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Living frugal but looking rich

You know those people who can afford to travel, to pay cash for their cars and to buy homes? Not all of them are wealthy.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 7, 2013 11:51AM

Logo: Portrait of a young woman, finger on lips (Pascal Broze, ONOKY, Getty Images) You hear a lot of gripes about the lack of willpower among 20-somethings. How they can't control their spending. How they shop recreationally and constantly. How they're up to their hairlines in student debt but still go out to eat every night. Most of all, how they gripe about being broke -- while sitting in coffeehouses texting friends from 5G phones.

It's not often that you hear it from a 20-something, however.

In this post on Budgets Are Sexy, blogger J. Money shares an e-mail rant from his friend Tiffany A., who's gotten some attitude from co-workers about her love of travel.

 

"Oh, you are so lucky -- you must be rich," they say.

Tiffany doesn't see it that way. Here's an excerpt from her self-described "rant":

"What frustrates me most about people my age is that they spend their money frivolously on stuff that doesn't really matter in the end. In my opinion, if you do that -- then it's your own fault you don't have more money!

"Harsh but true. $30 manicures 2-3x a month and eating out 4-5x a week? If that's your choice, fine, but don't come crying to me saying you have no money … It just doesn't make sense to me. I know I am more disciplined than most but this isn't rocket science!"

Tiffany turned 23 earlier this week. Right now she's working 60 to 70 hours a week: Starbucks barista, fast food shift supervisor and an occasional gig testing online coupons. She'll keep up that pace until late August, at which point she'll study in France for four months, as part of a master's degree program in "global innovation."

She still finds time to go out -- "just not every night" -- and to meet with friends. She just started a blog, Extraordinary Reasons, that will focus on personal finance for young adults.

'You're responsible for your own choices'

Tiffany acknowledges that she received two very significant advantages: Her parents were very frugal (her mother in particular modeled a watch-your-spending mentality) and they set aside money for their daughter's education.

Thanks to a college job and an employer-backed scholarship, Tiffany knew she wouldn't need all the money. A couple of years ago she put down a chunk of the fund on a downturn-discounted condo in her college town. Rent from three of the four bedrooms covers the mortgage, taxes and upkeep.

Is she "so lucky" and "rich"? Yes and no. Tiffany was given advantages but is working to make the most of them. If college money hadn't been available she'd still have had the job and the scholarship -- and she'd have opted to room with others to keep costs low after graduation.

"You're responsible for your own choices and your own consequences," she says.

The 70-hour workweek won't fly for everyone, obviously. In some regions it can be tough to find even one full-time job, and most people need more down time. Tiffany says she just likes to work, and that she chose her second job because it satisfies her love of good coffee and the coffeehouse atmosphere. (One of the job's perks, as it were, is a free weekly pound of beans.)

Strategy, not penance

No matter how many hours you work it's vital to live below your means, not at them. Some people live paycheck-to-paycheck because they aren't paid enough to keep up with the basics of living. Others spend every dime because they can't see any further than this weekend's activities.

You're not cheating yourself by choosing a frugal lifestyle. Living intentionally means eliminating the buy-buy-buy mindset that will keep debts coming. Taking control of your finances means taking control of your life.

That doesn't mean a life of lack. You can look rich while living frugally. Inexpensive ways exist to house, clothe, feed and entertain yourself. Tiffany brown-bags her lunch and shops at Goodwill -- but she also travels outside the United States every year.

This is strategy, not penance. It's done for a specific goal. In Tiffany's case, that's to leverage her work ethic and, yes, her initial advantage into a debt-free adulthood.

It can be tough to be frugal in your 20s. Your peers spend every penny (and then some) while you make careful decisions to achieve specific financial goals -- dreams that sometimes seem awfully far away.

But you are responsible for only your own choices, not theirs. Ten years from now they'll be wishing they'd been a little more intentional about their spending.

More on MSN Money:

59Comments
Mar 7, 2013 12:41PM
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20-somethings aren't the only ones who could benefit from Tiffany's attitude of being frugal in some areas to afford what's important to you in others. Many parents of young and school aged kids feel "broke", yet have their kids in every imaginable sport, scouting group or hobby; those piano lessons don't come cheap. Meals out are common with pinched after-activity evening hours. Little Zane and Emma are dressed to the nines from Zulily or pick-a-retailer of cute kids clothes. It's no longer uncommon for a 9 year old to have an iPod or iPad, as well as his own computer or her own Wii gaming system. By middle school, many kids have their own cell phones. Which is fine... but might be why mom & dad feel "broke".
Mar 7, 2013 1:01PM
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I had learned to live frugal so my kids wll have a better future, lots of people make fun and talk behind my back concerning my lifestyle but at the end of the year I am the one going on non expensive vacations and having a great time . My 10  year old daughter can give you an explanaton of what a foreclosure is ,I want to teach them young so they do not make the same mistakes I did when young.finally i got it right and I LOVE my new lifestyle  everyday. My kids look good and are happy that is what life is all about  : )

 

Mar 7, 2013 9:24PM
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I wish I had been smarter about money when I was younger.Tiffany is a great example of making the most of her opportunities and a fine example of living intentionally.

Even though I consider myself a recent convert to a more frugal lifestyle, like Tiffany my husband and I have been able to travel outside of the US every year since 2008 when I clipped my first coupon after a long hiatus.

I have had to endure snide remarks about my cheapness when I decline most events at work that cost over $20. I go to the local beauty school for personal care and shop at yard sales and thrift stores. I clip coupons for most grocery items and barter with friends for things I might like to have but don't want to spend the money on.

My husband was sick with cancer last year. He's healthy but with that disease it's best to hit all of the locations on his bucket list without delay. To me, that's more important than hoisting a brew with people who don't matter as much to me as he does.


Mar 7, 2013 11:23PM
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There is a couple in the neighborhood that are up to their eyeballs in MAJOR debt....2 mortgages, personal loans and credit cards up the wazoo, kids they spend many thousands a year on, no savings, spend every dime they make and then much more....yet they are leaving tomorrow on a resort vacation in the Caribbean.  And they have the gall to brag about it.  LOL.  They snicker at the neighbors who don't spend like drunken fools and who actually have a large amount of savings and college for the kids worked out.  All the while, they don't know that others are laughing at them.  Idiots.
Mar 7, 2013 6:21PM
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I can totally relate to what Tiffany A said. I used to travel overseas to exotic locals so often that I had to add extra pages to my passport to accomodate all the visa stamps. And, just like Tiffany's friends, some people I knew would look at it as a waste of money for someone with my limited income. But then I explain to them that for what they might spend a year on cigarettes, or sodas and sweets, I could take a nice two week vacation in Thailand or Bali. I’d rather have a nice relaxing vacation in paradise once or twice a year than a costly and unhealthy habit. Most people constantly waste money on small things that they don’t even think about, like expensive Starbucks coffee for example, and they rarely think of what those costs actually add up to over the course of a year. Anyway travel is important to me so that’s what I spend my money on.

Mar 7, 2013 7:00PM
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Spending foolishly spans every age bracket. I have an older friend in his 70s that I worked with and some of the things he does with his money makes me wonder where he learned about money. He wants everyone to think he is frugal and smart with his money but when it comes down to it he does things that he says are smart but in the end costs him much more. He had the opportunity to invest in the company 401k but didn't. Then he complained about having to pay taxes on his mineral rights checks. I put money into the 401k for 30 years and it is earning 2x what I make now and he thinks I am lying. He put his name on his aunt's property and bank accounts when she became ill and he stated he was expecting to get that money as a windfall because she wouldn't live long. She went into a nursing home and outlived her money and he ended up paying for it out of his own pocket. He bought 2 cars that are large V8 rear wheel drive luxury cars and then complains about how much he spends on fuel and insurance. He got a new roof with a 30 warranty and 7 years later he replaces it after one hail storm because it was "about to fall off" even though it wasn't missing any shingles and wasn't leaking. Complained about that because the warranty wouldn't pay for the replacement. He spends close to $1000 a year on chemicals for his yard and waters it every day at a cost of $300-$400 a month and complains about what it takes to maintain his yard. We live in an extreme drought area and he will even pay the daily fines for watering and then complains about how the city can't find enough water to supply the needs of the citizens. He buys and pays for cell phones for his grand kids and then thinks the phone company is charging too much and he then deletes his wife's phone from their plan. She was furious. Hey, these kids have parents that are working. Let them pay for it. He got mad at his internet provider because the rates jumped but what it was the promotion period ended and the normal rates kicked in. His reaction was to drop it and sign up for dial-up internet. That costs him about $7 more per month than the most basic high speed internet from his former provider. This behavior is being passed on to younger generations and the media seems to promote it too. It doesn't matter what you really have or who you really are as long as it appears that you are doing well. My self worth is not based on the external perception of others. I would rather be slow and steady than ride to bankruptcy court in a fancy car and dressed to kill. In the end I will see and do everything I want and still have something left over to more.

Mar 8, 2013 11:15AM
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I have a nephew in college who has a kitchen right in his dorm--he can make his own meals, and yet his mother goes to his college every weekend to take him out to dinner, because the college campus caffeteria is closed and he is "hungry".  She herself is on food stamps and can get him groceries, but he refuses to make his own meals.  Not even a sandwich.  He refuses to do the work study program because he plays baseball, he won't help her around the house to earn his spending money that she gives him.  She puts gas in his car every 2 weeks, and yet wants to "hire" my son to paint her living room, because her own son won't lift a finger.  To me, it is totally her own doing that this kid is a spoiled brat.  She totally caters to this kid's every whim, and won't let him be responsible for himself.  She even took time off of work to sit in court half a day because he got a traffic ticket.  Talk about setting someone up for failure.
Mar 8, 2013 12:33AM
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I'm laughing at the comments here because I can so relate!  All the people I know who cry poverty all the time are huge spenders, but they don't even see what they are doing.  And they are always the ones who brag about their spending too.  I have friends who are a married couple - they actually spent $1,000 on Valentine's Day this year for each other.  Keep in mind this couple has huge student loan debt and is constantly stressed out and fighting about money because they can barely make their minimum payments on everything.  It never seems to stop them from going out for dinner a couple times a week though!  And I have a neighbor who almost lost his home last year to foreclosure (luckily he was able to restructure his loan and keep it), but then this year just bought his 16 year old son a brand new car - not used, brand new - he said it's because his son gets good grades so he deserves it!  LOL - how funny that kids are rewarded now for things that were naturally expected of them many years ago - and what in the world is this man thinking?!  I just watch all these people and shake my head - and learn what not to do from them. 
Mar 8, 2013 1:29AM
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Wise thinking for this youthful girl!  I especially like what she said :
"What frustrates me most about people my age is that they spend their money frivolously on stuff that doesn't really matter in the end. In my opinion, if you do that -- then it's your own fault you don't have more money!"    . . . .  and her name "Tiffany" is so ironic for her point of view.  Good going Tiff!
Mar 11, 2013 11:31AM
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Good for Tiffany for learning how to be frugal. However, I get tired of only reading about stories like this.  What about the individuals who had to overcome odds to become good with money?  First, Tiffany's parents gave her an edge. How many people can really afford to go to college without paying a dime? My parents were not really broke but they weren't very "college-minded" and my mom is HORRIBLE with money so that was my shining example as a child growing up.

 

My mom has asked me for money 4 times in the past year alone.  After she found out I got a promotion and a new job, she has been asking for money like a hound.  I am always afraid to talk to her because I know she will ask for money time I am a little nice to her.  Her incessant need to spend everyone else's money definitely ruins the relationship we should have as mother and daughter.  Which is also now affecting her relationship with her grandchildren because I don't like to talk to her and have to explain why I can't support her when I have my own two children to raise. 

 

She feels entitled to everyone's money...her friends, family members and especially her children.  She talks like you are the "lucky" one who she would even consider "borrowing" from.  She asks to borrow money and you know you will NEVER see it again.  She comes up with elaborate stories to borrow money.  She asks for even small amounts of money (probably to see how much she can get out of you before she asks for larger amounts).  It would cost me more money to send her "gas" money via Western Union and I wonder why she can't save even $40?  Every time my mom asks me for money, I feel like she is sucking the life out of me.  I can't stand it.  I always wonder why she isn't doing better financially when she has worked for so many years.  And she has GREAT Federal jobs that pay well.  She has had better financial chances than anyone I know.  She has come into A LOT of money, not once but TWICE and she ran through it all  I, honestly, feel like she has a mental illness and needs help.  I try to educate her about money but I know my mother and she has other problems that I am not even qualified to help her with.  And I have come to terms that most people really don't change.  Some just flat out refuse to even when they can see their life choices are not good.  My mom is going on 60 years old and still has her hand out.  She ran through my money when I was a teenager.  My dad sent me money for a new car and my mom spent it all.  She never paid me back.  She has been asking me for money since I left the house and began working.  I was making next to nothing in the Army, she was at the Post Office...making more than me and asking for money.

 

My dad isn't horrible with money but he never educated us on what to do with our money. My parents were just happy when their 3 kids (who they saved no money for over 18+ years) moved out of the house after high school. 

 

I left the house not even knowing what a credit report was or an APR.  I definitely taught myself everything I needed to know about money and now I feel it is my duty to continue to teach myself so I am never broke.

Mar 11, 2013 9:40AM
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This is definitely not just about 20-somethings not being able to control themselves; this is a country-wide problem. People that make poor decisions with their money tend to do so their entire lives. Point in case I was making apurchase at a gas station where there was a late 30's attendant. I overheard her complaining about how broke she was and in the same breath commented about how excited she was to get her tax refund back so she could get three new pairs of shoes. Its a lack of financial intelligence within our society. I'm a firm believer that fianancial courses should be taught in schoo as a requirement for graduation.  

Mar 9, 2013 9:41AM
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Wise words spoken by a 23 yr old.  I did exactly the same thing she did in my 20's and 30's, minus the free college because my parents were dirt poor.  Nevertheless, I'm still 15 yrs from retirement and several million dollars in the bank.  I've traveled to many Countries, have a nice home, no debt,  3 cars and a motorcycle.  It's not hard to do if you live below your means.
Mar 9, 2013 3:35AM
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People are amazed at how much they waste each year and how far that money would go in tracel - and in warm times of the year.  Before I retired, a co-worker asked me how I could afford to travel to Egypt, China, France, Holy Land, Alaska Cruise, Mediterranean Cruise, etc. on my salary.  I pointed out that I brought in a 25 oz thermos of coffee each day instead of sending out to 7-11, I brought my own Pepsi's for 20+ cents a 12 oz. can instead of paying $1 in the vending machines, and most days I brown bagged lunch or brought in a Banquet 10 oz frozen dinner for $1 instead of going out to McDonalds etc.  And if you added up the average $7/day difference in what I spent and he spent over just 200 days, that $1400 per year would nearly pay for a trip for two to the French Riviera, including airfare from Baltimore, with 4-days at Cannes including a hotel right on La Croisette (the road that runs along the beach).  Or it would pay for a Caribbean Cruise for two each year or a 3-day trip to Hawaii for two each year - both including airfare.  Or, every other year, it would pay for several days for two in Italy, France, British Isles, etc.  Check out sites like budgettravel.com and you'll be amazed at how cheap it is through legit companies.  A quick check now includes: "", "", "
Mar 8, 2013 7:26AM
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I think one of the most reasonable ways of saving money is just cutting out anything you do that's habit forming or addictive. Stuff like nicotine and caffeine adds up like crazy, and none of them actually do anything for you. Nicotine plain old kills you and is super expensive, and caffeine is pointless once you start chugging it. What you're doing at that point is the same as with cigarettes, you're basically feeding a habit. Trying to keep the negative effects of an addiction at a minimum. Body screams for nicotine/caffeine and you light up or chug, or both.
 
This gets even dumber when you see people buying hella expensive coffee all time time. That's like buying meth in a beautifully adorned single use glass pipe.
 
I've been extremely aware of the addictiveness of stuff and I just never got into coffee or smoking. Didn't even drink alcohol until I was in my early 30s. Already addicted to chocolate so I know I'd get hooked on pretty much anything else with ease. If you have poor impulse control, never EVER start chugging coffe/smoking/certain drugs/etc. My parents both smoke and are broke all the time. Not unreasonable to assume that 1/10 of you salary might get chewed up by habits, and that's a LOT of money you could spend on something far more constructive. If you add eating out to the equation you're way past 1/10 of your salary if you're making money at a level where living frugally is even something you're considering.

Mar 11, 2013 11:33AM
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People shouldn't hate on other people for doing the things they love because chances are, you spend money on things that you "love" and a lot of us can't have it all. If you want to travel more, give up the cigarette habit. But for my family, we LIKE keeping our sons in sports and giving them a wonderful childhood. We like going out to eat once a week for Family Night. We LOVE our life and don't regret what we spend our money on. Everyone has their choice. Neither choice is worse or better, in my opinion. You worked for the money, spend it on what you want to spend it on. Life is short. Do you. No need to be mean to anyone for spending their money the way they see fit unless they are putting you down for going on vacations or coming to you, constantly, looking for a handout.

 

This is my two cents. I wish everyone the best of luck of being financially-savvy!

Mar 11, 2013 5:36AM
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Living frugally is really the best way to live. But most Americans just can't control themselves. Gotta have the best and bigger of things. The car, the house, the clothes, the fine dining....and of course, cell phones.

I chose to own a pre-paid tracfone over a year ago. I have saved nearly $1600 in that time, compared with a "normal" cell phone. Who needs the internet, and movies and email on their phone? It's a waste of money.

Mar 8, 2013 12:19PM
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Well done Tiffany.  Sadly, in 10 years, the masses that laugh at you today will be screaming for Justice, demanding the gov't make make you pay your "fair share" since you are unfairly advantaged.  The White House will happily tell you that you got there through their benevolence, not your work weeks that are double standard length, and many work far less than standard by choice.  Your investments will be confiscated and you will continue to rent most of your modest home to make ends meet while you indirectly finance the chainsmoking, food stamps using, muscle car/SUV driving McMansion living behind on the payments btu can't be evicted people who are laughing at you today.
Mar 8, 2013 3:43PM
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When I was just out of college, a friend took a full time job in a dicey neighborhood and rented a charming but cheap apartment in the same area.  He rarely ate out and spent almost nothing on transportation, and saved as much as he could to indulge his passion, skiing in Switzerland every winter.  He totally atisfied with his then-lifestyle, and I'm sure his focus has served him well in the subsequent decades.
Mar 11, 2013 11:37AM
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My posts will make more sense if you read from my first posts then go up.  MSN does not allow individuals to post very long posts.  Nevertheless, I am very passionate about finances after I first came to MSN Money's website almost 10 years ago and begin to learn the beauty of saving a buck instead of spending every dime I had and then some (credit cards)....

 

To this day, it is still one of my favorite financial websites to learn about financial choices I have to make as I get older.  Thank you, MSN Money for making learning about money not so painful and relatable.

 

Have a good one, everyone!

 

Mar 11, 2013 11:32AM
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I went into the military to pay for my way through college and buy my first car. There are plenty of things I wish I would have done differently but I didn't have "frugal parents" to teach me how to manage money. I learned the hard way by falling on my face a few times over the years as a teenager then young adult. After falling on my face enough, I am now working on becoming debt-free and creating an emergency savings. I am 30 years old with 2 kids and live with their father. We are trying to buy our first home, nothing special but something we can call our own and write off of our taxes each year. We both worked really hard since we left our parents' homes and now we, apparently, make too much money to qualify for any tax credits, benefits, etc. We are both hardworkers with retirement plans. We are frugal with our 2 sons which can be interesting because our children are greedy like most children. They see their friends with everything so they want everything. I bought my sons some new sneakers yesterday because their old sneakers were beginning to stink. After just buying them sneakers, my oldest asked if they could go to McDonald's. I asked him, "Do you have McDonald's money?" And gave him my usual lecture that money doesn't grow on trees. He may be tired of the speech but I teach them about money and have been teaching them since they can open their eyes. My sons will thank me later.

It's sad because my family still leeches off of each other and me. My mom has asked me for money about 4 times in the past year. I NEVER loan her money. How can I ever succeed financially if I am supporting my household, my mom's household (where she lives with NO kids and a deadbeat husband who hasn't worked in years), my sister's household (single mom with 3 kids who refuses to get a higher education even though she has the GI Bill like I did) and my brother's household (he just got out of the military, has NO job, isn't looking for a job and has 2 kids by 2 different women. He isn't with either woman). My brother and sister are both moving in with my mom...

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WHAT IS FRUGAL NATION?

Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.

ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN

Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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