Who doesn’t need frugal living tips? Some rich people, maybe. The rest of us love them.
But even rich people could probably do with a few frugal living tips. Because even if they have all they need, the more they save, the more they can bequeath to their children, help others or give to charity.
But the reality is, you’ll likely be as frugal as you need to be. Some people take penny-pinching too far and some spend more than they can afford, but the people in the middle save when they can so they can spend more on what really matters to them.
Frugal Living Strategy
When I was married and had two little kids, I had to figure out how four people could live comfortably on one income. Because child care is so expensive in Washington D.C., if I had kept working, three-quarters or more of my salary at that time would have gone to taxes and day care and related expenses like commuting and parking.
Plus the kids’ father traveled a lot, which would have left me trying to manage a full-time job with all the drop-offs and pickups, not to mention the regular responsibilities of a home and children – like illnesses, trips to the doctor, baths, stories, bedtime, shopping, meals, laundry, and more.
One of my favorite books at the time was Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy. Although my kids are practically grown now, I still have the book, dog-eared and stained though it is.
Save Money by Not Working
It begins by challenging women — although men can certainly take the same challenge — to add up how much it costs you to work and to see if you can afford to stay home. At first, you think it’s impossible, but when you run the numbers, you might see it’s not.
Taxes take a big chunk of your salary. But also factor in expenses like the clothes you need for the office, dry cleaning, and the inevitable lunches, coffees and prepared foods you’ll end up buying.
You’ll still come up short, and that’s where making changes to your budget and lifestyle will (hopefully) balance the equation.
I learned how to sew and cook a wider variety of foods, I planted a vegetable garden, I learned to be a savvier shopper and I hosted birthday parties at home. To this day, I still buy most of my clothes at a second-hand shop. My daughter has followed in my footsteps and often pairs up with a like-minded buddy of hers and they hit the thrift shops. This allows us to save money for what’s really important to us.
We both like to save some money so we have a cushion in case of emergency. I love to travel. She loves to go to concerts. Sometimes when I travel, I camp. Sometimes when she goes to concerts she packs a pb&j so she doesn’t have to spend money eating out.
Making it Work for You
Living frugal tips are great, but some of them just won’t apply to you. Packing your lunch instead of eating out can save a lot of money, but only if you don’t already do that. Or maybe you don’t even eat lunch. So try to adapt the ideas below to your lifestyle whenever possible.
And keep in mind that it can be challenging if your partner isn’t with you in this endeavor. If you scrimp and save to stretch every dollar and your partner thinks — cha-ching! — and buys some new clothes, electronics or whatever they’re into, it negates everything you do.
Not only will it render you unsuccessful in your efforts, it can deal a severe blow to your relationship. Make some rules and cross your fingers that you both do your best to follow them.
1. Buy used.
If it’s important to you to get the latest styles, you may do less of this on the clothing side, but you can still do it. My son is fashion-conscious, but he knew we didn’t have much money, so he would text me pictures of items he wanted like Timberlands or a Helly Hansen jacket he would find on eBay or Craigslist. I would indulge him in these as often as I could, wanting to reward his industry and thriftiness in hopes it would stick.
But even brand-new styles can sometimes be had at a discount. Maybe someone’s child outgrew their clothes quickly or received a gift in the wrong size. It doesn’t hurt to look at used first.
We also bought used electronics. We didn’t have $800 for a new phone. You have to be careful with electronics so you don’t get cheated, however. The best way is to choose sellers with lots of positive feedback.
2. Grow your own.
If you enjoy the outdoors and gardening, this can be fun. I used to grow my own strawberries, then make jam out of them. The investment in the jars is one-time, so the only expense is for the sugar and envelope of pectin. One batch yields 12 jars of jelly.
I was also a big fan of salads, so I grew my own lettuce, spinach, kale, peppers, and tomatoes. I also grew green and yellow beans, and I experimented with watermelons and cantaloupe (that didn’t go so well).
3. Make your own.
You can’t grow pancake syrup, but you can make it. I know because I did.
I got my recipe from Miserly Moms. My kids loved pancakes, waffles, and French toast when they were little, and honestly, the syrup isn’t a huge expense, but it’s only pennies to make it yourself. I boiled sugar and water and added maple flavoring. Eventually, as we used it up, the sugar would crystalize into rock candy, which I would feed to the kids as a special treat.
Another recipe I got from Miserly Moms was for fast-food french fries. It takes a bit of time, but it’s not complex and potatoes are some of the cheapest foods you can buy.
I also bought a bread machine. Many breads have only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Measure, place in pan, press buttons, walk away. It was much faster than driving to the store to buy bread.
A Crock-Pot became an integral part of the way I managed meals as well. As the kids grew and activities became constant, I grew anxious at the thought of driving them both around for hours and returning home to nothing but cold pots and pans.
With a slow cooker, you put the ingredients in when you start your day, and when you arrive home in the evening, a delicious meal is waiting for you. Start the bread machine up too, and when you open your front door, the heavenly scents of stew and homemade bread will make you glad you are so resourceful.
4. Try to learn other useful skills.
No one taught me how to sew, I just read the manual for the sewing machine and taught myself. I didn’t make fancy dresses, but I made my kids’ pajamas, sweatshirts and other simple items of clothing.
I learned how to mend tears, I bought fun patches to sew on the knees of jeans with holes and I fixed snaps that wouldn’t stay snapped.
I was always good with tools, so I replaced the screens on my porch myself. I framed, insulated and built basement walls, I built a treehouse and I made my own window cornices and headboard, then covered them with foam and fabric.
These updates weren’t always things we would have otherwise paid for, but they made us feel like we were lucky to have new things.
Your talents may lie elsewhere. Maybe you can teach your children to play instruments or create art or repair the plumbing or change the oil in your car. All these are valuable skills that save money not just for you, but for your kids, should they choose to continue to live a frugal lifestyle as adults.
Using frugal living tips doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself any of the pleasures that others have. You can still travel, wear nice clothes, eat delicious food and have fun with your children. Just do it in a way that makes good economic sense.
You may see your friends and neighbors living differently, but remember, you don’t know how much debt they have or if they have any savings.
The best frugal living tips are the ones that work for you. Browse our site and look for other posts that can help you save more while living better.