I’ve made no secret of the fact that Seattle is not a great home for us in terms of its financial value – it’s a high cost-of-living city, but what it offers doesn’t match up well what we’re looking for in a city. (I have to say that we are really warming up to Seattle with the wonderful spring we’ve been having!)
But despite Seattle’s high cost of living, I’ve observed that we have easily fallen into several frugal routines that are common for our city. While our rent is high, we can compensate for that cost in other areas of our budget. Seattle’s culture actually encourages certain types of frugality, and I definitely don’t feel like a weirdo when I discuss frugality with my local friends and neighbors.
(Naturally, take the generalizations I’m making in this post with a grain of salt – I’ve only had 9 months of experience in the city and don’t know everyone and everything!)
We enacted our frugal commute plan right when we moved here by renting an apartment only 0.2 miles from Kyle’s new job. Because I work from home, we don’t have any cost associated with commuting – and hardly any time, either! We were able to downsize to one car, which we only drive a few times a week for errands and socializing.
While I haven’t yet run into anyone who lives as close to work as Kyle does, less than half of workers now commute alone in their cars. A 2014 survey revealed that 21.2% take public transit, 3.7% bike, and 9.8% walk. This is the first city I’ve lived in where middle-class people actually use the bus system! There’s also a light rail system (I use it when I commute to the airport) that is continually expanding (two stations opened this spring!). Car2Go is also quite popular, further enabling a car-free lifestyle. I have met lots of families that only own one car, like us, and many single people who don’t own cars.
2) Outdoor Activities
It definitely seems that the most popular activities for socializing and entertainment occur in the Great Outdoors. People here love hiking above all else, but also biking, skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, running, visiting the beautiful local parks, etc. Basically, when the weather is good and even when it’s not, people are outside enjoying themselves.
To be sure, outdoor activities are not always frugal. Some activities require renting or buying expensive equipment as a baseline cost or charge entrance fees. And the Seattle weather absolutely encourages people to buy specialized and often expensive clothing for these excursions. But you can still participate in certain activities like hiking or visiting parks at almost no cost. Even paying for occasional equipment rental fees can compare favorably with going out for dinner and a show.
We haven’t gotten out of the city for activities since we moved here, but we do go on lots of walks in our neighborhood and nearby parks and have tried out stand-up paddleboarding on a couple occasions.
3) Secondhand Stuff
Remember when Thrift Shop took the nation (and the personal finance blogosphere) by storm? Macklemore’s from Seattle. I realize that thrift and consignment shops and craiglist exist in every city, but personally I never shopped for so much secondhand stuff until I moved here. Kyle and I literally picked our couch up off the street in front of our apartment (it was offered on freecycle). 100% of the money we’ve spent on stuff for our baby has been spent at consignment shops/sales. I’ve talked with plenty of friends about their love of the Buy Nothing Project, freecycle, and similar groups. It really helps that Seattelites dress very casually and don’t seem to be image-obsessed (except for their North Face and similar branded clothing).
Does buying from Amazon in Seattle count as buying local? Does everyone in the US have an Amazon Prime subscription now or is it only here? Amazon is definitely the go-to retailer, and shipping hardly seems to take any time at all. Online shopping can help you make frugal purchases because you have the opportunity to research your purchases using the customer reviews, find/wait for the best price, and practice delayed gratification. Possibly some other people use it for impulse purchases, but by and large we see it as an asset in our frugality toolbox.
How does your city lend itself to frugal tactics? How have you set up your life to facilitate frugality?