The niftiness of thriftiness


Frugality, long out of favor in our free-spending, debt-racking society, is making a comeback. Dumpster diving, thrift store shopping, knitting one's own clothes and DIY household projects aren't just ways to save money; they're considered cool.

Pro-penny pinching blog Frugal for Life (fru, on the other hand, isn't exactly cool. There are a few too many posts about mundane topics like how to get rid of bugs and remove stains. Still, the site's extremely useful, and you can bet your iPod more than one hipster wouldn't mind learning ways to save on her grocery bill so she could spend more on iTunes.

Frugal for Life creator Dawn Caldwell, 33, lives and works as a customer service representative in a Denver suburb. Even if she won the lottery, she says, she'd still be frugal.

Have you always been a frugal person?

It was something my parents did out of necessity when I was younger. We got the government cheese and had a cupboard full of black and white generic labels. We'd wash out the sandwich bags and put leftovers in old butter containers. I hated it. I felt embarrassed around friends, so when I got away from home I racked up charges on credit cards and ended up filing for bankruptcy.

How far in debt were you when you filed?

I had about $20,000 in credit card debt when I filed at age 25. It was a horrible experience.

For those who are new at it, what are a few tips for frugal living?

Only keep what you need. Do you need to pay $150 for TV and Internet? Can you watch local channels and pay $13 instead? If you spend $5 every day at work to eat lunch, stop. Bring your lunch.

Also, start selling stuff you don't need on eBay or Craigslist, or put an ad in the paper. If your means aren't cutting it, find a part-time job or work an extra day. But don't do too much at once. It's like a diet: You take it one step at a time.

Your homepage has Japanese characters on it. What do they mean?

They say Wabi Sabi, because of a book called The Wabi-Sabi House, which influenced me as far as appreciating the imperfections in life. It's about how you can go through a house and things don't have to be perfect; they can be used but have character. That book affected my ability to mix simplicity and frugalness.

Why live frugally?

I think in some respects you aren't caught off guard by emergencies. And if you are reusing stuff, you aren't wasting money on something new that might break. We hold onto antique furniture; why not do that with other things?

Can a person be happy being materialistic?

Oh, sure. If money is not an object, I'm sure you can be happy. Paris Hilton appears to be happy. Personally, I would feel awkward around those people who drive their Hummers to their five-bedroom homes, but they can have that life and I have no problem with it. It just isn't something I aspire to.

What was your most recent splurge?

My splurging is watching movies on the big screen. I buy the popcorn and the slushie, and I'll do that once or twice a month.

Do you ever get grief about being frugal?

Yeah, there are some people at work who make fun of me. They're joking, but all kidding has a bit of truth. I think people who put it down don't want to deal with the fact that they have money issues themselves.

What's the difference between being frugal and cheap?

Being cheap is getting away with something. You know, working under the radar. If you are going out to eat, a cheap person will stiff the waitress. A frugal person buys less than she can afford so she can give the waitress a good tip.

Jessica Berthold writes for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa.

The details



In a word:


E-Candy for:

People who clip coupons and save plastic food containers.

In sum:

Helpful hints on how to save money in your everyday life.

This blog as a person:

A younger Heloise (of column "Hints from Heloise").

Sample topics:

How to make your own beauty products. How to fix scratched CDs with toothpaste. Unusual uses for shower curtain rings. Examples of frivolous items for sale, like the "Egg and Muffin Toaster."

Classic post:

"If you are single, consider a shopping partner, or couple, to split bulk items with. Consider NOT shopping on the first few days of the month as some stores have raised prices when people get their social security checks or food stamps." (May 31, 2006)

Making it happen:

Dawn Caldwell, 33, of Englewood, Colo.


December 2004.


Several times a week.


Clear and simple.



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