Natalie McNeal, A.K.A. "The Frugalista" — Frugal and Fabulous!

by Katy on November 9, 2008 · 8 comments





Miami Herald blogger Natalie McNeal was living the high life. Drinks out with friends. Bi-weekly salon appointments. Fabulous dinners spent with friends.

Which garnered a hefty credit card balance.

She was living beyond her means. And her reporter’s salary was having a hard time keeping up.

It was time to get disciplined. So Natalie chose the month of February to go cold turkey. In a bold move, she ditched the luxuries that had become commonplace in her life. 

Gone were the mani- pedis. The salon visits. The fine dining. In came homecooked meals, leftovers for lunch and closed-toe shoes. 

Choosing a moniker to match her fabulous aspirations, Natalie dubbed herself The Frugalista. She started a blog on The Miami Herald website called, The Frugalista Files.  Her upbeat attitude to keep on “the frugal side of fabulous” instantly set her apart from the already crowded realm of frugality bloggers.

Natalie’s blog was an immediate success. Interviews on National Public Radio, CNN and CBS-4 brought hoards of devoted readers, eager to learn new thrifty habits.

The result?

Natalie axed $400 from her regular monthly expenses. And lost four pounds to boot. 

The Frugalista was hooked.

Nine months have passed since Natalie’s initial foray into the world of frugality, and she’s still going strong. The first month’s severity has lessened, and she’s now fine tuning how to live within her means without losing quality of life.

In a recent phone interview, Natalie detailed how The Frugalista Files has changed her outlook.

“I knew it was a good idea,” she said. But even so, the success of the blog astounded her. As a single, young professional, Natalie admits to being “very, very surprised” by all the stay-at-home moms who regularly read and comment on her blog. Is the view into her single life “a guilty pleasure?”  Whatever the draw, she welcomes the diversity of her blog fans.

Natalie’s tagline, “The Frugal Side of Fabulous” is taken seriously. Complete deprivation holds no appeal for The Frugalista. Pedicures have tiptoed back into Natalie’s life, but now happen every three months instead of weekly. The manicures? Still gone.

Meals out with friends are back as well, but she’s apt to schedule a budget-friendly lunch out instead of dinner. She recalls a recent invite to hit the town with friends. Too pricey. Natalie declined, instead meeting up with the same friends a few nights later for a friend’s dinner party. Socializing at a friend’s house now set her back just a “$6 bottle of wine.”

Although her friends are, “supportive” and “on my same team,” all is not a bed of roses. She admits that it can be a real challenge when trying “to increase my social network.”

With the holidays looming. Natalie is clear that her new frugal habits will not be affecting this year’s gift giving. She is quick to describe herself as “not a penny pincher,” adding that you “don’t have to be a miser.” Instead, Natalie explains that she’s, “just buying gifts as she sees them.” She’ll “buy nothing over $100.” This, she states is no change from prior years. As for credit-fueled shopping trips, she’ll “leave the cards on the shelf.”

Asked if she’d consider a foray into “The Compact,” (the international buy-nothing-new movement,) Natalie was hesitant. Friends have encouraged her to try this challenge. “I don’t know if this is something I could do.” She reasons that her “consumer level is already way low.”

So what changes has The Frugalista noticed in her life? 

For one, she’s learning how to cook at home. Cooking for one can be a challenge, and it’s hard not to waste vegetables. “I don’t freeze as much as I should,” but leftovers rarely go to waste. “I love leftovers!”

Natalie’s newest project? She’s writing for the online personal financial site Geezeo as a frugality expert. She’ll be answering questions from readers, and be, “like an advice columnist.”

Does Natalie miss her old life?

Absolutely not!

“I enjoy having more control of my finances.” 

Natalie has a particularly cool DKNY purse (thank you, TJ Maxx!) that she takes everywhere. But if it breaks, she’ll consider repairing it instead of a brand new replacement. This change in attitude would never have occurred to her a year ago. 

And that credit debt? It’s not wiped out, but it’s definitely “wiped down.” 

Catch Natalie McNeal’s frugal musings on The Miami Herald website here. You’ll be glad you did.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Here’s a webisode to enjoy from The Frugalista Files.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Maggie November 10, 2008 at 7:22 am

Bonjour Katy! Love the story. I had a good laugh at the video with the dog in the (sprinkler?) Sorry I’m french speaking. My husband likes to come home with great finds two. He fixed a bbq he found in the trash and we used it for 5 years! I have a nice computer desk and hutch that I got on freecycle as well as a marble board for pastry. I read your blog everyday but because I sew and knit I don’t always have to buy second hand but we dress at a fraction of the price. I made a halloween costume for my daughter for 5$. Your blog is an inspiration to keep on going being green and frugal. Merci beaucoup! Marguerite from Montréal, Québec, Canada


Andy November 10, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Umm, I don’t mean to be… mean, but since when was foregoing the luxuries newsworthy? Saving $400 isn’t really saving when it was a waste to begin with. I go without manicures and pedicures all the time, does that mean I am saving?


The Frugalista Files November 11, 2008 at 6:15 am

I love the story, Katy! I’m super happy!


Amber Jones November 11, 2008 at 9:08 am


I think the purpose of the foregoing her manis and pedis was to show that she was sacrificing something that before, was a main part of her routine. However, because she decided to cut back where she could, she was able to save $400.

If you aren’t doing these things, then yes, in a sense you are saving money because you aren’t spending it.

However, remember that these situations need to be tailored to your own.

Do you get a cup of coffee every morning on your way to work? Do you splurge on some “junk food” while grocery shopping? Do you take your family out to eat when you don’t feel like cooking? Do you go out with your buddies for a drink every weekend?

Everyone’s situation is different, but the common factor is finding *something* in your life you are willing to cut back on in order to save money. For Nat, it was her manis and pedis. For me, it’s the junk food that will help us save money and be a bit healthier.


Andy November 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm

No, I don’t do any of those actually, but thanks for trying to find something I am at fault for. From living an intentional lifestyle, I only spend one third of my earnings currently, and I am happier than ever. Eventually I will buy a house, and I will not have a mortgage because I actually had money saved up. My point is that people think that foregoing some luxury is “sustainable” or “green” or “frugal.” In reality, their wasteful behavior before just needed to end so they can live within their means. The Frugalista has credit card debt! Isn’t that an oxymoron on some form?


Shymom November 11, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Andy, many people are just coming to frugality after years of being less careful. They should have our support not derision.


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