The anonymous voice behind Femme Frugality has been a lifelong penny pincher, but the 20-something mom from Pittsburgh, Pa. didn't start writing about money until 2011, when she was going through an especially tough financial period.
"I was learning all types of ways to bring in extra cash, save on the things we needed, and take full advantage of things like my health insurance," she says. "I was so excited I blabbed everything I was learning to my friends, family and anyone who would (or wouldn't) listen. I was largely met with disinterest."
Luckily, she started her blog to share all the frugal tidbits that annoyed her friends, hoping to help others who found themselves in a similar situation.
Here, the recently married FF shares her story and offers advice on how to save money on your wedding, honeymoon and beyond. Read on:
When did you become passionate about frugal living? What spurs you to save money?
I've been passionate about frugal living for as long as I can remember. I was forced into financial independence at a very young age, but my family also prepared me for it well. I was averse to debt of any kind, whether it be student or consumer. I didn't take out loans for school, and I didn't get a credit card until about a year ago, when I was confident I could use it to my advantage rather than become a slave to the banks lending me money.
My savings inspiration is ultimately security. Since I've had to take care of myself for so long, I've learned that no one is going to bail my future self out other than my present self. Saving is a way to ensure today that my family will have everything they need to get by tomorrow.
You recently got married...congratulations! What were some of the easiest or most innovative ways you found to save money on your wedding?
Thank you! A huge way that we saved money was booking a venue in the off-season. We were surprised to find out that renting a public park facility and bringing in our own everything, from food to chairs to decorations, was going to be a bit more expensive than just booking a nice restaurant that had the space we needed for both a beautiful ceremony and a separate reception, beautiful decor so that part of our budget was minimal, and phenomenal food. It was a lot less stress and a surprisingly lower bill.
Why was it important to have a frugal wedding?
The biggest reason is that we're on a budget. We could have invited a lot more people, but the bill would have been through the roof, forcing us to sacrifice in some of our other savings goals and possibly push us into debt. That was a difficult decision to make. But the important thing is that we love each other and got married. By not having a raging party, we were able to stay on track for our savings for a home and go on an amazing honeymoon.
How did you keep your honeymoon frugal?
To be honest, we didn't choose where to go based on a budget. We probably could have saved a ton more if we had. We don't have any regrets about going to Tulum, Mexico, though. We stayed in a beautiful, boutique hotel. They gave us a healthy discount for paying before we arrived. We read up a lot on the ruins in Tulum before going so that we could be our own tour guides. The restaurant at our hotel served lunch until pretty late in the day, so often we ate a late lunch and called it dinner to avoid paying dinner prices (their food was fantastic all day). We researched transport options and used a public transport bus to get from the airport to our destination rather than paying a private shuttle, saving us over $130.
All in all, we're glad we splurged, but were still able to find a lot of little ways to bring down the total for our trip in a big way.
You also have kids...how are you teaching them about using money responsibly?
My children are still very young, so most of our teaching revolves around three things: You can't eat food at the grocery store until you pay for it, mommy and daddy have to go to work to get money so we can have our apartment and food and toys, and you can only pick out one coloring book because that's what's in our budget.
As they get older, we'll start implementing some type of allowance and allow them to set their own savings goals and spending habits. We will offer them guidance, but ultimately let them make their own decisions and deal with the consequences. I want them to learn those hard lessons in the safety of my home rather than getting to the real world and being unprepared.
What are some of your favorite frugal methods for entertaining kids?
Art and science projects are the best. We've gotten paint, crayon and glitter all over every inch of our house. And it's been so much fun. My favorite place to shop for art supplies is our local recycle (or reuse) store because it's dirt cheap and it's green. We've done science experiments for pennies on the dollar using things we have around the house: dyeing ice cubes and playing with them as they melt in oil, watching vinegar react with baking soda in a water bottle (20 times in a row) and planting our own garden (spoiler alert: If you don't water strawberry plants, they die).
We are also very lucky to live in Pittsburgh, where cheap and free kids events happen regularly. If you think your city is too small to have fun, free events going on all the time, check out your local library. They have events and clubs for all ages, but most of them seem to really amp things up for kids.
How do you plan to help them save for college?
A 529 plan seems to be the way to go. However, I'm working with an educational savings account, instead. Most will tell you I'm wrong in every sense of the word, but I'm not comfortable investing in my children's education through the stock market. Some of this unreasonable fear probably stems from the fact that my original, traditional foray in college spanned the worst parts of the Great Recession.
I will help them graduate college without debt, though. I will save. I will encourage them to save. And I will show them how I graduated debt-free through a mix of grants and scholarships.
What are the most surprising ways you've found to save money day to day? What about some methods you've tried but ditched?
The biggest thing that's surprised me is that I never thought I'd switch away from the big four cell phone carriers. Smaller carriers had a reputation for dropped calls, and that was just something I couldn't afford with my kids and my job. Times have changed. I've found a carrier that has service that's even better than the major companies for a crazy cheap price, saving us over $100 a month.
I was also surprised when I found out that, at least in Pennsylvania, you can lower your electricity bill by choosing which company generates your electricity. The same company still distributes it to you, but by shopping around for who generates it, you can lower your electric bill drastically without unplugging anything or switching out light bulbs. Also, did you know major pharmaceuticals are so eager to get their drugs into your div that they have programs set up to give you your medication for free?
One method that I've largely abandoned is buying coupons off group-buying websites. I'll still use them occasionally, but most of the time a little research can find you better deal elsewhere and support the business you were going to shop with more directly.
What advice do you have on coming up with a budget for a family that you'll actually stick to?
Be realistic with each line item. You can pretend you'll only spend $50 on diapers this month, but is that really what's going to happen? With any budget, I advise to budget liberally and spend conservatively. That way when you get to the end of the month, instead of a shortage you'll have money left over to apply to savings, debt pay-off or heck, even the occasional splurge.
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