The basics of frugal living are simple: spend less than you earn. But actually putting that philosophy into practice can be a lot tougher than it sounds.
Everyone’s heard the tired advice about skipping your daily latte or making your avocado toast at home. But living frugally can be a lot more streamlined than that! By setting up some basic money-saving habits, it’s possible to stash cash without even thinking about it.
Being More Frugal in 5 Simple Steps
Here are five tips on how to be more frugal—without giving up all the fun (and caffeine) in your life.
1. Reform Fixed Expenses
Regardless of what specific items might appear on a budget, they all come in two general varieties: fixed expenses and variable expenses.
Fixed expenses are, as the name suggests, those bills that are fixed and consistent each month, such as rent, insurance payments, and student loans. Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts aren’t fixed… but that doesn’t mean all variable expenses are optional (or “discretionary”). For example, your electric bill probably varies from month to month, but you still know you’re going to have to pay it.
Let’s hone in on those fixed expenses first, though—because cutting down on regular, consistent costs can lead to regular, consistent savings. There are a variety of ways to do this, some more radical than others.
For example, moving to a less expensive neighborhood or recruiting a roommate might cut your rent in half; deciding to forgo a car can eliminate not only the car payment and insurance cost, but also variable expenses like parking, maintenance, and gas. These kinds of global lifestyle changes can take a lot of effort to set up at the start… but the payoff is months or years of significant savings without too much ongoing effort.
However, there are plenty of ways to cut fixed expenses without making such seismic shifts to daily life. For instance, switching to a less expensive cell phone carrier can lower the monthly burden, as can ditching a gym membership in favor of hiking or cutting back on streaming service subscriptions. (Even those low per-month amounts can really add up when there are three or four of them!)
2. Gear Up Your Grocery Game
Groceries count as a variable expense, but they’re certainly not optional. That said, there’s an incredible margin for savings when it comes to stocking up on food each month.
Case in point: per the latest numbers from the USDA , a couple in their 30s might spend as little as $402.30 per month on groceries… or as much as $799.00. That’s nearly double what the thriftiest grocery shoppers get away with!
So how to go about potentially cutting your grocery bill in half?
One easy way to start is to choose discount grocers and chains that are known for their low prices. Aldi, Trader Joe’s and WinCo, for example, all have well-founded reputations for their frugal choices, particularly when compared to upscale grocery chains like Whole Foods. Shopping at a cheaper store can take some of the footwork out of saving; you may be able to spend less on the exact same grocery list. But it’s also possible to take the project even further.
Coupon clipping might not be the most glamorous activity, but those deals can create substantial savings, particularly for practiced couponers. These days, apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 make it easy to score savings on the items you’re already shopping for.
Additionally, aiming to make cheaper meals can stretch each grocery store dollar even further. Relying on inexpensive staples like rice, which can be dressed up and filled out in many different ways, can help keep both bellies and wallets full.
3. Decide to Do It Yourself
Buying things is one thing. But maintaining them is a whole ‘nother can of worms—and it can be a downright expensive one.
For example, HomeAdvisor reports that the average homeowner spent more than $3,000 in maintenance costs and more than $1,500 in home-related emergency expenses. If you own a car, an oil change can easily cost upwards of $70 when you get it done by a professional.
All of which is to say: honing some handiness skills could easily help save money over the course of a lifetime. And thanks to the fact that we live in the digital age, it’s relatively easy to become a Jack or Jill of all trades. YouTube is full of free video tutorials that can walk you through everything from fixing a dishwasher that won’t drain to rotating your own tires.
Other high-cost services to consider DIYing: mani/pedis, facials, pet grooming, landscaping, moving, and more. Basically, anytime you could spend money on hiring a professional, think seriously about whether you actually need the help.
4. Enjoy Free Entertainment
Although the coronavirus may have put a damper on entertainment expenses for now, it’s easy to overspend on having fun. In fact, the average American spent more than $3,000 on entertainment in 2019.
While some events are worthy splurges—like a once-in-a-lifetime concert—it’s also important to consider all the free forms of entertainment at our fingertips. For example, your local library may offer streaming movies or DVDs along with books and audiobooks, and many museums offer cost-free admissions on specific days of the week or month.
Even the national parks offer free admission from time to time! Free national park entrance days vary slightly from year to year, but generally include the first day of National Park Week in mid-April and National Public Lands Day, which falls on the fourth Saturday in September, along with Veterans Day and the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And speaking of the national parks…
5. Take Frugalism With You Wherever You Go
Travel is another big ticket item as far as discretionary expenses are concerned. In fact, domestic travelers alone spent more than $900 billion in the U.S. during their sojourns in 2019, and millions of Americans are still traveling this year despite quarantine measures.
Seeing the world can be enriching—and it doesn’t have to strip away all your riches, either. Finding ways to be a frugal traveler, such as choosing budget-friendly destinations and scoring the cheapest flights possible, can mean saving money without sacrificing this major life experience. (With the ongoing pandemic, consider taking a look at travel restrictions and recommendations offered by the CDC .)
What Does Frugal Mean for Your Money?
Adopting frugal habits and creating a savings plan can set the stage for overall financial health: cutting back on day-to-day living expenses can mean more money set aside for retirement as well as major life milestones, like owning a home or having a baby.
And one of the most important first steps toward frugality is getting organized, financially speaking.
Finding the right cash management platform can help you enact your frugal living plan in a variety of ways. For starters, having a bird’s eye view on your finances is a critical step toward living more frugally. After all, you have to know where your money’s going in order to figure out where to cut back.
SoFi Money® makes it easy to track your expenses, and the Vaults system allows you to easily set aside savings for specific purposes. Better yet, you’ll earn cash back rewards on major brand purchases¹ , and avoid those annoying little bank fees (monthly maintenance fees, ATM fees) that can become a more serious annoyance over time.
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