Expert Interview with Sara Tetreault on Frugal Living for Mint

Sara Tetreault made a commitment with her family early on to live frugally and well at the same time, and she chronicles how she makes it happen on her blog, Go Gingham. Sara stepped away from her busy schedule for a moment to speak with us about living well without living expensively.

What the difference between frugal and cheap?

Cheap is always only looking for the lowest price. Frugal is economical and resourceful. The focus is price plus the value of an item or service. It's economical, thoughtful and smart.

Were there any changes that took you by surprise when you started a more frugal lifestyle?

The biggest surprise was that the more I adopted a frugal lifestyle, the richer I felt. The more I have less, the more I want less, and once I began living on less, I realized how easy it was. I've embraced it in all areas of my life - happily! Because of our frugal lifestyle, we have more time. We can cook all of our own meals, grow vegetables, mend and fix things. We have more time - together - which is so valuable, and it's less hurried, too.

How do you budget? What's your criteria for trimming something or adding more money to an item?

Before the budgeting process can begin, knowing where money is being spent is crucial. That's where the process begins: tracking household spending. After tracking our spending, we align our spending with what we value. We decide as a couple - a team - what's important. By allocating our dollars according to how we want to live, we put our spending plan in place. We always begin with our retirement accounts. One of our family splurges is music lessons for our kids. We also travel by home exchange and always have a trip we're saving for. When it comes to trimming costs, we try and lower those behind the scenes - insurance, mortgage, utilities, vehicles, entertainment and so on.

What products were you surprised to discover you can make yourself, instead of buying?

Every type of food - beans, salad dressings, sauces, and granola - you name it - we cook it instead of buying processed foods or going out to eat. Every meal gets prepared at home. Both of my kids cook a dinner every week, too, and clean up after. That gives my husband and me nights off in the kitchen, and it's an important skill for kids to learn.

Cleaning supplies, hand soap, shampoo and laundry detergents - these are all items we make - some out of concentrated products. These save money, but we're also using products that are better for our health and the environment. We spend so much less on these items than I ever would have thought.

You talk about working with your husband on budgeting and the like. What tips do you have for couples that need to have their own financial meetings?

Begin financial meetings talking about what you each value and use these as a guide to develop your financial strategies. Don't start with pointing fingers and dollars - it can get too explosive. Instead of thinking of budgeting as "trimming," it's best to think of it as "redirecting" - into a retirement account. Having joint financial goals - whether it's retirement or a big trip - helps keep us on track. When we have a spending review meeting and discuss our categories - FAITH (food, apparel, insurance, transportation, and housing), we always end the meeting by asking ourselves, "How can we reduce our spending, but still have fun?" We're on the same page about our household spending - mostly. But we both agree we want to have fun!

What's the future of frugality? Are we all going to start cutting back?

I think frugality has a great future and living frugally is nothing new - it's resourceful and smart. By using our money and resources efficiently, wasting less and spending only on what we value, we're living sustainably. That's good for our wallets and the environment.

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