The Frugal Lifestyle

I’ll admit I used to think frugality was a distasteful lifestyle forced upon the poor. I believed “frugal” was synonymous with never buying new clothes and dumpster diving under the cover of night.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. And learn I did—and continue to learn—that is the path to building wealth on any income.

I’d say the most fun I’ve had learning the fine art of frugality has been in reading The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

Webster’s defines “frugal” as behavior characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources. The opposite is “wasteful,” a lifestyle marked by lavish spending and hyperconsumption. Wealth has nothing to do with how much you earn, but what you do with it and how much you keep.

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Thanks for Asking—You’re 1 in a 1000!

Years ago I had an editor who told me that I should value highly every letter I receive because each one represents 1,000 readers with the same question or comment. Honestly, I was skeptical because there was no way to prove such a thing. But I never forgot what she said.

This many years later, I’m a believer! How do I measure? By the number of thanks I get after the fact, when I do respond to those readers who take the time to write. It’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I needed to know!” or “I was just going to write and ask the same thing.”

A regular, albeit random, feature of this column—EC’s Best Inexpensive—has begun to bring a lot of mail in the form of reader requests for their particular item of interest.

And so for Jeannine, Francine and Brenda—and the 999 others who haven’t asked yet—here are the EC picks for Best Inexpensive hairdryer, electric mixers and clothes steamers.

HAIR DRYER: Conair 1875 Watt with Cord Keeper. This hairdryer has it all and by “all” I mean the things on my particular must-have list: three levels of heat, two speeds, cool shot button, diffuser attachment and retractable cord (awesome). This is a powerful dryer that comes in a choice of two cool colors. About $35. 

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Refinance Credit-Card Debt? Short Sell an Auto? Yes and No!

These days, with so many resources available given the proliferation of the Internet, it’s not always easy to know who to trust.

After all, if you can refinance your home mortgage, it makes sense you should be able to do that with your credit-card debt and auto loan too, right? Well, yes and no.

Dear Mary: With your guidance, I have successfully refinanced my credit-card debt with a P2P (peer-to-peer) loan from Prosper. I’m still surprised by how easy that was.

I have three credit-card accounts that totaled $7,523. The minute the Prosper loan proceeds hit my bank account I went online and paid each of these accounts to $0.

Now I have these three credit-card accounts at $0 balance, plus a new Prosper installment loan. I have two questions: 1) How will this affect my FICO Score, which was 720 when I applied to Prosper and  2) Should I close the credit-card accounts? Jonathan

Dear Jonathan: This move could actually improve your credit score. Because you have $0 balances on your credit-card accounts, your current “revolving utilization rate” is at 0 percent which in credit-score talk is perfect. That means you are utilizing none of the credit limits on those open-ended credit accounts. That should boost your FICO score because 30 percent of your score is based on your revolving utilization rate. The lower your rate the more points you get in that category. 

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The No-Scrub Method for Sparkling Clean Coffee Carafes and More Great Reader Tips

There exist all kinds of methods for cleaning glass coffee carafes—most of them brought to us by hard working, super experienced restaurant servers. Who better to know how to get things done fast and efficiently?

I thought I’d heard every method, too—that is until I heard from Laurie. I’ll be the first to say she’s right on. I love it—and would add caution that you make sure you don’t  splash bleach on that cute apron or beautiful kitchen towels. That’s the challenge with bleach in the kitchen.

SUPER CLEAN. After years of scouring, scrubbing and scratching hundreds of coffee carafés, I have discovered an absolutely miraculous cleaning method that you will not believe. Fill coffee carafé a few inches from the top with water. Add 1/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach. Add exactly 2 drops of blue Dawn (no more, no less). Top it off with water so it’s all the way t the top. Do not scrub. Within 10 minutes your pot will be sparkling—like new. Rinse well with clear water. This would have saved me lots and lots of time, many pounds of salt, bushels of ice cubes and endless elbow grease if I had come across it sooner. Laurie

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Reader Feedback: Instant Pot, Home Chef, Etiquette, Tap Water

I have the most loyal and responsive readers on earth. Every day I can count on my inbox filling up with your opinions, reactions, gratitude, funny stories, arguments and even an occasional rebuke from a reader who lets me have it!

What really gets my attention is when I receive hundreds of responses to a single post. That’s when I know we’re on to something. Here’s a tiny sampling to show you what I’m talking about.

INSTANT POT 

My new Instant Pot sat in the box for a few weeks. I wasn’t sure what to do with it and maybe I was a little scared. Thanks for pushing me to give it a try. I joined the Instant Pot Community online and now I’m so comfortable using it. That group is wonderful and I’ve learned so much. You’re right—Instant Pot is amazing. Now I use it every day to make at least one meal. It has paid for itself more than once by now. I’m hooked on Instant Pot! Sally

Please remind everyone to read 10 Common Mistakes You Can Avoid as New Instant Pot User before they even open the box. I made mistake #1, foolishly. IP Customer Service helped me rescue my IP. Colleen

I love my Instant Pot so much I gave one to my daughter-in-law for her birthday. Let’s just say that was the best money I could have spent. Molly

Thanks for this post about Instant Pot. I am getting acquainted with mine, and I just made yogurt! I loved that heating the milk to the right temp was preset and I didn’t have stand over the stove watching to see that the milk didn’t actually boil. And then I could just stick the thermometer in and do other things while the temp dropped to 110F. Then I mixed the starter (left over from store bought plain yogurt) and poured the milk into glass jars and set the pot again. It worked great! JM

HOME CHEF  

For the first time in my life, I look forward to making dinner when we have a Home Chef meal kit in the fridge. My 15-year old son and I do it together (a miracle right there) just like we’re on TV. Even better, we love everything about the food. Myria

Haven’t been in a restaurant or take-out joint since meeting your Home Chef. Kudos and many thanks. William

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Second Hand Clothes, First-Class Style

Consignment shopping is an excellent way to purchase kids and baby clothes, often brand new and for less than one-third of the retail price. Most cities these days have specialty consignment shops for babies, children and teens, too.

The consignment process is simple. If you are a seller, the store sets its criteria for accepting merchandise, and sets the price—usually 50 percent of the new retail price.

Expect a consignment shop to have very high standards for what they will accept: Must be a current style, must be brought in clean and must have no visible wear, holes or stains. You bring your items to the store to be reviewed and submitted for sale. Because most stores have limited hours for this process, be sure to call ahead.

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A Quick Fix to Keep the Plumber Away

If you’ve ever called a plumber to unclog a drain, you know it’s not cheap. Certainly there are times when the clogged drain is beyond a quick do-it-yourself solution, requiring the skills of a professional. But many times, according to my inbox, a simple gadget and a modicum of know-how can avoid an expensive house call.

DRAIN CLEANING TOOL. I read the tip from the reader who used a bamboo skewer to remove hair from the drain. Sounds OK, but there is actually a tool made just for this task. It’s very cheap—about $3. It has a little handle at the top, is about 18-inches long and has a fish-hook type of end. You simply push it into the drain, snag the tangled hair and fish it right back out. My granddaughter was constantly calling her apartment manager to get her bathroom drains unplugged, plus using lots of drain cleaner. I sent her one of these little gadgets and she has been drain-clear ever since. Diana

Note: The tool Diana refers to is a Zip-it Drain Snake Cleaner. Check the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store. Or get a pack of three for about $7 online. I did, used it to check every drain in the house and wow, this thing is amazing.  -mh  

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How to Move from Overspending to Spending Less

Even the mention of words like frugality and thrift send some people over the edge because, for them, those words conjure up thoughts of poverty and deprivation.

They assume that cutting costs is tantamount to diving into dumpsters to find one’s next meal. No wonder so many people prefer a life of debilitating debt to one of frugality.

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Let me set the record straight. Please.

There is nothing undignified about spending less than you earn. That’s called living below your means, and it’s a fabulous way to live! When you spend less than you earn, you have some to save. And to give away, too. When you spend less than you earn, you are not dependent on credit to get by. It is a very good thing.

So you may be wondering how you can move from overspending to spending less, without giving up your quality of life. It starts with prioritizing everything according to how important it is to your life. Then only spend on things at the top of the list, ruthlessly cutting your spending on the things that don’t matter.

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