In challenging economic times, it can be difficult to save money. However, with a clear sense of purpose and a little creativity, you can grow that nest egg you’ve been dreaming about in no time.
This article is about frugal living, so before we get going, let’s cover some basics.
The best way to get started on anything meaningful is to make a plan. Your financial goals are important, so having clarity on how to reach them will keep you focused.
Frugal living doesn’t mean skipping out on all the joys of life — it means being wise with how you spend your money. Adapting to a new lifestyle doesn’t have to happen all at once, and you can start slowly, trying new ideas as you go. Hopefully, you’ll get many from this article and improve on them to best suit your personal goals.
What Is the Difference Between Being Frugal and Being Cheap?
Don’t let yourself mistake frugality with being cheap. These are two very different lifestyles.
Frugal is characterized by prudence and practicality, whereas cheap is characterized by price.
Living a cheap lifestyle often means cutting corners and only buying what’s least expensive.
Being frugal is much different. Frugal living focuses instead on only buying what you need while simultaneously ensuring that you’re stretching your dollar as far as it can go.
Let’s see this in a quick example.
Over the summer, you could buy several pairs of cheap, low-quality sandals — you know, the ones that need constant replacing, or you could buy one slightly more expensive, albeit higher-quality pair that could last the entire season. Clearly, the second choice is the more prudent one, but it requires some forethought.
Being cheap isn’t fun and can even be embarrassing to yourself or others when taken too far. Frugality is much more sustainable and much more rewarding.
Frugal Living Tips with a Big Impact
Let’s start with the things that have the biggest impact so you can reach your goals quickly without wasting time.
1. Declutter Your Home and Sell What You Don’t Need
Clean out your closets, garage, and attic. Look for items like clothing that have gone unworn, old tools you no longer need, and furniture or décor you aren’t using anymore. Books and other bookshelf clutter are also worth considering if they aren’t bringing value to your life and just collecting dust.
Once you have your house in order, leverage Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay to sell these unwanted items! Anything that you can’t sell, consider donating for a tax-write-off.
2. Plan Your Shopping Trips to Maximize Savings
Groceries, clothing, and household goods are necessities. It’s an excellent idea to build a budget for these expenses. If you can, limit your trips to the store throughout the week, which prevents accidental impulse spending.
3. Buy in Bulk to Reduce Costs
Did you know that the average household wastes up to 30% of the food purchased? Consider how you can partner with friends or family to buy in bulk, dividing purchases across households to reduce your costs and avoid food waste.
4. Meal Plan
When it comes to groceries, meal plan when you can. Buy pasta, grains, and canned goods in bulk since they are shelf-stable and will last for a while.
For meat and other perishables, get creative! Finding recipes online will allow you to buy larger portions of proteins and serve them throughout your week.
Easy Frugal Living Tips and Ideas for Beginners
Sometimes the best way to get started is to introduce small practices into your current lifestyle. Making significant life changes isn’t always easy, and taking baby steps can be more sustainable long-term.
5. Loyalty Programs
Join free store loyalty programs whenever you can. Even better is if you’re willing to commit to one or two stores and do all of your spendings there.
6. Eat at Home
Changing your lifestyle to eat at home rather than eating mass-produced and processed foods is a great way to save on food costs and improve your health.
7. Use Coupons and Discount Shopping to Save Money
Take advantage of special sales and coupons at stores too. Buy gift cards for known upcoming purchases to leverage gas and store loyalty points.
Kroger, a national chain, often offers double points on the weekends for all purchases. Others do as well. By planning, you can buy needed items and rapidly increase your loyalty points and rewards.
Amazon also offers excellent discounts, often between 15% and 20%, when you subscribe to automatic recurring purchases of many household staples such as household paper products or diapers. These discounts are in addition to the 5% cashback you can earn when using an Amazon Prime credit card at checkout. Just be sure to pay your balance in full before the end of each month!
8. Buy the Basics at Your Local Dollar Store
Another easy starting point is to cut household costs by buying the basics at local dollar stores. Look for things such as dish soap, counter cleaners, and sponges. These products don’t need to be brand-name to be effective and can save you quite a bit of money over time by buying generic. Some of these savings can be 300% less expensive when compared to brand-name items.
Frugal Living in a Post COVID World
2020 was a year that showed many how precarious personal finance could be. To make a significant impact on your budget, review your monthly expenses and cut the stuff that isn’t necessary.
9. Eliminate Nonessential Monthly Subscriptions
Review your monthly spending and eliminate any nonessential monthly subscriptions or swap higher-priced packages for lower-cost options. This means dropping cable and sports packages for lower-priced streaming services or free online watching.
10. Shop Around for Cheaper Insurance Alternatives
Shop around for new insurance costs, considering home, car, and healthcare. You can often bundle these expenses together for additional savings.
11. For Significant Purchases, Consider All Options Including Buying Used or Even Renting
If you need to make a significant purchase, go slow and shop around for the best price. You could ask sales associates if they know of any coupons or upcoming sales before purchasing. If you can, buy used or rent items if they’re for temporary use.
Frugal Living Tips Learned From the Great Depression
Some of the most frugal people were those who survived the Great Depression. By reflecting on how they survived the hardest of times, we can learn a lot from them.
12. Turn Off the Lights and Unplug the Appliances When You’re Not Home
Reducing your energy consumption could make a significant impact over time on your household expenses. Turn off the lights and unplug the appliances that aren’t in use.
A significant energy consumer in the average household is the laundry-dryer and the dishwasher. These appliances have to get hot to do their job, requiring a lot of electricity to run one cycle.
Instead of paying to run these, adopt the lifestyle of doing most of this work by hand. Make it an after-dinner ritual to wash dishes as a family and hang the clothing to dry. While this isn’t the fastest way to get chores done, over time, the savings make a difference.
13. Skip the Public Transport if Walking Is an Option
Walking where you can is also a great energy swap for frugality. Walking, biking, or using public transportation for regular commutes is better for the environment as well as your wallet.
Reducing your average monthly miles can also often reduce your insurance premium! After a couple of months of alternative transportation, call your provider to discuss your new miles and request a lowered rate on your next contract.
14. Get Physical
Trade out any money spending hobbies for more economical options. This may mean swapping video games for more physical activities. Or end a Netflix subscription and instead spend your weekends taking walks with friends.
Trade time too often spent online with outdoor pastimes such as jogging or cycling. The benefits of this are far-reaching for your budget. If possible, ditch the gym membership too. The average person spends over $1,200 a year on gym fees. Some of the lowest cost memberships still cost over $120 a year, which adds up over time.
Running is one of the lowest costing sports to enjoy, requiring only a decent pair of gym shoes. Find a used bike online and use it for both exercises as well as travel.
Finding ways to spend your time being active in the ways you can is both good for your budget and your health! Improving your health will help save you from preventable medical costs too. Some healthcare plans will allow you to move to a lower premium plan with medical proof of improved health and lifestyle.
Don’t Be Defined by Money — It’s Only a Tool
Look at money as a tool rather than a stressor in your life. Money helps you to buy the necessities. It keeps a roof over your head and food on the table.
Don’t let yourself be defined by your financial status. Too often, people buy things they don’t need out of a sense of status or obligation.
During the holidays, don’t go into debt to buy gifts for family or friends. Don’t buy the latest technology upgrade just because a new model is available. Focusing on using money as a tool to buy the things you need to be successful changes your entire relationship with how you spend.
When you save instead of spending, the level of personal satisfaction can measurably increase. Setting goals and achieving them is great for your mental health, and you’re allowed to reward yourself for meeting your milestones.
Start small, aiming to pay off a low-balance debt, or build an emergency fund to a specific dollar amount. Automate your saving with online tools provided by most banks. Even aiming to save $5 a week adds up to nearly $300 per year. That’s extra money in your pocket without having a noticeable change in your regular day-to-day spending.
Being frugal doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead, focus on defining goals for yourself and being reasonable with what will work within your lifestyle.
If you can, ditch the gym membership, plan your meals, and look for things around the house that you can sell for some extra money.
Cutting costs is just the start of saving, and building a plan with measurable goals in place is the best way to adopt frugal living.