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Extreme frugalistas: Lessons on not spending a dime

Los Angeles writer Angela Barton made a big commitment back in 2009: for an entire year, she would not buy anything new. To this day, she's still at it.

"Once you start living this way, there is no incentive or desire to go back to shopping and spending," Barton says.

She decided to blog about her initial experiment with nonconsumerism, which she began after learning about Compact. The online community consists of individuals who promise to not purchase anything new and instead to barter, borrow or buy used during their 12-month "flight from the consumer grid".

Her blog is still going strong too. At My Year Without Spending, Barton shares what it's like to live a nonconsumer lifestyle in a consumer culture — without giving up excitement or style.

Whether it's a pair of jeans or items for the home she shares with her husband, Barton says she can usually always find an alternative to buying new.

There are some exceptions: she buys personal-care products and underwear, for example. Other than that, she says she's never left wanting.

"The things I like to spend money on are traveling, going out to eat, things like that -- all things that are fine on the Compact," Barton says. "It's not about self-sacrifice for me … It's about living according to one's values and treading lightly on the earth.

"Even before I was a Compacter, I was much more interested in culture and experiences for personal enjoyment, and was never particularly a shopper," she adds. "But this experience has made me realize how all the pieces fit together, how what we say and do matters, and so I can truly feel like I'm doing all I can to move things in the direction I feel good about rather than feeling like a helpless, useless pawn in someone else's scheme."

Barton emphasizes on her blog that not buying new isn't about being a martyr. Rather, it's about having a thoughtful, meaningful, sustainable and simple lifestyle. The fact that she saves money as a result is a bonus.

Still, those looking to take frugality to the next level could learn a thing or two from people like Barton. There are many ways to economize to the extreme (and save the planet in the process).

Set realistic goals
"Baby steps are the only way anything ever gets done," Barton says. "Start doing one thing a day or one thing a week, and the biggest thing you can do is stop buying crap made in China that you don't really even need."

Host a clothing swap
These gatherings have been hot for a while, and their popularity seems to just keep on growing. No wonder: a swap involves friends gathering over food and drink and exchanging clothes. You can leave with a big reusable bag full of new (to you) outfits and know that the items you're ready to part with have found a good home.

Thrift and consignment stores are other good sources of used clothing.

"Maybe you need a fancy dress to wear to an event, or a food processor to make an elaborate dessert," Barton writes on her blog. "You probably have a friend who'd be happy to loan you what you need, especially if you're willing to reciprocate in the future. And definitely if you thank them with some freshly baked cookies."

The Freecycling community exists in more than 85 countries and allows people to seek or pass along anything that's legal and appropriate for all ages.

According to the site, this system of give and get keeps more than 500 tonnes of waste out of landfills a day.

Buy used
Sites like Craigslist, eBay, and online classifieds as well as yard sales are prime sources of everything from appliances to baby gear.

Be honest with yourself
"Many times you can do without," Barton writes. "Go a couple of days and ask yourself if you really need the item in question."

Avoid impulse purchases
Write down what you need — what you truly, truly need — and save up money to buy those items using cash, not credit. You're feel amazing knowing you paid for the purchase without using credit and avoided the pull of instant gratification.

Look at home for other ways to save
Ditch your land line and use your cellphone only. Use Skype for long-distance calls. Cancel your cable or discontinue TV channels you never watch. Give up newspaper subscriptions and read news online. Wash clothes in cold water and hang to dry instead of using the dryer.

Aim for 90 per cent
To live sustainably, Barton urges people not to be perfect but to do their best.

"I encourage you to grow your own food, air-dry your laundry, give up meat one day a week, start a compost pile, cook from scratch, buy your clothes used, shop at a Farmer's Market … give up paper towels, join The Compact, or any or all of the above," she writes.

"Or none. Maybe you're getting up your nerve, getting ready to make a change, or just like to read about it … That's cool. We all started somewhere, and it's a process.

"We all do what we can. And together we can make a difference."

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