Serina Bird wants to reclaim the word “frugal”, which she believes has become a dirty word. Where thrift and frugality were once celebrated as virtues, she says, frugality is now often equated with negative words such as meagre, cheap and skimpy. Serina is proud of her frugal lifestyle and wants to see frugality associated with concepts such as creativity, empowerment, and being enterprising and environmentally sound.
A Canberra public servant and mother of two, Serina began embracing a frugal lifestyle in earnest after escaping an abusive marriage. As she built up her savings and changed her spending habits, she realised that being a “frugalista” enabled her to lead the life she had always dreamed of. She began a blog called The Joyful Frugalista, successor to an earlier blog, Ms Frugal Ears, which she had originally begun as a means of documenting her “$5 Fridays” – meals that cost $5 or less to make.
As part of the Canberra blogging community, I met Serina a few years ago and have continued following her on social media. It’s been a pleasure to watch her evolve, both personally – in her recent marriage to the love of her life, Neil – and professionally, with the publication by Murdoch Books of The Joyful Frugalista and all the media coverage that has come with it.
In the introduction to this exceptionally helpful handbook, Serina defines a “frugalista” as “someone who lives the good life, the fashionable life, while still living frugally – someone who is mindful of the small things, avoids waste and lives consciously”.
She is at pains to point out that being frugal is very different from being a scrooge. “We all know someone who is cheap – such people are lavish with themselves but stingy with others. If you go to dinner as a group, they haggle over splitting the bill, trying a different formula to maximise their benefit.”
Serina’s frugal lifestyle places a premium on people and experiences over “stuff”. She celebrates the abundance around her, enjoying and knowing that she doesn’t have to be in debt to live her life the way she wants to.
“Hundreds of secrets from a single mum turned millionaire” screams the book’s bright pink cover, and indeed you have to admire her determination, for in a few short years she has acquired a portfolio that includes the apartment she lives in, two small investment properties in her own name, and two more properties with her husband. Oh, and she has a $100,000 mortgage that is decreasing rapidly. She hopes to double her net worth by 2020.
Serina has strong financial goals and admits that she is an aggressive saver. While she believes that saving for the future is important, she also believes in enjoying life today. The trick, she says, is to find a balance between the two, and her clear and sensible advice shows how to wring every drop of pleasure from the money you have.
Among the topics she canvases is how to save on energy, groceries, clothes, transport and eating out – even how to save on weddings (drawing on her own personal experience here). Although there are the usual tips for saving energy like taking shorter showers and swapping halogen lights for LEDs, there are some ingenious tips too, like bubble wrapping large expanses of windows to save on heating (apparently there are You Tube videos showing how to do it!)
Serina offers her top 10 tips for saving on groceries while eating like a queen. “Many cultures have cuisines that stem from financial hardship and the creativity of loving mothers, grandmothers and other cooks,” she says. “Many such dishes are now modern fare in restaurants and you often pay a premium to eat them, even though they started as rustic meals made from ingredients that were cheap and readily available.”
Serina’s mother was a fashion designer so she is well placed to come up with a top 10 list of style tips for looking good on a budget. She offers clever ways to reduce waste and puts forward her tips for embracing the joy of minimalism. Each chapter ends with a frugalista challenge inviting the reader to get cracking by instituting at least one small change to help your dollar go further.
Every dollar counts, she stresses time and time again throughout the book. She shows how to negotiate discounts, offers tips for finding the best deals (including coupons, vouchers and group buying), and shows how you can get things for free.
Pay it forward
When people know that you accept free things with gratitude, even more comes your way, Serina says. Admirable in her thoughts on universal abundance, she points out that the cycle of receiving also involves giving, and that she believes in “paying it forward” by giving generously and freely of her own things. “When you give things with love, I find it often returns to you multiplied. It doesn’t always return from the person who received your gift, but often it returns in unexpected ways.”
Therein lies why The Joyful Frugalista is such a jolly good read, for not only does Serina offer lots of good advice, she puts such a positive, joyful spin on it. “I am proud that my low-consumer lifestyle is comparatively kind to the environment, and I am proud that by saying no to many consumer goods I am often saying no to products made under poor labour conditions,” she says. … “Funnily enough, I am discovering that a lot of the tenets of my frugalista lifestyle are consistent with modern research about the meaning of true happiness.”
The Joyful Frugalista, by Serina Bird, is published by Murdoch Books. The photos here were taken at the book’s Canberra launch by photographer Erna Glassford @Simplycheecky and are reproduced with Erna’s kind permission.
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