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11 Frugal January Strategies to Spark Financial Change (this Year)

We’re rebranding the first month in the year “Frugal January”. Get a fresh start to your year ahead by using these frugal strategies all month long.

Let’s talk about the aftermath of the holiday season – when all the hustle and bustle is over, the tree has come down, and maybe a bill or two (or 11) have come in – and let’s call it Frugal January.

woman smiling, carrying armful of wood in snow, text overlay "Frugal January Strategies"

Not Holiday-Hangover January, or it’s-flippin’-cold January, or even I’m-so-bored January.

But Frugal January.

I want to inspire you to spend energy at the beginning of each year focusing ahead on ways to frugal-ize your life.

So that you can:

  • Take care of any spending hangovers from the holidays
  • Set the rest of your year up to be easier to manage (money-wise, that is)
  • Find hidden money to add back to your cash flow (because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love it when that happens?)

Frugal January Strategies

Choose from below and really put effort into it this month – you’ll reap the money rewards for the 11 months to come.

1. Take the Frugal Year Challenge (Starting in January)

Since it’s the first month of the year, I wanted to point out that I’ve got a whole one-year Frugal Challenge.

It’s a year-long, focused frugal challenge where we get into the habit of auditing each area of money, spending category, and habit of our lives.

Tackling these 12 areas of focus will turbo-boost your financial life for years to come. Trust me!

Sample Areas of monthly focus are:

  • February Frugal Challenge Area: Love & Money
  • May Frugal Challenge Area: Get One Month Ahead on Bills
  • June Frugal Challenge Area: Money Saving Challenges
  • July Frugal Challenge Area: Mini-Frugal Experiments
  • September Frugal Challenge Area: Kids' Allowance and Responsibilities
  • October Frugal Challenge Area: Personal Habits Audit
  • Plus, six more!

Bookmark this, and come back to it each month to get your next challenge instructions and guidance.

2. Get a Handle on the State of Your Current Finances

Married? I suggest doing consistent financial meetings with your spouse (that article also has 14 topic ideas for what to talk about).

And one that you could do specifically for your Frugal January month is what I call the State of Your Financial Union money meeting.

Going through these worksheets could help the two of you see areas to cut costs or focus in on even more for your Frugal January.

Plus, it usually leaves you both with a list of what to work on in the months ahead.

3. Pepper in Some No-Spend Weekends

Sit down with your January calendar, and decide on at least one weekend (more, if needed) where you’ll not spend a dime.

Or, where you’ll spend in certain categories that are necessities, but not spend in all other categories.

Here’s how to set up a proper no-spend challenge, plus tons of no-spend challenge ideas to really get your brain cranking on the possibilities.

4. Choose One New Daily Frugal Habit

There is so much power in our daily habits. Power to wreck our finances…or power to build them up.

I’ve written before about 17 powerful daily frugal habits we’ve started in the last year.

I invite you to read that article, and choose one of the new habits you can use in your own life.

It could be:

  • Batching your home barista coffee ingredients like we do, and then making daily iced lattes in under 5 minutes (lasts about two weeks)
  • Reading through the books you already own before allowing one. more. book. purchase.
  • Starting an at-home family date night, like we do each Saturday.
  • Or any of the other 14 habits

5. Do a Money Clean-Up

Forget the “spring cleaning” time period to get things tidied up – why not spend January cleaning up your money life?

I’ve worked with a number of women on this over the years, and here are some of the most life-changing things we accomplished in a money clean-up:

  • Gathered old life insurance documents from a dusty box and the next action step was to call to find out if the policy was still active
  • Shut down old accounts, and opened new ones that made sense (for example, we recently increased our savings interest by 5X by changing from our old one that was at a measly 0.40% to one that is 2.40% – now 4.40%)
  • Literally cleaned out our wallets and purses, and got everything straightened up
  • Created a shortcut favorites folder of each financial account sign-in, so that it was easier to check up on accounts more regularly instead of once a year (wow can this one step make a huge difference – when you become more aware of your finances because you’re paying attention more? All kinds of things can happen.)
  • Gathered several gift cards with unknown amounts on them, figured out how much was left on them, and used that money to spend instead of cash from checking or on a credit card
  • Making sure everyone who should have access to each financial account, does, and then connecting all financial accounts to a free money management platform like Empower to start tracking Net Worth (why might it be important to track net worth?)

6. Go on a Family Winter Staycation

If you’re committing to a frugal January, then you need to plan ahead of time for how to entertain yourself + your family for just a little (or no) money.

Because let’s face it: boredom (yours, your kid’s, etc.) can lead to spending. It doesn’t have to, but it often does.

I just finished up some killer family winter staycation ideas that will help you and your family make the most of a winter staycation.

7. Use Up Something You Already Own

I don’t know about you, but I have this awful habit of not enjoying the things I actually own.

Like books, movies and shows I’ve added to “My List” on Netflix (from like last year), recipe books with recipes I want to try, dusty board games, kitchen gadgets (I’m looking at you, bread-maker)…heck, even new Christmas presents you just got last month.

Intentionally choose 1-2 things you’re going to go through. All the way (or all the way that you can get through by January 31st) this month.

Even better, since we’re talking about Frugal January, resolve to not buy anymore fill in the blank until you go through what you have.

Even if it means all those boxes of teas lurking in your pantry (again…I’m outing myself – there must be about 17).

Bonus tip: doing this can make you naturally feel more grateful for what you already have.  

8. Do a Pantry Eating Challenge

Groceries can eat up a lot of our budget each month – especially at the current prices, amiright?

That’s why you should do a pantry eating challenge in your Frugal January. Not only will you eat potentially expiring-soon foods that would otherwise go to waste, but you’ll keep money in your pocket (perhaps enough to pay down some of December’s bills).

Here are cheap pantry meals you can make, plus pantry meal challenge tips.

9. Take Part in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge

The Frugalwoods host an Uber Frugal Month Challenge each January (you’ll likely see me in their Facebook group participating in it, too!).

You’ll receive a daily email prompt with ideas, strategies, and to-dos to help you reassess your current frugal strategies (or lack thereof – no shame) and make changes.

Her community is really supportive, and it can be a lot of fun.

10. Take On a 1-Week Waiting Filter for Anything Extra

Forget about the typical 24-hour, or even 72-hour waiting period from when you see some extra thing you gotta have – I’m looking at you, leopard-print tumbler at Marshall’s – to actually allowing yourself to buy it.

This is Frugal January, after all!

Instead, give yourself a 1-week cooling off period on buying anything that is “extra”. Meaning, it’s not groceries, toilet paper (that you need, *ahem*), or things like that.

11. Make Two Generic Substitutions at the Grocery Store

You might be hesitant to test out generic substitutes of your family’s favorite products – and I get that, even trying a generic version of our cat’s litter last summer left me a little clammy in aisle 14 – but switching to a handful or so of generic products that you still love can save uber bucks over the coming months and years.

That’s exactly why I’m challenging you to test out just two generic products this month. Could be a generic cat litter, or a generic antihistamine, or a generic block of cheese – your choice.

After trying it out, see what you think. Is it just as good? Could it be even better? Does the fact that it costs $0.50 less than the brand name make it suffice for now?

Bonus: Start making some meals from the Dollar Tree. Check out these Dollar Tree Meal Plan ($37.50/one week/2 people), Dollar Tree Lunch Ideas ($18.75/one week), healthy snacks from the Dollar Tree, and my favorite Dollar Tree Food Hacks.

I don’t know about you, but all these ideas about Frugal January get my brain excited. I mean, just think of the possibilities even committing to one of these will bring when it comes to your money management over the rest of the year. Keep things in check two and three years later? And wow – you’ve likely added a nice buffer to the gap between your paycheck and your expenses.

And that, my friend, is where the savings live.

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.