How To Run A Stylish Household On A Budget

A working mom shares her five frugal tips on keeping a tasteful and efficient house on shoestring resources


“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” I often steal this line from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote because it perfectly encapsulates how I feel, especially about the first place my husband and I lived in right after we got married.

Our first home was a studio unit in a neighborhood on the edge of gentrification. The only things in the apartment when we moved in were a folding bed, a trashcan and a 50-piece Tupperware set. Starting out, living on a single income, we happily filled our studio with inexpensive furniture from IKEA and the neighborhood department store.

A friend of mine who moved to the city at around the same time decorated her first apartment with castoffs she found on the street, plus items donated by various friends and family members. The only hitch with this decorating method is finding the muscle to help you haul a chest of drawers from the curb up to your walkup apartment.  But the stuff she cobbled together was pretty cool, so there seemed to be a certain charm to being a spirited young furniture scavenger.

Years passed; my husband and I worked, we earned, we saved more than we spent. Most of all, we harnessed the cheapskate mentality of our lean years. It continues to serve us well, especially now we have to pay for a two-bedroom apartment, two cars, and a nanny. We realized that the only way to really keep your household financially fit is to have a budget. “Budget” may seem like a restrictive word, but it actually lets you control your money instead of your money controlling you. We have these basic budget rules that we live by:

Enforce “forced” savings.

Back in the day, I would withdraw 10% of our income and stash it in an envelope in the household safe. A good start, but this is not the optimum way to save money. Now we’ve set up an auto-deduct that takes a designated percentage of money from our direct deposit account and transfers it to an untouchable savings account. The reason is simple—if you don’t see it, you can’t spend it.

Salary raises should not be seen as reasons to supersize your lifestyle.

I read the book Confessions of a Shopaholic and considered it a cautionary tale rather than feel-good fiction. Receive a raise at work? Try not to think of it as an opportunity to buy expensive status items, but an opportunity to pump more money into your savings. Decide on a set amount of “treat” money to spend every month, so you don’t feel deprived, even if it’s just enough money for your favorite triple-whatever espresso drink and some nice hand soaps for the guest bathroom.

But don’t sacrifice quality.

Acquiring one well-made item is better than buying twenty cute but throwaway things. Also, don’t be above waiting for sales, comparison shop before shelling out money, and don’t buy furniture when you are sad or you have PMS, as these are times when you are most likely to convince yourself a P100,000 chair will solve everything that is wrong with your life.

Try high-low style.

That said; you know exactly what kind of folks we are when you walk into our home or observe our household. The furniture and accessories are a high-low mix; a Jonathan Adler vase sits on an IKEA console (my husband has become a whiz at following the wordless assembly diagrams of Leksviks and Aspelunds and all the other barely pronounceable items in the lovely IKEA catalog). Our son never had a color-coordinated nursery with precious trimmings or a matching bassinet and rocker; instead we bought simple, convertible furniture that could grow with him. Grocery and warehouse club runs are scheduled and lists are made prior to heading out, so that trips and purchases aren’t just based on impulse.

Know when to splurge.

Try as I might, I’m not as great at keeping to my baseline degree of frugality as I could be. A pair of expensive shoes or a gorgeous, impractical objet d’art still makes my heart race and tempts me to throw budgetary caution to the wind and hand over my credit card. I just remind myself that the momentary thrill of an expensive splurge ultimately doesn’t measure up to the peace of mind you get from knowing—and staying—within your spending limits. (But long live the latte!)

PHOTOS ("Savings," "Thrifty," and "Splurge"), Dairy Darilag (Lady Scott Jones store in “Quality”), Tala Singson (Urban Abode in “High-low”)

Read the original article ("Cents And Sensibility") in the July 2008 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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