The Bernier family, of Pittsfield, Maine (pop. 4,214), has mastered the art of frugal living. Finding ways to save money is second nature to the family of three.
“We’re do-it-yourselfers,” says Tina Bernier, 42. “Building a deck and reshingling the roof ourselves saved lots of money.”
To help heat their home, Tina, a lead abatement specialist, and Matt, 42, a civil engineer, burn wood from their 30-plus acres of woodland, practicing sustainable forestry by cutting only three to four cords of wood each winter. They rely on the public library for DVDs and books. Even their daughter, Abby, 9, is learning frugal habits, putting half of her allowance into a savings account. “I have to choose what to buy,” she says.
Some of the Berniers’ money-saving methods might not be practical for every family, but everyone can adopt some thrifty habits. One of the first things a frugal-minded family should do is develop a budget. If your income is less than your expenses, evaluate family spending patterns and find ways to cut back.
“Too many people fritter away funds that should be saved for the proverbial rainy day,” says Kathy Boyle, a certified financial planner in Bedford Corners, N.Y. “Small lifestyle changes can add up to significant savings.”
Here are some money-saving ideas:
- Watch for bargains, and use coupons.
- Buy in bulk if an item is well priced.
- Organize a neighborhood “hand-me-down chain” for children’s clothing.
- Remind children to turn off lights.
- During the holidays, make an extended family agreement to buy gifts for kids and arrange a gift-by-name exchange for adults.
- Limit restaurant meals to special occasions, and bring your lunch to work.
- Research before making a purchase. “We research extensively before a big purchase like a car,” Matt Bernier says. “When we do buy, we want it to last a long time.”
- Don’t shop unless absolutely necessary.
- Avoid the trap of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Suppose your neighbors vacation in Hawaii or install a pool? Your family is unique, both in terms of your income/expense ratio and financial goals. Stay focused on what is important to you, whether it’s paying off credit card debt, saving for college or planning for retirement.