How to live frugally
When you hear the words frugal living do you immediately think that means reusing everything you own and buying nothing?
That’s what so many people have been led to believe about frugal living, and if that’s the case, I have to admit… frugal living sounds pretty awful.
Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case for you. You can still live and enjoy your life and save like crazy with a few minor adjustments. Are you ready to dive in and learn some ways to be frugal and save money without being extreme? Let’s get to it…
Inside: 22 ways to be frugal and save money – exactly what you should never do
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If you’ve spent any time at all researching frugal living, there’s a good chance you’ve come across some fairly interesting finds.
Some people will tell you that to live frugally, you have to:
- Reuse your teabags (at least 5 times)
- Sell your car and take public transit
- Spend hours couponing every week
- Grow ALL your own food
- Unplug everything when it’s not in use
- Only flush the toilet once a day
- Sell everything you own, except for what you absolutely need
- Only shower once a week
However, thankfully, you don’t have to do all that to live frugally. (Those are the extreme, super-frugal living ways.)
If you’re looking for extreme ways to save money with frugal living, then doing the above could be the way to go – but for those of us who are looking for a bit more of a not-so-life-altering way to save money with frugal living, this is the place for you.
I, like most of you, didn’t want to shower only once a week. And I definitely didn’t want to only flush the toilet once a day. Even though I am passionate about learning and applying frugal habits into my life, I wasn’t so passionate about the extreme ways of frugal living.
So, I went ahead and gathered up a few of my favorite things to do to cut costs with frugal living, without going extreme.
And I’m sharing them with you here today.
How to live frugally
Living frugally comes completely naturally to some people, but to others, it can feel like they’re standing at the foot of a mountain attempting to climb it with two 100-pound weights dragging behind them. Then anytime they start to actually get somewhere and make frugal lifestyle changes, they trip over a rock and go tumbling to the foot of the mountain, where they’re forced to either give up or try again.
It’s just not fair.
But it’s the way it is. So, if you struggle with frugal living and saving money, it’s time to stop making excuses and get ready to tackle your mountain.
Maybe you have friends who somehow manage to pinch their pennies everywhere they can, they always find the best deals, and they manage to live comfortably on a small income, while you’re sitting there with piles of credit card bills piling up and not enough money in the bank to cover the bills. You’re probably stuck wondering, “how do they manage to do it? How can they live so well on so little?”
And honestly, living fulfilling lives on a little income isn’t easy, and there’s a whole lot more to it than simply implementing a handful of frugal living tips & tricks into your life. (My husband and I use this to live a life we love on very little income, but that’s a story for another day.)
Related: 12 Items to Reuse to Save Money
22 THINGS THAT FRUGAL PEOPLE DON’T DO
These frugal living tips will help even people who hate saving money start to save every month. But, instead of a list of frugal living tips that you should do to save money, this is more of a list of things you shouldn’t do (and if you are doing them, you need to stop).
1. They don’t buy stuff just because it’s on sale or just to use a coupon
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if they have a coupon, they have to use it. Or, if they’re at the store and something is on sale for a skookum deal, they would be wrong not to buy it.
But just because something is on sale or just because you have a coupon, doesn’t mean you’re saving money. If you weren’t planning on buying the item before it was at a lower price, chances are you don’t actually need it – and you’re not saving money, you’re spending it.
Think of it this way:
Why do companies send out coupons and have great big sales? To get you to spend more money.
If you add a single extra item to your cart that you don’t need, but it was on sale, you’re still spending money, not saving. Don’t be fooled by the big “SALE” signs – they’ll tell you you’re saving $4.00 off an item that used to be $11.o0. But, that is an extra $7.00 that you’re adding to your grocery bill. You’re SPENDING an extra $7.00 when you could have saved it instead.
Don’t worry – coupons and sales aren’t always a trick to get you to spend more money, sometimes you really can save money with them – if it’s on an item you need and were planning on buying anyway. Then you are saving money and it’s a nice little bonus.
(Grocery shopping with a list significantly lowers your spending budget every month, but more surprisingly, the biggest way to lower your grocery spending is to plan your meals and snacks ahead of time – then make a list. I use this and it does both for me. It plans my meals and makes my grocery lists.)
2. They don’t buy unnecessary stuff
When people who live frugal lives go shopping, they don’t buy things they don’t need. They don’t buy things just because they’re easy or convenient (I’m looking at you, pre-made meals). They buy the ingredients and things that they need and make do with what they don’t.
Sure… an apple slicer may save you a bit of time, but it’s not that much harder to just slice the apples by hand using a knife you already have. If you’re really trying to be frugal, then buying stuff just because it’s a good price, it looks cool, or you think you might need it (one day) is not the way to go.
3. They don’t let their food go to waste
Wasting food is something that happens to so many of us, even when we try our hardest to use it all up before it goes bad.
You make a delicious meal for your family and pack the leftovers up in the fridge. You plan on using them up for lunches or another meal later in the week. Then, you make more meals, more snacks, and buy more groceries. Before you know it two weeks have passed by and the leftovers you packed up to use later got pushed to the back of your fridge and forgotten about… and now there’s all kinds of bad smells coming from it, so you throw the food – and the container – in the trash.
This is a common scenario, but if you want to make a small change in your life to save money that doesn’t require too much extra effort from you, it’s important to keep tabs on your food.
To only buy the exact amount of food that you need, and to use it all up before it goes bad.
Groceries are a big expense in a person’s life, so it’s important that you start treating them like so (instead of just letting them go bad in the fridge and throwing them out without so much as a second thought).
There are TWO things you can to do ensure you quit wasting money.
- Use these pre-made meal plans.
Meal planning enables you to go grocery shopping knowing exactly what you need so you don’t buy extras that end up going to waste. But it’s important that you take the number of servings you make into consideration – if you’re feeding a family of 3 and you make a big lasagna, there’s going to be leftovers. If you’re not careful, those leftovers can go to waste. This is why I like to use this meal planning service – because I can select the number of people I’m feeding and it automatically alters the meal plan to match what I need. (Plus it makes a grocery list for me… which is a nice bonus.)
- Use clear glass food storage containers
Surprisingly enough, food storage containers play an important role in the amount of food that gets wasted – or used. When you use food storage containers that you can’t see into (these ones), you can’t see the food inside, so it’s more likely to get pushed to the back of the fridge because you forget what meal is being stored in there and you don’t have time to check. Whereas when you use clear food storage containers, you can easily see exactly what’s inside the container making it more likely for the food to get used up. (And I suggest these specific glass ones because oils and colors can leech to and stain plastic containers. Plus you can heat leftovers up right in the glass containers.)
But what happens when you can never manage to buy the right amount of food and it goes bad before you even get around to using it?
If that’s the case, you’ll want to start meal planning. Meal planning can be time-consuming (that’s why I started using this meal planner. It does all the work for me so I can get ready-made meal plans & grocery lists at the click of a button), but it is well worth the commitment you put in.
Planning your meals allows you to know exactly which meals you’re making on specific days of the week so you can plan ahead for meals with leftovers and when you go to the grocery store you won’t end up buying items “just in case”, because you know excatly what you need and you can stay away from what you don’t need.
(As an added bonus, you can save hundreds each month on groceries alone. This is how my husband and I went from spending $1,000 to $300 a month on groceries.)
4. Frugal people don’t have unnecessary expenses
When frugal people look at their budget (don’t have a budget yet? If you want to save money you NEED one. This is the resource I recommend you get before starting a budget.) they don’t see any expenses that aren’t absolute necessities.
They budget their money for the normal budgeting categories, which includes a “fun” category. (Yes, even frugal people still have to have fun! Plus there’s a category for eating out, and entertainment… see? You can still do stuff and have fun when you live on a budget.)
5. They don’t pay their bills late
Paying your bills late means you’re paying a late fee, too. Which means you’re paying money just because you paid your bill today, instead of two days ago when it was due.
You know you’re going to pay the bill – so why put it off and risk having to pay a late fee?
Late fees are 110% avoidable. And they are 110% a waste of money. Put a reminder on your calendar to pay your pills on the day you get them (NOT the day they’re due… that just sets you up to pay late fees).
6. They don’t have the latest and greatest of everything – and they’re okay with that
They might still be using a phone that they got 5 years ago (gasp!), they might buy their clothes from second-hand stores, and they might not have a new car. But by living with less in certain areas of their lives, they’re able to live richly in other areas – even if they’re living on a low income.
As a rule of thumb, if whatever they have still works well and does the job right, they don’t see any need to upgrade. They keep on using it until it runs out of life or can no longer serve its purpose.
7. They don’t eat out often
Frugal living gurus also know that eating out is a great way to waste their money. Sure, they like to treat themselves and eat out every once in a while – but it’s certainly not a normal occurrence in their lives.
When you can make an equally delicious meal at home for a fraction of the cost of going out to eat… it just makes sense to stay in more often, don’t you think? (This is where meal planning can help you save money – by planning your meals in advance, this way on nights that you’re busy you can still whip up a quick homemade dinner because you were prepared for it. I’m a big fan of these 15-minute dinners.)
Related: 9 Tips to Help You Quit Eating Out so Much
8. They don’t buy coffee out often
Just like eating out, spending money on coffee every day adds up quicker than most people realize, and that’s why frugal people choose to buy an at-home coffee machine so they can make themselves a coffee every day for far cheaper than buying one at the store.
Instead of spending $3 on a coffee every day, you can bring that number down to less than $0.25 a cup (depending on the kind of coffee you buy).
9. They know what to buy in bulk
It’s important to know where you can get the most bang for your buck. And then to go shop there.
Big warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco are great stores to get deals on items, however, not everything is a good deal there. But, some things you should never buy from any other store. Here’s a list of 10 things you should always buy in bulk to save money.
10. They don’t let a great sale go by
IF something is on sale that they NEED, they’ll take advantage of the sale and stock up so they don’t have to buy whatever it is again for a few months. (If it’s something they use a lot of. If not, they only buy the amount that they need for right now.)
For example, if toilet paper came on sale for a great deal, they would stock up because that’s something that everyone uses and will always use – day in and day out.
If something like cheese came on sale for a great price and their family goes through a lot of cheese, they would stock up (within reason) because they know they can freeze the cheese to keep it from going bad. One thing frugal people don’t stock up on is perishable items. Things like produce that can’t be frozen and will go bad in a matter of days isn’t a smart thing to stock up on.
Related: 60 Surprising Foods That Can be Frozen to Save Money
11. They don’t go to the mall often
Going to the mall, even just to “window shop” is leading yourself right down a road of temptation. It’s easy to convince yourself that you NEED to have something when you’re standing in front of a store with a big “CLEARANCE” sign out front.
If you don’t need anything from a certain store, do yourself a favor and stay far, far away from it.
12. They don’t make last minute trips to the grocery store
Do you know those last minute grocery store trips where you go in for 1 or 2 items and come out with 5 bags full?
If you want to be frugal, it’s important to buy everything you need for a week’s worth of meals and snacks in ONE shopping trip, instead of multiple small trips over the week.
It’s far too easy to buy extra items the more you go into stores, so make one big shopping trip a week, shop with a list, and eliminate the temptation to buy things you don’t need.
13. They don’t go to the grocery store without a list
To continue the topic of grocery stores, frugal people will never go shopping without a grocery list. They know that if they set foot in that store without a list there’s a big chance that they’re going to buy things they don’t need than if they go shopping with their list.
Always, always, ALWAYS shop with a list. (You can even use an easy shopping checklist to make list-making more fun. Or, if you’re busy and don’t have time to make a list, you can always purchase something like this which plans meals and makes your lists for you.)
14. They don’t forget where they spent their money
Keeping track of where your money goes and where it comes from is an important part of being money-smart, and it’s something you should learn to do, if you don’t already.
When you buy things, keep receipts. When you pay bills, keep invoices.
Doing this allows you to see where you’re spending most of your money (which will help with your budget) and this way in the case that your credit card gets stolen, you can pinpoint purchases that you didn’t make right away.
I teach about spending tracking here.
15. They aren’t clueless about the price of an item before purchasing it
This. Is. Important.
It’s important to know the cost of an item before you purchase it. This way if you get charged more, you can correct the mistake at the till instead of learning about it a few days later (or never at all). This is also handy when you’re making big shopping trips, like grocery shopping, so you can map out in your head approximately how much the total should come to.
16. They always look through local flyers before going shopping
Flyer shopping is a big part of saving money with frugal living, especially when you’re planning your one big shopping trip. By looking through flyers from your local grocery stores before you go shopping you can eye out where the best prices are so you can save some extra money on your groceries.
17. They know how to, and aren’t ashamed to, say no
When living frugally, you aren’t going to be able to go to every outing you’re invited to. If you’re trying to pinch your pennies there will come times when you’ll have to choose to stay in for the evening instead of going out with your friends.
Frugal people don’t live boring lives and they do enjoy going out and treating themselves every once in a while, but they know exactly how much money they have in their budget set aside to spend on fun activities, so if they’re out of money in that category for the month they know that it’s important to politely decline an offer than spend more money than they have just to go out for the evening.
18. They don’t settle
It’s important to know that even if you think you know all there is to know about saving money, you probably don’t.
People will continually be learning new methods, new ways, and new strategies that work to save money, stretch money, or make your money work for you. This is why it’s so important that you don’t take what you know now and refuse to learn anything else. Always be researching, discussing, and learning everything you can on the topic. (You may just find a way to save more money easier than you’re doing right now.)
19. They don’t often buy brand new
A frugal person knows that they can get nice, name brand clothes without paying top dollar for them simply by widening the stores they shop at. Rather than going to the mall to buy clothes, they might first look around at a couple of different thrift stores to see if they can find something nice there. Or, they may search on buy and sells to see what other people are selling.
This is how frugal people get nice clothes for a fraction of the cost of buying them new, but this doesn’t just go for clothing, either. They know they can get things like furniture for cheap from buy and sells or local scratch and dent stores, too.
20. They aren’t clueless
They have a plan for their money. They don’t spend carelessly and irresponsibly, they put deep thought into where they spend their money.
21. They aren’t above doing small side hustles here and there
There are MANY different ways you can make money from side hustles, and if you’re serious about saving big money, finding a side hustle is the answer for you.
But, you need to put in the work. You can’t expect to see great results without hard work. If you’re serious about it, work hard for it. If you’re looking for a side hustle, here are 28 quick ways to make some extra money this month.
7 Ways to Make Money From Home (that are actually legit)
7 MORE Work From Home Jobs
22. They save money and have a plan for it
They don’t spend every little bit of money that they get – they’re careful to set a certain amount aside each month to put into their savings account and emergency fund so that any unexpected expenses that pop up don’t send them into debt.
This is the method my husband and I used to save up over 6 months of expenses into an emergency fund in just a couple of months. Now we don’t have to live in constant fear and worry of unexpected expenses popping up. We finally feel prepared (and it feels great).
Related: 5 Ways to Start an Emergency Fund When Money is Tight
20 Things we Took Off Our Grocery List to Save Money
11 Frugal Living Tips to Help You Save Money
11 Ways to Thrive as a Single Income Family
How to Love Being a Stay at Home Wife (11 practical tips for you to start)