Fess Up to Your Addictions: How to Satisfy Them on a Frugal Budget

Photo: svengine

This past year, I've turned into a bit of a frugal diva: I've devised a monthly budget that I stick to religiously, analyzed my spending through pie charts and graphs, and said "no" to things that I wanted to say "yes" to (like a trip to New York). However, there are just some things I can't deprive myself of, like Starbucks coffee or dinner at Chili's. But because I've become such a penny-pincher, I can't bring myself to pay full price for these indulgences. So, I've been on a mission scouring the Internet for coupons, became a member of rewards programs, and kept an eye out for sales, discounts or less expensive options. Along the way, I've learned some tips that save me money and still let me splurge from time to time.

Revel in Rewards Programs

Working as a Starbucks barista 10 years ago has made me a life-long, loyal customer. However, I'm not one to spend my money recklessly, so their $4.00 drinks obviously don't fit well into my budget.

My frugal solution is to satisfy my addiction for less: I became a Starbucks Gold Card member, which entitles me to free additions, such as syrups and choice of milk. Every 15th drink, I earn a free one. Because I'm there so often, this equates to two free drinks a month. I guess you could say there is a benefit for being a glutton.

Rewards programs such as these help reduce the damaging effects of spending money. For instance, I use my debit card for my day-to-day purchases. My financial institution offers a rewards program that allows me to earn points: 1 point for every $2.00 spent. A few times a year, I redeem my points towards cash gifts or gift cards. I easily make up the difference of the $25 annual fee the rewards program charges, and then some.

Coupons Equal Cash Savings

Why pay full price for something if you can find a coupon to help save a few bucks? That's been my philosophy this past year. If there's something I need, I first search for a coupon, usually online.

Recently, I needed to purchase a few new shirts since my old ones were becoming embarrassingly ratty. A local department store was having a one-day sale. I thought it would be a terrific opportunity to not only take advantage of the sale, but see if I could conjure up a coupon as well.

Lo and behold, I found a 20% off coupon online that could be used in conjunction with their sale prices, most which were already deeply discounted up to 50% off. Since I planned to only purchase a few shirts, I made sure to stick to my plan and not buy items I didn't need. That can be one of the downfalls of coupons and deeply-discounted sales; it's easy to get caught up in the low-ball prices and purchase excessively.

A Gaggle of Options

Thanks to the invention of the Internet, options are seemingly endless at the touch of your fingertips. Not long ago, hotel and flight options were limited to a few select name-brand entities. Today, however, it's a completely different story.

My sister recently announced her engagement. Since she lives almost 3,000 miles east of me, I will obviously be traveling to her wedding. Luckily, I have a year to plan my trip, budget my money, and find the best deals on flights and a hotel. I recently became aware of a website where people rent out their apartments to travelers, called airbnb.com. For half the cost of a hotel room, I can rent an entire studio in Manhattan. According to previous traveler reviews, I should be able to find a nice place at a very reasonable price, something that would have been much more difficult to do 10 years ago.

There's no need to completely deprive yourself of luxuries when you're on a budget. Using some of these options to help save money and still fund some addictions or fun activities is just a smarter way to live.

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Guest's picture

I seldom go to Starbuck's (not anti-Starbuck's--I grew up in Seattle) because my local coffee place offers "double punch" Monday and then one free, any size, after 9 punches. Plus they have $1.00 off coupons that don't expire, and I have a wallet full of them.

Don't avoid that trip to New York--use rewards points! We used points for international flights, hotels and rental cars, and had no trouble booking any of it. Of course, we remodeled our kitchen and bathroom so we had a lot of points, but even charging every day things that you NEED will get you rewards.

Little House's picture

I agree. Our debit card racks up points throughout the year (and I'm always swiping my card.) However, we usually use the points toward gas cards and Starbucks cards. :)

Guest's picture

I love rewards points! I use my Discover cash back to purchase $50 Starbucks cards for $45. Then I take the card to Starbucks and buy either 2 $25 cards or 5 $10 cards as gifts for other people since I don't drink coffee, lol. :-)

We fund our habits with coupons as well. We love Bruster's icecream and wait until they email out member coupons at the beginning of every month. :-)

Guest's picture

Little, House,

I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee, but since you worked at Starbucks, maybe you verify the stories I've heard about a special smaller, less expensive, size that is not on the menu for their coffee products?

If it is true, that would be another way to save some a little money at Fourbucks. :-)

All the best,

Len Penzo dot Com

Guest's picture

I haven't worked at Starbucks, but yes, there is a smaller size, "Short". I have ordered it and seen other people order it too.

Little House's picture

Oh, yes. Years ago, the "short" used to be on the menu. That was before they introduced the gargantuan "venti." The short is 8 ounces, a nice amount for a hot drink. Thanks for pointing that out, Len!

Guest's picture

I never heard of airbnb.com, it sounds like a great idea!

I think I'm missing out on the deal with the coupons! Yeah, I use a papa John's coupon whenever I get pizza, but I bet you save much more with on grocery bill than we do!

Little House's picture

@Money Reasons - I've kind of make grocery shopping with coupons a game: I try and save the amount of money off the total bill in the amount of coupons I have. For instance, if my bill after coupons was $45 and I saved $45 in coupons and rewards, then I've done a terrific job. It makes it more fun. :)

Guest's picture

I'm anti coffee, as you can see from one of my posts on rich people calling others cheap. That said, if I can be more organized and get it together with rewards points and coupons, oh how nice the savings would be!

Too bad I cherish my flexibility and last minute decisions too much!

Best, Sam

Little House's picture

@Sam - Even with last minute decisions, you could probably take advantage of rewards points. Apply them towards airline miles throughout the year or toward statement credits. Also, quickly searching online for a coupon code only takes a few minutes of your time!

Guest's picture
martin Fowkes

Save money, get rid of your extortionate rental on Mobile gadgets and phones , choose a cheap model and keep it for emergencies.

Guest's picture
Kay Lynn

I just got the gold level for my Starbucks card. I limit myself to one latte a week so it took 7 months to get there!

I agree that it's all about balance.

Guest's picture

GReat post-I also have a credit card which offers gift cards @ chili's, target, lowes, and many other stores for rewards points. It's great for us as we pay off our bill monthly and use the gift cards for items we would have purchased anyway.

Guest's picture

My downfall is the Carmel Frappé at Micky D's. Sometimes 2 a day. Little pleasures in life make you satisfied all your other good stewardship is not for nothing. But balance in life is always best. Even when your out of balance because your on a sugar or caffeine high.

Guest's picture

That is why I do couponing! I figure I can buy more things and the average of all those cheaper if I use coupons. My grandma always said..."never pay full price".

Guest's picture

My husband and I used our rewards points to buy an inexpensive espresso machine. We paid in cash after the points $22.00 for it. This endeavor alone led us to rethink many of our other habits. We purchase our favorite creamers, like the international coffee caramel macchiato and white chocolate mocha. I am lactose intolerant so I heat some of the creamer with soy milk in the microwave, he steams his milk with the flavored creamer in it. It has saved us soooooo much money. We still get Starbucks sometimes, but now it is truly a treat, usually on date night. Tonight we split our first Starbucks, usuallly we each get our own. I was so proud of us and we were completely satisfied with the amount we each had.