Creativity is vital for frugal living. No, you don’t need to be a poet or a sculptor to save money, but you do need to look at life a little differently from how most people do. One of the ways creativity comes into play when saving money is in problem solving. Trying to discover the least expensive way to solve a problem or meet a need is a great exercise in creativity.
Even if you don’t have much innate creativity, you can cultivate it. Read articles and books about how to be more creative – you will find most of the advice (such as writing down ideas immediately and exposing yourself to activities and hobbies you don’t normally enjoy) will help you become better at solving everyday problems frugally. Also look for tips from other savers, which are readily available online and in books you can get from the library. You don’t need to think too hard to find frugal solutions to everyday problems when others have already found and shared solutions that work.
When tips aren’t available, one way to save money and to hone your creative thinking skills is to ask yourself, How can I accomplish the same goal? whenever you see a product you like with a new or unusual feature. Most of the time, new products that offer “great new features” simply adapt the product to be used in ways resourceful people have been using similar products for years. Aluminum foil bags? Make them by folding regular foil into a bag shape. As an added bonus, you only need to buy one foil product. Select-a-size paper towels? Simply tear of smaller parts of regular paper towels if you don’t need them all. You get the idea.
This past year I saw television advertisements for a line of disposable products to help parents keep their cars clean. (I can’t remember the name of them, and I couldn’t find the ad when I searched for it.) The mom in the ads looked so organized, and wow – wasn’t that amazing how she grabbed the wipe from the specially designed container on the back of the driver’s seat, cleaned off that sticky child, and threw the wipe in a trash bag that she could then easily carry inside to throw away with the rest of her trash?
So how can I accomplish the same goal? Well, even if I had those specialized products, I could never be as organized as that television mom, who didn’t really have to get her children bundled up and strapped into the car seats, only to unstrap them a few miles away and then carry one child on her hip while holding another’s hand and tucking the trash bag containing the disposable wipe under her arm, where it bumps against the diaper bag over her shoulder. But, realities of parenthood aside, I could have readily available cleaning products in my car. I could stash a container of wipes in the elastic mesh on the back of the driver’s seat and keep plastic grocery bags in the car to dispose of trash. In fact, I already had both plastic bags and disposable wipes in my car.
After seeing those ads and asking myself how I could accomplish the goal of keeping my car a bit cleaner, I changed one thing – I moved the container of wipes from the trunk to the floor below my son’s feet, where they are more accessible. The advertised products looked ingenious, but I could accomplish the same thing for significantly less money. In fact, the wipes designed to fit onto the back of the driver’s seat would probably have wound up on the floor, anyway. I can even imagine hearing my daughter laughing behind me as she pulled them out one by one.
Most products advertised as more convenient or clever than the competition are more expensive, as well. The extra features are rarely worth the higher prices, especially when those features can easily be copied with a little creativity. That cool product may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but don’t forget that you can inexpensively reproduce sliced bread, too – all you need is an unsliced loaf of bread and a knife (or a hammer for your m&m’s).