We must be in a recession because even Oprah's cutting back.
When the talk show maven scaled down her famous and extremely
popular "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode last winter, it really
hit-everyone, including celebrities, is finding new ways to save
money in these tough economic times.
Although famous figureheads may have only recently jumped on the
bandwagon, the frugal movement is not terribly new. Christine
Escobar, an editor of Green Parent Chicago and Evanston mom, has
been frugal for almost nine years since she was pregnant with her
"I have always considered myself a resourceful person," Escobar
says. "When my son was born and I decided to stay home instead of
go back to work it was tough. We hadn't saved up much at that
point. So I tried to make the most of what I have."
But now with the stock market at its lowest level in years,
frugality is all around us. All the latest magazines have tips on
how to save. Vacation companies are offering vacations without
really going anywhere. Foodie Web sites are offering up weekly menu
plans so consumers only buy what they need at the store.
And just look at the New Oxford American Dictionary's most
popular words of 2008. At the top of the list? The term
"frugalista, a person who lives a frugal lifestyle but stays
fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying secondhand,
growing own produce, etc."
No matter where you look, the message is clear: It's hip to
If you're newer to the frugal movement, however, learning to
change your spending habits can be daunting. Sifting through
coupons can be a chore and price comparison shopping is time
Since Escobar lives "green," she comes by her frugalness
"When we shop, we purchase at thrift stores or resale shops,
take advantage of friends' hand-me-downs and use Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) as much as
possible," Escobar says. "When I purchase
something, I try to think: Is this replacing something broken, do
we already own something similar, will this be useful in the long
run and how will we dispose of it when we no longer need it?"
Sarah Bane of Chesterton, Ind., is using similar cues. When Bane
had her first child, Asher, four months ago, she found her expenses
increasing but her desire to spend decreasing. Bane then made a
decision to drastically change her family's lifestyle.
"My husband drives about 500 miles each week for work, so we
decided to trade in our Altima for a Prius. We're now only spending
$35 in gas each week," Bane says.
In addition, Bane hasn't showered her new son with clothes and
"I buy almost all of Asher's baby clothes at a children's
consignment boutique. The rest are gifts or hand-me-downs; I'm
lucky to be friends with some great moms of little boys."
Living frugally can also mean paying attention to the small
Lindsey Gell, who lives in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood,
recently had her son's third birthday party at the local Chuck E.
Cheese and says she saved on the party's expense by cutting coupons
from the weekly paper.
"You can't go to Chuck E. Cheese without coupons," Gell says.
"They are everywhere and we saved a ton."
Moms are also scaling back their costs by cooking at home,
doubling the recipe and then saving the leftovers, having more play
dates at home and reducing babysitters' hours.
"My husband and I aren't going out as much on the weekends
anymore," says Patricia Blee, a stay-at-home mom of two in Chicago.
"We cut our sitters' hours in half to save more money. A night out,
plus paying the sitter can cost over $200."
When moms cut back on spending, though, it's the retailers who
cater to moms that feel the pinch.
Brooke Palmer of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, who owns
My Little Pumpkin, a children's clothing line, has seen a downward
shift in her clients' spending habits.
"We used to have people buy five items at a time who now are
only buying two," Palmer says. "We do a lot of gift business as
well, and now people who would typically buy $100 worth of gifts in
the past are only buying $75 worth. People are just cutting back
where they can."
But some retailers say moms are still spending on their
Randi Valenta, a mom and co-owner of the popular Roscoe Village
boutique Little Threads, says that "while we're down from last
year, children's boutiques are a unique retail category. You still
need to buy clothes for your kids."
Valenta admits, though, that the spending isn't what it used to
"Accessories are down at least 30 percent this year," Valenta
says. "Moms will buy the expensive dress but don't feel they need
the boutique tights to go with it. Even I'll skip buying expensive
pajamas and stock up at Target or Old Navy instead."
But when times are tough and money is tight, everyone must
re-evaluate what they do and do not need. And sometimes going
frugal means going without.
"The one thing I really want now, but can't justify, is a gym
membership," Bane says. "Maybe next year things will get a little
Sara Fisher is a mother of two living in Roscoe Village. She also blogs at selfmademom.net.
See more of Sara's stories here.
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