Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, January 3, 2021

What are Things to Live Without?


Dear Muffy:

Belated Happy New Year and Merry Christmas. What frugal practices do you recommend for a young individual or couple? 

Cordially Yours.



  1. Remember that the most important things in life are not things.

    Buy quality and never at full price.

    There's a post from a few days ago concerning car buying. Read through the comments. Never, ever buy a "new" car but purchase one a few years old that has a year or so left on the warranty.

    Save, save, save. When you get a raise, save it and live on what you made in the previous year.

    And for Pete's Sake, you do not need a new IPhone every year and Starbucks every day.

    You'll be surprised how frugally you can live if you block out the noise of advertising.

  2. You can stay fit on your own. Forsake machines that mimic the action of walking and climbing stairs. Let go by the wayside expensive gym memberships.

  3. There are some of us that need a Starbucks quite often.

    1. There are far less expensive substitutes I have enjoyed over the years. For example if it Is cafe latte you like, an inexpensive Bialetti moka pot loaded with inexpensive Cafe Bustelo will make wonderful coffee. Microwave a mug of milk and froth it with an Aerolatte. The cafe latte you just made will rival Starbucks. The whole process takes 3-4 minutes, about the time you spend in line at Starbucks after you get there. The hardware cost of roughly $80 will pay for itself at Starbucks prices in about two dozen drinks. So if you have one a day it will save about a grand in its first year plus providing the convenience of not having to go to Starbucks.

      While I am talking about about frugal practices let me especially commend Anonymous at 6:29 on January 3's suggestion about fitness.

      Managing and regularly pruning subscriptions to papers and magazines, tv channels, streaming services, etc. can really add up. I learned to cut my own hair about thirty or more years ago. Anytime you pay someone else to do something for you you could save by doing it yourself. If it is a repetitive thing (lawn care, house cleaning, hair cutting, car washing) the savings really can be staggering. I have discussed here previously how to save money by using double edge razor blades with soap and a shaving brush rather than using canned foam and pricey cartridge, but it bears repeating. The DE approach makes the Dollar Shave Club look pricey. My blades are 12 cents, last two weeks to a month, and give as good a shave as a cartridge, some say better since cartridges can cause razor bumps.

      Your post COVID wardrobe may present opportunities to be frugal. Buy fewer items but of the quality level you find at places like Mercer for shirts, O'Connell's or Cordings for tailored items, and Alden for shoes. Care for what you buy and be prepared to save a wad over the years. My Alden LHS are over thirty years old despite regular use. Shirts and khakis you iron yourself will far outlast things sent out for laundering and ironing.

      Cooking for yourself saves vast amounts over eating out and even saves over buying prepared foods. Plus it tastes better and can be better for you. That cacio e pepe that is twelve dollars at the restaurant is about a dollar at home and can be made in less time than driving to a restaurant. On the subject of what you consume, finding reliable lower cost wines and liquors can save a ton. For example our everyday drinking wines are all under $10 a bottle. We splurge now and then, and the splurges are made more meaningful. Two or three pleasant evenings on an inexpensive pinot gris pave the way for draining a $70 bottle of cab on a festive occasion.

      Generally frugality is a quirky but fun mindset. I am constantly trying to find things I can do for myself. Sometimes I go to Youtube for help.

      I am a big fan of Marie Kondo. If you manage how much you have you won't find yourself wasting money by things like buying beans when you already had three half bags in the cupboard behind the spices or buying more pens and notepads because you forgot the ones you already had because you did not regularly keep them in the same place.

      Lastly, and this might be the most important in the long run, be generous to those in need. Appreciating what you have is a blessing.

    2. Re: Starbucks. The only time I go there is when traveling. The coffee is freshly made and it maintains clean restrooms.

  4. Learn the difference between needs and wants. Don't lease cars. Amazon doesn't always offer the lowest price, although it would like you to think it does. Use it up, wear it out, make it do. The only initials that should be on your garments are yours, and even having your own initials on them is questionable. To expand on FJW's comment, experiences are usually more meaningful than things. If you don't want to drink tap water, but a water filter, not bottled water.

    1. Well said sire. To emphasize, a bit, “don’t let your wants become your needs.”

  5. My advice on clothes would be to focus on quality and fit rather than quantity. Better to have one suit that is a really good one, that has been fitted to you by a real tailor, and that fits you perfectly, than to have a closet full.

    As to things, similar. Buy the best you can afford, and then use it, regularly. Do not save it for "good" or for company. Use it. Preferably every day. Your mood and mental attitude will thank you. And with the national auctions, if you break it there is really very little that is irreplaceable nowadays.

  6. I’m still young-ish (are late 30s young?), and I would recommend investing in quality pieces that will last. Not only will you save money in the long term, but there’s enjoyment to be had in furnishing your home with and using beautiful, well-made objects. Purchase slowly over time, and buy the best you can afford. Pay attention to where items are made. You don’t need to have a completely furnished home the moment you move in - enjoy the process of making a home over a number of years.

    Look to antique/consignment/secondhand stores for furniture, oriental rugs, lamps, etc. There are loads of well-made, affordable antique and reproduction pieces available, and quality is almost always better than newly made furniture at comparable prices. Ebay and Etsy can be good sources if your local area has limited options; many shops will offer shipping at surprisingly reasonable prices.

    Purchase art/prints. Find a good local framer, and get sentimental objects framed.

    Avail yourself of your family’s extra furniture, art, silver, china, etc., if pieces are offered to you!

    If you are renting, antiques, pictures, and rugs go a long way in giving your apartment/condo/house character and making it feel like “yours.”

    Learn to cook. If you are starting from scratch, master a few simple, classic recipes and work from there. Invest in quality cookware/everyday dishes. Cooking will save money, it is often healthier, and its wonderful to be able to host friends and family for a lovely meal.

    1. Emily, to me, late 50s is young. Oh, to be 70 again!

  7. Plant a vegetable garden, if you have the space. It’s like printing money. From June into November (kale and Brussels sprouts endure in the cold) we don’t buy much at the grocery store. Here in New England, all we buy at the store are local dairy products, and lemons, bananas, olive oil, nuts, chocolate, and chips (we support local grass-fed beef and pork producers). Raspberries and garden veggie soups freeze nicely and last all winter.

  8. If you have the time and a good eye, you can find extraordinary things at estate sales. My mother, who formerly ran an antique shop, is a devotee. She would find Gucci dresses for my sisters, with the tags still on, for under $20. Her house is filled with oriental rugs purchased for $10 each.

    Unfortunately, this advice applies less for tall guys. At 6' 3", I can rarely find used shirts, sweaters, and jackets with long enough sleeves.

  9. Lay off the gourmet coffee. It's extremely expensive and the heavy cream and sugar are bad for you.

    Buy some heavy adjustable dumbbells and a doorway chinning bar and never pay for a gym membership again. I'm a former personal trainer, and I can tell you that the gym business is pretty much a racket.

    Don't upgrade your electronic devices any more often than is absolutely necessary for your job or to keep them working properly.

    Don't bother with prestige-brand cars. There have never been more well-made cars on the market than today. Yeah, they all look alike and don't have much personality, but that's true now even with the high-end makes.

    Read more and spend less on movies. Used books can be acquired cheaply via eBay and Amazon, and there's always the library. Concentrate on books published more than thirty years ago; most of the more recent books are edited by the uneducated, and the content is largely filtered by political ideologies. Step outside your own time and quit rotting your brain.

    Lay off the ramen noodles. They're cheap, but the long-term effects of extreme sodium intake and insufficient protein intake are not.

    Lay off sports drinks. They do nothing but cause peaks and valleys in your mood and blood sugar, and valleys in your finances.

    Quit beginning sentences with "so," and stop saying "like" and "awesome" and "reach out" and "going forward." Cut out the vocal fry. In the long run, you're not going to be able to separate yourself from the pack if you talk and act just like everyone else.

  10. Local produce, and fruit when possible! Thank yiu!

  11. So many wise observations here, and dear young letter writer: I salute you. FJW's advice "block out the noise of advertising" is excellent. My parents encouraged us to be extremely wary of advertisements and credit cards. Learn to cook from scratch; exercise, as mentioned, is free. Take joy in living frugally, it really is fun and often the path to a very luxurious life if you can focus your desires towards simple things in life. Your ample savings should allow for quality choices to be made and for meaningful treats. I wish you luck and cheer as you follow this path. We've been living like this for some years - I don't think we've ever eaten or drank as well as we do today; my wardrobe is a delight; we are all fit and healthy and our home is full of things we love.

  12. Some general principles below, but there might be exceptions for some situations:

    Have fewer things, but all good quality.
    Avoid all leases and rentals.
    Avoid or minimise all subscriptions.
    Avoid chasing "stylish" clothes/furniture/etc and stick to classic timeless clothes/furniture/etc.
    Mend things - and buy things which can be mended.
    Cook at home rather than eating out.

    On furnishing a 1st flat, some Ikea is fine if one plans to replace when able to afford good items.
    Store brand cleaning supplies are often good enough, no need to get branded.

    1. True about IKEA. But I intend to hang onto my PoƤng chair forever. That thing is unbelieveably comfortable for sitting, reading, and even sleeping. I'll never get rid of it; here's why —

      A few years ago just before Christmas I picked up some kind of flu at a large conference in New Orleans (never going back there!). The docs at our clinic were all out for the holidays and... Long story short, it wasn't stomped hard enough, early enough and so I ended up with double pneumonia. I spent the next 30 days (no exaggeration) sleeping every single night in that chair, sitting upright.

      We have the same frame as bought originally, but the early cotton cushions are now the leather-covered ones. It's as much a part of our lives as the Eames lounger across the living room (and more comfortable, too).

  13. I agree with much of the above. Long before COVID, I learned that keeping things home-based is not only good for the wallet but good for the soul. I'm not saying that I don't get out regularly--that's far from the case. However, I once had a go go go lifestyle and now enjoy home more and the freedom I have to say "no, thank you" to outside commitments.

    If you have a yard, never buy cut flowers during the growing season. We have flowers in the house all year. In the late spring, summer and early autumn we use only what we can find in our flower beds. In the other months, we force bulbs and supplement with little splurges at the flower shop.

    If you go to a dry cleaner often, there are plenty of ways to save the time, hassle, and money by doing your own laundering. And, it is better for your clothes. I launder my own shirts, air, sponge and press my jackets, pants and suits, etc... You can really cut down on the number of times you need to go to the cleaners by doing this at home and, for some, it can be therapeutic to do these tasks.

    I enjoy making bread, rolls, pasta, etc... Necessity turned into a hobby. I once lived in a place with great artisanal bakeries and good fresh pasta. Now, I live in a more rural area with limited access to speciality items. You can make a great no-knead boule, from all the best ingredients, in little time and for very little money. A no-knead boule is an easy success and from there you can go on to more complicated doughs and breads. Homemade ravioli is also pretty easy and can be quite satisfying.

    It all may sound a little quirky, but there are most definitely things in your life that you can take up that may seem odd to others, but they will save resources and provide satisfaction. The key to being successful with frugality is finding that satisfaction--it should never feel like deprivation.

  14. -it's a lot less expensive to buy an ironing board & iron, then wash and press your own work shirts and cotton trousers, than pay a dry cleaner.

    -invest in a steamer to get wrinkles out of dress clothes. Lower dry cleaning bills, and your clothes will last longer.

    -free weights, a modest-priced bicycle, and hiking shoes are a lot less expensive than a gym membership.

    -money into the financial markets today is going to gain a lot more through the passage of time than saying you'll put in more someday.

    -If you think the rent/car payment/mortgage might be too high, you should probably buy something more modest.

    -Do not allow yourself to accumulate credit card debt if at all possible. Those interest rates....

    -above all, learn to derive happiness from the things you do and the personal relationships you grow, rather than the things you own.

  15. This is such a great question as we face the freshness of a new year. Live with integrity and creativity. I know many very wealthy people who have a small quotient of integrity and are rather boring; conversely, I also know many people of a more moderate income who are interesting, appealing, and a joy with which to socialize. My point is that money does not trump a kind, intellectual, caring, creative character. Always realize that less is more whether it's cars, clothing, restaurants, travel, phones, etc. Thank you for this question because it made me focus upon what is truly important as we journey through our lives.

  16. If you enjoy Starbucks, get Starbucks. You will still be able to retire, I promise :)

    Find out all you can about any 401K matches at your company/companies. Take advantage of forced savings - set up a automatic withdrawal of any raises or bonuses you receive. Find yourself a good, trusted financial advisor and set up a financial map to your future. Make your money work for you. You don't need a huge sum to start. But you do need a plan.

    All of the above advice (with the exception of Starbucks) will help you get started on the road to savings, but if you don't know what to do with your money, you're only halfway there.

    1. Yes! 401K matches are literally free money! And I live by the auto savings.

  17. Watch free videos to learn tennis skills, no need for weekly lessons with a pro! Let a neighborhood youngster swim in your pool on rare occasions in return for cleaning the pool, no need for a pool boy on staff. Be careful to select a boat that requires less maintenance, and then moor it at the least expensive berth the club offers. Don't have a groundskeeper, the local Home Depot parking lot will usually have some undocumented fellows looking for work, they are much less expensive and easily replaced if they do not work out. Really, the frugal possibilities are endless!

  18. So many solid points have already been raised. I would add that frugality should not mean acting stingy and miserable, but rather being generous and content. When you are generous, you will share cheerfully with others and will know when and on what to enjoy an occasional splurge. When you are content, you will not be controlled by others, becoming victim to fads and a desire to flaunt and compete. May we be in agreement with the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Philippians 4:11, "...I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
    Frugality is as much an inner discipline as an outward practice.

    1. In that vein, "Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: 'You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper' (Psalms 128:2) --Pirkei Avot, 4

  19. Take your lunch with you if you work outside the home. Eating out multiple times a week is a huge financial drain. I do what I like on weekends but economize during the week. Aside from the direct financial savings, my diet is cleaner and healthier this way.

  20. I learned that if you live near water and know how to sail there are always opportunities to do so without owning a boat. When I was young, my family had a Caribbean 35. My parents got rid of it while I was away at college and once I had a stable income of my own I really wanted a boat, but couldn't justify the cost vs time I had to use it. As a favor, I helped a friend's father who was in his 70s, had a boat, but wasn't able to handle things the way he once did. He was able to hang onto the boat for a few more years, I was able to get out on the boat without the cost of ownership, and we both found a new friend. As they say, "The only thing better than owning a boat is having a friend who owns a boat."

  21. I realize many will disagree with this, but I no longer buy many books (except for a few nonfiction books I can refer to again and again). Instead, I use the library most of the time and I probably read (or listen to) about a third of my books for free online. There are multiple websites that give you free books online (,, etc.). True, it's not the same as holding a real book, but you asked about ways to be frugal and this is one of them.

    1. Yes! Where I live, the library app is "Libby"....and she SAVED me during hard lockdown. Books for me, books for the kids, available immediately and no leaving the house! FOR FREE!

  22. I feel that "cultivate" is an important concept with this question/topic. Cultivating a garden, cultivating friends, cultivating your own tastes, cultivating your home... It's the combination of careful choices, timing, and patience to let things develop fully. Patience can be difficult when one is young--there is an eagerness that springs from health, energy, and vision. But patience is necessary in order for growth to be strong and lasting. So much better, for example, to furnish a home slowly and thoughtfully with things that you will love for a long, long time; it doesn't have to be done in the first three months.

    In addition, many costly choices come from not knowing yourself: purchasing items for the person you wish you were (or life you wish you lived) rather than the one that is. Go slowly; think it over; be cautious, honest, and firm with yourself.

  23. Things to live without? A slovenly approach to life, relationships, personal appearance, and conduct.

    Best Regards,


  24. Maybe this is obvious, but creating a simply monthly budget (I just use an Excel sheet to list my fixed expenses and track spending). I think seeing it - in black and white - helps you keep balance between spending and saving, and keeps your eye on your long term goals.

  25. Social Media, places like twitter, facebook, etc..


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