Save where you can to spend where you want
That's the mantra of Frugal Nation, which marks its first anniversary today. (We won't overspend on the celebration.)
One year ago MSN Money published the first Frugal Nation post. The site had two objectives: to save readers money and to make them think differently about that money.
"It's a useful tool," I wrote. "It is not a religion."
What's changed since that first post? For starters, gasoline prices (up 16 cents per gallon from this time last year) and the size of your take-home pay (down 2% due to the payroll tax increase).
In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts an increase of up to 4% in food prices in 2013.
What probably hasn't changed: your ability to keep up with those costs. According to a report cited by The Wall Street Journal, people who get pay raises in 2013 will see only a 2.9% increase -- just 0.2% higher the average raise in 2011.
That's why frugality isn't a trend. It's a necessity. But it's also a great way to live.
In the past year I've offered tactics for saving money on food, health care, auto repairs, gifts, travel, toiletries, clothes and celebrations. I've suggested ways to earn extra money, such as car-sharing, "microjobs" and renting rooms to tourists. And while I've written posts about why spending should be hard, I've also suggested that spending a little extra sometimes makes sense.
All those posts had the same underpinning: how to live the best possible life on what you have, without losing sight of future financial goals.
A way of life
Frugality isn't only about getting out of debt or avoiding eviction. My often-repeated rule is this: Save where you can so you can spend where you want. Despite what some people think, being frugal doesn’t mean you can never spend a dollar. It means a life of choice -- specifically, of choosing options that move you closer to the life you want to live.
That sure beats a choice like "Which bill should I underpay this month?" or, worse, "Heat or eat?"
And if you're forced to make choices like that as a consequence of unemployment, illness or other crises? The tips on Frugal Nation help you stretch such money as you do have until times get better.
Specifically: I'm a freelance writer with no guarantee that my current job opportunities will always be renewed. I can't spend every dime I earn, or even most of them, if I want to have health care and put money away for retirement. Being careful with available funds means I can meet current needs and plan for future ones, while allowing for a few "wants" along the way.
That's not trendy. Frugality is not a fashion, or a whim. It's just life.
Readers: Are you as frugal today as you were a year ago?
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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, 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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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Saving just a single month of expenses may take longer than you think. See how your savings rate affects how quickly you can build a solid emergency fund.