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I think the word “frugal” has a bad rap. People seem to think that living a frugal life means living a life of sacrifice. That simply isn’t true. With frugal living, you’re eliminating the excess and the stuff you don’t need, so you can have money for the things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Now who doesn’t want that? Fortunately, changing over to living a more frugal life is a pretty simple thing to do.
Where’s the Money?
Just like in the last post when we talked about finding ways to save on electricity by being mindful of how you live in your house, you need to be mindful of how you spend your money. You don’t necessarily need to do a formal budget (I don’t) but you should have a pretty good idea of where your money goes. An easy way of doing this is by scanning your bank account. My husband and I use our debit cards for almost everything so it’s easy to see how we spend our money. It can be pretty eye-opening and you might find you spend a lot more on certain things than you ever imagined (Husband: I’m looking at you with your Dunkin’ Donuts runs). Once you know where your money is going, you can start finding ways to cut back.
I don’t mind a little sacrifice to save money. I’ll gladly keep the thermostat a few degrees lower during the cooler months to keep my electric bill down. I don’t eat out too much, and I stick to classic pieces in my wardrobe so I can mix and match to maximize the number of outfits I can create. But there are some things I’m not willing to compromise on: top-rated car seats for my kids, all-natural lip balm, a high-quality ice cream scoop (seriously, I wrote an entire post about an ice cream scoop once).
The point is that you need to determine what is important to you: what are you willing to give up to save money, and what will you not compromise on. No one can answer this for you. One person’s frivolity is another person’s necessity. And that’s completely okay. Find what’s important to you and prioritize that. Ditch the stuff that’s not.
What I find helpful is asking myself one question before I buy most things (that aren’t necessities): will this leave me fulfilled? If the answer is no, then why am I even considering it? It goes back on the shelf, or I navigate away from the window to avoid temptation.
Allow for Bad Days
I believe in “balanced frugality”: save money whenever you can, but not at the expense of making you miserable or adding more stress to your life. Balanced frugality means deciding what you can do without, while still allowing yourself things that make you happy, or make your life easier. For example, I typically wouldn’t recommend grocery delivery because the delivery fee and driver tip can easily add another $10-15 to your bill. But there are some weeks when I just can’t get my life together. The choice becomes between subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and questionable pantry items all week, or sucking up the extra expense of grocery delivery to get fresh, healthy food in the house. In these situations, it’s worth it to me to spend a few extra bucks to alleviate a major stressor.
Other times, after a night of frequently interrupted sleep, I crave a large, black coffee. Although I advocate making coffee at home sometimes I just NEED that extra cup of coffee after I’ve left the house. If an extra cup of coffee is going to get me through the day without biting everyone’s head off, I’m going to spend the $2 and get the cup of coffee.
As long as you don’t need to account for every penny in your budget, giving yourself some flexibility to deal with bad days will help you keep to your savings goals. Depriving yourself all the time and adding more stress to your life often results in giving up and binge shopping. Acknowledge that you’re only human and you’re going to have unexpected expenses sometimes. Be at peace with yourself.
So now that we’ve established these parameters, how do you begin your journey toward a frugal life? Read on!
Good to the Last Drop
Frugal people stretch the lifespan out of everything they buy. This keeps us from having to buy things as often. The good news is that you have lots of options, and they’re all really simple. Here are some of my favorites:
- Store squeeze bottles on their heads so the product drains toward the opening; when you’ve squeezed as much out as you can, cut the bottle open and scoop out the rest. Store in a small jar or tupperware container to get every drop out
- Have good spatulas on hand in various sizes to scrape the contents out of glass jars
- Cut sponges in half to get twice the usage out of them
- Rip cotton balls in half to make the bag last twice as long
- Eat leftovers for lunch and find other ways to avoid food waste
- Find ways to reuse or upcycle what you already have (check out my Waste Not Pinterest board for ideas!
- Use the proper amount of laundry detergent. Many of us overfill the measuring cups causing us to go through detergent faster than we should
- Don’t fill the extra detergent cup in your dishwasher. The regular cup should work just fine
Find Frugal Alternatives
When I first started working, I traded in my drugstore makeup for department store makeup. Now that I was making money, I could afford it, and I liked the prestige of going to the pretty counters and buying something in a sleek package. One day I was running low on foundation and knew I wasn’t going to have time to go to the mall or a specialty store. I was at Target already so I grabbed something and threw it in my basket. It was less than half the price of what I had buying and I actually liked it better. For years I was throwing money down the drain because I liked being “fancy.” Ridiculous. I ditched the department store makeup and went back to the drugstore brands on almost all of my products and am saving a boatload of money.
Frugal people try generic and store-brands to save money. It’s worthwhile to revisit the products you use every day and try cheaper alternatives every now and then to see if they work just as well. You could try swapping out:
- Cosmetics and toiletries
- Groceries: condiments, sodas, snacks, etc.
- Dish or laundry detergent
- Cleaning supplies (or make your own. Check out my Pinterest board for tons of recipes)
- House products: garbage bags, aluminum foil, toilet paper, etc.
- Garden needs: try making your own pest repellents and week killers (I have a Pinterest board for that too)
- Gas (try going to an off-brand gas station)
The next time one of these items makes it on your shopping list, try buying a cheaper alternative instead. The worst that will happen is you decide you like your regular product better and will be out a few bucks. But you may find that you like the cheaper substitute better and reap in the savings for years to come.
Cut it Out
How often do we get in the habit of buying something, and not even pay attention to how we’re spending our money anymore? Every Friday, I used to treat myself to a giant coffee roll on the way to work. It was my reward for surviving another week (and at my job at the time, I needed all the morale boosters I could find!). After a while though, I realized I didn’t really even like them anymore, but it had become part of my routine. Now certainly, a coffee roll won’t break the bank but it’s a couple of bucks every week that does add up over time.
Take a moment to think about your routine expenses. Is there anything you can do without? Maybe it’s a daily latte, cable, or the gym membership you haven’t used in months. Your road to a frugal life begins with getting rid of those things you don’t need or use.
Avoid convenience items: pre-cut or prepared foods can carry a hefty surcharge, and things like disposable cleaning wipes are pretty pricey for what you get. In fact, cleaning products in general are kind of a rip off, especially when you consider things like baking soda and vinegar are such great universal cleaners and are a fraction of the cost. I’m working on transitioning over to natural/DIY cleaners and will write about it someday. Until I do, check out my Go Natural!: Cleaning Pinterest board and be sure to follow to keep up with all of the other great resources I find.
Paper plates can be convenient sometimes but it’s wasteful for your bank account and the environment. While you’re getting rid of disposables, consider doing away with paper napkins. Cloth napkins will cost more up front but you’ll quickly make up the expense. Plus, they’re prettier and less wasteful. Bonus.
Speaking of disposables, I haven’t used dryer sheets for nearly a decade and my clothes come out fresh and soft. Ditch the sheets and keep the money for something better.
Don’t buy, borrow
This is one of the best tricks in the frugal person’s bag. The sharing economy had led to an explosion of borrowing options. This is great for you because rather than buy something you need once, you can borrow if for a fee and then return it. Not only does it cut down on expenses, it cuts down on your clutter.
Here are some of my favorite rental options:
- Library: With all the talk about the sharing economy, sometimes we forget the original source of borrowing. If you haven’t had a library card since elementary school, it’s time to get one. Borrow books and movies to entertain yourself or your family for hours.
- Home improvement stores: Many have tool rental programs so you don’t have to buy an expensive tool that you will only use once. Often, they also have pickup trucks that you can rent pretty cheaply if you need to haul stuff.
- Textbooks: This wasn’t an option when I was in college, but rather than buy your college books, rent them. Amazon has a rental program and you can do a web search for more options.
- Zipcar: Cars are huge expenses but for many of us, it’s hard to get by without one. But maybe if you’re a two car family you can get by on one, and use a service like Zipcar to supplement.
Something Old, or Something New?
If you decide buying something rather than borrowing makes sense, does it have to be new? Thrift and consignment stores are becoming trendy places to shop for apparel, home goods, and kids stuff. Many electronics stores and online retailers offer refurbished computers and phones for a steep discount. And a used car often makes more financial sense than a new one.
I’m all for saving money, but there are some things I wouldn’t consider buying second-hand, mostly anything to do with safety, like kids car seats, scuba gear, etc.
Make Shopping Work for You
Frugal people know how to score deals when they shop, and there are tons of apps and websites out there that literally want to pay you for shopping. I was resistant to using these tools for a long time, thinking they were too good to be true. I regret that. I’ve been using these money-saving tools for several months now and have nothing but rave reviews.
- Ebates: This seemed like the scammiest of them all. Maybe you’ve seen their commercials where person after person claims to receive hundreds of dollars back just by shopping online. Sounds too good to be true, right? What I learned is that Ebates is a giant affiliate marketer. They have tons of stores listed on their site. When you “open” a shopping trip with one of the listed merchants, you are directed to that company’s website. If you make a purchase, Ebates gets a commission, part of which they pass on to you. Everyone wins-you get cashback, Ebates gets their commission, and the store gets a purchase. Win-win-win. It’s easy to get started, and if you use my referral link, you’ll get an extra $10 cash back after you make your first purchase!
- Ibotta: Ibotta is primarily known for its grocery rebates, but they’ve really been expanding to other areas recently, like Amazon and Groupon. They offer you cash back for purchasing specific items at specific retailers. They also have plenty of rebates for non-branded items, like milk, bread, and eggs. And they have a great referral program: if you use my referral link, you can get a $10 welcome bonus.
- MobiSave: Another grocery rebate app. They payout is small, but they deposit directly into a PayPal account, no minimum required.
- SavingStar: What’s nice about SavingStar is that you can enroll your store loyalty cards and they will automatically credit you when you redeem a rebate you previously selected. No receipt scanning required! Payouts are on the more generous side too.
- Checkout51: Another grocery rebate app with pretty generous payouts.
- RetailMeNot: I’ve talked about RetailMeNot before, but essentially, it’s a must-visit site for online shopping. Before you checkout, visit RetailMeNot to find discount and free shipping codes.
- Honey: I’ve talked about this one before too, but honey is a browser extension that helps you find the best deals when you shop online by comparing merchants.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your crash course to frugal living. We’ve just scratched the surface and there’s tons more you can do to transition to a frugal life. We’ll delve into some of these ideas in future posts. For now, if you’re interested in more ideas, I’ve scoured Pinterest for some of the best tips for living a frugal life. Check out my Frugal Life board.
What other tips to do you have to save money and live a more frugal life? Share them in the comments below so we can all learn!