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Being Frugal in a High Cost of Living Area

Guest Post by Kelly from My Friend Kelly.

I’ve always found amusement in the personal finance conundrum regarding low versus high cost of living areas (COLA). Hence, “If you’re in a high COLA, move to a lower COLA to pay less on a house, taxes, groceries, etc.” And the contradicting advice, “If you need more income move to a high COLA to find more jobs. Sure you’ll pay more for gas, daycare and insurance but you’ll be making more!”

As a California resident and now home owner, I’ve found there are ways to thrive financially in an expensive region without a sixfigure salary. Here are eight:

1. Ignore the National Averages, they’ll just depress you.

Yes, gas is higher in California than probably 46 other states. The first time this occurred to me was when a friend visited from South Carolina and kept taking pictures of our gas stations. And when gas prices were nearly $5 a gallon, all the news seemed to cover was how cheap it was everywhere else.

So while it may be cheaper to gas up in Nebraska, comparing the two regions is an exercise in frustration. Instead, focus on what you can control, finding the best deal in your city. This doesn’t mean you need a 75-page price book for every item available at Wal-Mart, just focus on the few things you’ll buy over and over again. Use the internet and price-matching sites to get the best idea of merchants that consistently offer the best deal.

You can do this with gas stations, hotels, oil changes, restaurants, pretty much any product or service where you want to cut costs. This chart shows the average cost for living and housing in all 50 states and if you’d like to see how your expenses measure up regionally check out this site.

2. Work. Really, really hard.

It’s very tempting for me to leave this out of the discussion but for the last year and a half I’ve worked 2 or more jobs simultaneously. At times, that means 80-hour work weeks and 2 days off each month. If it is feasible to pick up a second job, even short term, you will likely find more opportunities in a high COLA. It is not unusual for professionals to have more than one job and as long as you don’t violate company policy, and performance standards are met, employers should understand as well.

High COLA economies typically have more job opportunities because commuters spend more time away from home and tend to rely more on convenience shopping and services. Business and industrial areas have hotels and a variety of restaurants that are supported by business traffic.

3. Hard work goes beyond reporting for duty at a workplace.

If your utility rates are high you’ll want to make your home more energy efficient and monitor your usage. If you are willing to do the work you will enjoy lower costs even in an expensive area. My home is a half-plex and the reduced square footage and shared wall help keep my costs low.

Many of my friends have young children and have made the choice to forgo a career short- or long-term. These moms and dads work very hard themselves. They’re often utilizing “free” time to seek out the best values for their family, helping relatives and friends as needed and focusing an incredible amount of time on raising amazing kids. If you consider the cost of such services if provided elsewhere, you can quickly see how a parent’s hard work for their family will bring about significant savings as well as non-monetary benefits.

4. Control major costs.

Living in a high COLA doesn’t mean giving in to sky-high expenses without thinking. Sometimes when everyone else resigns to paying a premium, smart shopping can reveal lower cost options. Housing, for example, is almost universally more expensive in high cost of living areas and can make a major dent in the most frugal budget.

The cost of my first home was nearly half the median housing cost for my state. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a mansion and I don’t work in real estate. There are disadvantages to owning a half-plex, but the smaller mortgage is not one of them. When the standard encourages excess, look for reasonable prices and modesty. This might mean a 6-year-old car that was traded in for a new model but has plenty of miles left or a house without all the amenities we’ve come to expect.

When you’re considering your monthly budget don’t just look at where you can save with coupons. Take your top three expenses — usually housing, transportation and healthcare — and examine your options. If you trim even just 5% off major costs the impact will be significant.

5. Embrace your locale.

California is a cornucopia of agriculture. So much is produced here that locals can and should take advantage of it. There are fruit stands in many counties and the grocery stores carry local fresh produce nearly year round. Take some time to identify what your state or county produces in abundance.

In New York City, its affordable entertainment — there are restaurants, live theater and museums for every budget. On Hawaii, it’s fresh air, beautiful beaches and affordable swim accessories. Resident discounts are sometimes available and allow locals to take advantage of parks, recreation, and attractions during the slower off-season.

Check out your city website for festivals, tours, local interests and major industries. Enjoy the perks your community has to offer whether its hiking, music festivals, golf courses, boating, gardening or earning side income from the tourist trade.

6. Know What’s Cheaper

Public transportation is more readily available in densely-populated areas and more employers are increasingly likely to subsidize costs. Zipcars, trains, extensive bus route and bike trails enable thousands to get around without buying, licensing, insuring and fueling a car. Find out the options in your own area and even if you cannot forgo a car, substitute for other transportation when it is feasible.

Communities with a local university system or community college provide opportunities for low cost continuing education not to mention bring apprentices into your community. Beauty schools often give great haircuts at a reduced price so students can practice. My local community college allowed residents to drop off broken appliances for students to practice repairs. This saved a trip to the dump and provided hands-on experience. And $30 in tuition paid for a summer semester of pool access where students can swim laps for college credit.

Campuses also have a thriving used book market, lots of free boxes the week after the semester starts and a variety of clubs and facilities which may be open to non-students.  In my current town the university runs a mobile vaccination clinic staffed with vet students that travels each weekend providing low cost shots and medication under the direction of an experienced veterinarian.

High COLA economies also have an abundance of choice, whether it’s four car dealerships on one block or a page of Mexican restaurants in one zip code. This competition drives down prices. This is a little harder in a rural area when the only shop in town knows you’ll have to drive an hour to gain any significant savings.

It may not be worth your time to find the cheapest taco for date night once a month but if you’re hosting a party or buying a car, the savings could be substantial. Get several quotes for infrequent expenses like landscaping, professional cleaners, painters or large purchases like cars, appliances and computers.

My friend, Andrea, for example, recently purchased a newer car and “basically pitted 2 dealerships against each other and it worked!” She reports the car was “$3500 less than MSRP and $1000 below invoice.” For more tips check out this highly recommended site to successfully negotiate bank fees, salaries, cable costs and credit card interest rates.

7. Adjust Inflated Expectations

Cost of living is most easily described as the monetary cost of basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing. The measurement also tracks the consumer price index which includes non-essentials.  It may be more expensive to get a massage, see a movie and eat out in my city but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to frequent those businesses.

It may be more expensive to go to the movies in your town but you can compensate by going less frequently, finding coupons, seeing movies when you visit another town, or substituting with rented movies at home.

When it comes to durable goods the internet is the great equalizer on price. Before the popularization of sites such as eBay and Amazon you were limited to the prices set by local merchants.  Now we can search to compare apples to apples and given a few days shipping time have the lowest price available. Whether that’s finding the best price on toilet paper or trucks, the internet is in many ways the best marketplace.

8. Try Something New

There will be times, no matter how hard you try or how much you save otherwise, that you cannot cut your basic living expenses. We cannot negotiate with utility providers or get lower insurance rates without risking essential coverage. You may read tips on this site and lament the fact your major grocery chain isn’t featured very often or you don’t have a local CVS.

In those times it will help to get creative and try something new.  It may result in a new grocery shopping experiment, giving up paper, or downsizing your home.  Living in a high cost of living area can be challenging and it can be rewarding. But don’t be afraid try something new.

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern California. Despite a high cost of living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly just took her first trip abroad, decorates from the thrift store, and enjoys teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

photo credit: meironke; Ed Yourdon

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  • zombiemommy says:

    I don’t buy papertowels either. It does save money. I only buy toilet paper on sale with a coupon (Scott brand is great, long lasting and cheap) . That is a nice monthly expense (5 bucks or more that we have eliminated)..

  • Julie says:

    I was kind of surprised to read point #2, but then I realized the writer is single with no kids. Working 80 hours a week with 2 days off a month would be a great way to earn extra money, but not feasible for parents who want to spend time with their children. Heck, even if I were single I wouldn’t want to do that! Unless it was for VERY short term or some kind of emergency situation, I prefer to enjoy life with less money (especially if I were only 25!) I think we all get so caught up in “living debt-free” that we sometimes forget the living part of it.

    • Kelly says:

      @Julie, Thanks for the comment Julie! While I am only 25 and working several jobs, it’s not just to eliminate debt. My freelance work involves my hobbies and is a lot of fun for me. Working 2 jobs since moving to this town 4 years ago helped to shift my perspective from consuming (shopping) to producing (volunteer work, creative freelance outlets). I do have friends with children who manage multiple jobs and spend time with their families, so I know it’s not impossible.

    • Christina says:

      @Julie, Agreed! For us, it’s hard enough to have family time, with each of us working one full-time job.

    • Amanda says:

      @Julie, I am married and we don’t have kids, but I am fine with working 40 hours a week with weekends off. I totally agree that I would never want to work 80 hrs. a week. Luckily we are not in a situation that we need to work more hours to make ends meet. In August 2009, I was able to pay off my 30,000 school loan (mostly paid off in 2006-2009) without working extra hours. I did however, put bonuses, Christmas money and tax returns toward paying it off. My husband does choose to work a few overtime shifts as a sheriff’s deputy at a nearby hospital and uses the money towards “boy toys.”

    • Jamy says:

      Yeah, I have to agree with Julie on this one. Working 80 hours a week doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of time for parenting or quality time with a spouse either for that matter. Relationships and children need a little more than whatever exhausted scraps are tossed their way after putting in an 80 hour week. Sure, you can “make it work” in the same way you can drive a car for years without changing the oil. You can still drive the car, but in the end, you are doing damage to your engine.

  • Hadcake says:

    Thank you so much for this. As much as I love and benefit from frugal blogs, a lot of their info doesn’t apply to where I live (San Francisco). Still, I have learned to view the cost of living my beloved city as another opportunity to be creative.

  • I went to college and worked in Chicago, living there for 5 1/2 years as a single woman. I’m surprised that walking, biking and public transportation were not mentioned. Likewise, apartment sharing or renting of efficiency apartments. I was able to save half my $29k a year salary when I worked there, and paid off my undergrad student loans within the grace period and saved money to pay cash for our very modest wedding and downpayment on our apartment after we married. I did this living alone in an efficiency, using public transport, and taking advantage of the great rummage sales and ethnic markets and free entertainment in the area.

    However, now as a parent, I wouldn’t move back to such a high COLA.

    • Brandy says:

      She did mention public transportation in point #6.

    • Kelly says:

      @Milk Donor Mama, Walking & biking are definitely great frugal transportation options! Sometimes a high cost of living area forces families to live further out from metro centers.
      In the San Francisco Bay Area for example, it’s difficult to bike from San Jose to Oakland but there is the BART train. Same with the Chicago L train, the subway in New York or metro in D.C.

      • Julie says:

        Chicago COLA is rather mediocre compared to the east and west coasts.

        I am a IL native living in Boston.

        • @Julie, In 1999, I paid 1015 a month for a 2br 1ba apartment I shared with a friend. My mortgage payment on my 4br, 2.5ba, 2 car garage home in Columbus OH is less than that! I’ve never lived or even visited the east or west coasts, but Chicago sure seemed like a high COLA when I only made $29k/year. It’s certainly the highest COLA in the midwest.

  • Noah says:

    Thanks for this! While Seattle isn’t as high as far as cost of living goes, it’s still a lot higher than most of the country. And it is depressing to know I could buy a house 3x the size of what I have for the same price elsewhere!

  • Nice post! I live in the high-priced Washington, DC area. One advantage of living in a high COLA where the jobs are – our housing prices didn’t decrease as much as in other parts of the country. Our small 3-bedroom ranch house that used to be worth $600K is still worth $500K. It is very hard to save up to buy a home, though with those prices! Not sure anyone can pay 100% for a home here. 🙂

    But we can take advantages of other opportunities – free museums that could occupy us every day of the year, driving distance to many major East Coast cities and the beaches, a great Metro system, and culture coming out or our ears.

    When we retire, we’ll probably go someplace cheaper like North Carolina and Florida and just selling off our home should give us plenty to live on in those states!

    • Tammy says:

      @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life,

      I would suggest you move to Raleigh-Wake Forest area of North Carolina.Still has a low cost of living on the most part and houses are still affordable.

      One word of advice,buy a water efficency clothes washer.Saves on both water and electric bills.

    • Jenny says:

      @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life,

      I live in Chicago (essentially downtown) and was thinking a very similar thing. Although it’s a higher COLA than some of the other options in the region, I can take my children to world class symphonies for free in the park in the summer and several museums year round (most have free days and there are free passes at the library). I suppose we could afford a bigger place elsewhere, but given that we don’t have a car (we bike and walk almost everywhere and use public transportation for the rest), and don’t have to pay for any lawns/roofs/etc. that come with standard houses, it’s a trade-off we’re happy with! We’re able to do all we need while DH works at a college and I stay at home with our children.

      Of course, I recognize this wouldn’t be for everyone, and that’s cool, too.

    • Ashley P says:

      If you move to Florida, move to North Florida like the Tampa area. I live in Fort Lauderdale, and the COLA is ridiculous down here. Everything is expensive, but the job market isn’t stable right noe, with employers not paying competitively because of the high number of immigrants. (And I have nothing against immigrants. Most of them are just willing to work for less, so employers pay less than the national average here. The bulk of our nurses, for example, are Caribbean transplants from Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad who got their degrees in their home countries and so don’t have nearly as much student debt as an American nursing student does, so they can afford to work for a slightlt smaller salary.

      Northern Florida pays about the same as South Florida does, but it’s definitely much cheaper to live there. My in-laws do, and their money saving options heavily outnumber our own.

    • mariah says:

      I absolutely LOVED living in Brier Creek, Raleigh, NC. It was awesome!!! Just an idea.

  • Margaret says:

    This article was so refreshing. Since I’ve had my first child, I’m always looking for ways to cut costs. But lately, I have been really trying to reduce how much I bring into my home as I can–whether it be clutter or the amount of ingredients in a loaf of bread. This article was a really refreshing look at being frugal without trying to get as much junk as I can for the lowest price. Great tips!

  • Lisa H says:

    I also enjoyed this article. We live on one-income in a Los Angeles suburb, and housing is high, but since the weather is good, I find that our utilities are quite low on average (especially with energy-efficiency improvements to our house). Also, the produce comment is very true; I regularly find great deals on produce and keep our food budget very reasonable. Also, with the great weather, we can find lots of free activities outdoors and out in nature. Granted, not all HCOLA areas are in SoCal, with those particular advantages…

  • Gavin says:

    I live in San Diego which certainly can be described as a high cost of living area. My wife and I try to limit eating out to save money. Cooking for yourself can be a healthier option than eating out since you choose your ingredients. We limit sugar, fat, and sodium intake while saving money!

  • Karen Rucker says:

    This was a great article and quite interesting for me to read because I have the opposite problems. I live in a low cost of living area and have inexpensive housing, but it’s rural so job opportunities aren’t that great, there are only a few places to shop locally, and there is zero public transportation. While the internet can get me goods for less, services such as household repairs are really expensive. When there’s only one electrician available, he can charge whatever he wants.

    But I agree that you can’t really compare cost of living because there are good and bad aspects to any situation. You have to just make the most of what opportunities you do have.

  • Andrea Q says:

    Good point about asking for a “locals” discount. A lot of places in Las Vegas offer that. Some places are free in the off season.

    • @Andrea Q,
      I have lived in Las Vegas for 10 years. I know of a few places that offer a discount for locals (all on the strip); it’s usually $2-$5 off admission.

      There really isn’t an “off-season” here, and I don’t know anywhere that lets you in for free. If you do, I’d love to know! I have 6 children and even a discounted admission to somewhere is pretty high.

      There aren’t a lot of things for families in Las Vegas; we don’t have a decent zoo (more of someone’s backyard with chickens running all over the place, and a few emus to see), and we’re right in the middle of the desert, hours from anything else. If you have some secrets for things to do for free in Las Vegas, I’d love to hear them!

      • Andrea Q says:

        @The Prudent Homemaker, I lived in Las Vegas for four years with four children and loved it. We loved the parks and libraries! I would be happy to email you a list of low-cost things that we did. You are right that LV doesn’t really have an off season (though December is fairly slow); I should have clarified that other places in the country do. We live in NH now and most state parks/beaches don’t collect fees in the winter.

        • @Andrea Q,

          Yes, Winter is prime season here. It’s getting too hot for the parks now (those plastic slides will burn you!), though many have water features starting on May 1st. They’re real busy around 8pm, when the sun goes down!

          We have tall swings, a merry-go-round, and a trampline at home, so we play in the backyard in the late evenings.

          My oldest two do enjoy the library.

          I have a list of things to do here in town from some Vegas natives, but I’d love to see if I’ve overlooked some secret fun that we can do for free, besides visiting the Bass Pro shop and seeing the stuffed animals (better than the zoo; you can walk right up to the real lions!) and seeing the Pig Farm. Some of the parks show movies, but they don’t start until 8 pm (after my children’s bedtime) and watching a movie outside when it’s 110º at 8pm, and when the children are cranky and tired hasn’t sounded like too much fun!

          you can send me a message at brandy at the prudent homemaker dot com


  • Liz says:

    I really like that someone finally spoke about living frugally in a high cost area (I’m in NYC.)

    The 80 hour work weeks bit was a little shocking, I am 26 and live in NYC. My friends don’t have children yet and none of my girlfriends have had to resort to working such long hours to live here. Other then that one point I wholeheartedly enjoyed this! I hope to see more posts that focus on saving money in high cost areas.

  • Katie Kerr says:

    This was very helpful. Our family just moved to a high cost canadian city. Since your blog doesn’t include coupons or savings for Candians I do appreciate your articles in thinking more frugally. It really challenges me to think about how I can save money in other ways.

  • Maureen says:

    I lived in L.A. for 8 years. It was great. We lived in a 950 sq ft apartment the whole time and I don’t regret it at all — even when we had 2 kids. If you adjust your expectations for housing you can otherwise live frugally in an area with high COL, since housing will most likely be your biggest expense.

    I found that L.A. was great for bargain shopping. Clearance racks at my favorite stores supported a small eBay business. There is also the fashion district with clothing and fabric and so many free, fun things to do — the Getty center, the beach, etc. Overall, we spent much less living there than we do now in our area with average COL. We live in a bigger house, but there are so many other trade-offs. No public transit. No double coupons. Fewer free recreational opportunities. Limited bargain shopping. I definitely agree with the “Embrace your Locale” point.

  • Alyssa says:

    I’m getting ready to move to NYC this fall for art school, coming from rural PA, so the prices in the city are quadruple what i’ve been paying here. The high cost of living in NYC (where i’ll be for the next 4 years), is partly what has brought me to start couponing, and creating a stockpile that way I won’t have to worry about those kinds of things while i’m busy with school. I also plan to move into a modest studio apartment in Brooklyn as opposed to Manhattan to keep my costs low.

  • Stephanie Monsivaiz says:

    Our family of 4 just bought a Friends of the Zoo Gold Membership. It pays for itself in only 2 trips. And since we go at least once a month, we’ll get 10 or mode trips to the zoo for free this year! The Gold part of the membership allows for unlimited free train, tram, and carousel rides, which Really adds up. and having a membership gets us invites to member-only events. We plan to get a 1-year Union Station / Science City family mebership next year, and something different after that. Not only do we get “free” visits, but the purchase cost of memberships is usually TAX deductible as donations to not-for-profit organizations!!

  • This is very interesting! There certainly are trade offs. I know for me, when i lived in a city where expenses were high, and my relatives worked 2-3 jobs just to pay the bills, we never saw them. It just was not possible. For me, the best decision my parents ever made was to move us out of the city. but, i am glad we are all not the same so we can be scattered all over!

  • nicole says:

    we live in manhattan and i would say it can be frustrating at times to try and be normal people with the cost of everything. Of course we face that dilema that if we moved we would find it hard to get jobs that are commenserate with our level of experience in our fields. So here we are plugging away and let me say that i sit here and see all the great deals from the suburbs and dream about living near a walmart, or target or a big grocery store that actually takes printed coupons from the internet let alone doubles or triples them. It is a dream for someday along with a second bathroom(girls only) and a backyard.

  • Ashlee says:

    I feel so lucky living in a very low cost area (Columbus OH). I feel like here we have a lot of great things about this city and still have very affordable housing and food costs. I can’t imagine living in a place where things are so expensive, but people do make it work.

  • Cindy says:

    I wouldn’t recommend working multiple jobs if you’re raising a family. You’re children need you, not the extra income. They are only small once!

  • Tammy says:

    Good ideas for anyone no matter where you live.I would imagaine she is working 2 jobs to pay off her student loan debt.Also I give her credit for being 25 and not married.

    • Beth says:

      @Tammy, Um, 25 is hardly old to still be single. I got married at 30 and I don’t live in a high cost area. It’s not unusual to be single at 25, even in the midwest.

      • Beth says:

        @Liz, I hate to call it silly. 🙂 Depends on your perspective I guess. I finished my schooling at 29 (post grad work) and moved around a lot before then so I wasn’t in a position to get married. Statistically the divorce rates are higher for those who get married young but I know tons of people who got married at 22 or younger who are still married 10 – 15 years later. In fact, the only divorced couple I know got married in their thirties.

      • @Beth, I think Tammy meant that she gives the OP credit for working hard while being single and while being young as well (not that she is 25 and still single) at least that’s they way I read it.

        • Beth says:

          @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life,
          You know, I think you’re right! Hadn’t thought of it that way. One of the pitfalls of internet communication, I guess.

          I learned my lesson the hard way with credit cards and had quite a big hole to dig out of. One thing I’ve always been grateful for and proud of is that I mostly got my debts paid off before I was married. My attitude towards money changed which saved tremendous heartache in my marriage. I’m also very glad I experienced the pain of my own foolishness before I had children. My heart goes out to people dealing with financial problems while trying to raise a family.

  • Liz says:

    I agree with Cindy.

    And in high cost living areas many woman marry in their late 20’s thru 30’s Tammy.

  • Catherine says:

    We just moved from Florida to NYC last month. My husband doubled his salary, yet we now have less money 🙁
    It’s so frustrating to try and live normally here. Our mortgage in Florida for a 3 bedroom house was $500/month. We’re now renting a 2 bedroom apartment for $2300/month. Plus $200/month for a parking spot. Plus $3/load for laundry. Plus $89/month for DH’s metro card. And the food prices are insane. It’s all very depressing.

    • Debbie says:

      @Catherine, I understand how you feel. I live in New Jersey where property taxes are astronomical. We pay $8300 a year for a 3 bedroom 2 bathrooms home on a 75X100 lot. We’ve never known anything other that this part of the nation, so we are used to paying high everything. You will probably get use to it; hang in there.

  • chelsea says:

    We live in a very low-cost area (suburb of Raleigh/Durham, NC) area, and I feel very blessed that things are so cheap here in our little town of less than 5000 residents. However, there are definite disadvantages that we miss from living in a bigger city, namely, having more than one grocery store! But we take advantage of what we can, and maximize our opportunities here.

  • sherrie says:

    This was one of the best articles I’ve seen written on frugal living in a long time. It was intelligently written and inspiring without being cheap. Wonderful tips, thanks for sharing this.

  • Amy says:

    One thing that was not mentioned was education. When living in a high COLA, it is important to consider the quality of the public schools. Often-not always-they are subpar in the higher COLA. I work in education and can’t tell you how many families move to our lower COLA simply for the better schools. They couldn’t afford private where they came from (many from Vegas and CA) and can send their kids to the excellent public schools here that rival some of the private institutions where they came from. And there are definitely some low COLA with terrible school districts, but the private schools there may be more reasonably priced.

    • Kelly says:

      @Amy, Thanks for the comment Amy! As I don’t have children, I don’t really consider school districts right now!
      One thing to consider if you’re in a higher COLA with poor public schools (or expensive private schools) is how to supplement education with tutoring. This is one area where a stay at home parent can add tremendous value to the family without reporting to a boss. In high COLA with numerous colleges there are often students willing to make money tutoring.

  • JessieLeigh says:

    What a great post! I found this to be a very encouraging read. I recently moved from very low cost of living Indiana to very high cost of living Connecticut. While our mortgage is higher here, I don’t find that I end up having to budget more for other things in our life (fuel, food, etc…) Honestly, what I’m finding I don’t enjoy here isn’t how expensive it is but how wasteful so many of the uber-wealthy around me seem to be. But that would be a topic for a different post… 😉 Thanks for a great list!

    • Kelly says:

      @JessieLeigh, I’m sure it all comes down to perspective, if I toss a piece of bread that’s moldy it seems extravagent to someone living in hunger.
      Sounds like the waste of the wealthy is a great local benefit for you! I’d imagine thrift stores have some amazing finds and if you joined a local freecycle group you could get some nice castoffs.

      • JessieLeigh says:

        @Kelly, No doubt- though I don’t find that I need much these days. 🙂 Maybe waste was the wrong word… I think it bothers my frugal soul to watch people throw their money away. Not my business… but it makes finding like-minded friends challenging.

    • Andrea Q says:

      @JessieLeigh, There are many places where it is very important to “keep up appearances”. In my experience, Connecticut is one of those and it can be very difficult to go against the “norm”.

  • Crissy Stout says:

    This article really hits home because I live in Southwest Florida. I look at others who are able to keep their weekly groceries below $50 for four or more with supermarkets who double or triple coupons and sigh enviously when my groceries are $80 for week despite much of my meat being free thanks to my husband hunting.

    One thing that I would like to point out is that you should (every few years) shop for insurance (car and house). By calling AAA and car insurance shopping, I was able to stay with my current company and current coverage and still drop our monthly payment by $100 a month! I’m not an idiot by any means and I really thought that we were taking advantage of all discounts available.

    In addition, you may not live in an area where there is much competition for car dealerships, etc., but the power of the internet makes it much easier!!! I’m within two hours of both Tampa and Miami and within 3 hours of Orlando and I plan to really use it to my advantage when I shop for a new vehicle in 6 months.

    • Kelly says:

      @Crissy Stout, Great point Crissy! When I wrote this for Crystal I hadn’t renegotiated my insurance for the year but doing so saved me over $300. The link to the site on negotiation is really helpful for understanding how to approach those situations if you are uncomfortable negotiating.

  • Kari says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article, as I’m in NYC, and often feel “trapped” by living in a city that’s so expensive. Fortunately, I’ve only lived in high cost areas since college (Providence, Boston) so that’s all I “know”.

    My boyfriend and I have a modest 1 bed apartment and pay about $2000 a month. We’d love to move somewhere in the South where prices are cheaper and the pace of life is slower, but in all honesty I’m not sure it will ever happen as my boyfriend works in finance and finding a job that would be appropriate for his skill level and salary (we know it would go down and are OK with that, but he doesn’t want to end up taking something that wouldn’t be challenging) is really hard. Sometimes we think about buying a condo here, but for the $500,000+ we’d pay for a 1-2 bed, we could get a much nicer home anywhere else in the country.

    I guess there are pros and cons of living in high and low cost areas. I’ve been thinking about picking up some extra hours at work and know lots of people working 60-70 hours a week. I guess that’s pretty normal for singles (and non-singles too) living in the city. Thanks for this post!

  • Steph says:

    GREAT POST!!!! Thanks for sharing, Kelly. We just moved from a college town (where our rent never topped 500/mo) to a much bigger city where cost of living is definitely higher. I was getting so frustrated even with grocery shopping because I was barely able to maintain the low budget we’d had in the old hometown. Sometimes I feel ready to toss in the frugal towel, and your encouragement and inspiration really helped. Now I can hardly wait to finish this comment and check out your blog!

  • Great ideas and I enjoyed reading through the comments too. I couldn’t read them all so this may have been addressed elsewhere, in which case I apologize for the redundancy! It is possible to work several jobs but when we needed additional income and had just adopted a special needs baby boy, I looked at the home business options. Working from home is not for everyone, but for us it’s been a lifesaver. With 5 teens and a newborn, it would have been just about impossible to find a job that would have paid enough to provide daycare and still bring any substantial income home. So for 14 years I’ve worked at building residual income and have helped others do the same. Like I said, it’s not for everyone but it might be worth checking into.

  • Maryanne says:

    Guess this is why everyone loves Austin. Great paying jobs and low cost of living!

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