How to be Frugal AND Fabulous

Being frugal doesn’t have to be painful. Finding ways to save money can be fun and empowering–and your wallet (if it could) will thank you. Author and blogger Natalie P. McNeal shows us how to tap into our frugal fabulousity in her new book, The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life.

What is a frugalista?
A frugalista is a woman who manages her money properly but also finds a way to have fun and enjoy her life. So she would never go into debt in order to have a good time; but she believes in having a good time.

What was the toughest part about paying down your debt?
The toughest part was being consistent and trying to decide on the best decisions for my money. You have so many things that pull at your purse strings and you have to make the best decision.

What helped you stay motivated?
My blog; it’s truly like group therapy on the Internet. You encourage each other, and you get involved in personal finance communities online. I made this vow of frugality and I have people to keep me honest and share ideas with me about how to save money. That really helped. And during that time, the economy was really starting to tank, so I knew that things were changing and may not be OK. And that really helped me see that I had to change. Before I would try here and there to manage my money, but I had the assumption of having a career and having stability. When I wrote this book and started blogging, I really saw some changes.

Why did you start the blog and write this book?
I was in debt and I didn’t see my way out of it. I had a student loan that was still lingering that should have been paid off. I just had a lot of bills. Nothing I was doing was working and I had to kind of take stock in what was going on and see if I could do it better. This book is for anyone who wants to manage their money a little better, but they’re not sure about how to do it and what it takes to get it done.

Some argue that it’s not possible to be frugal and fabulous at the same time. How can you be both?
You can find free happy hours, you can search for free exercise classes. Look in your local alternative news weekly or in magazines. A lot of these places will want your e-mail, and once they get your e-mail, they’ll start sending you updates on free events. There are ways to have a really good time without spending a lot of money. You just have to do the research.

What was the toughest thing about your experiment when you couldn’t buy anything for one month?
In the beginning I was energized; but toward the third week I was feeling deprived. I did no-buy month in 2009. This year, I did dine-in week. I like to do little challenges here and there. Before that, because I didn’t cook, I was used to seeing my salary go down when I checked my bank account. I just assumed that you get paid, and the money is supposed to go down every pay day. That was just my way of life. But when I did no-buy month, I started to see my account stabilize. I realized that I don’t have to fritter my money away by buying things from the vending machine, or buying those simple things that you don’t even know you’re spending your money on. I definitely recommend a no-buy month for the New Year.

Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.

Read more about becoming financially fabulous.