In 2015, Virginia Beach was ranked Number 10 on Coupon.com’s list of America’s Most Frugal Cities, proof that many Tidewater residents strive to stretch their hard-earned dollars even further. But coupons are just one of the many ways to save money. The aftermath of the Great Recession has ushered in a new era of frugality that embraces tried-and-true thrifty activities, including home gardens, canning, sewing, and upcycling.
Let’s meet three local women who are dedicated to finding fun and fulfilling ways to spend less and save more.
IN TUNE WITH NATURE
Amanda Reynolds was only 23 years old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because of the unpredictable nature of the disease, she knew she would never be able to work a traditional 40-hour workweek, so she sought out other ways she could contribute financially to her family, including meal planning—a practice that not only saved money on groceries, it also allowed Amanda to focus on making healthier food choices.
The key to Amanda’s success with meal planning is to purchase fresh local produce first. She is a member of a community supported agriculture (CSA) group at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, and for an annual fee, she receives a basket every week filled with seasonal produce grown at family farms.
“That basket is a godsend,” Amanda said. “I plan my meals around what I get from the CSA.” If she needs something else, she looks at what is on sale at local stores and uses those items to plan her meals for the week. “It’s really all about following the rhythm of the seasons and being in tune with nature,” she said.
Amanda maintains a small garden at her townhouse in Virginia Beach that provides her with even more ways to save money. This fall she harvested carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes, and every year she cans quarts of homemade tomato sauce, pickled beets, summer squash relish, zucchini pickles, strawberry jam, and sauerkraut.
“I remember my grandmother talking about canning when I was growing up,” Amanda said. “My mom grew up on a farm in Michigan, but she didn’t do any canning.” With a laugh, she added, “I think it skips a generation.”
Another way Amanda saves money is by using pallet wood to build household items such as bookshelves and magazine racks. She searches Pinterest for ideas and then lets her imagination run wild to make inventive pieces that also serve a purpose. “You have to know what you’re looking for, and you have to be choosy about which pieces of pallet wood you use, but the end results are useful and unique,” she said.
Amanda uses her skills with needle and thread to create new clothing for her kids, Liam and Emma, which not only saves money, it also gives more meaning to the family’s possessions. “I took the kids’ old receiving blankets and turned them into a nightgown for my daughter and lounge pants for my son,” Amanda said. “Both of my kids think they’re the most comfortable things in the world.”
Amanda homeschools her children, so she is always looking for ways to be thrifty while shopping for supplies. She takes advantage of tax-free weekends and peruses the shelves at dollar stores. She also incorporates nature into the children’s lesson plans. “Nature is free,” Amanda pointed out. “When my daughter helps me sow the garden, she is learning math because she has to figure out how many seeds to plant. And she learns kindness and diligence when she helps nurture the soil to produce a crop.”
Amanda and her husband, Brent, are steadfast in their beliefs, and being frugal lets them live the life they choose for themselves and their kids. “We like not having excess stuff in our lives,” Amanda said. “We’re not out looking for new things to spend money on. We’re in control of our finances, not the other way around.”
Laura Oliver has made a business out of being frugal. Her website, AFrugalChick.com, makes it easy for bargain hunters to find deals on everything from grocery items to beauty products in mere seconds. She also hosts a Savings Sunday segment on WVEC channel 13 every weekend.
Laura started clipping coupons in 2008 as a way to save money to pay for her master’s degree. She had already cancelled her gym membership and cut back on her use of household utilities, but it still wasn’t enough. When her sister called to tell her about a TV news story she saw on couponing, it was a lightbulb moment for Laura.
“When it comes to using coupons, it either makes sense to you, or it doesn’t,” Laura said. “For me, it totally worked.”
Laura jumped into couponing with both feet, and as her knowledge about saving money grew, so did her excitement. In 2009 she launched AFrugalChick.com, and she teaches couponing classes in churches, libraries, and rec centers all over Hampton Roads. The majority of the students in Laura’s coupon classes are women, although some men do attend. “More often than not, women are the ones most attuned to the intricacies of what their families want and need,” Laura said.
Laura’s first piece of advice for those who want to start saving money with coupons is to pick one store, learn its coupon policy, and then use a couple coupons for items you buy regularly. “Using coupons can be a huge undertaking, and it is best not to get overwhelmed at first,” she said. “Just take it one day at a time, and build as you go.” She also cautions those new to couponing to watch out for scams. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.
About six years ago, local news station WVEC connected with Laura through her website and invited her to share ways to save money with viewers. Every Sunday she is on hand during a live segment to share the best deals on products people need and use most often. Since she has a background in music and theater, being in front of the camera comes naturally to her.
“I get a lot of responses from viewers,” Laura said. “People recognize me in public, and a woman even came up to hug me when I was at the grand opening of a Kroger store in Chesapeake.”
Laura doesn’t just preach a frugal lifestyle, she lives it. She saves money by using fans instead of air conditioning, and she haggles over necessities like the Internet and home appliances. “I live like a pauper, but I have the freedom to do the things I want to do,” she said.
Being frugal has helped Laura create a community of people who are just as excited as she is about saving money. “I feel like people are dependent on me to help them find deals and save money,” Laura said. “That is why I do what I do. I want to give people the information they need to make the best decisions about how they spend their money.”
CHICKENS & HONEYBEES
Like Amanda and Laura, Kylene Alvich strives to live a simpler, more frugal lifestyle to save money. And when her oldest son developed seasonal eczema, she combined thriftiness with self-sufficiency by creating her own line of all-natural body products. “I want to know exactly what is in the products my family uses, plus I love not having to depend on someone else for the things we use every day,” Kylene said.
Kylene and her husband Peter, along with sons Hunter and Anthony, live in a 200-year-old farmhouse in the Hickory section of Chesapeake. In the past the farm was home to several goats and a sheep, and currently the family shares the one-acre plot with half a dozen chickens and four hives of honeybees. Kylene gathers fresh eggs instead of buying them in a carton from the store, and she uses the honey harvested from the bees as an ingredient in her bath and body products, as well as in medicine and for cooking. Fruits and vegetables are planted in the garden in front of the house, and herbs such as basil, oregano, sage, and catnip grow by the back door.
Kylene wanted to preserve as much of the farm’s bounty as possible, so she learned how to can food during a class offered by the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League. Jars of applesauce, jams, jellies, pickles, green beans, beets, and soups are tucked into every nook and cranny of the house, always on hand for family meals. In addition to canning, Kylene also dehydrates apples, beef jerky, and herbs.
“Being self-sufficient means we are leaving a smaller carbon footprint since we don’t have to drive to the store as often,” Kylene explained. “And although we don’t eat out a lot, when we do, we make it a point to support local businesses owned by other local families.”
Kylene and her husband own a hybrid Prius, which means less dependency on gas and less money spent filling up at the pump. Although it’s a juggling act sometimes sharing one vehicle, Kylene and Peter have chosen to make do and work out a schedule for trading the car back and forth.
In addition to learning how to can and take care of honeybees, Kylene also learned how to crochet, and now she makes scarves and hats for her family to wear during the colder months. Because her boys outgrow clothes so quickly, she buys most of what the kids wear at thrift stores.
Kylene shares Amanda’s passion for recycling and upcycling. “A lot of our furniture is hand-me-down or consignment pieces,” she said. “I love the fact that my furniture did not end up as scrap somewhere. I see new houses being built, and I see everything they throw out that is just going to waste. That stuff is filling up landfills when others could be putting it to use in different ways.”
Kylene loves saving money by being more self-sufficient, but she also enjoys getting her hands dirty and learning something new. “I’m a hands-on kind of person,” she said. “Working in the garden or my soap studio is a huge stress reliever for me. I feel good knowing that my family and the people who buy my bath products will benefit from what I make. The things I do to save money are not only healthy for me, they’re also healthy for others.”
Jamie McAllister is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach. She writes for businesses, nonprofits, and publications. To learn more, visit www.mcallisterwe.com.