By Debra Pangestu
One of the keys to gain control of your finances and pay off debt – apart from creating a budget and sticking to a debt repayment plan – is learning how to live frugally. The term “frugality” is often associated with pinching pennies and depriving yourself of things that bring you joy, when in fact the opposite is true.
Frugal living isn’t about living as cheaply as you can. Rather, it’s about making mindful choices that allows you to save money so that you can pay off your debt faster and enjoy the small – and big – things in life.
To live frugally, you just need to keep a simple personal finance mantra in mind: spend less than you earn. Achieving this can be done through a combination of rationalizing your spending and cutting your expenses in different areas of your life.
Here are some frugal living ideas you can incorporate in different areas of your life so you’ll know how to live frugally and save money.
Transportation and Housing
- Go with one car. The average person spends over $9,000 per year for the privilege of driving their own vehicle – we’re talking about one vehicle here. Many families have two cars. For these families, even if they’ve paid off one vehicle, the cost of insurance, fuel, parking, repairs and routine maintenance can quickly add up. If it’s possible, consider taking public transportation to work. It’s 80% cheaper than owning and using a car. If you live close enough to work, you could also consider walking or biking. If two cars are necessary, consider trading in your car for something more fuel efficient. Instead of an SUV or larger car, consider getting a smaller, sub-compact vehicle that is good on gas.
- Consider downsizing your home. Just because you can afford a larger house or an apartment in the city centre doesn’t mean you need to. If you can comfortably live in a smaller home or in an apartment just outside the downtown core, you could save thousands of dollars a year.
Electricity and Cable Bill Payments
- Adjust your thermostat. Bump your thermostat down to 20°C in the winter and down to 26°C in the summer. It may be a bit uncomfortable at first, but if you throw on a cozy sweater and some slippers or warm socks in the winter or keep a glass of ice water nearby in the summer, your body will adjust and your bank account will thank you. You can also save more money by lowering the temperature when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping. Turning your thermostat back 6°C to 8°C for 8 hours during the winter can save you 5% to 15% on you heating bill. Get a programmable thermostat to do this for you.
- Say good-bye to cable. How much time do you spend in front of the television? If you don’t watch television all that much, cable isn’t adding any value so you may as well do without it. On the other hand, if you spend hours in front of the television, there are other productive things you could be doing with your time, such as spending time with family and friends, taking up a new hobby, or catching up on your reading. You’ll be surprised how much money you’ll save and how little you’ll miss cable television.
- Choose more affordable options other than cable or satellite television. Online streaming services like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime allow you to stream movies and television shows at a fraction of the cost charged by cable and satellite providers.
- Get a library card. Instead of shelling out money on books and DVD’s, you can borrow them for free at your local library. Many libraries have a great selection of the latest books, music, and movies. And the great thing about borrowing a book or a movie is if you didn’t enjoy it, you won’t have to beat yourself up for spending money on something you’ll likely never read or watch again.
- Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions. With the advent of the internet, we can easily access news, information and entertainment online for free, making costly subscriptions exactly that: costly.
- Nip your bad habits in the bud. Cutting back on smoking, limiting your alcohol consumption, and reigning in your junk food habit are great ways to save money. Cigarettes, alcohol and fancy coffees eat up a large chunk of your budget, and they aren’t adding to your health either. Cut back – or cut out – on these bad habits and watch your health and finances improve month by month.
- Find a side hustle. You can bring in extra cash by capitalizing on a hobby you enjoy, or a skill set you have. For example, if you’re a good writer, consider freelancing articles for blogs, newspapers, media outlets, or on a freelancer website. If you’re crafty, consider selling your creations on Etsy
Entertainment, Going Out and Extra-Curricular Activities
- Eat before heading out to the movies. Popcorn, candy and nachos are expensive, so if you fill up before hitting the theatre, you’re more likely to bypass the concession stand and keep your money in your wallet.
- Instead of spending $20 to see a movie, consider having a “Games Night” at home with a handful of friends. You’ll engage with your friends more, and you’ll be surprised at how inexpensive – and entertaining – a game night can be.
- Travel during the off season. Whether you’re going to Tokyo, London or Havana, each vacation spot has a different peak travel time. So, do your research and figure out when the off-season starts in your vacation spot. Sure, you may not come back with postcard-worthy photos and you may have to lug around a thick coat or a rain jacket, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars on airfare and accommodations. Here are more tips to help you travel on a small budget.
- Go out for lunch instead of for dinner. Lunchtime menu items are often cheaper than their dinner counterparts, and most restaurants offer lunchtime specials as well. To lower you bill even further, go for water instead of wine and skip dessert.
- If you go out for dinner, share a meal. The portions in some chain restaurants are more than enough for one person, so consider splitting your meal – and the cost of dinner – with your dining partner. Or, eat only half of what you ordered and pack up the rest for your lunch the next day.
Food and Groceries
- Brown bag it. Instead of buying breakfast on the run or eating out during lunch, pack your lunch the night before and brew your own coffee in the morning. You’ll be surprised with how much money you’ll save each month. Brown bagging your lunch alone will save you $1,800 per year.
- Go “meatless.” The price of meat has been steadily increasing year by year, so try incorporating more meatless meals into your diet. You don’t have to be a full-on vegetarian, but consider making meat more of a side-dish than an entree. There are lots of tasty meatless meals you can enjoy at a fraction of what the meat variety would cost. Search Google, Pinterest, or Allrecipes.com for endless ideas.
- Shop ethnic. These days, most neighborhoods have ethnic supermarkets or grocery stories, and you’ll often find produce and meats that are not only cheaper, but fresher as well. Most supermarket chains focus on pre-packaged goods, but ethnic markets focus more so on raw ingredients, which translates into fresher produce at a cheaper price.
- Stock up. If your grocery store or supermarket is having a sale on non-perishable items you regularly use, stock up. Not only will you save money in the long-run, but you’ll also have a stocked cupboard so you won’t be tempted to order take-out or go out for dinner.
- Eat out less. Cooking your own meals is another great frugal living tip, and it’s also healthier because you’ll have more control over what goes in – and what stays out – of your meals.
- Check out the flyers and coupons at your grocery store. Meal plan and make a shopping list based on what’s on special at the grocery store. This way you’ll make fewer shopping trips, save more money, and waste less food. Plus, if you already know what you’ll be making for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you won’t get trapped into going out to eat when you’re stumped on what to prepare for dinner.
- Have a “clean out” meal once a week. Before you grocery shop, take out all the produce and groceries you have in your refrigerator and cupboards and use up those ingredients in your next meal. This way, all the food you have won’t go to waste and you’ll know exactly what you need – and don’t need – before hitting the shops.
Gifts, Personal Effects and Other Discretionary Spending
- Give your credit cards a break. Try sticking to a cash-based budget and refrain from making credit card purchases, just until you get your financial house in order. It may be difficult to pay for every item you buy in cash, but it will also make you aware of your financial situation. If you don’t have enough cash to pay for something, you probably shouldn’t be buying it.
- Price match. Most retailers have a price-match policy, so if you bought an item and later see it advertised by a competitor at a lower price, bring in the flyer and more often than not, the retailer will match the price and refund you the difference.
- Treat yourself at cosmetology schools instead of spas. Personal pampering – like haircuts, facials and manicures – aren’t exactly necessities, but every now and then it’s nice to treat yourself. But instead of doling out hundreds of dollars at the spa, check out your local cosmetology schools. You can get a nice haircut and other spa treatments at a fraction of what you would pay at the spa.
- Be creative! When it comes to gift giving, consider giving something from the heart instead of from a high end store. Something handmade and thoughtful – such as breakfast in bed, knocking a chore off the “To Do List,” or simply spending time together – is much more meaningful and far less expensive.
Contrary to popular belief, living a frugal lifestyle actually opens you up to more options. If the choices you make allow you to get by with less money, not only can you pay off debt much faster, but you can also make personal and professional choices based on what you want, instead of based on money. For example, if you’re able to get by with less, you can choose to work less and focus on your own projects or work more and retire early. It’s all up to you! To live frugally is less about knowing how to save money, and more about making mindful lifestyle choices that allows you to live below your means so can enjoy debt free living.
See how frugal you are in different areas of your spending. Enter your income and monthly expenses into our budget calculator, and it will let you know if you spending is on the low side, high side, or is in the normal range. If you’re trying to figure out how to be more frugal, it can look at 3 dozen different areas of your budget and recommend ways to be more frugal if want it to.