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Saving secrets for a consumer generation
You probably won't save as much as your grandparents -- but you don't have to live like a monk.
February 2, 2004: 1:07 PM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money staff writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) It's not that people in their 20s and 30s enjoy being in the red. Many in fact say they wish they could save more like their Depression-era grandparents.

But it just sounds so, well, depressing.

"My grandparents were 60 years old the first time they got on an airplane," said Peter Bielagus, the 27-year-old author of the personal finance book "Getting Loaded," (New American Library). "My mom and aunt shared a wedding dress."

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The baby boomers, said Bielagus, at least grew up with stories of the Depression "being pounded into them." Younger generations grew up getting most of what they wanted, he said.

A classic case was Jason Anthony, who seven years ago looked around his New York rental apartment and realized he had $16,000 in credit card debt and absolutely nothing to show for it.

"I'm a poster child for this generation," said Anthony, now 34.

Tired of losing sleep over growing credit card balances, Anthony and his friend, Karl Cluck, decided that together they would spend less, get out of debt and, while they were at it, write the book "Debt-free by 30: Practical Advice for Young, Broke, & Upwardly Mobile" (Plume).

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Among other things, they learned to cook, devised creative (read: cheap) dates, and cut back on Starbuck's Frappuccinos; Anthony was drinking three a day in the summer. "Not only is that just disgusting, it's $15 a day," he said.

Yet, living on a budget, they realized, doesn't have to mean sitting home alone with a bowl of Ramen and a library book. "You don't have to live like a monk," said Anthony, who cut his debt to zero in two and a half years.
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It's exactly this philosophy that has made gourmet clubs a popular alternative to eating out, drawn fashion snobs to Target's clothing department, and made the magazine Budget Living a publishing success.

"I do think cheap has become hip," said Bielagus. "A lot of people have realized they need to cut back somewhere."

How does the consumer generation cut back? Here are some real-life strategies that are anything but depressing.

Shabby Chic

Searching sites like and is one way to furnish your place for less. You can also head to the flea market.

"Going to the flea market and investing in the fabric and labor for upholstery is a good way to save money and have a quality finished piece," said Timshell Rivers, 38, an interior designer in New York. To get the best deals on fabric, look for warehouse sales such as those put on by New York's ABC Carpet & Home.

Flea market find. Timshell Rivers found this couch for $75.  
Flea market find. Timshell Rivers found this couch for $75.

Rivers also combs vintage stores for china, flatware and stemware."You can have mismatched pieces or choose a certain pattern and hunt it when you hit the flea markets," said Rivers. "It looks cool and it's a fun project."

When decorating her daughter's nursery, Elizabeth Justema, 32, went with a theme of one of her favorite artists, Stephen Huneck. She paid up for three of his signed lithographs, then matted and framed four photos she clipped from one of his coffee table books. "You can't really tell the difference," she said.

Frugal Foodies

The advice of brewing your own coffee at home and eating out less is, by now, a clich and for good reason. Meals out and frothy drinks add up.

To that end, Washington D.C. resident Holly Rapport, 34, brews her coffee and fixes her own bagel before she heads to work every day. "A bagel and coffee is at least $3.00 per day, which is $15.00 a week and adds up after you figure it out per month and year," said Rapport, who also saves on socializing by doing "outdoorsy" activities with her friends.

Rivers, meanwhile, has gotten more than her money's worth from her well-worn recipe books. If friends treat her to expensive dinners out she returns the favor by inviting them to a five-star meal in her home. "It may run a couple of hundred dollars to buy all the food and flowers but if you make a dinner party out of it you can 'pay back' the dinner obligations."

Duds on a Dime

Look in your closet and you're likely to find that most of your clothes aren't worn or even out of style. Chances are, you're sick of them or don't fit in them. Enter the clothing swap.

Lillie Garrido buys next year's winter clothes at end-of-season prices.  
Lillie Garrido buys next year's winter clothes at end-of-season prices.

In exchange for the clothes you don't want you can get your hands on your friends' wardrobes. "I had a clothes swap at the beginning of the season with about eight friends," said New York graduate student Stacy Brick, 28. "Everyone left with at least two new additions to their wardrobe and the rest went to Goodwill."

Without a six-figure income to support her expensive taste in clothing, Dina Mishev, 28, relies on discounters such as Filene's Basement, Loehmann's and Off Fifth. Her best find to date: "I got an amazing $3,500 Valentino gown for $91," said the Jackson Hole, Wyoming resident.

Lillie Garrido saves upwards of 70 percent off her children's clothing by hitting end-of-season sales and buying for next year. "Guessing sizes isn't as difficult as people say," said Garrido, an event planner in Park City, Utah and mother of three boys.

Leisure for less

"Because we are disciplined about paying off our credit card every month, we put absolutely everything we can on our credit card," said Derek Roth Gordon, 31, who uses the miles to pay for frequent travel with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Sam.

Dina Mishev (right) wearing her $91 Valentino gown in Paris after scoring a $250 roundtrip ticket  
Dina Mishev (right) wearing her $91 Valentino gown in Paris after scoring a $250 roundtrip ticket

"We just bought tickets to Brazil with frequent flyer tickets for 40,000 miles each," he added. The Providence, R.I. couple uses miles for only the most expensive trips.

Dina Mishev saves on travel by flying in the off-season with last-minute airfares when possible. "I'm not afraid to arrive in a city without hotel reservations or other plans," said Mishev. "Often times the budget hotels can't be found on the Internet anyway."

When she gets home, Mishev usually writes the airline to praise good service or politely comment on what was wrong. "This always, good or bad letters, results in a gift of frequent flier miles or some sort of voucher for a deduction on future travel."  Top of page

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