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Wednesday, April 25 News

Spend less in Fairfield County? 'Frugal Fairfielders' tell you how

They give talks on household budgeting; they initiate coupon swaps; they write books on how to dress for less; they create inexpensive recipes to feed a family, and they blog daily about their frugal ideas. But most of all, the Two Frugal Fairfielders save money.

Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto, one of the founders of the Two Frugal Fairfielders blog -- www.twofrugalfairfielders.com -- spends $150 per week on food and groceries for her family of four. (She said the average bill for families that size is $250 weekly just for food). And she spends just $1,000 per year to clothe her family. Aimee Guerrero, the other Frugal Fairfielder and a teacher at McKinley Elementary School, composts to save the cost of garbage pickup, grows her own vegetables and cooks from scratch -- which she said is more economical.

And it all started because they wanted to help their kids.

"We saw problems the kids had with the consumption in Fairfield," Zelinsky-Syarto said. "Everyone lives in a big house. Everyone has an iPhone."

"We focus on experiences, not things," Guerrero said.

Looking for someone else who shared her views and her budget, Zelinsky-Syarto met Guerrero in 2008. They found "community" with each other, Zelinsky-Syarto said, and that sharing ideas with someone else made living frugally in an affluent town more palatable.

"I said to myself, `There's got to be frugal people in this town,' " Zelinsky-Syarto said.

She was an editor of shelter magazines in Manhattan when she decided to stay home with her two children, now 14 and 15, she said, sitting at her dining room table in her modest ranch home in Fairfield.

Guerrero also began her more frugal ways when her children were born. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and had to figure out how to live more economically on just her husband's earnings, she said.

"We went from two teachers' salaries to one teacher's salary," she said.

The two women collaborated on a blog -- the motto is, "It's not how much money you make. It's what you do with it that matters." -- and a Facebook page, and their ideas caught on. Zelinsky-Syarto has given workshops on couponing and budgeting, made radio and television appearances, including the weekly radio spot "Deals and Steals," and she wrote an e-book, "Dress for Less." Guerrero is the main writer on the blog, which gets about 1,000 hits weekly, and she develops economical recipes which the Two Frugal Fairfielders share with their followers.

Many people just don't know what bargains are out there, like museum passes available at the Fairfield Public Library that give free and deeply discounted admission to more than 40 local museums and attractions; or free, printable coupons at www.coupon.com, Zelinsky-Syarto said. Guerrero pointed to buying food such as rice or beans in bulk, buying some food items frozen or canned, and joining a food co-op as ways to save money on the grocery bill. Gardening, composting and other ways of living more simply and economically are also good for the environment, she said.

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"It's not just better for our pocketbooks -- it's better for our kids and it's sustainable."

There is such a thing as "frugal fatigue," Zelinsky-Syarto said, and she spends only one hour a week on couponing -- and still gets more than her money's worth out of her shopping.

"It's not the solution to everyone's money problems. It's just a tool," she said.

The two women see their mission as sharing their tips for how to live economically with a wider audience, and to create a community where people feel comfortable living more simply in an affluent town like Fairfield.

It's especially important to them that their children understand that everyone doesn't have the resources to have whatever they want -- and to enjoy living with less.

Zelinsky-Syarto's children (and she and her husband) have pay-as-you-go phones, instead of smart phones, for example, and the kids already know that their parents will pay for only two years of community college. But it's not all about sacrificing or doing without, the women agreed.

"We have what we need and we are living a happy life," Guerrero said. "It's a frugal, high-quality, sustainable life."

Visit www.twofrugalfairfielders.com or their Facebook page for more information.