An Odyssey Into Frugality: How I Became a Miserly Mom

by Jonni McCoy

Parenthood brings about many changes -- but frugality was not one that I expected. My husband and I had a pleasant lifestyle. Adding a child made it even more pleasant. But, as the years went by, I could see that I had to make a choice. What was best for my child?

In order to appreciate the frugal changes that our family has experienced, you must know that I am not frugal by nature. It was something I had to learn in order to survive. I was raised overseas, where we lived in large homes with at least five servants. I attended private schools. We traveled to exotic countries for our vacations.

After college, I was on the yuppie track. I worked at high-tech companies such as Apple Computer, Inc. and National Semiconductor. After my first child was born, I arranged a job-sharing program so I could work reduced hours. I had my coffee flown in from Hawaii, hired a nanny, and went on weekend vacations. I "had it all."

After my son turned three years old, I was beginning to think I would like to spend more quality time with him. I began to see the importance of having a mom at home with a child in order for him/her to grow up well. But there was no way I could quit because I was earning 50% of our family income. So we decided to move to a remote suburb where our house payments would only be about half of what we were paying in Silicon Valley.

I quit my job and put our house on the market. Then, I realized I didn't want to move, but I also didn't want to be working. I was determined to find a way to stay where we were.

The reality of a severely reduced income and an expensive lifestyle was constantly nagging at me. After all, we were living in the third most expensive city in the country. I would have to either move or radically change our ways. I chose to try the latter and see what happened.

So began our odyssey into frugality. I began my quest by looking at the things I could do without. I first reduced my tax withholding, because our income was now half of what it used to be. We did not have child-care expenses. New clothes were not a necessity for me since I had a wardrobe from my working years. We decided not to eat out or go on vacations until this was all sorted out.

Then came the harder things. Most items left in the budget were fixed. The mortgage couldn't be reduced or refinanced at the moment. Utilities were already low, but we made a small dent in them. The only item left in the budget was groceries. I focused heavily on this area because it was the largest area in our family's budget that wasn't fixed.

I eventually arrived at what I call the Eleven Miserly Guidelines. When I follow all of them faithfully, I can feed a family of four on $40 per week. That saved us more than $240 per month in this one area.

This may sound extreme, but the results were amazing. We were able to stay in our home, keep our cars, have another child, keep me at home, and even go on vacations.

When we first embarked on this adventure, our family went through a very difficult time. We didn't know how to live within our means. We felt poor and weren't sure we liked this feeling. We had to plan for everything we wanted to spend money on. And we had to do without some things. We started to feel deprived. Deprivation wasn't something we were familiar with, nor was it a nice feeling. But we knew that millions of people had gone before us in this transformation from yuppie to virtual non-consumer without losing their self-esteem or sense of dignity. I was determined to maintain ours as well. We gained a sense of self-confidence that earning high salaries couldn't provide. We now know how to provide for our family on half of what we did before. We can do a good job with the talents and wisdom that we possess. This is a great feeling -- better than any raise or bonus that I ever received. It took creativity and an ambition to make it work. We weren't going to stay home and mope about how we couldn't afford to go anywhere. We were determined to find things to do that we could afford.

These are the kind of changes that will stay with us forever. If we have money again and can buy things freely, we will always know we can do without those things -- and still be very happy. We have become closer to one another. And we know we can do whatever we set our mind to. Many people would pay a therapist plenty to learn these attitudes.

If any message comes from our adventure, I hope it is that you can do whatever you have to, if you believe in the goal. You can learn practical ways to reduce a budget, without fearing images of dumpster diving or eating scraps. I am proof that people can retain a sense of class and still be on a budget.

editor's note: Jonni's top ten money saving tips at /stories/990405a.cfm.

Jonni McCoy is the author of Miserly Moms - Living On One Income In A Two Income Economy (c1996/Full Quart Press $9.99) and Frugal Families - Making the Most of Your Hard Earned Money (c 1998/Holly Hall Publications $9.99). She lives with her husband and two homeschooled children in Colorado Springs, CO. Jonni also has a website you can visit:

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