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Are you interested in learning more about frugal living ideas and concepts in your life?
There are many reasons why frugality is a popular lifestyle in today’s society. Perhaps you like the idea of frugal living because:
- You have experienced financial hardship in the past
- You are currently facing financial hard times
- You enjoy simple and self-reliant living
- You want to fast-track your financial goals
Contrary to popular opinion, frugal living isn’t about acting cheap or stingy with money.
Developing a frugal mindset is about helping you make the most of what you already have, so you can have the freedom and flexibility to spend more money in the areas of your life that matter the most.
While sometimes frugal living can be borne from necessity, people from all backgrounds find ways practice frugality in a way that makes sense for their own lives.
(In fact, if you’re already practicing frugal living, why not leave a comment below with your own motivations for frugality and your best idea on how you’ve made it work for you?)
In this blog post, you’ll learn a handful of high-level frugal living tips that will help you understand what frugal living is (and is not), and how you can better make frugality work for you.
1. Understand your reason for frugal living
No matter your original motivation for practicing frugal living, there are going to be times when sticking to your plan feels like a struggle.
- Your friends or coworkers will routinely invite you out for lunch or drinks
- Your favorite store will offer a deal that’s “too good to pass up”
- Your family members invite you to join them on an expensive weekend trip
- You will find yourself with an unexpected emergency expense
These are just a few examples of the many times that you’ll be tempted with an opportunity to buy something you don’t need or faced with a situation that seems outside your control.
You won’t be perfect when you decide to practice frugal living, and that’s okay.
Understanding the hidden benefits of frugal living–such as less stress about your future and an increased confidence in your own abilities–can help, but understanding your own personal reasons for frugality will inspire you more than what anybody else can tell you.
One of my own personal motivations for practicing good financial habits is to pay off my Great Lakes student loans.
Yours could be buying your first home, preparing to send your children to college, or wanting to retire earlier than your peers.
No matter your goal, having a clearly-defined reason for frugal living can provide the reminder and reinforcement you need to stick with your frugal living plans.
2. Frugal living isn’t the same as living cheap
Does the idea of frugal living sound like a serious buzzkill to your dream lifestyle?
Sure, frugal living is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be miserable.
Before starting your own practice of frugal living, develop a set of rules that can serve as your guiding principles. These guidelines will ensure your spending and saving behaviors are sustainable and consistent with your values.
A few ideas you could use for your own frugal rules:
- Wait at least 30 days before making any purchase over $100
- Buy only high-quality goods that will last
- Try to borrow or buy used before purchasing new items
- Identify exceptions where you can spend “guilt-free”
By spending less on things that aren’t important to you, there will be more money to spend on the expenses that do matter to you… Whether it’s travel, date night, or setting aside money toward retirement.
Want an example of how frugal living isn’t cheap?
One frugal Mennonite homemaker spent $2,200 on a fully-automated washer to help make laundry for her and her eight children a breeze.
Buying sustainable goods for anything you use frequently can save time and money while reducing stress and the need for repairs or replacements.
3. Take lifestyle creep seriously
It’s human nature for you to want to keep up with the Joneses.
Not only is social status an innate desire, but advertising through media outlets and social media also play a role at increasing desire for more.
If you find yourself asking:
“How much house/car/phone/etc. can I afford?”
Then you’re already treading into dangerous territory.
Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your needs or worth the additional cost over other alternatives.
Lifestyle creep, or Increasing your lifestyle as your earnings grow, is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face in your efforts to practice frugality.
Be careful: even seemingly small lifestyle “upgrades” can set back your long-term financial goals by several years. Is that a price you’re willing to pay?
4. Don’t buy or rent more home than you need
If you offer your neighbors of plate of cookies for their Wifi password so you can get free internet…
You might have bought more house than you can afford.
If your host a holiday dinner and it’s not only “BYOB,” but “bring your own chair…”
You might have bought more house than you can afford.
I’ll stop there, but let’s just say, living in a large home is expensive. It’s not just the ultra-wealthy living in a McMansion either.
Housing is the largest monthly expense for most families. Factor in the cost of utilities, maintenance, and furnishings into your housing budget, and you can quickly thwart your financial goals by becoming house-broke.
Choosing the correct amount of home that fits your needs and budget is one of the most important decisions you can make in your efforts to live simply.
If you’re financial situation is out of control, downsizing your living arrangements (or renting out than extra bedroom) can be one of the fastest ways to make progress.
5. Create a reasonable budget you can actually follow
If you’re just starting to take a closer look at your personal finances, reading that word might make you mumble under your breath, “Here we go again…”
Budgeting is an important strategy for improving your financial situation. It gives every dollar in your budget a specific purpose and keeps you accountable for your behavior.
So why all of the hate on budgeting?
Many people have created a budget that sets them up for failure. Budgets can be difficult to maintain, which leads to additional guilt and shame around money.
A good budget may stretch your comfort zone a little bit, but don’t try to make it too aspirational.
Rather than create a budget that assumes you’re a robot with perfect discipline, set realistic goals for each budget category that you are confident can stick to.
6. Be smart about eating out at restaurants
Eating out at restaurants is one of the areas where most budgeters can struggle the most.
In fact, not tracking my food expenses was one of the primary reasons why I graduated from college with thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
Most people can’t commit to–or simply don’t want to–stop eating out at restaurants. While you don’t always have to trade your restaurants for preparing every meal at home, you will need to be smart about eating out at restaurants if you’re trying to practice frugal living.
Here are a few ideas that can help with your food expenses:
- Track your food expenses by hand. Each time you spend money on food, whether it’s on groceries or at a restaurant, record each transaction in a journal or note on your phone. Set weekly goals to keep yourself on track.
- Use a cash-only diet. Every paycheck, withdraw a specific amount of money that’s designated specifically for eating out. By paying with cash instead of swiping your card, you’ll be more mindful of how much you’re spending on food. When that cash runs out, you’ll be cooking food at home until the next paycheck!
- Visit restaurants where kids eat free. If you have children, take advantage of days when restaurants offer them free food. Most likely, you’ll recognize many of the restaurants on the list, who want to increase their customers during slow days and convert kids to become fans of their food. If you’re sneaky, you may be able to steal of couple french fries while your kid (and the waiter) isn’t looking!
7. Find ways to have fun without spending money
Do you ever get the urge to spend money just because you’re feeling bored?
You may decide to go buy some ice cream, watch a movie in the theaters, or take an unplanned road trip.
None of these things are inherently bad or financially irresponsible. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and you can participate in any of these types of activities while sticking to a solid financial plan.
One of the most fundamental challenges, though, is that idea that your money is a tool needed to solve boredom. There are plenty of ways to have fun that don’t involve spending much money (if any at all).
Here’s a list of some ideas that will help you cure your boredom (and maybe even better yourself in the process) without breaking the bank:
- Listen to a classic audiobook (fiction or nonfiction!) on Libby
- Teach yourself something new using YouTube tutorials
- Engage in your favorite form of physical activity (I like weight training, hiking, and yoga)
- Purchase something cheap that’s “new” to you – whether it’s claiming a free sticker or searching for a $5 or less find at a secondhand store
- Find opportunities to volunteer in the community
- Join a local club or Meetup group
Take a minute to write down a few of your favorite low-cost activities, and keep them in a place you can easily refer to them later!
8. Don’t forget about your investment expenses
When most people think about frugal living, they focus on cutting down their major expenses (housing, food, and transportation) while eliminating other non-essentials like cable TV or streaming subscriptions.
There is one more area where you can cut your expenses that is often overlooked: investment expenses!
While reducing your investment expenses may not increase the amount of money in your checking account, your future self will thank you for becoming a “frugal investor.”
There are many types of investment fees you might be paying without even realizing it:
- Fund “operating expenses”
- Advisory fees
- Transaction fees
- Annual account fees
None of these expenses may seem like a lot, but they can quickly eat at your returns. If your investment grows by 7% but you pay 1% in fees, that’s over 14% of your return that you’re losing out on!
If you’re looking for a frugal investing option, you may want to consider investing in a low-cost index funds like VTSAX.
Index funds are passive investments you can buy and hold without incurring the amount of transaction and commission fees like you would with an actively-managed fund.
Please do your own research and consider consulting with a professional before making any investment decisions, but if you want to simplify your investment strategy, index funds could be the strategy for you!
9. Find ways to celebrate your progress
If you’re just starting to practice frugal living, you will likely enjoy some “quick wins” such as finding cheaper auto insurance rates, cutting cable TV, or riding your bike to work.
Eventually, however, you’ll find that it takes practice, patience, and discipline to practice frugality in your life.
Throughout your financial journey, you will experience both setbacks and breakthroughs along the way.
Finding ways to celebrate your progress can be helpful to keep yourself motivated and on track to reach your financial goals.
When it comes to celebrating financial progress, here are a few recommendations:
- Set a specific budget for your reward. You don’t have to spend any money at all, but if you do want to reward yourself by splurging on a new item or experience, commit to a specific number that’s appropriate given the difficulty of your accomplishment.
- Share the news with family members or friends. Don’t look at this as an opportunity to brag (even if you do have something to be proud about!). Share what you’ve learned and those who’ve encouraged you for their support.
- Create a record of your achievement. Grab a screenshot of your savings account balance when you’ve hit your target balance, or take a photo in front of your home or vehicle after you’ve paid it off. In the future, you’ll enjoy looking back at your progress and accomplishments.
10. Sometimes it’s easier to earn more money instead
Frugal living can help you reach your financial goals more quickly, but don’t forget that it’s only one half of the financial equation.
You can only reduce your personal expenses so far. Eventually, you’ll reach the bare minimum for what you can spend while still enjoying a satisfying lifestyle.
While there’s a limit to how much money you can cut from your budget, there’s no limit to the amount of income you can earn.
There are a few ways you can start earning more money:
- Ask for a raise at work
- Pick up overtime hours
- Find a second job during the nights and weekends
- Start your own business
- Participate in the gig economy
If you don’t have a ton of time to earn additional money, you can start small. There are easy options such as making money with surveys or using apps like Swagbucks to earn rewards for completing simple tasks.
There you have it… Ten insightful ideas that will help shape your mindset on frugal living.
To quickly recap–
- Understand your reason for frugal living
- Frugal living is the same as living cheap
- Take lifestyle creep seriously
- Don’t buy or rent more home than you need
- Create a reasonable budget you can actually follow
- Be smart about eating out at restaurants
- Find ways to have fun without spending money
- Don’t forget about your investment expenses
- Find ways to celebrate your progress
- Sometimes it’s easier to earn more money instead
By taking the time to understand and practice these 10 principles, you will be able to create your own version of frugal living that works for you.
Don’t forget: there’s no “best” way to practice frugal living. It’s all about becoming intentional with your money in a way that makes the most sense for your life’s values and priorities.
What lessons have you learned through your own personal experience with frugal living?
This post was contributed by Aaron of Personal Finance for Beginners. His goal is to help young adults feel confident at making decisions with money and secure about their financial futures by teaching them the basics of personal finance.