Life, as we all know, can sure get expensive. As wages continue to be stagnant and living expenses keep climbing, living frugally is no longer just for the extreme couponer or the minimalist. Luckily, there are tons of easy things to change in your everyday life when you’re looking for ways to cut back, save more and get your bank account total back up.
Frugal living might seem restrictive, but deciding on a frugal lifestyle has a ton of benefits. Not only will you earn financial freedom and save money, but you'll be able to add to your net worth, build your retirement income and cut back on debt. It may not seem like living frugally will help you connect with family and live a full life, but trust me — frugal living is worth it.
Here are a few tips that can help you live more frugally and help you gain more financial freedom.
1. Make a budget and stick to it.
It sounds simple enough, but the first step to living frugally is to make a budget and plan to stick with it. Think about all of your expenses: rent or mortgage, health insurance, car payment or public transportation costs, student loan payments, groceries, bills, clothing, an entertainment budget, etc.
Although you don’t have to necessarily subscribe to an extreme budget plan, it’s good to think about where all of your money is going each month. Your budget is completely dependent on what your particular life circumstances are, but typically you’ll want to have a budget that looks like the following:
- Housing: 35 percent
- Transportation: 15 percent
- Groceries/dining: 12 percent
- Savings: 10 percent
- Debt Repayment: 5 percent
- Utilities: 10 percent
- Clothing: 5 percent
- Entertainment: 5 percent
- Miscellaneous: 3 percent
Once you have an idea of how you want to budget, figure out what your monthly take-home pay and calculate how much money you’ll be spending on each category. Start a spreadsheet of your monthly expenses to develop ideas about how you’re doing and try to be as disciplined as you can.
2. Make a grocery list.
Sure, wandering around the grocery store to see what looks good for the week is always fun, but it might not be the best use of your time (or your money). Before you head to the grocery store, make a meal plan and write down all of the ingredients you need for the week and any other necessities you need.
It might seem old school, but taking your list to the store with you (with a pen to cross off your items as you put them in your basket) is one of the best ways to ensure that you won’t grab too many things that aren’t on your list and save you some major cash. If you just go in for toilet paper, you should only come out with toilet paper — that's frugal shopping!
3. Skip the bookstore and get a library card.
As you may already be aware, millennials love public libraries, and it’s easy to see why — most cities or towns have one, they are free to use and are filled with books, movies, magazines and free Wi-Fi.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve pulled your library card out of your wallet — or if you’ve never actually been in your local library — consider paying it a visit. Not only will you get access to free books, but you’ll also be able to use all of the library’s helpful resources like help with your taxes, career fairs and classes on everything from adult literacy to computer software.
4. Make coffee at home.
Although it’s tempting to stop by your regular coffee shop and order “the usual” — think about how much money you’re potentially spending each and every week. Even if you don’t go too fancy and just have a regular cup of drip coffee, you’re still looking at about $3 a cup. If you go every single weekday, that’s $15 a week. That adds up to a grand total of $780 a year — and we haven’t even added in the cost of that occasional chocolate croissant. The key to being a frugal shopper is buying things only when you need them, so utilize frugal recipes when you can for a major money save.
The bottom line? You’ll save money if you have your morning cup of joe at your house. With all of the popular coffee gadgets that are out there like French presses and Chemex, you can enjoy a cup of coffee that rivals your local coffeehouse.
5. Pack your lunch.
Is there anything more annoying than figuring out what you’re going to have lunch? For some reason, it’s the most difficult meal to figure out how to squeeze in or plan for properly. It might be tempting to sneak out of the office and grab a sandwich or salad from the restaurant in your building or down the street, but try to resist the urge because it’s costing you.
Brown bagging it might not be as fun as going to lunch with your coworkers, but the money you’ll save might make up for that. Pack up last night’s leftovers or put together a simple sandwich or fruit salad to eat in the office break room (or let’s be honest, while you’re watching Netflix at your desk).
6. DIY your cleaning supplies.
Americans are pretty attached to their cleaning supplies. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, an average household spends about $42 per month on cleaning supplies. That’s a whopping $502 per year just to buy the supplies necessary to clean our homes!
To cut down on those astronomical costs, try DIYing your cleaning supplies instead of buying. Not only will this help you save money, but it’ll also be a greener alternative to most store-bought cleaning supplies, which often have a lot of chemicals that are harmful to the environment (not to mention kids and pets).
From bathroom cleaner to laundry detergent to everyday all-purpose cleaner, most of the ingredients you’ll need to make your own will be baking soda, vinegar and lemon. Look up some DIY tutorials, buy some empty spray bottles and get to mixing.
7. Cut down your utility bills.
No one loves to pay bills, but they’re a necessary part of life. Of course, you have to have heating/cooling, electricity, gas and water, but when you’re trying to live more frugally, think about different ways you can save money by cutting down on your utilities. Try to rely on natural light during the daylight hours instead of leaving the lights on. Unless you have small children or immunity-compromised folks living in the house, try to resist the urge to turn the thermostat up or down as long as possible and instead, bundle up with blankets or cool down with fans.
You could also make your A/C run more efficiently by having a professional check the efficiency of your system or purchasing a new one entirely. Although it might be a hefty upfront cost, it could potentially save you thousands in the long run.
Also, rely on the classic “dad-isms” when trying to cut costs on utilities like always being sure to turn lights off when you leave a room, keep the outside door shut so you don’t let any of the cool/warm air out and unplugging electronics when they’re not in use.
8. Reject those store credit cards.
How many times have you been at the checkout of your favorite store and the cashier asks you as she’s totaling your items, “Would you like to sign up for the Fancy Name Credit Card to save 15 percent?” It might be tempting to save $20 in the short term, but all that store credit card is going to do is help you rack up more debt than what you already have.
Credit cards tend to get a bad rap (though there’s certainly a time and a place for them) but generally speaking, it’s much better to pay cash for things that are non-essentials — like that gorgeous pair of boots you bought even when you have a perfectly good pair at home. Limiting your number of credit cards is one of the best frugal living tips you can undergo to make your day-to-day a little easier.
9. Buy fresh instead of pre-made.
When you’re grocery shopping, it’s often easier to reach for the pre-made meals and pre-cut veggies instead of buying things that require you to dice, slice and prepare. However, this is costing you major dollars. Not only is buying fresh ingredients (as opposed to pre-made) going to save you money, but it’ll also likely be more beneficial for your health.
Pre-made meals and snacks tend to contain more preservatives and ingredients that aren’t as healthy as preparing a meal yourself. Although it may take you a little more time to prepare a meal, your wallet and your body will thank you for your efforts.
10. “Go out” at home.
Everyone loves to blow off steam on the weekends — by going on a shopping spree, hanging out at the newest restaurant or bar in town or going to the movies on Friday night. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going out every once in awhile and having a great time, but after several weekends out in a row, you’ll start to notice a dip in your bank account.
When you’re trying to be more frugal, consider spending a “night out” at home in the comforts of your pajamas. Instead of going to see a movie in the theater, scroll through Netflix to see what the latest films or documentaries are to watch. Instead of going to a bar and ordering an expensive cocktail, pick up the ingredients at a liquor store and make it at home for cheap.
Living frugally doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be a hermit and never leave your house, but trying to be more conservative with your money and only spending it on an occasional night out should be good for your savings account. Choose to spend a night in with your family or friends (or other frugal people) to keep your costs low.
11. Take a look at your monthly subscriptions.
Subscription boxes are the new thing, and everyone loves looking forward to getting a package in the mail. Whether you receive a weekly Plated box full of meals to prepare or you get a Birchbox every month filled with beauty supplies, those costs can add up.
If you get a subscription box or have a subscription service such as Netflix or Hulu, pay attention to how much you’re actually using these services. Are they an integral part of your life, or are they simply accruing charges on your debit account and not being used? As soon as you figure out what you’re not using, be sure to cancel your account and give you some extra cash for the month.
Jamie Birdwell-Branson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Zillow, Elle Decor, BobVila.com, Today.com, and many others. She is passionate about gender equality in the workplace, books, and puppies.