Living frugally is all about a simple principle: Spending less than you earn. It may sound super easy, but putting that philosophy into practice can be a challenge.
You already know the advice about not signing up for every streaming platform under the sun and not having a fancy coffee every day. Fortunately, living a frugal life doesn’t have to feel like you must sacrifice your favorite things. By adopting some basic money-saving moves, you can stash cash without even thinking about it.
Being More Frugal in 5 Simple Steps
Here are five tips on how to be more frugal and save money — 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 vs. 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 splitting bills with 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. However, the payoff is months or years of significant savings without too much ongoing effort.
💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.
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!)
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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.
So how to go about saving money on food and other grocery store items?
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.
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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 instance, going in for an oil change vs. doing it yourself can be a pricey undertaking. And calling in a plumber when the sink or toilet is clogged can be expensive compared with going into DIY mode.
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.
💡 Quick Tip: If you’re creating a budget, try the 50/30/20 budget rule. Allocate 50% of your after-tax income to the “needs” of life, like living expenses and debt. Spend 30% on wants, and then save the remaining 20% towards saving for your long-term goals.
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.
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4. Enjoy Free Entertainment
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 along with books and audiobooks (or try services connected to libraries, like Kanopy and Hoopla), 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.
5. Take Frugalism With You Wherever You Go
Speaking of national parks: Travel is another big ticket item as far as discretionary expenses are concerned. 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. You might even try a home swap or being a house-sitter in a foreign country to make your journey as affordable as possible.
💡 Quick Tip: When you feel the urge to buy something that isn’t in your budget, try the 30-day rule. Make a note of the item in your calendar for 30 days into the future. When the date rolls around, there’s a good chance the “gotta have it” feeling will have subsided.
What Does Frugal Mean for Your Money?
Adopting frugal habits and creating a savings plan can be ways to improve your 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.
One of the most important first steps toward frugality is getting organized, financially speaking. Having a budget and tracking your finances are valuable moves. How often to monitor your bank accounts is a personal decision, but a couple of times a week can help you see how your money is coming in and going out.
Living frugally can also mean more money goes towards realizing your long-term financial goals and building wealth. Whether that means saving for a child’s college education or for retirement, by cutting back on spending now, you can help assure a better future.
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