To a lot of people, frugal living or saving money means you’re cheap or a tightwad. But I say to these folks: See ya in ten years, then we’ll see who is tight with (and for) money. Saving is a long game; it has nothing to do with being cheap and everything to do with being free and rich in the future.
My mom used to have a saying: Inch by inch, it’s a cinch, yard by yard, it’s a bit hard. I like to apply that mindset when it comes to frugal living. It can actually be really painless if you do it in small ways.
And, if you think about it, a penny saved is actually MORE than a penny earned. Saving has a built-in bonus. This is because every dollar you earn is taxed, right? Let’s make math fun and look at this.
For example, let’s say you pay 20% income tax. So, to make a dollar appear in your pocket, you need to earn $1.20, right? By NOT spending a dollar, you’ve saved $1.20. Because, if you did spend that $1 in your pocket, you’d need to make $1.20 to replace it. Make sense? This is a simple little principle that shows why not spending if you can help it is actually quite the turbo-boost when it comes to achieving financial freedom.
Frugal Living Doesn’t Have to Make You Feel Cheap
Let’s not candycoat it – when you feel like a tightwad, it’s no fun. Who wants to penny pinch and obsess to the point that you can’t enjoy life? I really believe that having an abundance mindset (mantra: “money comes easily and frequently”) is a great way to release money blocks and invite more of the good stuff into your life. So, I don’t go around with a calculator all day.
That said, I do employ the frugal living tips here to drastically increase the amount of money I can save in a year, money that I’d much rather have sitting and growing than spent on stuff I really didn’t need. Here are my favorite tips for saving money like a boss, but enjoying life along the way.
Food Related Ways to Save Money
Man, it’s easy to spend money on food. When I first started budgeting I was mortified at how much money I spent to feed Josh and myself. And I’m not alone. The average couple spends an average of $625 per month on food at home and $262 per month eating out, and 36% of us hit the grocery store more than once per week. Here are a few tips to get your food related costs under control:
Frugal Living Tip 1: Make (Less Expensive but Great) Coffee at Home
Ah, coffee. The best part of the morning. I love waking up to the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen, I love that first sip… I love it all. Do not mess with my coffee.
But, it turns out we spend a crapton on coffee every year. Amerisleep did a study that showed people ages 25-34 spend on average $2,008 a year at coffee shops, whereas those 35-44 spend $1,410. And here’s a terrifying fact: Millennials are reportedly spending more on coffee than on their retirement plans.
Switching from buying coffee at coffee shops to making it at home isn’t so hard right? But what IS hard is not buying the fancy high end beans to drink at home. Personally, I don’t want to drink bland crap. Thankfully, I found a workaround.
Hear me out on this…Maxwell House Dark Roast is really, really good, and it’s affordable. We actually keep it in a glass jar because we’re sort of embarrassed for our guests to know what brand we’re serving them (plus these glass jars I use are totally pretty) but almost to a person, people exclaim what great coffee it is and ask the brand. Then Josh feels smug when telling them. Pro tip: We save even more on it and avoid having to continually go to the store to replenish our supply by setting it up as an every-two-months Amazon subscription item.
Frugal Living Tip 2: Pack a Lunch
Brown bagging it can save you thousands of dollars per year, and it’s usually better for your health. According to USA Today, on average eating out for lunch costs us $11 per meal, however making your lunch costs on average $6.30 per meal. If you do the math, that’s around $2,860 per year to eat out at lunch, vs. $1,638 to pack your own lunch, a savings of $1,222 per year, or $12,220 in 10 years.
Yes, the social aspect of eating with your colleagues is a factor…but when I worked in an office, I made Fridays special by deeming that my ‘go out with co-workers day’ each week. I got to get extra work done at my desk while I ate most days (productivity boost) and looked forward to hanging out with the gang on Fridays. In case you’re wondering: Yes, I still had friends at work. Yes, I still totally fit in 🙂
Another bonus of making your own lunch is that you know what’s in it and can keep things healthy and tailored to your nutritional needs.
Frugal Living Tip 3: Bulk Meal Prep: Plan Your Meals for the Week
Sunday is grocery shopping and meal prep day at our house. It takes me a couple of hours, and when I’m done the fridge is stocked with pretty glass containers of food.
I know, I know, you’re thinking gahh get real I don’t have time to meal prep an entire week’s worth of meals! But if you’re time starved, you don’t have time to NOT meal prep.
Meal prepping doesn’t take nearly as long as cooking a bunch of one-off meals. There are endless resources online for cheap, quick, and easy meal prep recipes. For example, Budget Bytes put together this list of 30+ budget-friendly meal prep ideas.
By prepping your meals in advance you save time and money and don’t have to get anxious every day trying to figure out what to eat. Win-win.
Frugal Living Tip 4: Make A List and Visit the Grocery Store Less
Each time you go to the grocery store, you’re tempted to pick up extras or impulse buy things that you find in your travels up and down the aisles. Reduce temptation (and save yourself time) by creating a list of “staples” to keep in stock at your home, then shop weekly to replace the staples that have run out.
I will admit I used to go to the grocery store almost every day, I liked the posh feeling of creating a new creative meal each day and for each recipe, it seemed there were always items I needed to pick up. It led to me shopping a LOT, and honestly, it got stressful trying to make gourmet meals every night.
Now, Josh and I have a shared Wunderlist where we have all of our fridge and pantry staples listed. When we run out of something, it goes to the top of the list. Then, whoever is shopping has an easy reference to what we need.
This simple trick has saved us a lot of money. And foodie me has learned to love creating simpler meals. I’ve also been astounded at the variety of meals you can prepare when you have a good set of staples at your fingertips. Our list has things like peppers, apples, milk (soy milk for me), onions, tomatoes, peanut butter, soup, broccoli and frozen meat.
Frugal Living Tip 5: Buy Frozen Meat
Speaking of meat, we choose to buy frozen meat and have saved a LOT of money this way. We like to always have a bit of steak and chicken on hand, and we wait for sales and buy frozen. I’ve been surprised to find frozen meat tastes (hold your hat) exactly. The. Same. As unfrozen meat.
We are trying to cut our meat consumption back because of how much I love animals, but we’re not quite there yet. So, in the meantime, we watch our grocery store deals app (more on this in a minute) and when we see great prices on meat, we check it out to see if it might work for us.
I fully support buying humane raised meat whenever possible, but it is quite pricey, so if you’re going that route, consider introducing a few meat-free days into your week, and choosing frozen when you can.
Frugal Living Tip 6: Install a Grocery Store Deals App on Your Phone
There are loads of apps that claim to help you save money on your groceries, but after trying a few I have to say the only one I use regularly is Flipp. It’s the fourth fasted growing app in the US for a reason. It’s free, and what it does is collate latest flyers and deals from more than 2000 of your favorite retailers (places like Walmart, Sobeys, Shoppers Drugmart etc.).
On sign up you enter your postal code, so the results are targeted at stores near you. You can search and find sales for items you want, and even add your loyalty cards to it so you don’t forget to use them at checkout. When you know what item you want, search for it, and boom…the ap will show you which stores near you are running which deals on that item. Thank you technology.
Frugal Living Tip 7: BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)
This one is simple – bring your own bags to the grocery store. It’ll save you paying for bags and save the environment. Keep a few fabric bags at the ready so you don’t forget them when it’s time to shop.
Frugal Living Tip 8: Plant a Veggie Garden (or Box)
I love plants, and though they don’t always love me back, we’ve been working on our relationship together. I used to think mini veggie gardens looked cute, but were essentially useless in shrinking one’s grocery bills, that they were more of a fun thing for people to do instead of a useful thing.
That’s until I saw my friend Brian’s two veggie boxes this year. Holy. Smokes. The amount of fresh produce Brian produced from two smallish, simple raised planter boxes blew my mind. He had almost a hundred pounds of tomatoes, bushels of basil, cucumber, zucchini, cilantro and lettuce coming out of that box like some kind of horticultural genie in a bottle. He had so much food he was constantly giving it away. And this wasn’t even a mature garden! He’d just made the boxes for the first time at the beginning of summer.
Next year I’m getting him to help me with my own veggie box, and I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. I think it’s going to save us a ton of money on fresh veggies.
Okay.. now on to the un-food related ways to save money. Let’s start with ways to save on clothing.
Frugal Living Tip 9: Buy Second Hand
Chances are there are second hand clothes stores near you. My area even has slightly higher end consignment stores where the items on the rack have been vetted and are usually in great condition.
I like to second hand shop. That feeling of the hunt and the thrill of finding a beautiful top for $5 is almost an adrenaline rush for me. After shopping exclusively second hand for many years, when I go into a “real” store I am gobsmacked at the prices for simple clothing basics.
Frugal Living Tip 10: Consign Your Clothes
When you’re bored of your clothes, load them up into a bag and march them down to your local consignment store. You can easily make hundreds of dollars on the stuff you’re no longer wearing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Over the years I’ve made pretty good money consigning things I no longer want or need.
Frugal Living Tip 11: Host a Clothes Swap
My girlfriends and I host clothing swaps a couple of times a year. We all get together with the clothes we don’t want (I have already pulled out items I want to consign instead of swap when I do this). At the swap, we put out a few bottles of wine and some snacks, lay out our piles of clothes carefully, then basically descend on each other’s piles like a swarm of locusts.
I am always amazed at the high end, beautiful and just super fun stuff I walk away from at these swaps. At the end of the swap, whoever hosted takes the leftovers that didn’t get picked to the local charity.
Sometimes when we’re feeling especially silly, we add a game into our clothes swap: If two people want the same thing, they each have to explain why THEY deserve it most. My one friend Joy always starts her request off with the same mournful beginning “Well.. I don’t have much money and I live in a tiny bachelor apartment…” which sets us all off into fits of giggles, because though it’s true she lives in a bachelor apartment, Joy isn’t exactly a penniless wallflower. Try a clothes swap with your friends and you’ll be glad you did.
Frugal Living Tip 12: Don’t Window Shop
I try not to go to malls much, or wander clothing stores unless I have things I know I actually need. It’s just way too dang tempting to fall in love with something while you’re browsing. Why torture yourself!
Instead of always being on that hedonistic treadmill of wanting more, new and better, take pride in and care of the clothes you already own, and don’t put yourself in harm’s way by dangling shiny new things in front of yourself.
Frugal Living Tip 13: Use Rewards Credit Cards…Maybe
When using a credit card, shop around for one with a great rewards program. Points are awesome! I will mention an interesting caveat though: Statistically, we all typically spend 15% to 23% more for our purchases when we use credit cards. Something about that plastic in our hand makes us less connected to the amount of money we’re spending and willing to shell out more. So, unless you’re careful, you’ll pay for your points whether you like it or not.
However, there is one way to avoid this: use your card for fixed expenses (things you have to buy each month that always have the same cost, for example: cable, internet, gas, transit cares, phone, Netflix.
Of course, you should pay your balance off in full each month to avoid getting dinged. If you carry a balance, you’ll cancel out any benefit your points are giving you. Just to be sure you never miss a payment, set a reminder in your calendar or set up automatic bill payments to your card.
I buy everything on one credit card and pay it off each month. Usually each year I end up earning about $1,000 in rewards, which I put toward airline flights. Not too shabby, right?
Frugal Living Tip 14: Use a Cash in Envelope or Colored Wallet System
Now, to completely contradict what I just said about using a points card, another system that many people love is the cash in envelope system. It’s simple: you budget what you need for each type of expenditure each month (clothes, entertainment, food etc.) then for each category you fill envelopes or different colored wallets with the right amount of money for the month. When the cash runs out, you stop buying.
This is an excellent way to ensure you stay on budget. For me personally, I like my credit card points too much to use this system, but I can totally see why it works for load of people and may even give it a try myself one day. Some people go halfers and use plastic for fixed expenses and cash envelopes for variable expenses.
Frugal Living Tip 15: Visit the Dollar Store for Household Basics
To save money on some of the staples you’d normally get at the grocery store, check out your local dollar store. Garbage bags, Ziploc bags, cleaners, toothbrushes, and even some basic food supplies are all there at a deeply discounted price. It’s a bit shocking to see those same garbage bags you paid $5.67 for at the grocery store chain on sale for $1.25, hey? Do check out your local dollar store stock up on the stuff you know you use and need.
Frugal Living Tip 16: Don’t Overspend on Cosmetics
If you’ve wandered a cosmetics aisle lately, you were probably bombarded with lotions and potions claiming to make you younger brighter and just overall, better. Most of these claims are pretty much BS. We’re paying so much for impressive sounding potions and elixirs without really knowing what the ingredients even do. You likely do need a few cosmetic staples though, things like moisturizer and sunscreen. There’s no sense paying top dollar for marketing claims that don’t actually work though, right?
To learn about which products actually have what my skin needs and won’t break the bank, lately I’ve been loving watching a dermatologist’s YouTube channel. Dr. Dray is a dermatologist who gives you the straight goods. She’s a real person, funny and very informative on her “day in the life of a dermatologist” YouTube channel where she slips into stores and quietly reviews the products on the shelves right there. This video was awesome in helping me select a moisturizer that actually worked for me and that wasn’t ridiculously priced.
Frugal Living Tip 17: Skip The Masseuse and Buy a Self-Massager
I live for massages. But my love of getting my muscles unclenched was costing me so much money. I bought lots of little gadgets and gizmos to try to self-massage between appointments, but they never really did much other than clutter up my office. Then one day Josh bought me a present – a high quality shoulder massager (this one to be precise, which we found originally at Costco, and we know they do their homework around which are the best products. It cost about the same as one professional massage would, and because of how incredibly well it works, I was able to stop getting professional massages and just use this awesome tool to get right into my muscles and relax.
I am a tough customer when it comes to massage—I need a deep and precise massage to my shoulders to get them to relax. This tool did it. It’s really incredible.
I pull it out at parties a lot and inevitably someone falls down the “massage hole” and leaves the party to go sit on the couch and commune with this massager for an hour or more. So, with a good massager at my fingertips, there’s no need to drive to the masseuse, no cost each time I need a rub down.. I love it. The key for me was to buy a GOOD massager. It’s an investment up front, but saves loads down the line.
Frugal Living Tip 18: Cancel Your Gym Membership and Work Out at Home
Okay I know this one might be a bit controversial. If you’re a gym rat and love going to the gym, by all means carry on with that—I’ll never dissuade someone from being healthy! But if you’re like me and only go sometimes…consider cancelling that membership and working out at home. Now with the magic of the internet, there are literally thousands of videos on YouTube.
My morning ritual is to pull out my yoga mat, fire up YouTube and search for something like “ten minute bodyweight only workout” or “30-min yoga class”. I fire up a video, do my workout, roll up my mat and begin my day. You can even subscribe to an online workout program (Gaia is cool) for far less than a traditional gym membership, but I’ve found so many great free videos that I haven’t even bothered to do that.
Frugal Living Tip 19: Ditch Cable
It’s 2020. You know you don’t need cable. Netflix and Amazon Prime and other streaming services basically kick cables butt these days. We use Netflix and share the subscription with my brother to cut the annual cost in half.
Frugal Living Tip 20: Look for a Cheaper Phone Plan
Most folks are paying more than twice as much as they need to for cell phone service! The biggest reason for that is because they haven’t shopped around and are just they’re blindly paying the overpriced plans they signed up for 5 years ago.
When it comes to your cell phone costs, it SO pays to shop around. Do a quick comparison of offerings then call your current provider and ask them to match the best price you found. Be nice on the phone, be patient and be willing to ask to speak with someone in the retention department if the first person you speak to can’t help. This simple ask has saved me hundreds of dollars a year on my cell phone bill. Wherever possible, avoid getting locked into a contract, as being able to switch providers at any time gives you way more negotiating power.
Frugal Living Tip 21: Reduce Bank Fees
Take a close look at what your bank fees add up to. Consider calling up to ask for a better rate and/or switching to another institution with better rates if you’re paying too much. Always try to keep the threshold amount of cash that your bank requires you have in your account so your monthly fee is waived.
And check out online banks like Tangerine as places to park your money and always have easy access to it but where it will also be earning around 2.75% interest instead of just floundering around in a blah interest regular bank account doing nothing. Tangerine has been awesome for me as a way to save money (the accounts are free) and make good interest. Banks should pay you, not the other way around!
Frugal Living Tip 22: Buy Insurance Annually
Try to buy insurance annually if you can. Though that annual bill can feel like a tough pill to swallow, the math is on your side. Paying everything up front each year saves hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I like to set up an insurance account in Tangerine that automatically pulls $100 per month from my day-to-day account for me. Then at the end of the year when insurance is due, I’ve got the money all ready to go and don’t have to spend more for the monthly payment option. Plus, I feel a bit baller paying it all upfront.
Well that’s it for the round up of frugal living ideas for 2020. Remember, in the game of saving, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Making small adjustments here and there can add up to a lot of money in the bank. And what is money in the bank, ultimately? It’s freedom, baby! What frugal living tips do YOU love? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.