People all over the globe are struggling right now to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. In the United States and Canada, we’re watching many more people than we’ve seen in nearly a decade plunge into poverty due to our failing economy. We’re losing jobs, paying higher expenses, and getting slapped with medical bills that we won’t make enough money to pay for in this lifetime.
For some folks, tips like the ones that follow would not be helpful because their situations have become so dire. For the rest of us, though, there are many places that we can cut the budget in order to survive in the new economic paradigm. Frugality is a viable alternative lifestyle.
You may not want to make changes. You may not want to sacrifice your little luxuries. You may feel like you “deserve” them or that you have “earned” them.
First, please get out of your mind the phrase, “I work hard and deserve this chocolate thingamabob while someone paints my toenails for me” or any combination thereof.
You may work hard, but rationalizing poor spending habits is a surefire way to remain broke forever. Now, please don’t misunderstand – you don’t have to be miserably unhappy, grimly plodding through a life bereft of any pleasures. You just have to change your perspective, and that can take a little tough love.
Even small savings matter
Making some small changes in your day-to-day habits can actually add up to huge savings. And before you say, “Oh, that’s only $2, it doesn’t matter” think about this.
Two dollars, saved on a daily basis over the course of a year, is $730.
If you save $2 on 4 different things, that total is $2920.
Sure, if you’re a multimillionaire homeowner with a paid-off house, yacht, and car, those numbers are small potatoes. But for most of us, a savings of $2920 makes an awfully big difference.
Frugal living tips for any budget
So, look over these small savings and see which of these expenditures you can cut. You can often figure out a way to still have your small luxuries while saving money.
- Drink water. Even if you purchase it in $5 gallon jugs with the hot/cold dispenser, it’s still the best deal around, with the added bonus of being good for your health. Skip the soda pop, juices and sports drinks. Also, skip the individual bottles of water because those can be just as pricey as buying a soda. Coffee and tea that you make at home are also very inexpensive.
- Join a Farm Co-op. You can get baskets of produce for more than half the year at a fraction of the price. (Find some local farms here.)
- Stop buying coffee in the drive thru on your way to work every day. You can save anywhere from $300-1300, depending on whether you are a Tim Hortons/Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks person. If you absolutely adore your coffee, make it at home and put it in a nice to-go mug for your commute. You can give yourself a Starbucks feeling with this.
- Brown bag it. Bring a healthy lunch from home instead of spending $5 or more each work day on your lunch. The peer pressure to go out with friends from the office can make this difficult, but stand firm. If there are 260 workdays in a year, and you save a minimum of $5 on each one of those workdays, at the end of the year, you’ve tallied up $1300!!! (and these days, a $5 lunch is tough to find – you’ll most likely be spending closer to $10, which means your savings is closer to $2600.)
- Skip the meat – consider 2 meatless meals per week, or at the very least make meat a condiment instead of a main dish.
- Cancel cable or satellite. Yes, the kids will complain. Yes, it will suck at first. Then you’ll learn to do other things and it won’t bother you at all. If you still want to watch television and movies, get an Amazon Prime or Netflix membership for viewing and pay less than $10 per month. (Prime also offers a music service, a photo service, and a Kindle Lending Library service, making it a better investment.)
- Lower your thermostat. The Consumer Energy Center says that for every degree you lower your heat under 70 degrees F, you can save up to 5% off your bill. Look into other ways to stay warm.
- Don’t use credit cards. If you must, because of an expense account, be sure to pay it off in full before the interest can kick in.
- Check your insurance rates. Shop around for car and home insurance to be sure you are getting the best price. This can be a recurrent savings of up to hundreds of dollars.
- Grow some of your own food. You don’t need a farm to grow some of your own veggies and herbs. You can also consider sprouting for fresh off-season greens at a fraction of the price of grocery store sprouts or produce. (I’ve had much better luck with the sprouting kits than with makeshift sprouters I’ve created – for me it was $20 well-spent)
- Find the best phone plan. For some it may be Skype, for others it may be a cell phone instead of a landline and for still others, especially those who make a lot of long-distance calls, it may be a VOIP service with unlimited national calling.
- Take shorter showers – this can save you up to $100 per year, depending on your water rates and your cost to heat the water.
- Make homemade pizza instead of ordering delivery. At the very least, go pick the pizza up to save yourself delivery charges and tip. In our house, Friday night pizza-making is a beloved family tradition.
- Set up a clothesline. Hanging your clothes to dry instead of using an electric dryer can save over $300 per year. You can set up a clothesline outside,or, if you live somewhere dusty like me, get a foldable drying rack, or devise something in your laundry room for drying clothing.
- Wash in cold water. Washing your clothes in cold water can save $50 per year – plus your clothes will last longer.
- Don’t throw away your leftovers. You can collect small amounts of left overs and combine them into something totally new. We often keep a container in the freezer for leftover veggies. Later we add them to soups or pot pies. Sometimes we have enough miscellaneous leftovers to create an entirely new meal, which is like free food! Another option is what my kids call “leftover buffet” – all the leftovers go out on the counter and the kids can pick and choose their items – the ovenproof dish gets heated up and voila – TV dinner is served! If you have a few servings of dinner left over, put them in single serving containers so that you can grab them for lunches throughout the week.
- Eat at home. If you cut meals out to one a month, you can save up to $3000 per year for a family of four. As well, when it is a rare occurrence, it’s much more of a treat.
- Shop secondhand. Hit up thrift stores, Craigslist, Ebay, and yard sales before purchasing items new. Seek and ye shall very often find what you need for a fraction of the price. Also check out “Freecycle” – a website dedicated to unloading unwanted things at no charge.
- Stay healthy. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but by taking precautions like washing your hands and avoiding sick people you can reduce your risk of becoming ill. Also, good nutrition, vitamins, exercise and sunshine all help to boost your immune system. Being sick results in lost wages, money spent on trips to the doctor, and expensive medications.
- Prep your food ahead of time. Nothing says “drive thru” like a gnawing hunger pain in your stomach on your way home from work. Spend time on the weekend prepping your food for the week ahead so that you are able to have dinner on the table in less time than it takes to wait in line at a fast food restaurant.
- Skip the gym and take your workout outside. Walk, run, bike, or hike and save those monthly fees.
- Quit smoking. Need I say more?
- DIY your hair color. At the very least, touch up your roots at home.
- Speaking of hair – consider simplifying. Try to stretch the time between hair cuts, learn to trim your hair yourself, forgo the fancy highlights and procedures, and cut back on the products. I realize not everyone is as enthusiastic about the ponytail as I am but see where you can simplify.
- Ditch the fake nails. I used to have a friend that insisted it was necessary to her job to have perfectly manicured fingers. No. If you are not a professional hand model, it’s not. Either learn to do it yourself or simplify to short neat fingernails buffed to a shine. I sincerely doubt any person ever lost a job for not having artificial nails.
- Clip coupons. Coupons can often net you big savings, but not always. Be sure to compare with the price of the less expensive store brands – sometimes coupons aren’t that great of a deal. As well, another risk with coupons is that you’ll buy something you wouldn’t normally purchase. Make sure the item is something that would be on your list anyway.
- DIY cleaning products. Skip the fancy cleaning supplies and use household items like white vinegar and baking soda to keep your house spotless.
- Repair instead of replace. In our disposable society, most people say “Oh, it’s only $3 – I’ll get a new one.” Repairing items isn’t just a way to save money – it’s a great way to improve your skills. Learn skills like mending, darning, welding, simple electrical and mechanical repairs and minor carpentry.
- Skip the doggie beauty salon. Learn to groom your dog at home. For the price of one trip to the groomer, you can purchase quality nail clippers and a good brush. Use human shampoo and brush your pet frequently to reduce matting. If your dog requires trimming on a regular basis, consider getting professional quality clippers and learning to give her a cut, or at the very least, stretching out the visits with a bit more time in between.
- Stay home. When you stay home, you aren’t spending money on gas, drinks, food and shopping. If you are the type of person that needs the social aspect of going out, take your own water bottle and picnic lunch, and focus on free activities like going to the dog park, the museum on free-admission days, and the splash pad with the kids.
If you used every one of these tips, you would save, literally, thousands of dollars per year. And they’re all small things, a dollar here, a quarter there. But I’m sure you can see how they add up.
You can use one of these suggestions or all of them. Be creative and come up with your own ways to save that work well with your life.
Do you have any easy frugal living tips?
For those of you with a black belt in frugality, what are some cuts that you have made in order to meet your goals? Please share your ideas in the comments below, and remember to be encouraging to people who are just starting out on their journey to a thriftier lifestyle.
Here are some books to help you in your frugal journey.
The Complete Tightwad Gazette – This book is my all-time favorite. I can’t recommend it enough!
The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide to Whole Food on a Half-Price Budget – Tips for building a food pantry on a budget