Frugality is having a moment. A lot of us are embracing frugal living these days, and for good reason.
Frugality can open up a lot of opportunities in our lives. It puts us more in control of our money and helps us to determine what’s most important to us.
Living frugally means making intentional choices with your everyday spending. It means mapping out your financial—and life—goals and then aligning your spending to help you reach them. Often, there are ways to cut back on spending and make a more frugal choice that will still meet your needs.
Intentionality is a key component of frugality. If you’re just spending as little as possible without a larger goal in mind, frugality may not get you anywhere. But if you begin living a more frugal lifestyle, you can reach your goals more quickly.
A good way to start on the path to frugal living is by prioritizing your goals. Do you intend to buy a home soon? Send your kids to college? Support a needy relative? Take a dream vacation? Frugality can make these goals attainable, so begin by figuring out which goals are most important to you, and then align your spending plans with those goals.
Frugality isn’t really about judging anyone for their spending habits. It’s about harnessing the power of frugality to reach the important life goals you set for yourself.
So once you know your big reason (or multiple reasons) for spending less and living frugally, you can ask yourself this question when making spending decisions:
Will spending money on this particular item improve my chances of reaching my goals? If the answer is no, then look for a free or cheaper alternative.
Here’s a table of contents to guide you through our frugal living tips:
Table of Contents
- Hardcore Frugal Living Tips
- Frugal Living Tips for Parents
- Frugal Clothes Tips
- Automate your Frugality
- More Great Frugal Living Habits
- Things You Don’t Have to Pay For
- How to Deal with Frugal Fatigue
- Frugal vs Cheap
- Benefits of a Frugal Life
- Frugality is Your Choice
- You Don’t Always Have to Make the Frugal Choice
- 5 Frugal Spending Traps
- Make Frugality Cool
Hardcore Frugal Living Tips
Alright, I’m going to start with some extreme ideas. These are frugal tips to use if you are serious about reducing your spending. These are great to implement temporarily just to make some initial gains.
Most of us are probably blessed to be at a point in our lives where hardcore frugal tactics aren’t necessary. But if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or putting food on the table, it’s simply time for you to cut costs and get hardcore frugal.
These tactics aren’t just for the desperate, however. If you find yourself struggling to pay off that last bit of unwanted debt, or lacking the extra savings to secure you in these uncertain times, maybe it’s time for you to take your frugality up a notch!
Wherever you find yourself across this spectrum, here are some ideas to get hardcore frugal (not for the faint of heart).
1. Cancel All Your Subscriptions and Services
“Seriously?” Yep. Any type of monthly service or subscription needs to go.
Of course, keep subscriptions that are necessary. For example, in this day and age, internet service is not a luxury, but a practical need for most people.
However, most subscriptions are for things you can manage without for a few months or longer. Examples of monthly services to cut include cable TV, maid service, gym memberships, newspapers, and more. Basically, if it doesn’t fall into the category of a life-sustaining need, you should be able to get rid of it.
Trim will do this for you. Check out our full review of Trim here.
Other companies that can help cancel your unwanted subscriptions include:
BillBargain: They negotiate on your behalf to lower your wireless, internet, cable TV, Satellite TV, Satellite Radio and home alarm. You could save up to 30% on your bills every month.
BillShark: They boast an 85% success rate in lowering bills for their customers. To use BillShark’s service, simply send them your wireless, internet, cable TV, Satellite TV, Satellite Radio and home alarm bills and they will negotiate on your behalf.
2. Only Dine-Out When it’s Free
Yes, you read that right! Try quitting all dining out, unless it’s free.
Monthly spending on restaurants and coffee shops can be a real budget-buster for many of us. An often-overlooked strategy for saving money is to simply eat at home. Buying groceries and preparing meals at home is almost always cheaper, and often healthier, too!
You can decide to only eat out when it doesn’t cost you anything. Take advantage of deals and save up gift cards you receive so you can enjoy a free night out once in a while
3. Use Parks, Museums, and the Library for Entertainment
Avoid the mall and the movie theater. Head to your local library to get your entertainment fix. These days, most modern libraries come well equipped with free internet service and loads of free DVDs to rent.
You can also find free entertainment at your local parks and museums. Nothing wrong with a game night at home either. You don’t have to spend to be entertained.
4. Don’t Buy any Clothes or Stuff
Just stop buying stuff in general. Don’t spend any of your money on clothes or furniture or stuff for your house or car or collection. Just say no to consuming things! I promise that you will keep your money if you don’t spend it. This sounds like an SNL skit I once saw.
Perspective on the Hardcore Ideas
Making serious progress towards your debt reduction and savings goals may require some serious sacrifice with how you spend your money. Most likely not for a long period of time though.
Frugal Living Tips for Parents
Before marriage, the thought of having kids meant giving up on my savings goals and spending money on activities and toys for them. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Of course, raising children is expensive. The cost of food, diapers, insurance, and daycare can be very expensive for families. But, children can lead you to find some wonderful money-saving opportunities that you might have missed.
5. Take the Kids to the Park
Disneyland is fun, but public parks can offer some incredible opportunities for families to relax and enjoy nature. Bring a soccer ball or just play on the jungle gym.
Kids need exercise too, and you don’t need to join an expensive gym for family exercise.
If you visit your local park several times a week, you could save hundreds or thousands by not having a gym membership. Grab a stroller and start jogging to your local park.
6. Use the Library
Kids love to hear stories and your local library is probably your best frugal deal around. Get a free library card and start reading to your kids.
Check your local library for special reading events and activities. The library has probably saved my family hundreds of dollars on books. Even if your kids are older and past the story-time stage, the library may have a teen book club, craft meetings, free classes in foreign languages, and much more. Be sure to find out all your library has to offer!
7. Eat at Home
Having kids actually improved our grocery budget. Instead of eating out several times a week, our kids enjoy simple meals like mac and cheese and pizza. Homemade pizza is a big hit with the kids as they enjoy selecting favorite toppings for the pies.
Making a healthy salad together as a family can also be a fun activity for the kids.
8. Have Game Nights
Grab one of your favorite games and take the time to teach your children how to play.
Of course, you have to keep in mind the age and capacity of your children when choosing games to play. But a puzzle or round of Monopoly or Settlers of Catan can be a terrific strategy for saving money and keeping your kids off screens.
9. Have a Date Night
You can still go out on a date without breaking the bank. Offer to watch your friends kids one night of the week in exchange for them doing the same.
A frugal date idea: rent a movie and make your wife her favorite meal at home. No parking issues, no tip for the waiter, and you can sneak treats into your home movie theater.
10. Start a Savings Fund Together
Before children, I was fascinated with finding high growth technology companies that were poised to be the next Apple or Tesla. Now I still enjoy investing, but I gain far more joy finding ways to teach my children to save money for a special event.
Maybe your kids would like a new baseball glove or a new pair of shoes. Start a savings fund for them and help them find ways to achieve that goal. Educate your children on the benefits of saving money and waiting to buy an item when they have cash in hand.
Take the piggy bank to your local bank or roll your coins and allow them to see how much money they have saved.
My children have certainly taught me how to find more ways to live frugally and look for savings in ordinary things.
11. Switch to Clean Energy and Save Money
Want to save money and teach your kids how to save the planet at the same time? Check out Arcadia Power!
Arcadia Power helps customers save money on energy bills and use greener energy sources. Arcadia Power sends you price alerts to help you find a lower energy rate plan in your area. Sign up for a free account, link your current utility account to their platform, and you are on your way to saving money. Savings may depend on where you live and the availability of clean energy sources.
Frugal Clothes Tips
Clothing can be a big expense for all of us. Kids grow out of stuff practically overnight, and adults’ tastes and sizes can change as well. Here are some tips for saving money in the clothing category of your budget.
12. Clothing Swaps
This is a fun update to the age-old practice of hand-me-downs. To organize a clothing swap party, invite families with children of various ages to bring gently used clothing to trade. Everyone will go home with new pieces to add to their wardrobes, and any unwanted items can be donated.
This can also be a fun way for Mom to update her look if you’d like to do a swap just for women’s clothing. Search for a clothing swap group on Meetup, this can help you find an existing group of clothing swappers near you.
13. Buy Secondhand
We all know that it’s possible to find great clothes for tiny prices at thrift stores and consignment shops. If you’re looking for particular name brands, however, it’s important to know which bargain shops to go to.
The consignment and thrift stores in the most affluent areas of town will often have barely worn or brand new name brand clothing only a season “behind.” If your child is a budding fashionista, this is an excellent way to show her dressing well does not necessarily mean spending a fortune.
14. Learn to Sew
When you find a great name-brand pair of pants or shirt that’s just too big for your child, you can either wait for them to grow a little or learn to sew. When you know how to make adjustments to clothing, it can save you a lot of money.
This skill comes in handy if you need to repair a tear in an item, or if you lose weight and still want to wear your favorite jeans. Save some money and get more use out of your clothing.
15. Shop Clearance Racks
At the end of the season, you can pick up clothes for bargain prices. You just need to plan ahead in terms of how big your child will be once that season comes around again.
And you might not even have to do that. Spring and fall clothing can often be worn year-round.
16. Keep It Simple
Keep it simple by avoiding wild prints and patterns, unless you know you or your family member actually loves wearing wild clothing. If you stick to basic colors that go with a ton of things, you’ll save money and avoid having a lot of items you’d never wear.
You can also simplify kids’ clothing by aiming for unisex items and pieces without logos or characters. This may be less fun for younger kids, but it’s easier then for multiple kids to wear the same items for years to come.
17. Buy on Thursday
Retail clothing stores often put out their newest stock on Thursdays in order to prepare for the weekend sales. Go in on a Thursday morning, and you may be able to find “current” clothing that is now discounted in order to make room for the new merchandise coming in.
18. Use the Clothing Budget as a Teachable Moment
It can be difficult for a child to understand why she can’t have the name brand clothes her friends and classmates wear. So use budgeting as a means to help her understand.
Let her know that she may spend the budgeted money where she wants, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. So if she uses the entire $50 budget on one pair of jeans, that will be an important lesson for her about the cost of name brands.
Automate your Frugality
Being frugal doesn’t always require tons of extra work. There are new services that use your “loose change” to accomplish important money goals. Let’s look at two of them:
Digit is a service that helps you automate and separate your savings. You link Digit to your checking account. Through an algorithm, Digit withdraws small amounts of money every few days and deposits the funds in a separate, but non-interest bearing savings account. How much Digit pulls depends on the balance and your spending habits. Check out our review of Digit here.
Another way to automate your frugal ways is to set up an automatic deposit to limit the amount of money you have in checking at any given time. If you have a pretty steady budget, pick an amount and arrange for automatic transfers from your checking to savings account. (Or if you already have plenty in savings, try funneling a larger amount into retirement via direct deposit.)
Either way, you can fool yourself into forgetting about that extra amount of money. If you don’t have that money readily available to spend, you’ll be forced to be more frugal in your day-to-day life.
More Great Frugal Living Habits
Check out the following tips for living happily as a frugal person!
Give yourself a mandatory waiting period on all non-essential purchases. Many people recommend a 48-hour or 72-hour waiting period, but you can decide on a beneficial length of waiting for you.
The waiting period helps you to “cool off” from the desire to buy something you may not really need. It helps you resist the temptation of sales that warn you “buy now, before it’s too late!”
So when you see something you want to buy that isn’t a necessity, make yourself wait 48 hours before you purchase. When shopping online, leave it in your online cart if you wish. Chances are, it’ll still be there in a couple of days if you decide you really want it. But the chances are also good that after you think about it a little more, you’ll realize you don’t want or need it at all.
Set Guidelines With Your Spouse or Partner
If you’re married or have a partner you share finances with, get on the same page with them. Talk about your budget and your spending expectations of each other.
Many couples find it useful to set a monetary amount. Anytime one of them wants to buy something that costs above that amount, they have to check with their partner first. This might be $50 or another amount you determine.
Another tactic is for both partners to keep a small, separate “fun” account. Maybe each of you gets $100 or $50 a month to put into their own personal accounts. That way, you give each other permission to spend up to that dollar amount without judgment or worry.
Does It Spark Joy?
You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo’s decluttering method. One strategy she uses to help people clean up their homes and their lives is by asking the question, “Does this item spark joy?”
All this means is evaluating how much happiness a certain item brings you. You can use this question as a tool when you’re decluttering and cleaning out your closets, as well as when you’re considering new purchases. Think about whether a new purchase will aid you in reaching your goals. How much joy will it bring you? This may help you avoid some luxury purchases and skip the buyer’s remorse.
Learn to DIY
In general, DIY, or do-it-yourself, can be a huge money-saver. Whenever faced with an expense, take a moment to think about whether you could save money by doing it yourself. Thanks to YouTube, blogs, and other free resources, you can learn to do just about anything with a bit of time and effort.
Some examples of areas where you could try the DIY route include:
- Cutting/dyeing your hair
- Baking birthday cakes
- Lawn-mowing and landscaping
- Home renovations
- Sewing damaged clothing
- Car repairs
There are plenty more, but you get the idea. Obviously, practice safety with any new skills. You can save a ton of money by learning to do tasks yourself. Plus, you get the added satisfaction of learning and accomplishing cool things!
Reduce and Reuse
Frugality is also environmentally friendly because it teaches you to reduce your use or consumption of items, as well as to use up everything you already have.
Reduce: Cut back on how much new stuff you bring into your house. Thinking from an environmental standpoint can help you when saving money doesn’t feel like enough of an incentive.
Reuse: Whenever possible, reuse everything. We wash and save jars that we get from buying pasta sauce, jams, and other such items. Plastic containers you get your deli meat in work great as travel containers for food and other stuff. You can find a use for tons of materials and items around your house, so before tossing it in the trash, try to come up with another way to use it. This way, you maximize the value you get from everything you buy.
Speaking of reusing stuff, try to go with a reusable option whenever you can. Our culture has become so dependent on single-use items, but you can save both money and landfill space by picking something you can use again. Diapers are a big example, but there are many others.
Always Look For Discounts
Whatever you spend money on, don’t just buy the first option you see. Often the most convenient items in stores are the highest-priced. So anytime you’re buying something, look for frugal alternatives. Find coupons, check for day-of-the-week discounts, and look both online as well as in-store.
Things You Don’t Have to Pay For
So many everyday expenses can be slashed from your budget, if you just look for alternatives. Let’s talk about some of the top items you should not pay for.
By the way, “should” just means you shouldn’t have to pay for these things. You may have a choice between a free option and one that costs something. Or you may decide that buying something new really makes you happy.
We’re not here to judge you for a particular spending habit. This is all about choosing what truly adds value to your life and cutting out waste on things that don’t add value.
- Music. There are so many free options with Pandora and YouTube
- Television. You can find free or much cheaper options than premium cable.
- Checks and Checking Accounts. Lots of good free options out there.
- Your Credit Score. You get one credit report free from each bureau once a year. Plus, Credit Karma and Credit Sesame provide free updates to your credit score throughout the year.
- Interest Charges. Avoid interest charges on credit cards by always paying your balance in full each month.
- Cleaning Supplies. Vinegar and baking soda work well and cost nearly nothing.
- Extended Warranties. They’re usually not worth the money.
- ATM Fees. Plenty of banks offer free ATMs.
- New Books. Again, go to the library.
How to Deal with Frugal Fatigue
One of the issues that have arisen with past economic troubles is that of frugal fatigue.
Many people began living more frugally after the global financial crisis and continue making efforts to live frugally in the face of further economic uncertainty.
However, after a while, it can wear you down to sacrifice too much for too long. We make restrictive budgets, and we try to avoid spending money. Over time, all this restrictiveness can result in a condition known as “frugal fatigue,” in which you simply get tired of always pinching pennies and trying to deny yourself.
In some cases, frugal fatigue can result in getting a little crazy with the spending in order to “make up” for all of the ways you have denied yourself.
Before you let frugal fatigue get the best of you, here are some things you can try to combat the feeling:
Focus on What You Already Have
Take a look at what you already have. In many cases, frugal fatigue comes from wishing you had something else.
Before you get too wrapped up in what you have been denying yourself, take a look at the good things in your life. Some of these might include:
- Good food to eat
- A few comforts at home
- Good friends
- Your health
- A roof over your head
- Good books to read
- The park nearby
- Family game night
- The occasional treat
In many cases, you might have more than you thought. Focusing your energy on being grateful for what you have, rather than always pining for what you don’t have, can really help you get over frugal fatigue.
Splurge on Something Small
Another great way to avoid falling prey to frugal fatigue is to plan small splurges. You can set money aside each month in a “splurge fund.” This will allow you to get something fun, and keep you going.
Rather than just getting sick of it all and splurging big, a few small splurges, when they make sense for your budget, can help you feel as though you are enjoying life without breaking the bank or sacrificing your frugal lifestyle.
Some small splurges might include getting ice cream, buying a new book, visiting the cheap theater, buying a piece of sports equipment, or getting an inexpensive used video game. When you take the time to enjoy yourself and use some of your money for “fun,” you will be less inclined to give up your frugal habits altogether.
Look for Discounts on Things You Like to Do
You can also enjoy yourself, and avoid frugal fatigue, by looking for discounted activities. Look for discount passes to amusement parks, or join a daily deal site to help you get access to great deals. (Just make sure you are careful of what you buy.)
You can also look for discounted activities around town, such as summer concerts in the park, sledding at a local hill, camping, bike riding, and checking out books and movies at your local library. Keep an eye out for free museum days, or kids eat free days at local restaurants.
This will help you stay on top of your frugal budget, while still ensure that you have some fun and avoid frugal fatigue.
Frugal vs Cheap
This is a highly debated topic, but I like to keep this pretty simple. I ask myself two questions:
- Is it worth the extra time/money to make the less expensive choice? In other words, if getting the less expensive item will require me to drive all the way across town and spend more in gas and time value then it probably isn’t the frugal choice. It’s just being cheap.
- Is the less expensive item such poor quality that it will not render any value and possibly reduce my happiness? If so, skip it. You’re just being cheap.
Benefits of a Frugal Life
Frugality brings a lot of benefits, and here are a few that might convince you it’s worth the effort:
- The satisfaction of knowing you are achieving your goals
- Getting the best value
- Enjoying and honoring the things you own
- Learning new skills
- Helping to preserve the environment
- Creative problem-solving
Frugality is Your Choice
People may put pressure on you to live a certain way or spend a certain way. While it’s not always easy to choose the frugal route, if you are confident in your reasons for living frugally, this makes it simpler.
Remember that living frugally doesn’t mean you have to pressure your friends to do the same. Along the same lines, they should respect you for your financial choices.
Frugal living can be seen as deprivation, causing you to feel resentful. Or you can view frugal living as a joyful choice. It’s up to you.
You Don’t Always Have to Make the Frugal Choice
I see frugality as finding a balance across three spectra: high quality/high price vs low quality/low price; needs vs wants; and consumerism vs minimalism.
But you don’t always have to live right down the center of each of these. It’s okay to be cheap sometimes and it’s okay to splurge on the ultra-expensive.
The goal should be to see yourself continually trending in the more frugal direction.
I certainly don’t always make the smart, frugal choice with my spending. Sometimes I’m in a rush or I just give in to my wants.
It happens. That’s okay. As long as I’m meeting my savings goals and not carrying too much debt I know I’m going to be alright.
Again, I’m looking for a frugal trend in my life, not perfection.
Avoid these 5 Frugal Spending Traps
If you’re reading this then you probably have a desire to live a more frugal life. But developing a finely-tuned frugal mindset can take some time. It’s not easy.
When you first start trying to spend less on things your eye catches every potential deal that’s out there. However, there are a few traps that can end up hurting your chances of success.
I offer up a few that I’ve seen trick me in the past.
1. Buying the Wrong Products in Bulk
This is the classic trap. You see a crate full of something and look at the total price. In your mind, you quickly calculate the per-item cost and you are blown away at the savings. You buy it.
Three months later you still have two-thirds of the product left and no desire to use it, or even worse, it’s expired. If you’re a regular Sam’s or Costco user you know what I’m talking about.
2. Forgetting About Free Trials
We’ve all signed up for a free trial and accidentally forgot to cancel after the trial period. It happens. You end up paying an extra month of something that you stopped using after the first free week. If you use free trials, please make sure you set yourself a reminder to cancel the subscription.
3. Chasing the After-Purchase Rebates
With a little work, the after-purchase rebate can work out great. Mostly though, we get a product home and never take the time to mail in the forms to get the rebate.
You’re too busy using whatever it is you bought, right? Also, if the rebate is a reward instead of money, make sure it’s a reward you want.
Bottom line: try to buy products with in-store rebates and get all your money up-front.
4. Not Reading the Fine Print
You mean I have to buy two? You mean I have to dine-in to get the deal? Take the time to read the small print on all your coupons, as they will inform you of what kind of deal you are really getting.
5. Sacrificing Quality for Cheaper Prices
Lastly, don’t ever confuse frugality with being cheap. There’s a big difference, in my opinion. Find the balance between sacrificing your time/effort and the price you are paying.
Also, try to avoid sacrificing quality if it’s a product that you will be sitting on, sleeping on, or depending on in some way.
Make Frugality Cool
Maybe it’s not your lifestyle that your friends or family don’t agree with, it’s the way you present it. When presenting your frugal lifestyle to others, do it in a positive way.
Make frugal cool. Like a good politician, put your best spin on your spending choices.
The way I see it, the choice for a life of frugality can be presented (to friends and family) in one of two ways:
1. With phrases like, “that’s too expensive for us”, “we can’t afford that, so we have to do this”, “who would ever pay that much for that?”, “that’s a wasteful choice, so we’ll do this”.
This person, although probably correct in their statements, is not very fun to be around. And their certainly not making the frugal lifestyle look cool. They’re focusing in on the negative aspects of their spending choices.
2. With phrases like, “check out how much we’ll save,” “we got so much more because we bought this instead of this,” “coupon’s and shopping around are awesome because it means we get to save that extra money, or give it away,” “doing it myself was more rewarding,” “I feel like I got the best value for my dollar.”
That’s the kind of person that seems to have it all figured out and is pleasant to be around. Now, I know I’ve been a victim of the first mentality myself at times, but isn’t the second choice such a better route to take with how you present your frugal life?
Frugality For You
Above all, remember that living frugally means making choices about your spending that help you reach your financial goals. It’s not always the easiest choice in the moment, but can lead to huge benefits down the line. Why not set some intentions about your financial lifestyle and see how frugal living can bring you closer to your goals?