So far, Pinterest has saved Jo Ann Davidson a bundle.
Thanks to the social photo- and idea-sharing website, she was able to redo her family room for a pittance. She made two pillow covers from $20 clearance-priced fabric, redecorated her mantel with repurposed crafts, replaced heavy winter drapes with airy sheers bought at $5 a panel, and added $3 worth of ribbon trim to her existing lamp shades. Overall, the DIY choices the site inspired cost a fraction of what buying new retail furnishings would have.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The recession and our slow recovery have helped to spur a nationwide trend toward thrift and reuse, and there's no place that exemplifies that quite like Pinterest, where Davidson got her crafty ideas.
The much-buzzed-about social networking site functions as a digital cork-board where people can manage theme-based image collections, categorized by interests and hobbies. Users "pin" pictures to concept-specific boards to create a hodge-podge of ideas and collective creativity.
And while Pinterest may not be a panacea for all of your financial ailments, it can certainly help you cut down on your expenses.
"I have found Pinterest to be quite a money saver by repurposing items I already have and also making my home more personal using items that mean something to me," Davidson said. "For example, I used an old frame I had, spray painted it, covered it with burlap ... added a lace doily from the antique store ($3) and attached an old skeleton key from the home where I grew up. This item is priceless. The key reminds me of my childhood. I couldn't find this anywhere else."
Her biggest money-saving moves are yet to come. She's converting her grown daughter's bedroom into a guest room using ideas from Pinterest. She was unsuccessful at selling the childhood bedroom furniture, but instead of giving it a full-on renovation, she's giving it a "Pin-lift." She figures this will save her about $1,000.
The Rise of the Pinthusiasts
Of course, there are all kinds of money-saving and life-hacking sites out there, but none offer quite the same blend of appealing eye candy and infectious social influence as Pinterest.
Instead of dining out, Pinterest inspires people to try out new recipes. Instead of buying new outfits, they might try to renew their wardrobes with little twists. It's a militia of the crafty, with everyone sharing ways to save a quick buck.
Christine Luken, a financial counselor and self-described "coupon queen," has taken parsimony to the extreme using DIY tips she's gleaned from Pinterest.
"I would have to find granola bars at $1.25 a box or less to beat the price of homemade," Luken said. "I also found some great 'recipes' for making my own cleaning products for pennies on the dollar. My favorite is the homemade dishwasher detergent that only costs 8 cents per load and works as well as the Cascade I typically buy on sale with coupons."
Isra Huashmi, a blogger at The Frugalette, points to a board called "Food I Make," where no meal's ingredients cost more than $10.
"Pinterest has become a fabulous source of inspiration for DIY frugal living families," Hashmi said. "DIY in general is great, but can get expensive with all the add-ons and over-the-top styling you see on HGTV. Pinterest is for real folks at home, living on a limited budget."
It's the interactive element -- the social network's ability for the quick exchange of ideas and images -- that pays off.
"We swap ideas with things we already have in our homes that doesn't require going out to Home Depot and buying all the equipment," Hashmi said.
Upcycling and the DIY Trend
While discounts and deals are ubiquitous online, Pinterest is unusual in its angle of encouraging saving through creativity, and melding it with practical, demonstrated solutions within a like-minded community. And the interactiveness of exchanging tips -- whether about making souffle or repurposing an old bookshelf -- provides a sort of viral instant gratification.
"The Pinterest community is a source of inspiration for countless things, including how people can be more crafty and thrifty," Pinterest spokeswoman Carolyn Thomas said. "One of the most prominent ways we see people using the service is to search for upcycling/DIY project ideas to reuse things."
"Other thrifty uses for Pinterest ... include pinning comparable products to a specific board for comparison-shopping, and finding homemade alternatives to store-bought products," she said.
The Pinterest community, then, becomes an instant sounding board for creative ideas and purchasing strategies -- a focus group for your whims.
Vanessa Vancour, a mother in Reno, Nev., is prepared for the birth of her second child, who's due May 30. Rather than buying a new dresser for the baby's room, she turned to Pinterest for ideas.
First, she created a pinboard on the site to brainstorm. Eventually, she found a used dresser on Craigslist for $40, which she repainted in a warm yellow and personalized for the nursery based on the ideas she gathered.
Becca Bijoch of Minneapolis has caught the frugality bug on Pinterest, though she wasn't necessarily a bargain-hunter previously.
"I'm obsessed with two things: Pinterest and thrifting," Bijoch said. "I use the site at least once a week to cook, get dressed, do a project, get inspiration for something I can make out of thrift-store finds."
She's cleaned her couch with a brush, a sponge and rubbing alcohol, rather than paying $100 to have the task professionally done; collected free glasses and containers to plant her succulents, rather than spending $20 for pots at home décor shops; reorganized her linens; turned tacky brass knickknacks into more valuable chrome beauties; replicated a $400 Tom Binns necklace by buying $20 rhinestone jewelry on the cheap and painting it neon with $3 nail polish; and jazzed up her old IKEA tables with a Pinterest feature called "IKEA hack" -- in this case, buying a $3 four-pack of brass corners.
"Before I became a Pinterest user, I did not cook, like ever," Bijoch said.
She used to spend some $20 a day on prepared food -- $600 a month. Now she spends $100 a month on groceries to make recipes she's learned on Pinterest and pockets the savings.
Frugal ... for Now
The recession gave rise to a trend of thriftiness and reuse, according to Lauren Weber, author of In Cheap We Trust -- but trends do run in cycles.
"Suddenly it was cool to be cheap, to get all your material needs met by Freecycle, to make your own laundry detergent and downsize from two cars to one," Weber said. "But if history tells us anything, it's that these frugal interludes tend to be short lived. They're driven by temporary political or economic conditions and they never seem to last, much to the sorrow of dyed-in-the-wool cheap adherents."
"[Frugality] is a part of our mythology," Weber said. "Think Ben Franklin or Thoreau's time at Walden Pond. And this is a mythology we can tap into when it's expedient to do so."
That said, the American love of excess -- our double cheeseburgers, our McMansions, our Hummers -- takes us far from that Puritanical ethos.
"Americans by and large have chosen a different myth and sensibility to project to the world and to themselves -- that we're a nation where bigger is always better and more is never enough-big cars, big houses, big credit card bills," Weber said. "This is a more powerful articulation of the American character right now. However, I'd say that frugality is still present in our national character and it's something we can access when we need to."
As the aftermath of the recession lingers, Pinterest has allowed Americans to tap into that frugal instinct collectively and resist the dominant culture of superfluousness and consumerism.
Resisting the Urge to Spend
Pinterest has also become a hotbed of a sort of spectator consumerism -- people pin items they may love, but decide not to buy in solidarity as savers.
"Lately I've been saying, 'Pinning is the new shopping,'" said Michelle Riggen-Ransom, who runs a communications consultancy in Seattle, Wash. "I find Pinterest satisfies the desire to discover and enjoy beautiful things without stepping foot in a store. This is great because you're not tempted to make impulse purchases as you wander around a physical store."
You can also pin items to come back to later, helping you to avoid being swayed by heat-of-the-moment impulse buys. And boards dedicated to comparison shopping allow you to make your final purchases more thoughtfully considered ones.
Such boards are also useful when shopping for gifts with an eye toward the longer term. If you spot the perfect gift for someone whose birthday is months away, you don't have to buy it now, or forget it -- just stick a pin in it.
"You don't end up buying something last-minute like a plaid Slanket or weird candle," Riggen-Ransom said, "but instead have chosen something that your gift recipient might actually enjoy and find useful."
Some take an even more active approach to prevent unnecessary purchases.
Mona Marimow, who works at online bank PerkStreet, which rewards customers for making financially responsible decisions, has a Pinterest board called "Stuff I Didn't Buy" for the bank's customers to display items they refrained from shelling out for.
One post features an image of an iPhone, with the comment: "Everyone who has an iPhone loves their phone, but unfortunately I can't afford one :( Till I pay off my school loan :) –Sandra." Another, with a pic of a personal jetpack reads, "I need this. I really really do. The Martin Jetpack. My commute to work just sucks, this would just save me soo much time. Oh well I didn't get it, tempted but I resisted."