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Undercover Frugality at the Office

By Cary Anderson

With the global economic recession that began in 2008, more and more people have come to see frugality not just as a penny-pinching, miserly habit, but a legitimate and necessary lifestyle choice that represents a commitment to financial responsibility and security.

However, it sometimes seems as if there's one last bastion of unrestrained spending - the office. If you're lucky, your office culture isn't one that's financially demanding. But if you work for a company that requires up-to-date, fashionable clothing, frequent group lunches (on your own dime, of course) or other monetary commitments, it can be difficult to walk the line between office politics and frugal living.

For starters, if you work in a business-casual or business dress setting, there may be expectations about how you look that will require you to invest some amount of money in your wardrobe. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be every penny you own!

If you're shopping for dress clothes on a budget, consignment stores are your best friends. These shops, where people loan their "used, but nice" clothing to the shops in exchange for a percentage of the profits when the item sells, typically offer better quality merchandise than true secondhand stores. Look for one in your area and try to form a relationship with the shopkeeper so that she knows to call you right away when new items come in that would suit you.

However, these consignment shops are still a bit pricier than true secondhand stores, so if you're truly pinching pennies, you may need to turn to stores that sell donated items (like the Salvation Army or Goodwill in the US). The quality of these items varies significantly, so you'll need to spend some time sifting through the racks to find the "diamonds in the rough".

The key to making secondhand clothing work in a professional setting is to be selective about the items you purchase. Check each piece carefully for holes, rips or stains before buying, and be sure that every item of clothing you purchase is something that looks good on you and that you'll actually wear - not that it's something you're buying just because it's cheap!

Cutting down on your clothing expenses is a great way to live a frugal lifestyle at the office, but no matter how much you save in this regard, you're still going to face challenges when it comes to your office culture and politics.

Suppose you work for a company where your colleagues and boss go out to lunch together every Friday. They love to try the latest new restaurants, but you dread the check being passed around at the end of the meal - the cost of your entree alone could buy several weeks of groceries!

If it's possible for you to bow out of these get togethers, do so - there's no quicker way to drain your bank account than to eat out every week. But if there would be political repercussions to excusing yourself (and indeed, in some offices, the weekly lunch is a sacred professional networking time you'd be foolish to miss out on), consider splitting an entree with a coworker or eating a homemade snack ahead of time and ordering a soup or salad only a the restaurant.

A final frugality challenge that many office workers face is the dreaded collection plate that gets passed around - yet again - for another birthday, anniversary or going away party. Although these milestones in your coworkers lives are important to commemorate, the cost of contributing to every occasion can really add up.

The frugal solution here is to thank the party planner for their efforts, but to insist that you'll be making your coworker your own gift to commemorate the occasion. Whether it's a loaf of bread, some homemade jams or a handcrafted item, there are plenty of frugal gifts you can give that allow you to participate fully in your office culture without breaking your carefully prepared budget.

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