Choosing Between Apples and Oranges


My family lives a fairly simple lifestyle. We live in a rural area, drive older cars, and rarely go out for dinner. But we also like to enjoy life. Given that we know approximately how much we need to live on, and how much we will have coming in each month, we are able to budget to accommodate for some things that help make life richer (so to speak.)

While many of my friends could never live without the DISH network or TIVO, we don’t subscribe to cable because there is little I could watch around my 4 kids, anyway. So to me, that is a waste of money. Instead, we subscribe to an online movie rental service and occasionally download a television episode or two from iTunes. This ends up costing much less, and we get the most out of both services.

I am also not afraid to purchase off-brand or store versions of most food. While there is a difference in a few areas, when it comes to most staple items like eggs, milk, juice, frozen veggies, and cereal, we don’t notice any difference in taste, and enjoy saving a buck here and there. With the money we save on these things, I am able to “invest” my extra grocery money into the Hazelnut Coffee pods for my Krups Home Café brewed coffee that I absolutely can’t live without. (For extra savings, I brew two cups per pod… it helps with the caffeine addiction.) We also love the creamier and more expensive ice creams with gourmet toppings and syrups.

It can really help a family’s finances to sit down and make an exhaustive list of all the things you regularly spend money on in a given month. (If that’s too lengthy of a task, start with a week.) Add any major purchses or wish list items that you are seriously considering making in the next 6 months. Marking each item with a highlighter can help prioritize how important that item is in your life. My list would look something like this:

New refrigerator (blue - for need)

New dishwasher (yellow - for can live without)

Cable service (yellow)

Internet service (blue)

Rotisserie Chicken (yellow)

Coffee pods (blue)

Cell phone service (yellow)

Long distance landline service (blue)

After you have carefully examined what items you can live without, do so immediately. If you are paying for a service that automatically renews, cancel it as close to the renew date as possible. Use it as much as you can before this time. If you will have to pay termination or contract fees, look to see if you can put in a cancellation request now for when it comes up for renewal. (Don’t pay fees unless you have to, and try to ask for a waiver if possible.)

Now look at those items that you absolutely cannot live without. Can you buy them at discount? Will buying in bulk for an entire 6 months of a year save you any money? Can you use a subscription delivery service from an online retailer or your local store for a certain percentage off? Will coupons help reduce the cost? These are all valid questions to see how your “must-haves” can cost less.

Living lean shouldn’t hurt so much that you can’t enjoy life. (Unless it really is a temporary solution to a very difficult situation.) I have often had to defend my stance on why we don’t have cell phones or use much air conditioning , but enjoy digital photography and make frequent trips to the zoo. That is a choice we decided to make to better enjoy the lifestyle we live. It is a personal one, and our lives are fuller because of it.

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Guest's picture

Good article! I like the idea of using a color-coded system to prioritize expenses; that way you can see at a glance what is vital and what is not.

...On a very-marginally-related note, your title made me think of the Orple: half orange, half apple. Hehe!

Guest's picture

I don't know about your neighborhood, but we live within a 10 minute drive of about half a dozen libraries. If you haven't visited the library since you were a kid, surprise: they have dvds by the hundreds. They have something for every taste and they cost nothing. (Of course, if you have a conscience, you'll make an occasional donation to your library or support whatever fundraisers they have. Even after a donation, that still makes your videos extremely cheap.) One nice benefit is, if you really loved a movie, you can also pick up the book that the movie was based on. Conversely, if you realize you hate the movie ten minutes into it, push eject and take it back, guilt-free. Frugal people can also find newspapers, magazines, and good, old-fashioned books at the library - all free. Free air conditioning in the summer, too.

Linsey Knerl's picture

is an excellent way to view movies for nothing!  Our library is smaller, and I believe that we've seen just about everything they have at the moment.  But it is exciting to watch the new releases for nothing.

We also live a ways out of town, so the gas back and forth has to be reserved for one trip a week.  That's why I love the online movie rental services.  My post office puts in the miles, and I sit and home and wait. Plus Netflix now has instant online viewing for episodes of the Office.  So I don't even have to wait for my mail!

Thanks for the great comments! 

Myscha Theriault's picture

Hi Linsey.

We just signed up for the online dvd subscription rentals for the same reason you mentioned.

We were driving to the nearest library and enjoying the heck out of the free movie selection, but the gas cost ended being more than double what the online service cost. (We're really out there in terms of distance to things.) For a while, our oldest dog had some medical stuff going on (still does, just not a vet visit twice a week anymore) so we were going to this town anyway. Now that we don't have to, the online service is the way to go.

And - I'm with you - some generic brands ROCK. In this region, the Hannaford chain has the best store brand selection I've ever seen. Dirt cheap, and they really go the extra mile. In addition to all the normal store brand stuff, they are offering store brand gourmet vinegars, preserves, spice blends and more.

Guest's picture

Wise advice and great ideas, especially the color-coding. I wouldn't have thought of that one.

Guest's picture

We just signed up for Blockbuster's service after having Netflix for a while. They're clearly fighting for their lives, so the service is very generous - the in-store exchanges mean you get the new one you picked up, PLUS the next one in your queue mailed, and if you return the in-store movie within 37 days, the worst you pay is $1.34. The 3 at a time plan is turning out to be too much for us.

The other big advantage to the online services is a really extraordinary selection of documentaries, foreign films and educational video.

Store-brand eggs are not the same as good pastured organic eggs in terms of taste, nutrition, or humane treatment. For a protein source that's already so cheap, it's worth the extra few cents each for something that's demonstrably healthier for us, the chickens, and the environment. The same is true of milk and other animal products.