more about what you don’t have than what you do have. Take time this year to be thankful for all of the things that you do have–tangible and intangible.

Join the Conversation: What’s your frugal New Year’s Resolution for 2014?

How to Give Frugal Holiday Gifts without Looking Cheap

christmas gifts

Flickr Image by Mackenzie

Remember how exciting Christmas used to be as a kid? You would wake up early, sit under the Christmas tree in your pajamas, maybe read the Christmas story, and then tear open your presents. But, as you grow up, Christmas becomes more stressful than fun, especially when you are on a tight budget. It can be hard to find a good gift that is inexpensive, but not cheap!

I’m not a stranger to cheap gifts. One Christmas my brother and I received calendars that were from the previous year! Another Christmas, a friend of mine received a set of hotel toiletry items! Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation. Have you ever received a gift that has clearly been used—a half eaten box of chocolates, tarnished jewelry, used makeup, even used undergarments? What about a gift that was clearly free—promotional pens, rebate drug store items, even happy meal toys?

While we can all laugh looking back at these gifts and tell ourselves that we would never do something like this, it’s hard to be frugal at Christmas. We want give something special to all of the important people in our lives but we feel caught between racking up the credit card debt and resorting to the sort of cheap gifts listed above. I think the difference between cheap and frugal gifts comes down to the heart of the gift. Are you giving for the sake of giving a gift? Or, are you giving for the sake of the person? If you have the receiver in mind, as you think about frugal gifts, you aren’t likely to go wrong.

Here are some ideas for heartfelt, inexpensive gifts:

  • Write from the Heart: Make or purchase a nice card and write the recipient a heartfelt note about why you appreciate having him/her in your life.
  • Frame It: Find a nice photo of the recipient and frame it. Or, gather some photos and postcards from his/her favorite destination and frame them. You could also frame the recipient’s favorite poem.
  • Thrifting: If you have a good idea of the recipient’s style head to the thrift store for some great frugal finds on clothing and accessories.
  • Fun Reading: Head to a used bookstore and find a few classic books that fit with the recipient’s interests. If the recipient prefers magazines, find some current editions of their favorite magazines for a little light reading over the holidays.
  • Homemade Items: Spread some Christmas cheer with homemade cookies, bars or candy. Try out some of these recipes! Use your creative skills to knit some mittens, make jewelry or write a song. Try your hand at some of these homemade gifts!
  • Gift Baskets: Create a personalized gift basket with some of their favorite items. Depending on the recipient’s interests, you might create a movie theater basket, spa basket, snack basket, grocery basket, the possibilities are endless!
  • Gift of Experience: Give the recipient tickets to an upcoming movie, museum, concert or event. You and the recipient can enjoy the event as well as some time together.

Join the Conversation: What frugal gifts have you given that have been well received? Have you ever given a frugal gift that didn’t work out?

This entry was first posted Dec. 4, 2012.

Gifts that Give Back 2013

Since today is #GivingTuesday, it seemed appropriate that I would kick off my series of holiday posts with gifts that give back. Over the past few years, I have become obsessed with these sort of gifts that keep on giving. It all began with a birthday gift from my brother gave me: a cooking stove from Oxfam America. On my birthday I received a card with a picture of the stove and a message saying that this stove would help displaced women keep warm and cut down on their need for firewood. It is one of the best birthday gifts that I have ever received!

Since this gift, I have discovered a few other companies that also help you give back like TOMS, Giving Keys, Sevenly and many more. Here are some great ways to give gifts this holiday season that will actually make a difference for both the receiver and someone in need:

  • Sevenly: Every week Sevenly teams up with a different charity. For that week, Sevenly will give $7 to that charity for every item purchased from its curated collection of t-shirts, jewelry, prints, accessories and more.
  • Raven+Lilly: Raven+Lilly is a socially-conscious lifestyle brand that empowers women through design.The site sells eco-friendly apparel, jewelry and homemade accessories made by marginalized women in developing nations. Purchasing one of this company’s items helps provide these women artisans with a sustainable income.
  • Laughing Man Coffee and Tea: A company created by Hugh Jackman which sells coffee, tea, chocolate and gear to help entrepreneurs around the world. 50% of their sales go to education, community development and new business development.
  • 31 Bits Jewelry: Unique, fashionable jewelry created out of 100% recycled paper, posters and magazines by internally displaced women in Northern Uganda.The women earn a sustainable income, enabling them to provide for their families. 31 bits cares for the women holistically through counseling, health education, finance training, and business mentorships. After five years in the 31 bits program, the women are ready to graduate and have their own business.
  • FEED Project: The Feed Project sells bags, accessories and apparel with the intent of feeding and educating people in need. They are known for their classic FEED 1 Bag that provides food for 1 child for 1 year.
  • The Giving Keys: This business employs people transitioning out of homelessness to engrave old, recycled keys with a word of hope to make a pendant for a necklace. The best part is that these necklaces are not meant to be kept, but rather given away to someone who needs the message.
  • Out of Print ClothingOut of print celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion by creating products, like t-shirts and stationary, featuring iconic and often out of print book covers. For every product sold, they donate one book to a community in need through their partner Books for Africa.
  • Give Prints: This for-profit business offers a selection of photography prints and apparel. It gives 50% of its profits to charities around the world.
  • Open Arms: This company provides women refugees resettled in America with a living wage and uses repurposed materials to create ethical fashion items. Check out their skirts, dresses and accessories online or in their retail stores.
  • MiiR Water BottleMiiR offers cutting-edge water bottles in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. The purchase of a MiiR water bottle provides one person in the developing world with clean drinking water for one year.

There are so many items that you can purchase that give back to our neighbors in need around the world. For more ideas, check out my 2012 post on gifts that give back or take a look at the variety of items offered in the new TOMS Marketplace.

Join the Conversation: What are some of your favorite gifts that give back this holiday season?

Taking Time to Give Thanks

Photo Credit: the.blackswan on Flickr

Photo Credit: the.blackswan on Flickr

This year, Thanksgiving will be different for me. This will be the first year that I will not be going home for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a BIG DEAL in my family, it is an entire weekend affair. We host family from across the country in our home, serve many scrumptious meals, play games, go shopping and enjoy each other’s company. Our thanksgiving table is filled with an abundance of cheese, meats, veggies, breads, potatoes, desserts and more served over three courses all cooked by the all-star chef of my family, my dad. But, I learned early on from him that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food, it is about the relationships.

I am blessed to be a part of a family that values being together so much that they will travel across the country for it. I am blessed to be a part of a family that thinks that a few hours on Thanksgiving day isn’t enough so they are willing to invest the whole weekend. I am grateful to have a family that graciously invites new comers into the fold each year, last year that person was my fiance. This year I am grateful to my family for teaching me that Thanksgiving, and life, isn’t just about the things that you have it is about the relationships that bring you together, even if it is just once a year.

While my Thanksgiving will certainly be different this year, it will also be extra special. Since my fiance and I are unable to go home for Thanksgiving because my fiance has to work on Black Friday, my childhood best friend and her husband are making the trek up to Minnesota to celebrate with us. We couldn’t be more grateful! This year, we give thanks for them. While our Thanksgiving table will be a lot more simple than the one that I grew up with, I am again grateful that the focus of Thanksgiving is not the food but the relationships. I am grateful for friendships that stand the test of time and distance. My fiance and I are eagerly anticipating the conversation, laughter, cooking, eating and all of the activities of the weekend. We are grateful for friends who are more like family. I have no doubt that this Thanksgiving will be just as special as the ones before.

If I have learned anything about frugal living over the past few years, I have learned that frugal living is about intentionally focusing on the things that you have (relationships, experiences, basic needs) rather than the things that you don’t have. While our Thanksgiving table may be less abundant this year, we will have more than enough. What sustains me from year to year, is not the food but the memories and the relationships.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I encourage you to take time to focus on the relationships. Give thanks for the many things that you do have, rather than dwelling on the things that you don’t. That is frugal living at its finest!

Join the Conversation: What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Frugal Fitness for the Holidays

I don’t know about you but the holiday season always seems to remind me how much I really need to get in shape. All of the food and drink over Thanksgiving and Christmas can really put our bodies over the edge. Instead of waiting until January, why don’t you jump start your fitness routine with these frugal fitness ideas? Don’t let the barrier of expense hold you back!

  • Everyday Fitness: Don’t underestimate the value of everyday opportunities to create a fit lifestyle. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Burn calories cleaning your apartment/house, babysitting, going shopping or garage-saling. Don’t judge those mall walkers, they are getting a good workout!
  • Online Workout Videos: One of the cheapest ways to get fit is to use free online workout videos.Sparkpeople has a variety of videos, some require equipment but there are some that don’t. You can find other free workout routines by searching for videos on youtube or for free podcasts on Itunes. If you have “on demand” TV such as xfinity you may be able to find some free workout videos there as well.
  • Workout DVDs: You can also use workout videos and DVDs. If you don’t have any check your parent’s house for those old 80s workout videos or check out the selection at your local library. Why not gather a group of friends to workout to Buns of Steel a few times a week? You will have plenty of laughs and get a good workout while you’re at it!
  • Get Outside: Use the great outdoors as your fitness center. Get out for a refreshing walk around your neighborhood, run around a park/lake, go out for a hike, or bike on one of the trails. If you live in a colder climate, like me, you might also try snowshoeing or skiing.
  • Dancing: Dancing can be a really great work out as well as fantastic way to have fun with friends. Get down with salsa, swing or whatever you like. Or, try Zumba: a latin-inspired form of exercise that is a combination of dance and aerobics put to the beat of lively, fun music. Many community centers, fitness clubs, and even churches are offering this with varied pricing. Search here to find classes near you. Don’t want to go out? You can always play DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) or Just Dance for a great dance workout at home.
  • Community Classes: Get off campus, meet some new people and get fit by getting involved in some community fitness classes at your local community recreational center. Community centers offer a variety of classes and equiment. You might also check and see if your school offers any fitness classes. If you live in St. Paul, check out some of the offerings in Roseville.
  • Fitness Centers: As you know, fitness memberships can be very expensive. First check to see if your school has fitness equipment available for free or a small fee. If not, see if your school has deals with area fitness centers or if some of your local fitness centers have student pricing.
  • Community Sports/Broomball: Another way to get fit and meet some new people is to join a recreational sports team. One of winter’s most fun ice sports is broomball. A recreational winter sport that is similar to hockey. See if their are any recreational leagues near you, like this on in St. Paul.
  • Do It Together: So often socializing during the holidays involves parties with an abundance of food and drink. Find a few friends who are also interested in staying fit and socialize while you workout. Go for a walk/run, join a class together or just head to the gym together. Looking for something more adventurous? Try out the aerobic fitness classes at Sky Zone indoor trampoline parks or go to an indoor rock climbing gym.

Join the Conversation: What is your tip for staying fit on a budget?

Saving in the Season of Spending

Photo Credit: Johanna Abzug via Flickr

Photo Credit: Johanna Abzug via Flickr

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the Christmas season sets in after Halloween is over. I’m one of those people who thinks that it is sack-religious to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. So, you can imagine my frustration when the commercials begin to feature Christmas lights, trees and music. But, I have to say that my largest frustration with this season is its eternal encouragement for you to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND not just others but also on yourself. I want to offer an alternative message this Christmas season, instead of focusing on spending why not focus on saving?

First, save money on gifts. I encourage you to make a budget for all of the gifts that you intend to purchase this Christmas season and stick to it. Make your money last by using coupons and checking out sales. Buy or make gifts that matter this Christmas, rather than just buying something for the sake of it. Think about how you can give of your time and not just your money to those you love. Check out this article on frugal gifts!

I absolutely love giving gifts, but we have to make sure, as frugal people, that we are giving for the right reason this season. Are we giving because we love to shop and buy gifts? Are we giving because we want to top someone else’s gift? Or, are we giving because we love and care about people and want to give them something meaningful? Better yet, are we giving in celebration of Christ’s coming? It is not worth spending our money on anything that is less than meaningful this season.

With all of that money that you save by giving frugal, meaningful gifts that fit into your budget, I encourage you to do two things with it: save the day for someone in need and save money for the future. First, save the day for someone in need. Take the time to celebrate the season by giving away some of the money that you would have spent on Christmas gifts. Maybe you choose to buy Christmas gifts for those who can’t afford it. Maybe you choose to give your time to serve Christmas dinner to folks at a shelter. Or, maybe you choose to incorporate giving into some of your Christmas gifts by giving money or items to an organization in honor someone. Check out Oxfam America, Sevenly or ELCA good gifts for some great ideas!

Lastly, save money for the future. It can be SO tempting to spend money on yourself during this season. Begin “acting yourself into a new way of thinking” by intentionally setting aside money that you may have spent shopping and putting it away in your emergency fund, retirement savings or other short term savings fund. This is one of the absolute best gifts that you can give yourself, even $20 can make a difference. For more information about the importance of saving for the future, check out this post.

I challenge you this season to save rather than spend. When you do spend, spend that money on gifts that matter. Check out the Advent Conspiracy for more information on making your Christmas season meaningful.

Join the Conversation: How are you saving this Holiday season?

Being Grateful

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee Via Flickr

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee Via Flickr

One of the things that I am most grateful for, in my life, is my education. I absolutely love to read and I love to learn. I realize that you can learn things in many different ways, and for many people school is not always the right decision, but for me it was. I loved being a part of a community of learners. I enjoyed having great conversations with students and professors as well as the great authors from across history. I received an education that prepared me to be a leader in the world.

I had always dreamed of going to a good college and going on to Seminary to receive a degree in theology. My dream was made possible by gracious gifts from many people, some that I knew and others that I did not. One of the largest gifts that made my college education possible was a scholarship from the university that my mother works at. This was a piece of my mother’s benefits package that she received after working at the university for many years. I am incredibly grateful that my mom stayed in her job at the university long enough to allow us to have this benefit so a large portion of our school tuition would be covered every year.

Another gift that made my education possible, was a Presidential scholarship from Luther Seminary that covered all of my tuition as well as a small stipend. I still remember opening the financial aid letter and being overwhelmed by the generosity of the offer. I could now go to Seminary without fear of the mountains of debt that might accompany it. My dream of getting a theological education could become a reality!

We all have something to be grateful for, but we don’t always remember to say thank you. We have to be intentional about giving thanks, not just one day a year but all year-round. One way that we can say “thank you” is by writing a thank you note or simply taking the time to tell someone “thank you”. It is all too easy to let the moment pass you by and forget to thank the people who helped your dreams become a reality. It is never too late to say thanks.

Another way that we can say “thank you” is by living frugally. By living frugally, we honor the gifts that we receive by spending them wisely. We don’t use them to be cheap towards others or ourselves, but to be smart about what we need and what we don’t and to invest in what matters. We value the time, effort and love that went into the gifts that we have received and choose to use them to their fullest.

A last way that we can say “thank you” is by following the example of generosity. Now that I am out of school, I haven’t forgotten the generosity that got me where I am today. I give to the institutions that I graduated from so that I can make dreams a reality for other students who were just like me. I give as a way to say thank you for all of the people who believed in me and trusted me with their hard-earned money. While I may not be able to give very much at this point in my career, I hope to grow my gifts to be able to fund a scholarship for someone else. I honor the gifts that I have received by passing that gift on to others.

I challenge you to take some time over the course of the month of November to consider the people, places and gifts that you are really grateful for and take the time to say thank you.

Join the Conversation: Who/what are you grateful for?