They are the Web's "frugalati" -- bloggers who make cheap look chic. Some have always been thrifty. Others are reformed spendthrifts. We asked them to share key insights and tips for turning it all around.
Write it down
Mary Hunt ( www.debtproofliving.com) said it took coming to the brink of financial ruin before she was willing to do what she now advises is a must for everyone -- write down what you're spending. Hunt said she ran up $100,000 in debt with a shopping addiction that she describes as "drinking but never quite quenching your thirst." She never bothered to distinguish between "wants" and "needs" -- that is, until the banks cut off her credit cards.
Setting a budget, Hunt said, ensures that you can afford the things you need. And it lets you regain control so that you can afford some of the extras you really want. That feeling of control is better than the temporary high you get from shopping, she said. Writing down what you're spending will help you see where you're wasting money. And it will help you plan for longer-term goals, like buying a car, funding college and retiring.
Consider your 'rathers'
Katie Dunsworth (www.smartcookies.com) said most people assume that budgets are like crash diets: You have to give up everything you like. Not so, said the former shopaholic, who still harbors a weakness for $300 designer jeans. Any budget that nixes all such spending is never going to work for the long term, Dunsworth said.
She manages to control these expenses by keeping an eye on her "rathers." What's that? "I'd like that pair of designer shoes, but I'd rather save up for a weekend at the spa," she said.
Now, rather than buying multiple pairs of designer jeans, Dunsworth has made it a goal to pay off her mortgage. The 27-year-old says she has whittled her impulsive spending so much that she and her husband are on track to do just that within the next five years.
"If you go on a diet and only eat vegetables and water, you will lose weight but you'll hate your life and eventually fall off the bandwagon," Dunsworth said. "I look at clothing as wearable art, so I budget some money for it. I am also really focused on other things -- my rathers."
Conscript the kids
Denis Cauvier and Alan Lysaght (www.abcsofmakingmoney.com) advised a middle-class family seeking to cut expenses to get their kids involved in the process. So the couple offered their teenage boys 20% of every dollar they managed to save. The kids held a garage sale, eliminated cable TV channels and revamped the family cellphone plan. Household expenses dropped by $305 a month.
"Instead of telling the kids that they were going to cut off their television channels and stop buying them sneakers, they got them involved," Lysaght said. "They often have really clever ideas."
Lisa Koivu (www.fantabulouslyfrugal.com) swears there's an online coupon for almost everything. Koivu likes designer clothing -- but only if she can get it cheap. She frequently writes about sample-sale sites, such as Rue La La (www.ruelala.com), where you can buy designer products for 50% to 75% off. But even if you're shopping for something mundane, Koivu insists that you need to Google the product and "coupon offers" to see if somebody will sell it to you for less. Chances are they will.
Sandra Hanna isn't above confessing past shopping sins. She once bought a $400 party dress for a hot date that went nowhere. To salvage something from that disaster, Hanna lent it to her friends for special occasions.
"That dress has become a bit of a joke. Every one of us [the five friends who make up the SmartCookies] has worn it," she said. "I can't even imagine getting in that situation now. Your girlfriends have zillions of things like that in their closets. Share!"
Adjust your attitude
Mary Hunt used to think that everyone she passed was envious of her tooling around in a leased Cadillac. But when she hit the economic wall, she had to turn in the keys and cadge rides with her husband. That saved $1,000 a month in lease payments, gasoline, insurance and repairs. But Hunt was crushed at her perceived loss of status -- until she decided to give herself an attitude makeover. "I thought, I am a privileged woman, just like Oprah. Oprah has a driver. Now I have a driver."
That was nine years ago. Hunt says she's gotten so fond of having her own "driver" that she won't buy a car, even though she can now afford one.
Find a real hobby
Susan Kessler (thefrugaldiva.com) says the problem with shopping is that, for too many people, it has become a form of entertainment. Saturday morning rolls around and they head for the mall. Then they see a sale and buy something they hadn't even set out to purchase. Kessler's advice: Find a real hobby.
"I don't care what you paid for it," Kessler said. "The most expensive item in your closet is the one that you bought on sale but never wear."
Max out the 401(k)
J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy (www.budgetsaresexy.com; yes, that's his nom de plume; he doesn't want his boss to know his sideline) is only 29. But he has $115,000 in his retirement plan. Why? He decided to make the most of the free money he got in 401(k) matching contributions from his employer by saving the maximum amount possible each year. Better yet, seeing the balance rise so rapidly has inspired him.
"It's hard to get motivated when you're just watching your $50 or $100 contributions adding up," he said. "But when I hit $50,000, I thought, this is so cool -- and it's so easy. Now I'm used to living on less, so it's not that hard to save."