Real frugal living is about so much more than learning how to hack $5 off your next grocery bill. I'm opening up about how to start being frugal, plus lots of frugal living tips.
Frugal living articles listing out 50+ tips on how to save a buck are a dime a dozen. Meaning, they're everywhere!
This one is different.
Instead of throwing 50 tips at you for how to live more frugally and lower your living expenses (pssst: I do still have a section of savings tips below, you can click and find them if that's what you'd like), I'm going to share some of the STRATEGY behind frugal living — which is going to help you with how to start being frugal, and how to up your frugal game.
This is the stuff people don't talk about.
The reason why I'm doing this? Because you can pick up frugal hacks and save more off of your bills each month — and that's an awesome thing to do. But then how are you going to use frugal living as an overall strategy to get where you want to go in life?
I'm here to show you how to live a frugal life, not just how to save a few bucks, and certainly not just how to score a few freebies.
I'm here to change your life.
Stick with me, and you'll see what I mean.
Frugal Living Meaning – What is the Meaning of Frugal?
People who live frugally sometimes come off as a cheapskate or a scrooge or a tightwad.
But there's so much more to frugal living and being thrifty than learning how to cut down your grocery bill by $5 each shopping trip (or $167 if you've dabbled in extreme couponing).
I've been not only living the frugal life for 20+ years, but I've been writing about it and coaching others on how to live it for over 9 years now.
Frugal living is about taking all the resources you have in your life — your money, your time, your energy, your friends, your family, your job, your side hustles…everything — and figuring out ways to both maximize them to their true potential, plus to not waste them.
And the reason why we do this?
There are many, but I'll give you the most exciting one: so that you can use your limited resources to get all the things that you want out of life. Probably not at the same time, but overall.
In fact, let's look at all the wonderful benefits of frugal living (if you stick to it).
Benefits of Frugal Living – How Frugal Living Simplifies Your Life
Not frugal? This section might change you.
Frugal living has so many benefits, beyond just the obvious one of saving more money. And good thing it does, right? Otherwise, penny pinching gets old!
I was first drawn to the frugal lifestyle purely for financial reasons.
One of my early frugal successes I can remember was as a teenager when I wanted to purchase a gown for the senior prom. This wasn’t just any gown that I was looking for; I wanted to feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman felt (though without all of her employment drama…) all dressed up in a breathtakingly gorgeous gown complete with white gloves and a diamond necklace. Okay, I knew that no jewelry store in their right mind would allow my 17-year-old self to borrow a diamond necklace like Richard Gere had done, but the rest of the outfit I was certain I could have.
I just needed to save up for it.
I didn’t want to use my hard-earned (think shoveling manure), $98-dollar-a-week paycheck towards a gown that I knew I would only wear once. Even back then, I was quite prudent about my meager resources.
Instead I challenged myself to only spend the money that I could accumulate in my change jar to purchase the perfect gown.
And you know what? It worked. Over the course of eight months I put each of the pennies I found — on the ground, in-between couch cushions, and in other forgotten places — into my change jar. As the weather turned and the first spring crocuses appeared, the tally from our local Coinstar® machine was an impressive $75.40. When paired with a sale at the local department store, I was able to get my beautiful, magenta-colored, sateen gown as well as a pair of elbow-length white gloves to complete the look. Feeling like a princess on a pauper’s budget, I was hooked to frugality for life.
Fast forward to over a decade living in frugal decadence, and I can now tell you with sufficient experience that there are many fringe benefits to living frugally besides the obvious (and exciting) primary ones of being:
- Able to save money beyond what you should be able to do on the income you make
- To pay off debt faster than you normally could, with the “normal” American lifestyle
- To design your own life on your own terms
I can also confidently say that sometimes, it is these fringe benefits that really make the whole thing worthwhile.
Benefit #1: Frugality Cultivates Greater Appreciation
When you have few resources at your disposal, you learn to appreciate them more. I have found that as you appreciate your resources more, you begin to appreciate everything more. Suddenly, your world seems filled with people you love, beautiful landscapes, and everything that you could ever ask for. Appreciation brings happiness, satisfaction, and an entirely different perspective. The more I appreciate things, the less I seem to need or even want.
Benefit #2: Frugality Leads to a Feeling of “Having Enough”
Frugality is all about utilizing a basket of limited resources. It is not necessarily about growing that basket so that you need to upgrade to a storage container in order to fit everything. It's about simple living.
Because of cultivating an understanding and usefulness for limited resources, I have found that being frugal helps to satiate and appease the typical consumer appetite. This has wonderful, lasting effects besides to your savings account; living your life with a sense of fulfillment and without feeling a constant need to purchase and procure leads to a more authentic kind of happiness.
Spending less money means you get more out of life.
Benefit #3: Frugality Means You Can Deal with Less Consumer Product Health Scares
The number of consumer products that are recalled every year is astonishing. Reasons for these recalls range from lead paint to cancer-causing agents to other safety hazards. Sometimes I wonder what will be the asbestos and tan beds of our generation. Since frugal people generally consume less products, choosing instead to substitute, buy used, make themselves, or go without, their exposure to dangerous products can be much less than other consumers.
Benefit #4: Frugality Benefits the Environment
Some people care about their role in the environment, while others do not. As a former environmental investigator, I think you can guess which side I fall on. Being frugal naturally results in decreasing your carbon footprint in a multitude of ways. For example, carpooling and purchasing used products over new products means you cut down on petrochemical use.
Benefit #5: Frugality Can Add Time Back into Your Life
Contrary to recent cultural belief that frugal people are extreme couponers who must spend about 20 hours of their lives each week huddled over sales and coupon circulars, being frugal can open up a significant amount of time in your life. Why is that? Because instead of running to a store, or working extra in order to pay past obligations, or cleaning/maintaining lots of belongings, you can siphon off more of your time to spend with people and to spend doing what you enjoy.
I must admit, I am not blissed out in frugal, zen-like moments from sun up ‘til sundown (is anybody?). But for the majority of the time, I feel appreciative, I feel peaceful, and I feel like I have enough. Those feelings are something that I never would have understood as a 17-year-old, but that I am oh-so-grateful for now.
What's Your Purpose for Frugal Living?
Thrifty living and nitpicking your spending habits can only take you so far. I would know — I've gotten to partly design my life and our family's life all because I decided long ago to not waste our resources (and to instead learn how to maximize them to their fullest potential).
There are many reasons to life a frugal life, and you need to find your own so that you can feel that conviction + fire in your belly.
Let me paint a picture of some of the more exciting financial goals (steal the ones that speak to you!):
- Retirement Account Savings for Early Retirement
- Saving Money for Mini Retirements
- One Parent Staying Home to Raise Your Child(ren)
- Get out of debt (debt repayment)
- Money for travel
- Save up to pay cash for your home
- Build up an oh sh*t fund (aka, the emergency savings fund)
- Be able to quit your job and start a business
- Be able to quit your job and travel the world through travel hacking
- Simple living
There are all kinds of awesome motivations and reasons for frugal living!
How to Live Frugally and Happy
Your life is valuable. In the time vs money debate, time wins out — hands down.
So, you've got to enjoy this life you are given on earth, however long that is for you.
And you know what's NOT enjoyable? Being told no — by either you, or someone else — all the time.
In order to really get frugal living, joyously, you need to stop telling yourself + your family “no”. Instead, ask how.
No is easy. No doesn't cost money (usually). No means we're building up a wad of “yes's” in our savings account because we've learned how to save money, or putting money towards debt.
But ‘no' is also unimaginative. It's limiting. And it's darn right boring after awhile.
You start feeling like you're missing out on things. You start feeling like you're working to pay other people for things you don't want to pay for anymore. You start feeling deflated, as if you'll never get out of this stupid cycle of work-bills-work-bills. Like money is the dictator and you're kind of just at its whim (isn't it your paycheck, after all?).
‘No' became a reflex for us, like when the doc whacks your knee in that special spot and your leg kicks up without you telling it to.
Change Your Reflex to Open Up Your World
The thing is, I've learned that even if you're deep in the thickets of paying-off-debt (where the gazelles are plentiful and fast), or living extreme frugality (or, really, anywhere in between), you don't have to say ‘no' to everything.
In fact, it's a great exercise to start asking how instead.
How can lead you down a whole different path (my whole life at the moment — being out of debt, working on my passion job, living in Texas with Paul — came about because of this simple tweak to my money mindset).
Here's how (there it is again!) you can do this:
- Address the Psychology Behind Saying ‘No': Why is it that you say ‘no'? It's probably because you don't want to spend the money you have earmarked to pay off debt or for to build up savings. But let's go deeper than that. Is your ‘no' reflex simply something you picked up from the money dialogue in your childhood? For me, I was so used to hearing “we can't afford that” that it became my modus operandi even though it was entirely untrue. Figuring this out led Paul and I to start saying “we choose to not purchase X” instead of firing back, “we can't afford X”. Talk about a huge money mindset shift. Find out what it is that is making you say ‘no'. What's the reason? The excuse? The need? Then ask yourself if that is really true.
- Rephrase Your Responses As they Come Out: Even if what you're wanting and asking for is absolutely far-fetched (like your brain at the moment cannot wrap its way around one atom of what you'd like let alone the whole thing), you still need to do this. Ask yourself “how”. How can I do this? How can I make this happen? How can we X? How would that look? How would that feel?
- Open Yourself Up to Possibilities: After you've rephrased your question into some sort of how, you can sit back and allow your brain to work on it (even when you're not thinking about it). The only other way you can help this process along is by opening yourself up to possibilities you may not have considered before. Because undoubtedly, they will bubble up to the surface — and usually at the oddest moments.
Looking for how money mindset shifts have occurred in our own life?
Money Mindset Shift Examples from My Life
I'll share with you how this has played out in my life, complete with all the disclaimers my mind had come up with to determine that there was no way I could have what I wanted.
- Example from My College Years: Even though it's going to cost too much money for my minimum-wage, federal-work-study-job paycheck to handle, and I won't have time to take off, and people would think it was *k-razy*, how can I buy tickets to spend Winter Break with Paul in Japan?
- Possibility I Opened Myself Up to: I was interning at the time with a local agricultural-based, snack foods company. They had thrown around the thought of going international at some point, so I approached them with what would seem to some (and to myself) a crazy proposal. They could sponsor the cost of my ticket to Japan, and in exchange, I would do some market research for them while there. And it worked! They cut me a $500 check (half the cost of the airfare), and I took a box of snacks and sat out in Tokyo one day collecting surveys after 30 or so people tried the products. When I got back to the states I did a mini-presentation for them. I even ended up in the local newspaper! Win-win.
- Example from our Debt-Paying Days: Even though it was just 9 months away, and even though we had no idea where the money was going to come from, and even though I wondered if my husband-to-be would be upset at the sudden extreme frugalness, how can we pay off our remaining $25,000 in debt, pay cash for the wedding/honeymoon and also to put a down payment on a home all before walking down the aisle?
- Possibility I Opened Myself Up to: Remember that awesome first-time homebuyer's tax credit they came up with in 2009 (the one you didn't have to pay back)? When we got engaged and knew that buying a home was on our want-list, it made perfect sense for us to buy a house by the end of 2009 to take advantage of it. And it worked! We emptied a good chunk of savings for the down payment on our home, then when the check came a few months later, we put $7,000 down on Paul's car note and $1,000 to buffer our emergency savings fund. Pretty cool how we knocked out debt while getting what we wanted.
It's time to shift your money mindset and see where ‘how' can take you, no matter if you're paying off debt, living frugal for frugal's sake, or beyond.
So, start asking it! If your path ends up anywhere like mine did, then you're in for quite a ride.
How Do You Become Really Frugal?
Being a frugal person means making the most out of all of your resources at hand – both time, money, things…really, everything. It’s learning how to use what you’ve got in the most efficient way so that you can get the most bang for your buck.
Before we dive into all of these cool frugal hacks that will help you save lots of money, I want to address the question of how a person becomes really frugal.
Because, for some of us, frugality is a very real instinct. And for others? Not so much.
The good news is: it doesn’t matter if living a frugal life comes naturally to your or not. You can grow your frugal muscle.
Here’s a step-by-step way to become really frugal:
- Figure Out the Reason You Want to Be More Frugal: First off, figure out what it is about becoming really frugal that gets you excited. Is it the idea of living more sustainably? Or is it the idea of saving more money towards the things that you want to do? What’s the reason you want to become frugal?
- Figure Out where You’re Being Wasteful: Identify areas in your life where you’re being wasteful. This could be with your money, with your time, with your food, with your use of paper towels…it could really be anything.
- Tackle One Category at a Time: You’ll want to pick one category where you’re being wasteful, and tackle it to begin with. Don’t choose something huge, because you want a small win to keep you motivated to keep going. For example, if you want to become really frugal and you know you’re especially wasteful about food, then start with becoming frugal about one category of food. This could be about your dining out, about a category of grocery shopping (such as ice-cream, or produce), etc. Find frugal hacks to help you with this category, get a small (or big) win, bank the money in your savings account.
- Rinse and Repeat: Keep that new frugality in that one category going, and move onto your next category. What can you tackle next?
As you move through the various categories of your life and find frugal hacks for how to save money and decrease consumption in each, you’ll naturally become a more frugal person.
And one day? It’ll just come naturally for you – the action of finding the best ways to save money on whatever you’re trying to be, do, or have.
How to Live Frugally and Save Money
Let me just get this off my chest, right off the bat: frugality does not give you a bigger savings account.
Are you…surprised by that statement?
I've been blogging about the merits of frugality and frugal decadence for the last 5 years (yes, it's been 5 years already!), and I've never come out with such a negative stance before.
But if something's true about your money, then I might as well be the one to say it. #moneytruth
This is because there are two possible outcomes of frugality:
- Make More Purchases: Stretch your dollar so that you can make a lot more purchases (like around the holidays where you need $100 to buy $200 worth of gifts).
- Increase Money Leftover in Checking: End up with more money leftover at the end of the month/week, depending on your money system.
—–>But neither equals money in your savings account.
There is a Checking Account Gremlin (at least one has been reported, more possible)
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that stretching your dollars alone means you will accumulate savings in a bank account. Whatever the reason is for stretching your dollars rather than banking them, your frugal efforts will never stockpile into an account if you keep purchasing more with your money rather than banking your frugal efforts. If you aren’t careful, you could be the little old lady who lives in her clearance-marked-down-from-half-price shoes.
Even option #2, where physical dollars are left in your checking account, does not equal money in your savings account. I mean, think about it, how many times do you go to sweep any money left over from your checking to your savings account and are disappointed at the lack of Benjamins?
In fact, the only thing that can determine whether or not your savings grows is YOU.
You need to:
- Start out with the intention to grow your savings (no woo-woo here; intention matters a great deal)
- Set up systems to catch extra money and funnel it into savings
Let me give you an example. I have $50 to spend on gifts and scour the web /ads for deals and coupons. Through my frugal efforts, I am can either:
- A): purchase a stellar gift for $25, a gift for another person for $15, and spend the remaining “saved” $10 on toiletries I need, thus stretching that original $50 that was earmarked for one gift or
- B): purchase a stellar gift for $25 and deposit the extra $25 into my savings account.
Otherwise, any leftover money will get eaten by the checking account gremlin. It may not be this month, it may not be next month, but pretty soon that extra money you frugal'd your way into or you thought you had (you seem to make enough money to save, right? So where is it all going?) just gets…absorbed.
Psst: One way to make sure that extra money in your checking account makes its way (automatically) to your savings account? Open up a Digit.co account. You'll be amazed at how quickly their algorithm funnels money from your checking to savings, based on the spending you do!
Sometimes, You'll Need A, and Sometimes, You'll Choose B
It makes sense to invoke ‘A’ in certain situations. Around the holidays, stretching your dollar opens up the opportunity to purchase more gifts for your money, which is a higher priority because of the sheer number of people to buy for (at least in my family). If you do not make enough income to meet your needs and basic wants, then stretching your dollars may be the only option there is in order to make it in-between paychecks.
But don’t make the mistake that stretching your dollars alone means you will accumulate savings in a bank account. Whatever the reason is for stretching your dollars rather than banking them, your frugal efforts will never stockpile into an account if you keep purchasing more with your money rather than banking your frugal efforts. For all the scrimping, clipping, and strategizing you do, your bank account will be stunted. For me personally, I know that cash is liquid. Other than inflation whittling away at its value, I can count on cash being there. Cash can be used for anything; however, an extra lamp or a room full of books is more difficult to liquefy when you need money. And aside from this, stockpiling cash and investing it has the potential of growing passive income in the form of interest, dividends, and capital gains. You won’t ever squeeze a penny out of that new set of sheets.
You have got to learn how to use your frugal efforts to funnel money into your savings account.
One way to do this:
- Save the Amount on the Bottom of Your Receipts: You know how every store now likes to tally up how much you “saved” during your budget shopping trip? I challenge you to take the amount that you “saved” using sales/coupons/whatever else the store tells you, and actually funnel it into your savings account. You can do it after each store transaction, weekly, bi-weekly, or tally up all your receipts at the end of each month and put one big pile over to savings at once. I call this my Bank It Challenge!
6 Best Frugal Living Tips in these Frugal Times
I've got some of the best frugal living tips for frugal living with purpose. With money strategy. With a reason — as in, so that you can live the life that you want.
Because guess what? You might learn new tips and tricks for how to save money and get really excited about them…only to find out that the way you did it takes you three steps back in the end.
I don't want that for you! Read my advice below — it's from experience.
Tip #1: Borrowing Works Best when It Goes Both Ways
The other day while reading the Get Rich Slowly blog, a reader’s comment struck me as something I needed to expand on. I can’t seem to find the comment again, but to sum it up: a reader was tired of hearing frugal bloggers talk about borrowing others’ belongings without ever mentioning that they should lend people things in return.
As a frugal blogger myself who certainly stands behind the advice of borrowing, I wanted to make certain that it is clear that when I mention this as a great money-saving tool, I mean for it to be reciprocal. People need to both borrow and lend belongings in order to help everyone save money. It may not be borrowing and lending from the same person each time, as they may not be in need of anything or vice versa. However, reciprocity and gratitude are integral to building solid relationships.
This give and take relationship is inferred in the articles I write where I suggest borrowing from others, but hasn’t necessarily been explicitly stated. While I do not pretend to be the perfect illustration of this, I do try hard to show both gratitude, as well as bless others as we have been blessed.
To show this commenter, and others, that we both borrow and lend, I’ve included examples from our own lives in the past few years:
- Lending a Tent: Most people go camping once every few years. It doesn’t make sense for them to sink several hundred dollars into a tent only to use it three times in the next decade. I was fortunate to snag an Eddie Bauer, 6-person tent for $23.96 off of eBay shipped in my early twenties (frugal decadence at its best!). Since then, we’ve lent it to a family member for a backyard birthday party, and are about to lend it to another family member for a camping trip next month. What a great feeling knowing that we saved them from having to purchase something they only need every few years.
- Lending a Juicer: One of the first appliances I purchased for myself in my early twenties was a juicer. I was super-stoked, as I figured I would be juicing everyday (lesson learned!). Six years later when my friend started talking about looking into purchasing a juicer, I immediately brought up the fact that she could borrow mine to see if she would even use one. It just made sense! Since I hardly used it to begin with, the invitation to borrow it is an open-ended one and we haven’t missed it yet.
- Lending House Supplies: Recently we helped out a foreign exchange student from the Ukraine. We met Vlad through my aunt in D.C., which is where he was staying before moving to Houston for an internship set-up through the State Department. After picking him up from the airport and helping him get to his destination (of course we introduced him to some tasty Texas barbecue first), we learned that he didn’t have a place to stay yet. Several days later, he found an apartment, but it was unfurnished. Since he is only here for three months, it just did not make sense for him to purchase an apartment full of things to use and then have to sell or donate when he leaves. So Paul and I gave him a spare bed/mattress, basic kitchen utensils (frying pan, an oven-proof dish, spatula, silverware, a few dishes, a few cups), our old television, a pillow, set of sheets, and two towels.
- Borrowed a Power Washer: Paul and I noticed some algae growing on the side of our house (perfect conditions for it in humid Houston summers). When I mentioned this to my friend, she immediately mentioned that she could get a power washer for her and me to borrow to take care of the problem. It was tremendously helpful!
- Borrowed a Scientific Calculator: As I mentioned in last week’s Frugal Confessions Friday post, Paul’s brother is allowing Paul to borrow his scientific calculator for his Algebra class this semester. Paul will likely not take any other math or engineering-type classes again to complete his major, so it made great financial sense for us to borrow a $100+ specific calculator rather than to purchase one (and we were fortunate to be able to know someone close to ask!).
- Borrowed Hedge Trimmers: Two years ago we had to dig up the dead hibiscus bushes in our front flower beds and plant some other bushes instead. They finally have grown enough where they were in need of a trim. Fortunately, Paul’s brother allowed him to borrow his electric trimmers and get the job done quickly. In the future we will probably need to purchase a pair of trimmers ourselves for an annual trim. But for now, it saved us money.
- Free Flow of Books: I love to both lend and borrow great books among family and friends. By borrowing, I’ve been able to read books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Nigella Lawson cookbooks, Jurassic Park, and Anthony Bourdain books. Subsequently, we’ve lent Eat, Pray, Love, Total Money Makeover, The Da Vinci Code, etc. from our own library.
As you can see, by borrowing and lending material possessions there has been a lot of money saved over the years (and this is the short list). I love saving people money almost more than saving ourselves money. It makes me feel good to help others, and being able to lend and borrow belongings is a natural extension of this.
Tip #2: Don't be a Part-Time Lover of Frugality
I’ve noticed something: when it comes to money, people tend to be loosey-goosey during the good times — taking shark-sized bites out of their monthly cash flow by increasing their debt load — and then try to unload everything they possibly can to stay afloat during the bad times. It’s one extreme to the other:
Good times = lease a new car, renovate a room, buy shiny new appliances, charge up the credit cards because we will be able to pay them off with our future income, daily lattes, etc.
Bad times = no lattes, cancel magazine subscriptions, cancel cable, sell the timeshare we never should have bought, unplug electronics when not in use, etc.
Whatever Happened to Moderation?
We’ve seen this play out recently with the Recession. Prior to the fall of 2008, the national personal savings rate (PSR: personal savings as a percentage of disposable personal income) was just around 0.7%. By the end of October 2008 when there were markets crashing, an uptick in foreclosures, general collapse of the housing market, tightening of credit lending and everyone was talking about the shark-infested waters ahead, the PSR climbed to 2.4%. That may not sound like much, but since the mid-1970s the rate has been cascading down, down, down, and down some more. In fact a higher PSR was sustained throughout the entire Recession than in the period leading up to it. This means that while people were in a better position financially, they chose to spend their resources instead of stock them away. They were part-time lovers of frugality.
Frugality is No Longer “the New Black”
Who wouldn’t tighten up their belts, pay down existing debts, and stash money away in savings with such a bleak economy? Yet, here we are just five years later and frugality is wearing off. It’s no longer “the new black”. Today the PSR seems to be floundering again. It is currently 4.4%, which is much better than the pre-recession 0.7%. However, if you look at the chart, it has plateaued. People have begun to flock back to their pre-recession, loosey-goosey ways. Credit card debt is increasing, auto loans are increasing, and student loans are increasing.
But what about maintaining frugality in the good times? You see, tightening your finances and being frugal will certainly allow you to survive bad financial times. But if you only use frugality during the bad times, you will fail to reap its full benefits. When you practice frugality just to survive, you don’t get the chance to stockpile. During the good times is when you can sock away money into your savings from living a simpler life, and when you can fill your cupboards until they are overflowing. And how do you save up for an emergency fund, the great neutralizer during the bad times? By practicing frugality when times are good.
You really reap the benefits of frugality when you use it during the good times, not just when you are sweating financial bullets.
It’s important for us to remember that the cost of what we are buying during the good times is not just what we spend on that particular day. The real cost will be felt more in the times when we are in need. Don’t be a part-time lover of frugality. Be a full-time lover, and reap the full-time benefits.
Tip #3: Sometimes Delaying Spending Means You'll Pay More in the End
You need to realize that delaying spending money is not always the best way to live the frugal life.
Sometimes my life seems to revolve around delaying gratification—the satiation of my needs and wants—by delaying purchases or services. By nature, my consumer pulse is sluggish at best, so it is not a far stretch for me to do so. I do not constantly feel a nagging craving inside of me for new, better, and more technologically advanced.
But I have found that sometimes delaying gratification by not making a purchase or having a service done actually ends up costing me more in the end.
Here is a perfect example: I went three summers (two in Southern Florida, and one in Houston) without AC in my car. On any given summer day, you could see me cruising down the road with all of my non-automatic windows down, sitting up towards my steering wheel so as not to gather a small pool of sweat on the small back of my business shirt while driving to and from work. By the third summer, I was ready to give in. A mechanic charged me $100 or so to put new Freon into my car, which worked for the day. By Day #2, the AC was no longer working; turns out that because I had waited so long to put new Freon into my car’s AC system, something burst, and my entire AC system went bust. To fix it would have been close to a $1,000 (mind you, this was the vehicle I had originally purchased several years ago for just $1500).
I learned a bit about the importance of maintenance as a long-term cost-saving measure from this and a few other experiences.
To hopefully save you a headache in the future, here are a few items that I feel should not be delayed, no matter how tight your momentary budget.
- Health Services: Health issues tend to get worse (which means cost you more money) the longer you wait to get them taken care of. For example, if you wait to get a cavity or aching tooth checked out, you may end up needing a much more costly root canal instead
- Insurance (Health, Auto insurance, Home, etc.): Even if you are in-between jobs, do not lapse your coverage on things like car insurance; at least be covered by accidental at all times in case the unthinkable happens, and you find yourself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital
- Leaks: Any type of leak can lead to water damage elsewhere (and possibly mold), which will cost you more than if you immediately take care of the problem
- Early Bird Specials: We’re not just talking about diners…many things, such as concerts, tickets to the Dave Ramsey live event (I missed out on this when the tickets were $15—and now the tickets are $40 each!), products retailers want to get a head start on selling, etc. have early bird specials that save you money for buying in advance.
- Things that Appreciate in Value: One of my favorite artists is Kessler. He began selling his work in the Eastern Market in D.C., and when I was in college, his paintings were going for $300 (an astronomical price back then). Now that I am older and wish to buy a real Kessler painting, his originals are going for $1500!! Yet again, an astronomical price. While it’s true that you cannot always tell what will appreciate in value, things like mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc. will most certainly appreciate over a long-term time frame, and so delaying the purchase of them will only cost you money earned down the road
Tip #4: “You Get What You Pay for” is a Totally Bogus Saying
This is one of my pet peeves about frugal living because people get this wrong all the time.
The reason people love to throw around the statement, “you get what you pay for” is either:
a: to justify their spending more/too much money on a particular purchase despite not having the funds to do so
b: as an “I-told-you-so” spit of wisdom to rain on your parade after a frugal fail (and yes, I’ve had a few frugal fails)
Here's the truth: you can pay very little for something, and it is super valuable well beyond the transaction amount. Or you can pay a ton for something, and it sucks.
Need more proof of how false this statement is? Head over here for more info on debunking the saying “you get what you pay for“.
While you're at it? Make sure you're not confusing the relationship between cost and value.
Tip #5: Remember that a Bargain is Not Always a Good Deal
I have to learn this lesson over, over, and over again. So much so, that I call it my Groundhog Day's money lesson.
Here goes: just because something is cheap, or extremely discounted, does not mean it's a good deal for me.
I became aware of my Groundhog Day money lesson when shopping with a friend many years ago. We were both trying to decide on whether or not to make our purchases; mine was a pair of sleek brown pants from Banana Republic on clearance for $5.
As my friend modeled her potential purchase and asked my opinion, I said something like “well, you really can’t beat the price”.
She then passed on an ounce of wisdom, saying that her grandfather had taught her that if you’re not going to use something then it’s no bargain at all.
That was the moment I could have walked away with a nugget of truth to save me money over the next ten+ years of my life.
But I didn’t.
Brand names rarely made a debut in my wardrobe, and this was my chance! So instead of putting the pants back and saving my $5 for something more useful, I paid for my little-too-big, little-too-long Banana Republic pants. Over the course of high school I never actually wore them; they stayed in my drawer for about a year until I finally thought that I should hem the bottoms. After my sister helped with hemming, I think I may have worn them once before figuring out that they just really were not me.
Banana Republic fire sale or not, those pants represented $5 down the drain.
Fast forward over a decade, and I am still having trouble with the idea that something is not a bargain if it does not truly fit your need or want.
Thank goodness this financial lesson does not cause me to lose a lot of money, as I am usually in the clearance or sale section of a store when I fail to heed it. But you can see how it could add up over the years:
- I’ve had rubber garden clogs only slightly too small that quickly became too uncomfortable to wear (only $4,99!)
- I’ve purchased books I found somewhat appealing that are still collecting dust on my shelf (only $0.50!)
- I still have an outdoor metal table purchased for an incredible $12 that will hold one glass of iced tea (with two it might topple).
Really, if it wasn’t for my minimalist attitude I would probably have ended up on a show like hoarders with all of the oddities collected over the years through the rationality of “but it’s a bargain, and it will almost work for what I need”.
Tip #6: Patience is Not Only a Virtue, It's a Money Saver
Much of personal finance is really quite simple.
Earn money. Spend less than you earn. Save the extra.
However, mastering these seemingly easy concepts is difficult for many people.
You know you should set a budget, but it seems so complicated and limiting that you never quite sit down to do it. You have a budget, but this month there are extraneous costs (i.e., health, new outfit, opportunity, fill in the blank) that have you once again breaking your budget barriers.
Now that you have all of this money left at the end of the month (earmarked for savings), why not buy just one more thing you’ve had your eyes on?
Well, here is another very simple concept that many of you may struggle with, but is truly the secret to most frugal purchases: patience.
Turns out, patience is not only a virtue, but a cost-saver as well.
Anytime you add speed, convenience, or instantaneous gratification to a purchase, from houses down to toothpaste, you add cost. This works several ways, and we’ll discuss each separately.
Patience Pays Off By Taking the Urgency Out of Situations
The first way that patience pays off is by not “needing” things right away.
If you can take most of the urgency out of the equation, you can wait for sales and gift-receiving opportunities to get them at a discount. For example, I “need” a new digital camera. I am fortunate because Paul has one that I have been borrowing, which allows me to take most of the urgency out of my need.
Now I can afford to wait until either a great sale comes up that I can combine with a coupon in order to receive a great discount on the camera, or for my birthday/Christmas to ask for this gift if someone is looking for something specific to purchase for me (don’t worry, this isn’t a plea!).
Secondly, if you do not need something urgently, then you have the chance to save up money for it.
This will save you interest charges and a possible headache down the road by not going into debt for a purchase. Sometimes while waiting and saving, you may even find that you lose interest or do not need the product afterall, thus saving you from making an unnecessary purchase all together.
Finally, many products offer the same end result, but at varying speeds. For instance, while wrinkles are inevitable for everyone (and if you don’t believe this, than perhaps you have been deluded by wrinkle-free cream commercials), there are ways to mitigate them.
You can diligently and consistently take care of your skin your entire life by cleaning, moisturizing, wearing sunscreen or a hat in the sunshine, and eating a diet rich in antioxidants.
Technically, this would be the long method, and the least expensive.
At the other end of the spectrum would be having plastic surgery to remove wrinkles or costly botox treatments. This would be the fastest, and therefore most expensive, method.
To further illustrate this concept, take a look at the chart below for a comparison of costs between products that all have the same end result, but offer it at varying speeds.
|Product||Low Speed||Enhanced Speed||Instantaneous|
|Teeth Whitening||Whitening Toothpaste: $2.99||Whitening Strips: $40.00 (per month)||Laser Whitening: $400-$900|
|Tanning||Natural Sunshine: Free||At-home Sprays/Lotions: $6.00-$20.00||Tanning Bed Visit: $25-$35|
|Pizza Dough||Homemade: $0.58||Ready-Made Crust: $4.00||Pizza Delivered: $12-$17|
|Movie||Network television debut: $0||Rent it: $4-$5||See it in the Movie Theater: $9.00 per ticket|
|Develop Digital Photos||In Days: $0.15 per photo||In an Hour: $0.19 per photo||Instantly: $0.29 per photo|
As you can see, having patience can save you money in every consumer sector. Keep that in mind, and instead of buying the “instantaneous” result, next time go for the lower-speed one.
While it seems like an incredibly simple concept, learning to have patience may take some time (that’s right; learning patience may take some patience!).
Try it out on your next gotta-have purchase that you can practically do without, and see how much money you can save.
57 Frugal Living Tips with a Big Impact
Alright, alright, you made it all the way to my 50 ways to be frugal tips for you! Now that you've read through some of the money strategy (wait — you did read through some of it, right?), you can pick and choose from these frugal hacks to get the most bang for your buck.
Remember, creating a frugal home and frugal life is all about maximizing + not wasting all of the resources you have in life. This list reflects our attempt to do just that!
FYI: Where I've done these things myself and written about it, I'll share the link so you can read more.
- Refinance your mortgage. Read about refinancing our mortgage here.
- Cloth diaper your baby (plus use reusable wipes). Our cloth diaper tips.
- Get paid to walk (seriously!).
- Consider applying for a free home makeover.
- Look for cheap but awesome things to do on date night (like playing strip poker at home, or meeting up for a honeymoon lunch date).
- Sell your used smart phones. Find the best place to sell used phones here.
- Fight property taxes.
- If you work for yourself, find cheap childcare options for work at home moms.
- Consider getting your small claims court case on court tv shows. They typically pay the judgement and an appearance fee!
- Figure out how to save money on groceries, either using coupons or not. Aim to cut down by $150-$200/month!
- Take advantage of Tupperware's replacement warranty, even if it's been 20 years! I did.
- Shop around for your surgeries and operations (as long as they're not emergencies). I shopped around for hernia operation costs, and was amazed at the difference I would pay out of pocket!
- Go through this page on how to spend less money — lots of strategy + concrete tips in there.
- Whittle down your weekly food bill by figuring out how to save money on food.
- Make your grocery list for two weeks at a time (I've got a sample with menu/recipes). The less you're in the store, the less you'll spend!
- Use cheap family activities to keep you all entertained + bonding!
- Consider downsizing to one car (we've had one car for over a year now!).
- Consider purchasing beater cars instead of purchasing used, leased, or new cars.
- Find out how to find an honest mechanic to save money on your car repairs (especially helpful strategy if you own a beater cars!).
- Dispute any hospital bills or medical bills you think are in error. Here's our experience with how to dispute a hospital bill.
- Use these Bachelorette-style, inexpensive date ideas.
- Play the Drugstore Game.
- Read about how to pay off your mortgage faster…then get to work doing it.
- Learn how to save money on electric bills in apartments.
- Pick up a few extreme couponing tips you didn't know.
- Check out these at home date nights for married couples (no TV allowed!).
- Learn the art of negotiating medical bills.
- Take one of these 30 day challenges (all free!).
- Declutter for the holidays and earn cash at the same time.
- Check out this untapped resource for deals for mommy.
- Start using swagbucks to do your internet searches, and earn gift cards or Paypal cash! Don't forget to pay yourself first (i.e. this is one of the most simple ways to save yourself money in a savings account — just put all your swagbucks earnings in there!).
- Sell old appliances for cash.
- Read about how to save money on health insurance premiums (even with your employer!).
- See if you qualify for any of these savings match programs.
- Read about how to save money on electric bill.
- Get cash for scrap metal laying around your home (or neighborhood).
- Don't say “no” to vacations, just reconsider your cheap weekend getaway.
- Unplug from technology at least one evening a week.
- Source all the books you want to read, but cheaply (of course, interlibrary loan at your library is your best bet!).
- Reconsider shopping at dollar stores.
- Consider creative ways to pay off student loan debt.
- Question your brand loyalties.
- Read how to save money on your water bill.
- Check out these Amish money saving tips.
- Save money on laundry costs.
- Cook healthy freezer meals on a budget.
- Save on Netflix and use your local library's interlibrary loan system instead.
- Learn how to reward your childhood self, instead of living reward inflation.
- Use this trade secret of frugality.
- Get inspired by these extreme frugality tips and extreme frugality stories.
- Score Free Money to Pay Down Your Student Loan Debt: You have probably heard of Upromise, an awesome program where companies will kick back a percentage of your purchases into a college savings account for an up-and-coming college student. I signed up for this program in 2002 for my niece, and have since accumulated $182 in free money to put towards her college tuition (or rather, to pay for a few textbooks). What you may be surprised to learn—I know I was—is that if you have student loan debt from certain providers then you can open an account for yourself! Link a loan through Upromise Loan Link, and each time your account accumulates the threshold of $10, then free money will automatically be put towards your own student loan debt.
- Find Higher Quality Items By Choosing the Right Thrift Store: I both donate to and shop at thrift stores. One of my favorite tips, aside from shopping on their “sales” days, is to go to thrift stores in higher-income areas. It turns out that you can find higher quality items in these neighborhoods versus thrift stores located in lower-income areas.
- Order Cold Subs to Avoid Paying Tax: Until recently, I had no idea that there was a sales tax difference between purchasing a cold sub versus a hot sub at sandwich shops. It turns out that if you purchase a hot sub, then you will pay sales tax for it. However, if you order a cold sub, you will not pay sales taxes on it. Some sources say that you must also purchase the cold sub to go, versus eating it in the shop in order to not be charged the sales tax, but I have no confirmed this.
- Score Truly Free Digital Prints (i.e. Pay No Shipping/Handling): I love free digital print deals like the next person. However, many of them come with hefty shipping and handling charges (try calculating the per-print cost of “free” digital print deals from the shipping and handling charges to make sure you are truly getting a deal). The solution to this is by picking the photos up yourself at a local photo center. I recently did this with a free 8X10 photo collage I got at Walgreens.com. I simply checked a box to pick up in the store nearest to our house, and the total was $0.00. Not every site will allow you to do this, but it’s worth a try.
- Earning Free College Credits: Other than taking Advanced Placement courses in high school to receive college credit and/or getting a free ride on scholarships and grants, I had no idea that you could potentially earn college credit for free. Recently, I found this website where you can do just that. Before you get too excited, you need to make sure that your college will accept CLEP credit. I searched for the college where I graduated, and they do not accept CLEP credit. However, I found several universities that I know that do accept it. Imagine if you could shave an entire semester worth of costs off by taking an extra class online each summer?
- Source Cheap Plants for Your Home for Years to Come: By now you might know about the clearance sections at Lowe’s, Home Depot’s, or other gardening centers. If not, be sure to ask someone at a cash register if they have an area where they keep their less-than-desirable plants to sell for clearance. To take this even a step further, keep on the lookout for perennial plants in the clearance section. I was able to score two perennial plants that had already flowered for a great price of $1.00. These were planted along the side of our house, and will hopefully keep coming back year after year.
- Grab Cheap Holiday Swag for Next Year: I’ve discussed this one before, but it’s such a great way to keep money in your pocket that it’s worth a mention again. A simple way to snag the more expensive holiday items at 75-90% off is to purchase next year’s holiday decorations, cards, wrapping paper, etc. in the after-holiday sale this season. In the wintertime, if you find yourself grocery shopping or returning a gift, take the time to peruse the seasonal aisle as well. This is how I scored beautiful Christmas cards (the really high-quality kind) at 85% off two years ago, and thick wrapping paper for around the same discount. It’s an amazing way to save on seasonal items, and when you unpack it from the closet next year, you will be pleasantly surprised.
What to Do with Free Samples (Freebies)
Perhaps you have wanted to send away for free samples or free items, but do not see the point in doing so.
After all, how is a little 3 oz. bottle of shampoo going to help you in the long run?
Well, I am here to tell you that there are several great ways for you to use free samples.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Put together a guest basket for your guest bathroom, sort of like a hotel. Include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, disposable razor, floss, etc. This added touch will make your guests more at home and appreciative of your hosting talents.
- Purchase a travel makeup bag, and fill this with all of the airline-safe free samples you have received. You can give this as a gift to a college or high school student going abroad, a friend taking a honeymoon, or even someone going off to college.
- Use this for your own personal travel. Keep all of these items in a travel bag so that the next time you take a trip, you can just grab it and go without having to pick through your own items at home to figure out which to pack.
- After you use the products from these containers, wash them out and use them to put your own products in for when you travel instead of purchasing a set. The containers that free samples come in are generally all within the allowable 3 ounce limit for liquids on airlines.
- You can collect free baby samples of products, then purchase a baby traveling bag and fill it with products. Purchase a few baby travel tools and give this as a baby shower gift for mothers who plan on traveling with their infants.
Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression
People who survived the Great Depression are changed people.
My grandfather was one of them, though he was very young.
Lucky for him, he lived on a farm. So, he told me that his family was always okay because they could grow their own food. He also told me about how they would always let the random hitchhiker or homeless person get a meal plus spend the night in our hay barn.
You'll want to check my article out on how did people survive the great depression for more extreme frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
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