I Get Frugal With A Little Help From My…

I think I have two main weak spots when it comes to practicing frugality.

The first is the little things. Buying a small toy that I think one of our kids will like. Eating out a bit too often, particularly lunch at work. Places where the expenditure is not that large, and even in aggregate is not particularly troubling, but there’s still more waste than desirable. Witness the bin of toys with which our kids never really became all that enthralled and which currently serve primarily to gather dust.

The second is gadgets. Typically electronics. As these are bigger purchases, I actually tend to be more careful, doing more research and shopping around more. But many electronics are impenetrable if you don’t really spend some time learning about the product and are good at extrapolating how you and your family will use it. Otherwise, many of us can’t really tell the practical, day-to-day impact it will have on our lives to make the choice between 12 megapixels and 6 megapixels. I, for one, only notice that I have a primal urge to get the higher number.

In trying to think deep thoughts about how to do better at frugality, I and my little pea brain quickly developed a headache. So instead I tried to think simple thoughts about frugality and came up with these three influences that can help our frugality:

  1. personal accountability

  2. frugality of spouse/family

  3. frugality of friends, co-workers, and other peers

The first one, you can do yourself: measuring certain aspects of frugality (perhaps through a budget or tracking expenses) and comparing them against benchmarks or goals. The second and third are essentially good old-fashioned peer pressure. If the people around you are practicing frugality, it makes it easier for you to do it too. If your co-workers bring their lunch and congregate to eat together, you don’t have that same urge to socialize by going out to eat with them.

I know, not exactly brain surgery.

So here’s my attempt at a mild insight. You can gain some peer support for your frugality through online networks.

Here’s one specific example of how this worked for me. I wanted to buy a new camera, a digital SLR , to upgrade from the camera that we already have (although it works fine). Primarily, I wanted to be able to take photos more quickly so as to be able to catch “action” shots. (This would be pretty much any shot of our kids.) And I figured out to really be able to click away as fast as my little finger could press, I “needed” a digital SLR.

Which can run from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Ah, my gadgets weakness comes to the forefront. I could shop around pretty easily to figure out where the best prices were—but I quickly realized just how little I knew about cameras and higher-end photography. And I knew I had some propensity to over-spend on electronics. That is, I knew I’d be enticed by some numerical rating or other feature without a very deep understanding of what it meant or whether I’d actually use it.

So I thought, a number of folks with whom I interact on Twitter are into personal finance or frugality (or both)—so they might be more likely to push me toward a reasonable camera. So I asked for help on Twitter.

Within about two minutes, I was in conversations with three different people who were able to give me some specific advice based on their own experiences with digital SLRs. They were all bloggers, from Free from Broke, Sense to Save, and Feed the Bull. They relayed their experiences with their own cameras and what they knew about the two brands I was considering; and Free from Broke pointed me toward the Ken Rockwell website, which had several reviews of cameras (and refreshingly had a review in which he describes why he prefers the Nikon D40 over some of the more expensive Nikon models.)

While I could have found some of this information out myself, I am pretty sure I got information and resources within 5 minutes that I would have otherwise spent more like 30 minutes digging up myself—and of course, I got the chance to have some actual interaction with someone to ask some specific questions. I saved time and helped convince myself not to go for some of the more expensive models, because I didn’t need the extra functionality.

In addition to services like Twitter, you can interact with folks in similar ways on blogs (through comments), through e-mail, through online discussion forums, and probably a bunch more ways I’m not thinking of right now.

Do any of you use online networks in ways like this, and do you have any resources you’d like to share?

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