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Spending Smart

Yankee thrift, personified

Former economist economizes at home, earning the title of most frugal New Englander

By Julie Balise
Globe Correspondent / March 8, 2009
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Wrentham resident Joanna McFarlane, 32, doesn't have a cellphone, cable television, or an entertainment budget to boast of. The stay-at-home mother of two - and former economist - was selected from about a dozen finalists who entered a contest on Boston.com for the most frugal New Englander.

When did you become frugal? I don't think it was a decision to become frugal. I think it's just a natural way of life. Somebody just happens to be that way. I think all of the online resources are what's made it a lot easier to be more frugal or cost-conscious.

How do you go about being frugal? I guess examples-wise, if you use something like Freecycle and you get it for free, no matter what it is, you're getting a little value for that. If you have to purchase something for retail, you want to get the lowest price possible. You do that by asking them to lower the price, asking if there's a sale coming up. We're always doing that. We always say, "Is this going to go on sale?" "Yes, come back next week." Promotions, that's another one. Like the TVs that we got for free. Sales, promotions, negotiations. The worst they can do is say "no."

Can you give me some examples of the resources you use? Craigslist and Freecycle and Googling for coupons.

What is your technique on using these? I usually pick what it is that I want to buy and obviously research it. Then I search online for the best price I can get. If I'm looking for a new baby stroller, the first thing I'm going to do is ask friends and family if anybody has one that I can get or buy. Then I go to Freecycle. If that doesn't work, I go to Craigslist and see what used prices are. Based on used prices, I decide what I want to pay in retail. And vice versa, I can check with manufacturer prices. And I figure used should be half that. I set the price point, and then I go looking for it.

What's your weekly budget like? Groceries are under $200. That includes all my food. Anything consumed including coffee and lunches and everything. Clothing, we don't have a weekly budget. If something is a really good deal, if it's under $2, I'll probably get a couple. But how many pairs of pants do they really need? I find two or three deals a year and they're all set for clothes. We don't have an entertainment budget.

How much time do you spend daily trying to be frugal? It's not something that I set aside like from 9 to 9:30 is my frugal time. If I'm going to go out shopping, I take a minute to do a Google search for a coupon. Think before you buy is the way I work.

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