Tips For Frugal Living -- Budgeting And Trimming The Fat
Yes, I know, there are a gazillion web pages about how to save money ... and here's one more.
Budgeting and saving have always been important to me, and I was taught to do so from an early age. And that's led to a fairly comfortable though frugal lifestyle, while still being able to take some nice vacations and splurge a bit now and again.
I believe this is something anyone can achieve, and, to me, keeping a budget (and living just a little below our means) is a big part of the equation. Looking at ways to cut down on expenses is also really important, so I thought I'd put together my own list of suggestions. And there's also a place for you to add yours below.
Quick disclaimer: I want to acknowledge that some folks are faced with the loss of a job, a serious accident or medical illness, for example, that makes saving impossible. Quite the opposite! So when I say that it's something anyone can achieve, I mean barring major financially catastrophic events which often can't be foreseen. That being said....
A Favorite Frugal Quote:
Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Or do without.
This saying was used frequently during the Great Depression.
From pinching pennies to saving thousands of dollars....
Here are a bunch of suggestions to consider in the "spend less" category. Many -- or even most -- of them may fall into the "duh!" and "that's old news" categories too, but it doesn't hurt to review once in a while, to see where you (or, speaking for myself, I) can do better.
So in no particular order, here's my brainstorm of ideas ranging from big to very, very small, some with links to more information:
1. Buy in bulk (as long as you know you'll use it all). That doesn't mean you have to go to Sam's Club or Costco. Even at your regular grocery store, both edible and non-edible goods are often cheaper per unit when you buy bigger packages. This might include toilet paper, rice, beans, pasta, garbage bags, etc. Here's an article from WalletPop about the best items to buy in bulk.
2. Re-use plastic grocery bags for wastebasket trash bags, lunch bags for work, or even doggie poopie pick-up bags. (Just check for holes for the latter!)
3. Cut down on processed foods and cook from scratch. Crock pots are a great way to cook with little effort, not to mention while you're asleep. And the meals can last for a few days.
4. Eat in more and out less. Eating out less can save a LOT. If you're going out twice a week, cut down to once. If once a week, try for every other week.
5. When you do eat out, consider places where you can order and pick up at the counter. This can save on tips. (Although leaving a little something in the tip jar is a good thing, if the service is good that is.)
6. Take advantage of happy hours and two-for-one deals. At one local shop, we can get two smoothies for the price of one between 4 and 6pm. (Better yet, we save even more when we make them at home in our blender.)
7. Turn off lights when you leave the room.
8. Turn off strip-switches when electronics aren't in use. Turn off DVD and CD players, for example.
9. Shut down the computer when it's not in use.
10. Use compact fluorescent bulbs, not incandescent.
11. Turn down the thermostat at least a few degrees and wear fleece, down booties, etc. Put an extra blanket on the bed. Maybe try fleece or flannel sheets, also. According to the Alliance To Save Engergy, for every degree you lower your thermostat, you can subtract 5% from your bill. I read that an Energy Star programmable Thermostat will save more than twice its price in a year as it adjusts the temperature for you when you're away or asleep.
12. Pay bills online to save postage and checks, not to mention avoid late fees.
13. Bike and walk instead of drive. It's good for you, too!
14. Grow a vegetable garden (or even just mix in veggies with your landscaping). Container gardening is another possibility. At one time, we were spending less than $200 per month on groceries while growing much of our own food.
15. Buy store or no-name brands (unless the name brand is less with a coupon or store special).
16. Use washable rags instead of paper towels. You can make rags out of old clothes instead of throwing them away.
17. Use cloth napkins instead of disposable paper napkins.
18. Stay at campgrounds instead of hotels. (To me, it's more fun anyway.) Looking for free campgrounds and RV parks? Check outFreeCamping.net.
19. Pay off credit cards at the end of each month, but get the cash rewards. (We make several hundred dollars a year this way, and we use our cards only for things we'd buy anyway, such as gas and groceries.)
20. Shop with a list and make lists by recipe. Don't impulse buy. (This applies to things other than groceries, too.)
21. Rent or stream (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime) movies instead of going to the theater. But if you do go to the movie theater, go to the less expensive matinees.
22. Sign up for paperless bill statements. Some companies give you a small discount each month for doing so. The same also sometimes applies to auto-withdrawals. We saved $5/month on our cable internet bill by having the company charge the bill to our credit card each month and send an email invoice.
23. Cut out soda pop. Even diet soda. It's just not good for you. (And I actually lost weight when I cut out Diet Coke.)
24. Make coffee at home. Those stops at the coffeeshop or drive-through coffee places can really add up.
25. Bundle services (ie. long-distance phone, cellphone, satellite TV, internet). Some companies give you a bulk discount for doing so.
26. Sign up for cell phone family plans. Compare family plans by various cell companies at MyRatePlan.com.
27. Go the speed limit. Speeding wastes gas, so I'm told.
28. Accelerate evenly, don't take off like a bat outa Hades. Also saves gas, I hear.
29. Do your own oil changes. Learn how on About.com in this step-by-step article.
30. Clean and detail your vehicle yourself (or bribe your kids).
31. Look for free festivals, free days at local museums, free tours. I find out about these in our local paper online, on fliers around town, and on our city's website.
32. Take up hiking and walking. It's a pastime that's fun, good for you, and pretty much free.
33. Cross-country ski and snowshoe instead of paying to downhill ski or snowboard. (I know, some folks would say that's blasphemy.)
34. Shop at second-hand stores for more than just clothing. Sometimes, the stuff is actually new.
35. Trade/barter on Craigslist.org, for one. (Look for your state, city and then the bartering section. There's also a free section, and you can post what you're looking for, not just what you have.)
36. Check out Freecycle.org for free stuff in your area.
37. Don't buy expensive shampoos and conditioners. Personally, I find Suave is just fine for my sensitive, curly hair. Costs less than $2 each compared to some fancier brands that are $5 or more per bottle.
38. Use the back of waste paper for note-taking before discarding.
39. Refill ink cartridges rather than buying new. I get mine refilled at the local Walgreens drugstore.
40. Read the news online instead of getting the paper.
41. Sew and patch clothing. Sometimes you have to downgrade it to pajamas or work clothes, but might as well make the stuff last.
42. Wash clothing inside-out to make it wear longer. (This one comes from my husband, who swears it makes a difference.)
43. Compare gas prices in your area. There are websites where you can check, including GasBuddy.com.
44. Plan your errands for the shortest, most direct route. Don't backtrack from one place to another. Another gas saver.
45. Unplug battery chargers and electronics that operate by remote when not in use, because they still draw power when they're off. You can also buy a device that will do this for you, such as a Smart Strip Energy Saving Power Strip, which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are off and pay for itself within a few months.
46. Use low-flow shower heads.
47. Take shorter showers. (I know, this is a tough one.) Or maybe turn the water off while shampooing or soaping up.
48. Use a clothesline in nice weather instead of the dryer.
49. Don't buy bottled water. Filter from your sink if necessary.
50. Reuse gift bags and decorative tissue paper from gifts you receive.
More Ideas To Keep More Of Your Hard-Earned Money
....in your bank account, your wallet and maybe even your mattress
51. Take off your shoes and save on (or avoid) carpet cleaning.
52. Pull shades and close blinds at night to help keep in the heat.
53. Pay auto insurance (usually six months' worth) in one lump sum if at all possible. Don't pay the fees usually associated with spread out, monthly payments.
54. Buy used vehicles, not new. This can save many thousands of dollars, which is a no-brainer, I know. You may get a much better deal on the used vehicle you want by buying from a private individual instead of a dealership. Just be sure to have the vehicle checked beforehand.
55. Have your teeth cleaned at a college or university with a dental program. Sometimes this is even free.
56. Get your hair cut at a beauty school. Sometimes this is also free.
57. Cut out lotions and perfumes and any other unnecessary toiletries.
58. Xeriscape to save water, maintenance and time. Read more about xeriscapingon WikiHow.
59. Wash dishes only when the dishwasher is full. Or wash in the sink and use a drying rack.
60. Adjust the clothes washer water level to suit size of the load. Better yet, don't do laundry until the washer is full.
61. Use the public library instead of buying books and magazines. You can usually get movies at the library, too. And some libraries have a sales area, where books and magazines cost less than a dollar.
62. Cut out cable or satellite TV. (I know, for some folks this is impossible.) Or at least consider dropping premium channels and movie channel packages. You can watch many shows for free on your computer, by using Hulu. You can hook your computer up to your TV monitor (some do this wirelessly) and watch through your TV without paying Hulu for a premium package if you don't want it. (But that package is less than satellite or cable TV, anyway.)
63. Use just a cell phone instead of a cell phone and land line. Consider calling over the internet for free, with a service like Skype.
64. Maybe look for a property caretaking or housesitting arrangement (or job) to save on rent/mortgage payments and even earn extra money (or a full salary) in some cases. We did this for years and saved LOTS. For more information, see my article, Property Caretaking: How To Get The Job And Make The Most Of It.
65. If renting, especially from a private landlord and not an apartment complex, see if there's any work you can do around the place to save some rent. When we once rented part of a private home, we did lawn care and house cleaning and saved a couple hundred dollars a month.
66. Pay a little more on your mortgage each month and potentially save thousands over the life of the loan. Your lender can calculate this for you if you're considering making that monthly extra a consistent amount. Or make one extra payment per year.
67. Consider volunteering. How can this SAVE you money? Well, sometimes there are perks for certain volunteer efforts besides the personal satisfaction. I'm making a real general statement here, but I know of some volunteers who receive free admission to certain places and others who get meals. Just a thought.
68. Go to a community college for the first year or two to take some of the basic courses and make sure you know what you want to major in. If then transferring, go to an in-state university. This can save many thousands of dollars--perhaps tens of thousands--as opposed to four years of university and/or going out of state.
69. Consolidate your debts. Here's some information on WikiHow: How to Choose a Debt Management Program.
70. If going to places--especially food vendors--that charge a fee for using a credit card, take enough cash instead. A quarter here, 50 cents there can add up. You can keep that spare cash in part of your wallet or purse you don't open that often, so you're less inclined to spend it spontaneously and have to use only when needed.
71. Keep your checkbook register balanced, so you always know how much you've got in there and therefore won't bounce checks. Those fees are expensive!
72. Avoid using out-of-network ATM's. Plan ahead to avoid the fees.
73. Make sure you leave enough in your bank account to avoid possible fees for falling below an average monthly balance. If necessary, put that amount in the account but don't record it in the register, to pretend it isn't there. Or, rather, use no minimum balance, no fee accounts.
74. Insulate your water heater. If made before 2004, it's probably not insulated well enough, so wrap it in an insulating jacket. You'll save 10% per year on your water-heating bill.
75. Test your toilet for leaks by putting a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color appears in the bowl, your tank is leaking, which could mean you're wasting as much as 200 gallons of water each day.
76. Consider turning down your water heater. 120 degrees Fahrenheit is plenty.
77. Check weather-stripping around windows and doors to make sure it's in good condition, or add it if it's not there already.
78. Wash your laundry in cold water instead of hot and reduce the energy use by 50%.
79. Set your dryer to the moisture sensor instead of the timer. This can decrease your energy use by 15%.
80. Bring a bag lunch to work. Don't go out or order in.
81. If available, use community gyms rather than the pricier fitness centers. And/or take up cheaper or free forms of exercise, like running, walking or cycling. There are often local groups that get together to do these things socially, if you prefer company.
82. Carpool for work or for play.
83. Consolidate your auto insurance and homeowners or renter's insurance with the same company, which usually means a good discount. And if your insurance company is going to raise your rates, shop around. And let them know you're shopping around, because that can stop the increase right there. It's happened to us.
84. When traveling, try to do so in the off-season, and also look into bundling your airfare with a rental car and/or lodging. This can save hundreds of dollars compared to purchasing these services separately.
85. Consider raising your auto insurance deductible to save on premiums. Think about how much your car is worth versus how much coverage you have.
86. Pass up a really good deal if you don't really need it. Just because something is selling at half-price or a buy-two-get-one-free deal, really consider whether or not it's something you need.
87. Use mail order prescription programs. I've found that I can get a 3-month supply for a single month's copay. Walgreens has this program. So does AARP, to name just a couple.
88. Request generic medications instead of name brand. If you don't ask for it, sometimes you don't get it. Make sure your doctor indicates that the generic substitute is okay on the prescription.
89. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. This makes for more efficient gas consumption.
90. Instead of buying gifts, consider making or doing things for people. This might include cleaning their home or car, doing some yard work or home improvement project. You might cook them a nice meal or bake them some goodies. You can give homemade gift coupons for things you'll do for someone rather than things you'll buy. The ideas are endless.
91. Have a friend who wears the same size clothing and/or shoes? Maybe do a clothing exchange once in a while instead of buying new stuff.
92. Use a drip system to water outdoor plants instead of a hose or sprinkler. And water early in the day or in the evening to avoid excessive evaporation. Install a timing system if necessary.
93. Try and try again to give up expensive habits, like smoking or drinking alcohol. Or at least cut back a certain amount per week or month. It's a start!
94. Swap babysitting and pet-sitting with your friends or those referred by your friends.
95. Lose weight if necessary and get fit. This will not only improve your health and probably your self-esteem but can cut down on trips to the doctor and medications as well, which equals cost-cutting. It might even cut your health insurance premiums.
96. If you do carry a balance on your credit cards, call your credit card company and request a lower rate. If you don't get what you ask for, shop around for a different card.
97. Swap books, CDs, DVDs and games with friends. That means fresh stuff for everyone without having to buy anything.
98. If you don't have a forced air system, shut vents in unused or rarely used rooms.
99. Keep a budget! If you have to record your expenses, you're probably less likely to spend unnecessarily and to keep track of where you can save.
100. Get organized! Being able to see what you have and get to it (ie. food, clothing, etc.) means you don't go out and buy something you've already got or let things go bad (especially food).
Spend a Little to Save a Lot
You can buy this book used and spend even less.
Author Ellie Kay’s practical advice will show you:
- How one phone call could save you $500 a year or more
- How your kids can get a great education without breaking the bank
- Three ways your water heater can save you money
- Why giving away money is one of the best ways to save it
- How to save up to 50% on your online purchases
Plus hundreds of other tips that will loosen your budget without sacrificing your lifestyle.
Create a budget
Keeping Track Of The Money That Comes In And The Money That Goes Out
How I Budget
I've been a dedicated budget-keeper for many years, which has helped me save a good amount despite my modest income.
Seeing where your money comes from and where it goes, and how much in any particular category, is a real eye-opener and, in my opinion, the only way to properly and effectively manage your finances. It's also a great way to remember to "pay yourself first," as the saying goes -- to designate a certain portion of your income that goes directly to your savings account each week or each month before you spend a dime of it.
Budgeting can certainly be done on paper with a ledger book, but doing so with a computer program is much easier once you get the hang of it. It also allows you to view reports and graphs to more easily get the big picture and also to plan ahead and "play" with the numbers.
A computer budget program will also allow you to reallocate funds from one category to another, if, for example, you find you spent less than anticipated in one category but need or want to spend more in another for the month.
Me, I use Microsoft Money, which I really like. But the program is no longer available for purchase. For that reason, I recommend (and have also used) Quicken. It's very user friendly and an excellent tool, with many budget groups and categories to choose from, and you can also make up your own.
These are some of the budget groups and categories you might use:
**Some of these categories may be zero, but you might create them in case you realize some income in those areas, such as gifts, refunds and commissions for example.
- Net Salary (spouse) **after taxes and other paycheck deductions
- Net Salary (me) **after taxes and other paycheck deductions
- Bank Interest
- Credit Card Rewards
- Online Income
- Mortgage (or Rent)
- Maintenance and Repair
- Lawn care
- Cleaning Service
- Cable/Satellite TV
- Telephone (Cell phone only)
- Natural Gas
- Home Owners
- Annual Registration
- Auto Club (AAA)
- Dining Out
- Fitness Club Dues
- Accountant Fees
- Property Taxes
- State Income Tax (last year)
- Federal Income Tax (last year)
- Estimated Quarterly Taxes
- Pet Supplies
- Online accounts (ie. hosting service, domain names)