Details Matter When You’re Frugal

Being frugal requires a strong attention to detail. Small things can add up in big ways to benefit or hurt a financial goal. I was recently reminded of this by happenstance.

 SF Parking Meters are not all the same price. ..I currently work nights in San Francisco, which means it’s best for me to drive into work and bear the expense. Part of that expense is parking. Although I am a self proclaimed parking witch, (I can almost always find convenient and sometimes free parking) I am resigned to pay for a metered parking spot near my place of work. 

Luckily, I found, meters are only required till 6 PM, which means at most, I pay for three and a half hours a day. At $3 an hour, this makes my daily parking less than $15 for an 8 hour shift. Almost unheard of in the City by the Bay. So, it would seem that I’m winning on this front.

I found out I can do better.

The other day there was no parking on the street I normally park on. After circling a couple of times I managed to find a spot just around the corner on another street. It was maybe a matter of 40 feet more of a walk. When I went to pay the meter though, I realized that the rate on that street is a dollar less an hour. To some it may not be that big of a difference. But, to a frugal fanatic like myself, I had to stop and do the math.

By parking around the corner I save up to $3.50 a day or $17.50 a week. That’s about a half a tank of gas. Multiply it by 4.2 weeks per month and now we’re talking $73.50. The way I shop, that’s almost two weeks of groceries. Now multiply that by 12, and I will save $882 over the course of a year. That’s a new tech gadget, or a few more kitchen knives, or maybe even a vacation if I do it right. 

Makes that extra 40 feet well worth it in my book. A lot can be accomplished by simply paying attention, and now I’m kinda kicking myself for not figuring this one out sooner, but hey, lesson learned. And now, lesson shared. 


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Eating Cheap, But Well

Disclaimer: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where access to cheap local produce is a norm. 

  So, as we’ve figured out by now, two of my obsessions passions are living cheap and eating well. First off I’ll  admit, I have some advantages. I live rent free. I realize this is a great advantage, that is rare and privileged. Next, I live in the Bay Area, which is an amazing melting pot of cultures and their cuisines. Thus, I’m able to acquire most ingredients for just about any meal I want to make. Finally, produce is plentiful here, cheap and year round. I have access to year round farmers markets, ethnic grocery stores with amazing produce sections, and restaurant quality produce in unexpected places. When it comes to ingredients, I’ve got it made.

But even with those advantages, I could easily spend three times as much as I do on groceries. But I don’t. How do I do it? It’s not hard, just takes some planning and good intentions.

First, I try to do an inventory before I shop. By taking time to become really familiar with what I have on hand, I can better plan a menu. If I know I have cheese and refried beans for instance, I’ll be sure to add corn tortillas to my list to make nachos, or even better, bean tacos. Trust me. They’re amazing and perfect for a fast meal/snack. Notice the part about a list? Never go to a store without one. 

Next, I have a dedicated routine for my shopping. Time permitting, I hit the farmers market first, followed by Grocery Outlet and sometimes the $ .99 store for produce, yes really. Then I supplement with meat from the Mi Pueblo butcher counter, and specialty items from Trader Joes, such as the Italian wine I like, my Greek yogurt and the TJ’s marinara sauce. I rarely do all my shopping in one shot. As long as I know what I’m getting where, I can split it up over a couple of days. That said, I do avoid single trips. They are bad practice, increase impulse buys and a waste of gas. Thus, the list.

Finally, I save money with better choices. I buy very few prepared foods. Among them are the aforementioned marinara sauce and yogurt (yes you can make your own), bread, but sometimes I bake that myself too, pasta (really don’t have time to make it) and occasionally crescent roll dough in the cardboard cylinder. They make the best dumplings. Sometimes, I get canned refried beans. Mostly because I haven’t worked making my own into my routine yet. Don’t tell my mom.

Everything else I buy is pretty basic. I get 10 lb bags of beans for soup, chili and burritos. They’re a great way to stretch meat, and oh so tasty. I also buy 10 lb bags of Basmati rice, great for all the rice dishes except risotto, which I don’t make. Most of my dishes are vegetable based, so when I think about cooking, I first think about what veggies I have on hand and what I can do with them.

By not buying prepared foods, I eat healthier and definitely cheaper. Now, I realize I have an advantage in that I know how to cook, and I’m really good with ingredients. But guess what, it’s not that hard to learn. With tools like Google and Netflix, there’s no reason to not know how to cook. You could even take it old school with a library card. Betty Crocker’s got game.  Even if you have limited space, you can still do a lot with a crock pot, a toaster oven and an electric skillet. 

Short on time? Yeah, me too. That’s why I make batches of things that will keep in the fridge and feed me for a couple of days or more. Got a freezer? Great. Use it for soups put in individual containers for great lunches. Also, freezing batches of pasta sauce is great too. Those can be quickly defrosted for a mid week meal. I also hard boil eggs, peel them and leave them in the fridge. They’re great for mornings or a quick pick me up shot of protein. Add a banana and you’ve got instant energy. 

There’s thousands more ideas online on sites like Pinterst and Tumblr. But, I learned a lot of this by watching my mom. She grew up very poor, and learned how to get the most out of what few resources they had. I know I’m lucky to have enough to eat, and not have to do it for $27 a week. I spend about three times tha for me and my son. 

Being  poor frugal can be one of the best teachers of good home economics and better life choices. But, that’s an entirely other post. 


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The Cost of Getting to Work

Recently, I moved up in the Restaurant game. I’m now working dinner service. There’s definitely some pros to this move. I sleep in every day, and have time run errands. One of the biggest cons though, is that my hours are not conducive to using public transit. This leaves me with an increased cost to get to work.

  The I-80 corridor between Vallejo and San Francisco is one of the most congested highways in the country. A typical morning commute is about two hours and change, bumper to bumper all the way. It’s insane to consider driving to San Francisco every day, to toil for eight plus hours, only to repeat the trip back, and pay two bridge tolls to boot, but people do it. Luckily, I won’t be in that mess. Working the dinner shift means driving straight through, and paying a dollar less in toll. I could, in theory still take public transit, but riding BART to catch a late night bus to get home two and a half hours later, isn’t exactly appealing.

This leaves me with a problem. Driving to the City, even with no traffic, which uses less gas, costs about $20 a day. That includes gas, tolls and parking. The cost difference between driving and taking public transit is significant. 

The frugal and environmental side of me says, take public transit. That’s what it’s there for. But, the self preservation side of me says, nope not a good idea, to walk the half mile at 11:00 PM downtown San Francisco to catch the last BART and hopefully catch the last bus to Vallejo, only to walk to my car at close to 1:00 in the morning downtown Vallejo.

 Let’s forgo the whole safety issue. I’ve got a game face after all, and I can handle myself in most situations.  It’s the fatigue factor that turns me off. Saving money is important to me, but not at the expense of my health. In this case, choosing the cheaper option would deteriorate my quality of life by making my trip home a chore. Who needs more chores? 

“Not I,”said the fly. 

My motivation for being frugal is not just about saving money. It’s about an economy of living where I use my resources, including my strength, skills, and time to achieve a satisfactory life. And sometimes, that means not taking the cheapest option. After all, what good is extra money if you’re making yourself miserable by making it saving it? 


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