How Mooching Can Hurt Your Frugality

Attaining a quality frugal life is all about changing one’s character in regards to finance. It’s like they tell you in Weight Watchers: this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. You will fall down and get back up, all the while making steps toward progress. Some weeks you gain a pound, other weeks you lose two. It’s the same with frugality. There are certain choices you can make that will enhance your lifestyle and others that will steer you in the wrong direction. Mooching is one of those character traits that the frugal could do without; and frankly, this should be obvious. But to some it appears to be a fine line; “I am saving money after all”. Let me just tell you  that mooching is not creative or inspiring to anyone.

The formal definition of a mooch is to ask for or obtain something without paying for it.

Sounds like a money savers dream, right? Careful. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in an unhealthy pattern. We’re all guilty of it. Ordering no fries and then eating our counterparts’. Over staying our welcome on a friends’ couch in between apartments. Drinking the last bottle of beer in the fridge when you didn’t bring any to the party. In all of these cases, context matters. It would certainly not be mooching if it were a trade off of some sort. Equally so if you are being offered a gift by a generous friend. Just because it’s free doesn’t make you a mooch. It’s your attitude that does.

A few months back, I read a book authored by the President of World Vision. He explained that when the organization goes to a third world country, they do not simply give money to a village and leave. They help an individual develop a certain skill and give them money to start a business with the expectation of being paid back. It is through this process that the person learns the value of a dollar and develops a sense of pride and responsibility for their business. Being made to pay the loan back is imperative for their lasting success. I found this to be a great illustration of why it is so important to be an earner in order to understand money management.

I’ve known people who struggle with finances and their response has often made me uncomfortable. Ranging from repeatedly discussing how they can’t afford this or that, to only being social if they are “hooked up”. That type of personality is no fun to hang around. But all to often, I’ve found their inner circle to be enablers. A rotating door of new friendships that have yet to pick up on the pattern and so indulge in what anyone’s instinct would be–to help out. Again, all of us pursuing a quality frugal life search for deals or attend free events– that’s not what I’m addressing. It’s the attitude that sets the mooch apart. Do you lack financial self-sufficiency? Are you always on the receiving end of the other people’s goodness? I have a solution for you.

If you take more than you give, you will likely not be a good saver or conservative in your spending habits. Conversely, the positive impact on your character through being generous is great. I have one friend in particular who is the most giving woman I know. It regularly humbles me. She’s brought me things when I was sick and lived alone, driven out to me from across town (a lot further than it may sound), showered me with gifts in celebratory seasons, calls on the phone for the important things and I am sure would bend over backwards to help if a need arises. What an example to me and everyone else in her life! You see, generosity need not be in the form of a dollar bill. Sure, it’s sweet to pick up the tab at lunch. But not everyone can afford to do that and that’s okay. Just the action of driving out of your way for someone speaks volumes. It shows you are offering what you can to someone you care for. And in my opinion, these simple gestures are a very important exercise to practice in order to distinguish yourself as frugal rather than one who relies on others to provide her various needs. What a small and wonderful adjustment we can all make in our lives starting today and what an impact it can have on those around us! You may not be a mooch at all, but we can all afford to be more giving of our time, skills, resources and sometimes money.

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Spotlight: Airbnb

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Some of you want to travel this summer but can’t see how it’s feasible when you’re just barely paying all your bills and have a little leftover cash to splurge on a dinner out every once and a while. I’ve been there and I know how tough it can be. Today at the grocery store, I was in the detergent aisle and reminded of a time not too long ago when buying Bounce dryer sheets was a luxury. I had formed the habit of only getting them maybe once a year, as it wasn’t a necessity. This was so ingrained in me that when our supply ran out a few months ago, I never put them on the grocery list. Today I happened to pass them on the shelf, remembered we were out, tossed them in my cart and went on my sweet way. When I realized the ease at which I had done this simple action, I found myself in a moment of private victory at how far I’d come from just a few years ago. That’s why I want to share a really great way to earn side income to help pay off debt or get ahead with savings and it’s available to everyone–even those of you who think you have no special skills to earn money from a part time gig.

Because it’s summer and because I just got back from a successful vacation in which we were able to rent out our apartment while gone, I felt the need to promote a frugal person’s dream: Airbnb, a way to get paid while you’re out of town. It seems to have become a household word in most big cities nowadays, but for those who aren’t familiar, it is an online service in which you can host and/or stay at a stranger’s house and pay less than hotels in the area charge. You can rent out a spare room or your entire place. My husband and I have happily used Airbnb for stays in Santa Fe, Kansas City, Savannah, Charleston and Julian, CA. We became hosts this past Spring. It can be a little scary to trust people you’ve never met to respect your space, but I have found trying it once alleviates most concern (also locking closets). People are generally good, which is easy to forget in this day and age.

The financial benefits of this type of service are obvious. If you are leaving town to take a vacation of your own, then you have it partially paid for by allowing your otherwise empty place to house others. If you are visiting family or doing something equally cheap like camping, you are just earning money. How about that for a boost in income? All you have to do is spend some time setting up a profile, snap some attractive photos of your place to show off and give an appealing description of your neighborhood. I think it took me around two hours to do all that in a way I was satisfied with. I have found it to be very easy to book guests each time we have left town since making a host account. It helps to live in a desirable part of town, or one that is close certain attractions, but is certainly not necessary. Though location may help raise your asking price, as will multiple bedrooms and good reviews. Guests will book anywhere from months in advance to days in advance if you let them.

The website is free to use, but Airbnb takes a small percentage off the top of every transaction. It’s suggested that you provide some sort of breakfast options for guests, which we have done each time. It can be as simple as travel boxes of cereal or baking some scones (all of the ingredients for which you probably have already!), giving them access to your coffee grounds and some cream, etc. This can all be accomplished for under $10. You should clean your place well–which is the only real drag about the entire process. Making sure you have plenty of clean spare sheets and towels to go around, that the bathtub is sparkling and your fridge isn’t a disaster zone. Not mine of course; its contents are alphabetized, it always smells fresh and looks perfect. I just mean someone out there probably has this problem.

Maybe it’s because we are in Los Angeles, but I know a ton of people doing this right now. For us, it has strictly been about making the reason we are gone more affordable. I think this is kind of key for people who find themselves pursuing a quality frugal life–to address why you are doing it first. I was super inspired by this story over at the Mr. Money Mustache blog in which a Manhattan couple raked in an extra $2-4K a month by renting out a spare room in their apartment. They used all of it (in addition to other strategies) to pay down a very large student loan in under a year.

The main take away from this modern option for earning some extra cash is that you don’t want to be dependent upon it for your livelihood. I’d urge caution if you are already planning on how this can help you pay rent, for example. Desperate times can certainly call for desperate measures and it’s perfectly within your right if that’s what you need to do. But if you aren’t pursuing it for side income, but rather as a primary means of survival, it could form a habit that will not encourage a frugal mindset in the long run. Think longterm when being creative in money saving strategies–this doesn’t replace your job and isn’t a way to stay afloat, but rather a device to get ahead. It’s a great option for people who are my target audience; financially stable (or diligently on the path there) and looking for inventive ways to boost their income and future wealth. It should not be an option that has you sleeping in your car or at a friend’s every other weekend. Just some food for thought, as quality is in the title of this blog for a reason. Even if it’s a little scary to take the plunge, try it out and see if it works for you and your household. Let me know how it goes!