My (Not-)Spending Strengths

I have a lot of spending weaknesses: books, clothes, toys, eating out. It’s easy to focus on all the ways I’m shit at spending money, and forget that there are lots of ways I’m good at saving. Here are just a few of the things I DON’T have to cut back on, spending wise, because I already don’t spend money in these areas.

– Cosmetics. I don’t wear make-up, except when I go out (very rarely) so the mascara and eye-liner and blush and lip stick I own last a LONG time (like years long, I know, that’s gross). I basically don’t spend money on make-up, ever.

– Hair and skin care. I use baking soda and vinegar to wash my hair. I buy a three-pack of Oil of Olay Shea butter and a two-pack of Cetaphil from Costco one a year to wash my body and face. That’s also where I get my six-pack of Dove deodorant. I buy the same face lotions (one for day with SPF and one for night without) every time, and only when they run out. My friend cuts my hair (and my daughter’s) for free, or I get a $15 cut somewhere when she’s busy. I use the clippers on my husband and my son. My big self-care splurge is a leg wax but I only do that about once a year (usually I use a depilator). I pluck my own eyebrows and I never get manicures or pedicures.

– Jewelry. I don’t buy jewelry anymore. I used to, but it’s been a few years. I wear my wedding ring (which cost less than a grand), a necklace from Tiffany’s, and a watch every day and that is it. I never take them off. I never change them. It may be boring, but it’s cost effective.

Cloth diapers. We cloth diaper our son. I don’t actually think cloth diapers saved me much (any?) money with my first child–they are not cheap!–but already having everything I needed the second time around definitely saved me a significant amount. (Plus I’ll make a little back when I sell my stash.) We were even able to cloth diaper our son at night for 14 months, something I never managed with my daughter. Now we only buy disposable night diapers and everything else is cloth. It creates more laundry for me (and I can’t wait to be done washing diapers) but it saves us money, and it’s good for the earth! Win/win!

– House cleaning. We don’t have someone clean our house. I’d love to, but I’m worried that once I get used to a house cleaner my standards will become higher than I could meet on my own (I’m a HORRIBLE housekeeper, just dreadful).

– Music and movies. I used to spend a ton on music and movies (oh my god, why did I buy so many DVDs?!) but I don’t anymore (it’s been maybe four years since I bought a CD or DVD). I probably see 3-4 movies on the big screen a year. I used to take my daughter to pretty much every new kids’ movie that came out, but we’re realizing she can’t handle the sensory input of a big screen (and big speakers) so we’re imposing a moratorium on that as well. At home we watch what’s on Netflix or Hulu (we don’t have cable) and I find those subscriptions to be very reasonable.

– Vacations. We don’t take vacations, at least not the kind where you pay to stay. We see my extended family every year or two in St. Louis, but my parents help us pay for that airfare (because they know we can’t afford it and wouldn’t go otherwise). I took my daughter to Disneyland for two days (we drove) last year. We head to San Diego every other year (again, driving) and stay with friends for a long weekend. Sometimes (every 2-3 years?) I’ll see a friend who lives far away. That is the extent of our travel.

– One car. We only have one car. It not only saves us money on the actual car, but on the second insurance policy we don’t need, along with all the oil changes, new tires and other maintenance costs we avoid. Having one car saves us a lot of money. We hope to remain a one-car family forever. (Hence my current cargo-bike infatuation… 😉

– Public schools. We’ll be sending our kids to public schools and that is going to save us a pretty penny (that we don’t actually have to send our kids to private school, so the choice was an easy one). I can’t wait until they are both in public schools. Four (maybe three!) years and counting…

– Tenant. We have a tenant whose rent helps us pay our mortgage. We could not have afforded this house without that added income. It’s been a great way for us to afford a house in a very expensive city.

So there are some ways we excel at saving money. It’s not much, but it’s worth mentioning, especially when I’m picking apart every little mistake I make in the spending department. Sometimes it’s nice to shine a light on what we’re doing right.

What are some ways you excel at saving money?


  1. I love reading how others save money. Your one car solution is a huge savings!

    Brian m makes his own soaps and does baking soda for his “hair” like you. He started it as a way to save $ but it’s now a nice hobby too. The soap he makes dries out my body, but I use it for my face, which is a good savings for us. I was about to start buying the good stuff and he asked me to try this. SOLD.

    We only have Netflix and Amazon prime. We stuck it to the cable people… Their prices are horrendous!

    You’re good at saving! What’s getting you is normal stuff.

    1. Makes his own soaps, huh? Interesting. Maybe I should look into that…

      Also I forgot that we also have Amazon Prime (we decided to try it when it was way on sale one month) but we almost never use the digital content so I think we’re not going to renew it.

      1. There’s some suggestions in the Willpower book. But essentially the two main things are: 1. Promise yourself you can have things later, and 2. Don’t think of deprivation, think of what you’re doing instead– instead of focusing on what you can’t do, get a big list of free things that you can do, instead of saying I can’t have this, think, what else fills this perceived need (that’s from the Habit book, actually).

  2. Rarely eat out; were a great clips family/I dye my own hair; no pedi/mani; we’ll be doing public school and saving the money for college; no house cleaner tho I really wish we could afford this; we cut the cord and have only Hulu and Netflix. Rarely vacation tho I want to increase this–we took no vacs for years saving leave for my maternity leaves/infertility treatments. We drive hybrids so we save gas money. We try to do free stuff with the kids whenever possible. We go to the library a lot and I try to buy used books when I can (, thriftbooks).

    1. “We try to do free stuff with the kids whenever possible.” This is what I need to work on. I renew our four memberships almost every year and that costs a pretty penny. I definitely go to all of the places WAY more than is needed to make the membership worth my while, but I should probably try to cut one a year and do other, freer things, in place of that activity.

  3. I’m pretty good at resisting the latest and greatest gadgets. I have very good delayed gratification skills. We’ve cut the cable cord. We don’t have landlines. We eat at home most of the time. I buy used clothing on Ebay. I hate clutter.

  4. Interesting. And fun to see how people save:

    Our biggest (long term) way of saving is actually a big “cost” each month: We have 15 year mortgage AND we pay extra on it- but we will have our mortgage paid off in just somewhere between 10-11 years from when we bought our house saving us a LOT of interest, so while it’s a lot of money going out every month it will save us in the long run.

    No mani/pedi’s here either but we won’t talk about my hair expenses. 🙂

    We spend very little on car/gas etc. because we both telecommute. In fact I routinely have to FIGHT with our car insurance because they don’t believe we could put so few miles on our car every 6 months.

    I’m a bargain shopper.

    We don’t vacation. We might spend a night in the city around our anniversary this fall because we have concert tickets and it’s a longish/late drive to come home after. That would be highly unusual for us but it’s a once in a lifetime concert. 🙂

    And, I’m trying really hard to make sure we actually eat at home a couple nights a week- doesn’t sound like much but it’s not something we’ve made a habit of, and since my husband actively doesn’t like home cooking it makes it hard.

    1. We did a refi to 15 years last year. We can’t currently pay extra but knowing it’ll be paid in at least 14 years plus saving all that interest is good.

      1. That is so awesome. I very much wish we could afford a 15 year mortgage but ours is already so big. At least we have a really low interest rate. That is something…

    2. I’m so jealous of your 15 year mortgage! I SOOOOO wish we could afford one. We have a REALLY low interest rate (3.25%) but a big mortgage and we’ll be paying a shit ton in interest over the next 30 years. Blerg.

  5. I love it! I also am good with cosmetics and skincare, my friends are getting glam bags of make up every month and I’m like soooo I’ve had this eye shadow since my wedding…and I really don’t ever wear it. I’m just not interested in it. I wear $4 Palmers cocobutter lotion that G says makes me smell like cake, you can’t beat that. Clothes I rarely buy compared to most I know, are always on sale and during our super poor years, I didn’t buy at all. I’ve never bought jewelry, although I do have a watch I end up buying every damn year. Why I can’t I find one that works?! We spend $5 a month on pandora, no other music bought, we have an extensive movie collection, but don’t buy many anymore, and only go about once a year. We took G to see Brave in the theater and the 3 story tall mama bear roaring ruined her for life it seems. I clean my own house. The last thing is I have been very blessed to have an enthusiastic roommate and husband with short attention spans that I’ve been able to collect a significant amounts of weights for working out so I don’t have to join a gym or take classes with little cost to me, yay!!

  6. I find this interesting too! I’ve never had a facial or my eyebrows done or a manicure (and I’ve only had a pedicure once for my sister’s wedding). I get a nice haircut about twice a year and don’t do hair color. I now spend a god-awful amount on skincare products but I’m finally not embarrassed of my face so I’ll take that hit. We used to have a once-a-month house cleaner but don’t anymore, and we’re pretty thrifty on clothes, music, movies, books. We needed to upgrade to two cars when we moved to Denver, but I walk from my daughter’s daycare to work so I don’t have parking expenses. We’ll be doing public school when E hits Kindergarten too – can’t wait to be rid of the daycare expense!

    1. Not having the daycare expense right now has been amazing. I can’t believe I have to start all over paying that again with another kid. Blerg…

  7. I love this. We went from a reasonably high two-person income several years ago, to no income a year or so ago. Whilst we have savings, those savings are supposed to pay for our retirement. And we don’t have nearly enough yet. So I’m now much more aware of what we spend, and where we spend it. I constantly forget how much we save as a one-car household. Thanks for the reminder.

    I’ve gone from buying pretty much whatever I want, to watching my pennies. I’ve cut down on entertainment expenses, we don’t eat out nearly as much, I’m borrowing e-books from the library rather than buying them (and probably reading more, because if I don’t finish a book, it disappears from my iPad), and I’m wearing the clothes I have, rather than buying new ones (and if I have to, I’m buying at the cheaper stores). If I focus on what I’m missing out on (travel, fine dining, etc), I’d be quite depressed. (And I am, sometimes). But if I focus on the positives of what I’m achieving, then it helps.

    The thing that is encouraging is realising how much I can save by simply thinking about it and making a bit of an effort. You’re an inspiration in that regard. Even the small savings I can make at the supermarket by paying attention to the unit costs, and buying the cheaper size of product (often the smaller ones, surprisingly) make me feel that it’s okay to have that bagel for lunch or a coffee. That’s the hardest of all this I think – the guilt when we spend money.

    So I’m glad you pointed out the parts of this that you’re really good at! You should pat yourself on the back for that. I hope taking pride in this makes the harder part of saving a bit easier.

    1. Are you finding it hard to have a good (positive) attitude about going from buying whatever you want to counting your pennies? It’s hard for me. And then I feel like a spoiled, entitled brat that it’s so hard. Blerg.

  8. As Mali said, when you lose your job (as both dh & I did over the past few years), you quickly become much more aware of what you’re spending and where. Luckily, we’ve always been pretty good about saving money and living relatively frugally. We’ve never fallen into the trap of keeping up with the Joneses and needing to have the latest & greatest, thankfully. We’ve stayed in our little house for 25 years and our mortgage is paid off. We just have one car (although I don’t really drive anyway) & it’s 12 years old. We still have a picture tube TV (13 years old) and our cellphones are 8-year-old basic, non-smart flip-phone models. We’ve never travelled a whole lot or taken expensive vacations (although we’re hoping that changes soon!) — most of our vacations have been spent visiting my parents, although we’ve had to spend a few thousand dollars a year on airplane tickets to do that (airline travel is much more expensive within Canada than it is in the States!). The last big reno project we undertook was redoing our bathroom six years ago, and stepBIL did the work for us (we did pay him, but a lot less than if we’d had to hire someone else). My fridge & stove are 25 years old (knocking wood…!).

    We do “waste” a lot of money in some ways — we have our indulgences. We still have a landline (not quite ready to give it up), although we did recently renegotiate a better long distance plan with our phone company. We have dinner out once a week on Saturday night, but we rarely order appetizers, alcohol or dessert, unless it’s a special occasion. We spend a lot of money on reading material (books, magazines & newspapers), although I’ve been trying to think more carefully about my purchases these days. And I have a weakness for cosmetics & skin care products, although since I’ve been out of work, I’ve been trying to use up my stash before I buy anything new (and I’ve hardly worn makeup since leaving work anyway). Ditto clothes — I have a closet full of nice clothes that aren’t getting worn these days, so I haven’t bought much over the past year — although I have indulged in the occasional cheap T-shirt from Old Navy, etc. 😉

    One thing I’ve done to save money is to dump all the change out of my purse at night. Every now & then, I’ll sort & roll it up and take it to the bank. It’s like found money, and it adds up fast (especially here in Canada, where we have $1 and $2 coins!). I used this money to pay for dinner on our first wedding anniversary, and to buy our first microwave, early in our marriage.

    1. My mom used to let me keep the change that fell from my dad’s pants into the couch. One month I got $47, which was a FORTUNE in the 80’s. 😉 Now we separate the quarters from the rest of the change and keep it in the car for parking meters. I’m so glad I don’t need to save them for laundry machines anymore (I used to go to the bank and change $200 into quarters when we had to use the laundry mat!)

      It sounds like you have made A LOT of REALLY smart financial decisions over the years. My father also lost his job at 60 and spent 5 years trying to find another one because they were not prepared for him to retire. Now he’s finally back working and my mom is hoping to retire in three years (she meant to three years ago at 62 but couldn’t because of my dad’s job loss), so I’ve seen how job loss late in life can REALLY mess up retirement plans. It makes me want to be in a good place (like you guys were) in case something like that happens to us.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *