Frugal Living: Limbering up for the extreme sport of penny pinching

An article I wrote recently went ‘viral’. I have yet to decipher the magical workings of freelance writing but somehow over 1000 people decided to comment on the piece. A couple weeks ago I would have thought the subject for such heated debate would have to be war, or health or even the sad story of Rupert Murdock. No no, 1000 people decided to voice their opinion on the controversial subject of ‘Extreme Couponing’.

frugal living

You may ask yourself what extreme couponing is all about. A month ago I had no idea. The title arrived from my editor who clearly feels that penniless writer = frugal living expert. Fair enough but I was sadly in the dark on the subject of extreme couponing.

After a foray into the world of TLC reality programming and some internet research on the subject, I quickly realized that serious couponing translated to penny pinching as an extreme sport.

The experts are not haphazardly cutting coupons from the Sunday papers. No, this is an organized, cross-referenced art form. In the spirit of research I looked into internet coupons, newspaper cut-outs and supermarket handouts. Laziness quickly overtook my impulse to save and I realized that it takes a stronger resolve than mine to make a go of it. I’m competitive by nature but I know which battles I can win and I know I would quickly be put to shame by the televised image of a women buying a shopping trolley full of goods for a handful of nickels and dimes.

I think my failure to really embrace the joy of extreme couponing may also have something to do with the fact that I live in New York. Despite the fact that I live in one of the most expensive cities in America, New York living does not translate well to dedicated coupon cutting. I bike to our local supermarket and our pint-sized apartment is not well equipped to handle bulk purchases of any kind.

So extreme couponing may not offer the way forward for frugal living in the city that never sleeps but there are other ways to live the NY high life on a shoestring:

1) Finding a great apartment. Don’t be shy. The topic of rent is as synonymous with New York as chat of the weather is in London. Tell everyone what you want and ignore anyone who tells you it can’t be done. Ask around…who has a rent stabilized apartment, how much are your friends paying, does anyone know someone with a great apartment who is moving out? Give yourself the time for the proper hunt, it may take a while.

2) Eating. I love eating out and we treat ourselves more often than we should but I will chuck my chopstick at the next person who tells me that eating out is as cheap as eating at home in the city. If it is then I want them to tell me which restaurant they eat at and where on earth they do their food shopping.

3) Partying. Embrace happy hours and free events in the city. In the summer, something fabulously free is happening every day of the week and you can always mingle with the after work crew or the late night stoop-outs for some cheap off-peak drinking.

4) More eating. If you have a hardy stomach and a penchant for meat and rice, street vendors are your ‘go to’ in the city. Look for the ones with high turnover and long lines. If you are close to Union Square skip the lines at Whole Paycheck and pay a visit to the guy with the big smile on 14th and 3rd.

5) Getting around. Dust off your old bike. It may be steamy and hot in the city but you will arrive at your destinations ‘glowing’ and basking in the knowledge that you have saved money on either subway riding or taxis. Just watch out for those pesky car doors, keep your biking excursions to under a few miles if possible and pack deodorant or an extra top for those 90 degree days.

For all the same reasons that I failed at extreme couponing, I regularly fail at living as frugally as I would like. Finally I have realized that it is a balance and all the mea culpas are unnecessary. Saving here and there makes spending the money when we want to all that much more of a treat.

In that vein I am off to ride my bike to our favorite seltzer and breakfast spot in Brooklyn. More on that next time…

2 thoughts on “Frugal Living: Limbering up for the extreme sport of penny pinching

  1. After having lived veeery frugally in college and while working in Japan, it still hurts my heart to buy something without a deal despite having a living wage. Living well on a budget is certainly a sort of art form and your tips are great!

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