Friday, 24 February 2012

Frugal Friday (24th February)

Today's Frugal Friday is all about how to look good on a budget!

In our secular, fallen world, where the focus is on material things rather than spiritual ones, being beautiful has become an idol that everyone, it seems, from infancy upwards, is expected to pursue at any cost. The beauty industry is a multi-million pound business, even discounting the huge sums spent on plastic surgery, as people search ever further for the perfect face and body. As Christian women, of course we know that the pursuit of beauty for its own sake is not part of God's plan for us. When a woman focuses more on what her outward appearance is, than on the condition of her heart, she has her priorities very wrong. Unfortunately, the world we live in now isn't geared up for putting spiritual beauty before physical good looks, but when we have God at the centre of our lives, what the world thinks becomes much less important than what the news stands, televisions or department stores are telling us.

However, it is also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we should not make an idol out of our outward appearance, in order to please God, we should make a point of paying little attention to it. But this attitude is mistaken also. It DOES matter what we look like - not just for our own sake but, more importantly, for the benefit of our husbands, and our families - and for the world at large. As His children, placed in this fallen world, God wants us to pay attention to our outward appearance. What we shouldn't be doing, is spending lots of time and money on our looks. But we can - and should - be making an effort to take care of our appearance, and our outward well being, because it has many positive benefits.

Not only do we feel better, when we take care of our appearance, but we also behave better. You only have to take a look around you to see how easily we make value judgements based on appearance. While it is certainly vanity to prefer some people over others based on how well-dressed or physically beautiful they are, it is also sensible to make other reasoned value judgements. If we don't know who the store assistants are when we are out shopping, we can't ask for help when we need it. Likewise with clergy, policemen, doctors, judges ... the list is endless. They are clothed in a particular way, to make their roles and positions in society easily identifiable. And so it must be for us! As Christian wives and mothers, we need to be identifiable too ... as servants of God! It isn't enough to think "well, I don't have a job, so I don't need a uniform." We DO have a job - a very important one! And our uniform should be one of simple modest beauty, that inspires respect - and from our husbands, adoration!

There are three strands to looking good, but spending less, that I'm going to consider today. The first is a healthy diet. Everyone knows what they need to do to have a healthy diet. These days, the advice is all around us. The trouble is, that advice isn't always the same - and it isn't always grounded in commonsense! I personally believe that anything gimmicky or cranky or difficult to implement in an ordinary family lifestyle, is a waste of time and money. We don't need to spend our money on supplements, tablets or specialist foods. God has provided us with everything we need to live well - and it is easily available. Moderation is the key. Aside from food allergies, I don't think there is any value in eating a very restricted diet, or one that has an overemphasis on only certain food groups, or on combining certain foods, or preparing them in a special way. Everything is good for us - it is just the quantities that we need to watch. And we can eat quite simply and cheaply, and still be well. It's easy to find the basics for a wholesome diet that will make you feel and look good in your supermarket without spending lots of money. Wholegrain breads, pasta, flour, and rice are cheap and form the basis for many different meals. Add to these some other grains such as lentils, pulses, vegetables, a little meat and fish, and some cheese, eggs and milk, along with fruit and a little fat in the form of butter or oil and you have all that you need for a balanced diet. Nuts and dried fruits are nutritious treats, and water is the cheapest drink of all! Whilst it's true a diet formed only of these foodstuffs won't be very exciting, if you use these basics as the foundation for most of your meals, you can't go far wrong. Furthermore, wholegrain, simple foods like these will leave you feeling fuller for longer, so you'll eat less and won't crave unhealthy, junk food snacks between meals - which is better for you, and your bank balance.

The diet that I provide for my family is based on a balance of these simple wholesome ingredients, with enough calories to keep Papa Bear (whose job involves a great amount of hard physical labour) and Cubby and Little Bear (who are growing teenagers) going all day long. I don't need all these extra calories, but rather than cook separate foods for myself, I simply reduce the portion sizes of the more calorific foods, and increase the amount of fruit, vegetables and other lower calorie items, to compensate. That way we can eat a balanced, but enjoyable diet, which to my mind is exactly what God planned for us.

There are a few books that I can recommend that will assist in helping you to plan a healthy, frugal diet - I've read them and found them all to be inspiring, although I have not used any one single meal plan in exclusion. They are all available through or, either new or second hand ...

The 15 Minute Meal Planner, by Emilie Barnes and Sue Gregg
Greater Health God's Way, by Stormie Omartian
The Fast Food Kitchen, by Sherri Torelli

Of course, we can't be fit and healthy without getting some exercise as well. All of us need to be physically active - enough to make our heart rate rise - for about 30 minutes a day. And this is where real savings can be made financially, because to my mind the best sort of exercise is free! As I said above, Papa Bear's job means he is physically active for many hours a day. He doesn't need to work out, go swimming or cycling, play tennis or run marathons, to stay fit. He does it naturally in his work. The cubs are the same - they get plenty of exercise just through their natural daily activities at home and at college. And I get my exercise, through my daily work at home! Yes, really! I make sure I keep physically active every day through just doing my usual chores. I aim to be so busy physically each day, that I am too tired to do anything else except sleep, by the time bedtime arrives. Obviously, my chores aren't as demanding on me as Papa Bear's work is, so therefore, I don't need to sustain myself with so much food. I simply eat a little less, and that way I stay fit and active without spending any money - in fact, I save it, by eating less and keeping busy at home with my chores instead of going out and indulging in leisure activities like shopping, going to the beautician or hairdresser, or the gym. On Papa Bear's days off and at weekends, we like to go for walks, which again cost nothing. In the summer, we may go a bit further afield, and visit the beach or the countryside, and again, we simply walk until we can't go any further! We don't need to pay for gym subscriptions or exercise equipment for our home. We get all the exercise we need, just as our ancestors did, for free, through our work.

The final strand of looking good on a budget, is about hair, make up and clothes. And this is where a lot of us get into a bit of a muddle. We either seem to think we shouldn't spend anything at all, or we get overwhelmed by the vast array of choices there are to be made in the stores, and fetch up with far too much, rather than not enough. A balance is needed, and I personally have found that the easiest way to achieve this is to defer to my precious husband about this issue. I've asked Papa Bear for his guidance on how much make up he would have me wear, how he likes me to have my hair, which clothes he prefers to see me in, and what his favourite perfumes, accessories and adornments are. And he has been delighted to help me! It has been a wonderful, bonding experience for us to share. We both really enjoy going shopping together for clothes and shoes for me, and I get very excited when he arrives home, as he often does, with a wee surprise for me, which turns out to be a sweet neck scarf, or a new hair trimming! However, he doesn't spend lots of money. We have a tight budget for things like new clothes and accessories. And as we don't have much space in our home for storage, it makes sense not to have too many items. How we stay on top of this, is as follows ...

1. We only shop for clothes and shoes when we need them, as opposed to wanting them (unless it is as a gift for a birthday or holiday occasion).

2. When we do shop, we have a budget and stick to it (I find using cash is always the best way to help you stick to a budget. You can't spend more than you've got, if you only use cash rather than a debit or credit card).

3. We always look first in thrift shops, or at whether the required item can be made, before we buy new. We aren't quite as good yet as Jim and Michelle Duggar who "buy used and save the difference", because we don't always HAVE the "difference" to save! But we use the same principle - if you don't have to buy it new, then don't.

4. The exception to this is shoes. We only ever buy shoes that are previously unworn. Worn second hand shoes are moulded to the foot of the previous wearer and you can be sure that even if they are in good condition they will not fit your foot as they did that person, and they will therefore be likely to cause problems like blisters and calluses. This is especially important for children - even brothers and sisters. Wellington boots maybe, but not everyday shoes. And anyway, could you really wear shoes that someone else had worn? I'm not sure I could! We tend to go to Shoe Zone for all our family footwear. There is plenty of choice, they are reasonably hardwearing, and they are mostly under £15 a pair (well below half the price of the more upmarket stores).

5. As we do, check out the childrens' department for clothing and shoes if you or your grown up children are smaller than average. They usually go up to age 16, so even if you aren't really tiny, you may be surprised to find that you can find many garments that will fit for considerably less than the adult sizes (at least in England, where VAT isn't charged on childrenswear). For girls there is an added bonus that oftentimes the styles are more modest and feminine, than the adult garments.

6. Items like jewellery, perfume, and special occasion wear are luxuries. We tend to only ever buy these as gifts.

7. Most every woman has too much make ups. It is probably the greatest clutter causer, in our bedroom! What with the toiletries, hair products and so forth, you can fetch up being drowned in them! Try to pare down your products so that you have a simple selection - perhaps 2 lipsticks, 4 eyeshadows, a mascara and an eyeliner. These are very easy to buy cheaply. Buying expensive make ups, hair and body products and perfumes, again is a luxury and they are usually no better in terms of how well they perform when you use them, than cheaper versions. ELF is a great cosmetics website which sells very good value make ups, if you like to buy online. For luxury products, why not save your money and ask for your favourite Estee Lauder (I always do!) for your birthday. Hair products are a particular waste of money. The more expensive ones come with all sorts of promises to mend your split ends, grow your hair faster, change its texture and enhance its colour, but these are all false promises designed to get you to part with your money. Stick to cheaper ones and you won't notice any difference (however I do have to say that in the past when we've had to be REALLY frugal, I have discovered through personal experience that the very cheapest ones aren't worth the money either!).

8. Make sure you use up all your products. Most of them are packaged in such a way that you think they are finished before they really are. Cut tubes and bottles in half if you can (as I've mentioned before the exception to this is shared items like toothpaste, which is unhygienic if used in this way). Make up has a shelf life, so don't be too frugal with it - the natural bacterias that get into it aren't good for your skin and eyes if they're allowed to sit around for too long.

9. A tin or tub of basic, original Vaseline, will go a long way on a dressing table! It is very cheap to buy but can be used as a moisturiser (in tiny amounts, as it is very rich indeed), as a hand cream (try rubbing it into your fingernails to soften cuticles) and as a lip gloss! You can even try mixing it with your lipstick to make a sheer gloss, and it can also be used in this way (again in tiny amounts) to stretch creme eye shadows or foundation (which I really don't like so never use!).

10. Don't waste your money on expensive make up removers. A friend suggested I try baby oil instead, and I am a complete convert now! It is brilliant at removing eye make up, and very gentle on your skin, even around the eyes. I also use it as a light facial moisturiser.

11. Again, the simpler products are best in the bath and to wash your face with. You really don't need to spend lots to get products which do the job perfectly well. I use Dove soap, just ordinary bar soap, for my face. It costs under £1 a bar, and lasts for ages and ages. In the bath, as I've mentioned before, we all use the same bath product, which saves money and cuts on bathroom clutter.

12. You don't need to pay for haircuts - God's command for us women is to have long hair, so at the very most, all you need to have is the odd trim - which your husband or older daughter can do for you, and for the males in your family, why not invest in a hair clipper, and become their own personal hairdresser? It's so easy to do, and much quicker than having to make an appointment and go out to the barber shop.

13. Likewise, trips to the beautician or manicurist are real indulgences. If you're trying to be beautiful on a budget, reserve these treats for very special occasions, or request vouchers for them as gifts. I like to do my own nails with a miniature manicure kit, whilse Papa Bear and I are watching TV. And pedicures are great fun done at home too! Little Bear and I often have a "pamper afternoon" when we're home alone together. We'll make our own facepack using oats, honey, lemon juice and a little salt, and use a mixture of basic cooking oil and sugar to create a wonderful moisturising hand scrub (do try it - it will make your skin feel like silk). We drink smoothies and give each other pedicures and manicures, then finish off by having a "workout" to a fitness DVD we got in a thrift shop. It's great fun!

Finally, the cheapest and most effective trick you have for making the most of your good looks, is also the easiest to find.

A smile!

Everyone looks beautiful when they smile - so make sure you do, often. Especially when your husband is around!