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An opportunist is often seen as someone who takes advantage of situations and even people without regard to long-term consequences or ethics.
But another definition of an opportunist is simply “a person who adapts his actions, responses, etc, to take advantage of opportunities, circumstances, etc.”
Fortunately you can be that kind of opportunist without hurting anyone. And ethical opportunism lets you sleep well at night, so it’s the only kind we’re interested in here.
But that still leaves us with the question…
What’s A Frugal Opportunist?
Sometimes, to better understand a concept, it helps to say what it isn’t. Frugal opportunism is not short-term thinking. In fact, to really save money you have to give up the idea that you need anything specific right now.
For example, if you see a restaurant that has great tacos you might feel like stopping for dinner, but as a frugal opportunist you don’t always jump to satisfy a short-term desire. Here are a few things you might do instead.
- You might simply wait, because on “Taco Tuesday” those tacos will taste just as good for half the price.
- You might make tacos at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out.
- You might eat pizza instead, because you have a coupon for that.
Or you might do what I do…
My wife and I go to a taco restaurant where they have an all-you-can-eat salsa bar. I order one fish taco, which comes wrapped in two soft tortillas (all of their soft-shell tacos come that way).
I pull one tortilla loose, put half of the overloaded contents of the taco into that, pile on various free toppings from the salsa bar, and I have two tacos for the price of one.
The point is that there are plenty of opportunities to fully enjoy some good food (or anything else) for a lot less, if you avoid the idea that you need something specific right now.
And the money you save can be used toward future goals, whether those involve travel, education, retirement, or anything else you choose (more tacos?).
That flexibility and willingness to look beyond the moment is a large part of what opens up the opportunities to save money on everything you buy.
Let’s look at what else you can do to develop the money-saving thought processes and habits of a frugal opportunist…
Train Yourself To Spot Money-Saving Opportunities
Once you designate something particular as important, your brain automatically brings the relevant examples to your attention. This is your brain’s reticular activating system in action.
For example, if you start counting white cars while you’re driving down the freeway, you’ll be surprised by how many white cars there are — or at least how many you notice now that you’re “tuned” in to them..
The same thing will happen when you start watching for money-saving opportunities. After a while you’ll start to see them all around. Especially if you…
Develop Frugal Habits
It’s nice to save money once in a while, but habits are what really save you money consistently. Here are some examples of habits you might develop…
- Everytime you get a bill in the mail try to think of a new way you can pay less for that service or product.
- Bookmark grocery store weekly ad pages online, and check them every Sunday to make a list of the best deals.
- Regularly login to your credit card accounts to see what special cashback offers are available (American Express is great for this).
- Before you ever click that “buy” button online first open a new browser window and search for coupon codes.
- Look for damaged or discontinued products on sale at Walmart and other stores (they often have them on mobile racks near the checkout lanes).
- Cut out any useful coupons before throwing away junk mail.
- Eat as many freebies as you can when shopping at places that hand out samples (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Markets are great for this).
- Watch for “clearance” racks when shopping for clothing.
- When you’re thrift store shopping, look only at the items that have tags which indicate they’re half-off that week.
- Check restaurant menus online before going out to eat.
- Regularly check money-saving websites like Groupon.
- Keep several credit cards in your wallet, so you can pay with the one which has the best cash-back percentage for the type of store where you’re shopping.
Be Adaptable And Open-Minded
Have you ever noticed that the prices vary for different types of apples?
As a frugal opportunist you not only notice this, but you try several types, starting with the cheapest, which might turn out to be your favorite (or at least just as good as more-expensive apples).
My wife and I have owned small houses, condos, a duplex, mobile homes (in a park and on property), and we even spent a month living in our van.
There were economic reasons for our choices, but we still managed to make each place into a comfortable home (okay, the van wasn’t all that great).
As an opportunist you don’t just look for the best prices on good and services that you’ve already decided you need. You also look for alternatives.
Instead of apples you might eat oranges because they’re on sale. Instead of eating dinner at that expensive restaurant with a great view you might eat just desert there, and have dinner first at an affordable place (one of 52 ways to save money at restaurants).
The more open-minded and adaptable you are, the more opportunities to save money you’ll have. You might start by asking, “How can I pay less for this?” But you’ll also ask questions like:
- Do I really need this?
- How can I substitute something cheaper for this?
- Will I save money if I delay this purchase?
Dig deeper to see what you really need.
There may be a dozen cheaper ways to satisfy the underlying desire, like the time I discovered that building a raft of dead trees (for the cost of one dollar-store bundle of rope), on which to float down the river, better-satisfied my desire for adventure than buying or renting an expensive canoe.
Be Willing To Do The Math
It’s tough to be effectively frugal if you’re not willing to do the math. And it has to be done.
When it comes to supermarket items you can just look at the “price per unit” tags to compare products. But in many cases it gets more complicated than that.
For example, suppose you’re moving and you have two nice apartments in mind, but one costs $75 less per month. It also happens to be 10 miles further from your job. You might jump at the chance to pay less in rent — if you don’t do the math.
That extra 10 miles, twice per day, five days per week, at a modest cost estimate of 25 cents per mile for operating your car, adds $1,300 annually to your transportation costs.
That’s a lot more than the $900 annual savings in rent (and you’ll also spend several extra hours weekly on your commute).
Even if you have to guess at the numbers it still helps to do the math.
For example, to know whether a sale on new high-efficiency water heater is an opportunity you need to know how much it will cut your bills, how long your existing water heater will last, and what the price of water heaters will be when it dies.
These are all guesses, but doing your best to make these estimates might still make it very clear whether you should buy or wait.
Use a calculator if you can’t easily do the math in your head. But one way or another, run those numbers!
Look For Deals That Others Miss
Black Friday deals, rather than saving you money, can entice you to spend more, buying things you don’t really need
But away from the crazy crowds at Walmart every year it’s quiet over by the jeans, where I pay $10 for Wranglers that normally cost $17 — and jeans are definitely something I need.
Always look for the deals and advantages that most people miss.
Here’s another example: When buying produce many people ignore how it’s priced. Your opportunity here is to buy small fruits and vegetables when they are priced per-pound, and buy large ones when prices are per-piece.
Here’s the reason: You’ll still eat just one banana at a time, but if they’re priced by the pound that small one will cost you less. And when those melons are on sale for 99 cents, you can easily get 30% more for your money if you dig out the largest one.
Look high and low too. It’s been reported often enough that stores put pricier items at eye level, but people often forget to look at lower or higher shelves.
Before I quit junk food I discovered on of my favorite potato chip brands almost hidden on a very high shelf in Walmart. They cost 40% less than any other brand.
That last example suggests a nice strategy for discovering frugal opportunities: Look at what most people do, assume retailers are taking advantage to these common habits, and see if there is something different you can do to save money. Also…
Keep Learning New Strategies
A frugal opportunist has to keep learning new ways to save money. That’s why I may finally get a decent phone so I can use receipt scanning apps to save even more in the form of cash back and other rewards.
Another powerful strategy, for which you can invent many variation, is “deal stacking.” That refers to using more than one money-saving tactic on a purchase.
For example, I’ve stacked five tactics when buying cat food: I used a cash-back credit card (1) to buy a discounted Petco gift card to (2) pay for cat food on sale (3), while using a coupon (4), and using my store rewards balance (5) as partial payment. I got my cat food for a 50% total discount (and deal stacking has cut 70% off some of my pizza orders).
Keep your eyes open for the opportunities and keep picking up new money-saving strategies and tactics! You’ll find plenty of them right here on Frugal For Less.
Of course, as a frugal opportunist you’ve already bookmarked the site and signed up for the free email updates, right?
If you have your own examples of frugal opportunism, please share them below… and keep on frugaling!