6 Frugal Living Tips to Build Serious Savings

Tom
Tom July 2022 Content Creator 15 min

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Frugal living is a lifestyle that anyone can benefit from. Many may perceive it as cutting experiences out of their lives or eliminating their social lives, but frugal living brings with it a lot of misconceptions. It’s more about re-evaluating spendings and living more comfortably with the money you have so that you can afford the things you really want. 

In this post, we’re going to discuss living frugally: what it means and why it’s worth doing, before offering 6 tips for you to kick off your frugal life. 

Frugal living tips to build serious savings in a nutshell

  • Frugal living means spending consciously in your daily life
  • Cheap living is short-terming thinking, frugal is long-term
  • Living frugally allows you to afford more things in your life through careful spending and conscious saving
  • Cook meals to freeze and budget your grocery shopping
  • Come up with indoor activities in winter and go for picnics, walks, hikes, in summer to entertain yourself frugally
  • Carpool, cycle, and cut your commuting fees with public transport discounts
  • Travel frugally by staying local and working remotely
  • Stick to your hobbies and avoid incurring expenses trying to find new hobbies

What does frugal living mean?

Frugality in your spending is about being conscious of how you spend in everyday life. It means applying some degree of scrutiny to every purchase you make on a regular basis. Frugal spenders will often ask themselves a set of questions when making a purchase: 

  • Do I really need this?
  • Can I find a more affordable option?
  • Will I use this?
  • How can I approach this more cost-effectively? 

This kind of approach can be applied to more than just grocery shopping. If through loss of a job you find yourself struggling to pay rental bills you initially could afford, you might review your situation:

  • Do I really need an apartment this size or in this location?
  • How easily can I find a more affordable one? 
  • Will I continue to use all this space?
  • Would it be more cost effective to move or get a housemate? 

These kinds of interrogations lead us to be more careful financially literate spenders who consider ways to spend more frugally.

Is frugal living equivalent to cheap?

The key difference between living frugally and being cheap is in how we would use these terms. Where frugal is a personal choice, like choosing to eat healthier, cheap is a character flaw, often viewed as the opposite of generous. 

There are also differences between the perspectives on spending of a cheap person and a frugal person. Living cheaply suggests short-term savings, always choosing the lowest price without considering quality or overall impact.

The spending philosophy of a cheap person is a mixture of these qualities:

  • Price-focused
  • Short-term thinking
  • Selfish
  • No budget
  • Negative relationship with money

Frugal spending is more associated with qualities like: 

  • Quality for money
  • Long-term thinking and forward planning
  • Budget-focused
  • Positive relationship with money

Frugality and generosity

As an example, think of two different approaches to buying a birthday gift for your friend:

If you live cheaply, you’ll simply choose the cheapest gift you can find for your friend’s birthday. Your short-term thinking means you haven’t planned ahead for the expense, and you’re so focused on spending as little as possible, you won’t consider your friend’s feelings or what kind of gift they might actually want.

On the other hand, if you’re frugal, your friend’s birthday is likely already in your calendar. You will have budgeted for the month and put aside money, thinking about what they might like. You’ll choose the ideal gift that fits nicely into your budget. Even though you’re frugal, you will appear to your friend as generous. 

Is frugal living worth it?

Frugality is not easy. It takes planning and commitment, and a consistent close eye on your finances—above all, it takes a carefully curated and regularly updated budget, depending on your financial circumstances. 

If you can manage to commit to this, however, you can create a richer, more rewarding life for yourself. Frugality may take discipline but that discipline will reward you with better spending habits. Through frugal living, you can: 

  • Save for holidays 
  • Be generous with your friends
  • Enjoy spontaneous nights out
  • Maintain a healthy diet with quality food
  • Enjoy the occasional splurge 

Frugal living is ‘worth it’ because by choosing to do so you’re investing in a better life for yourself. You’re choosing to use your money intelligently instead of haphazardly. You’re gaining control over one of the biggest aspects of your life. 

How can I start to live a frugal life?

The first step is the most important. If you’ve made the decision to live frugally, you’ve already acknowledged your desire to change your relationship to money and to work on your spending habits. 

A frugal life is made up of all the different components of your life where money plays a major part. Frugality is essentially a skill we learn to employ on a daily basis, rather than a simple decision. Working this skill means exercising it like a muscle at every opportunity, without exhausting ourselves enough that we give up on it.

It’s worth taking advantage of any resources you might have at your disposal. Take a look at our list of money saving apps to help with budgeting and saving.

But don’t expect to take to the frugal life like a fish to water—especially if you’ve never taken this approach to your spendings before. This is why it’s important to start small. 

You wouldn’t start your journey to read more classics by picking up James Joyce’s Ulysses. Just as you shouldn’t approach frugal living by doing something drastic, like cancelling all your upcoming social plans, never ordering take-out again, and only taking a holiday once a decade. 

In the same way that Joyce’s lengthy modernist masterpiece will scare off anyone who hasn’t built up patience by reading similar authors, such an aggressive early approach could end your frugal living journey early or even result in dangerous binge spending. 

6 tips for living a frugal life

The best way to start small with frugal living is by breaking up your spending habits into categories and tackling them individually. You can start with grocery shopping and transportation spending habits and add frugal approaches to social events when you’ve mastered those first two. 

To help you with this, we’ve put together a collection of tips below for categorical frugal living. Approach each one relevant to you at your own speed. Start small and do big things for your savings. 

Frugal living tips for food

Sometimes, frugal living is going to ask a little more of you than budgeting and spending spreadsheets. For instance, how comfortable are you in the kitchen? If you struggle to tell your spatulas from your stirring spoons or your idea of home cooking is nuking a tin foil-wrapped fish in the microwave, we may have found a crucial way for you to live more frugally. 

People who don’t cook usually order takeout or go out for dinner. Cooking is obviously more cost effective for reasons we’ll go into next, but first, if you love to order in or go out regularly, here’s some advice on how to do it more frugally: 

  • Order for two, for one: if you’re ordering in for yourself, split half and save the rest for lunch. Look for cuisines that favour the leftovers approach: curries, rice dishes, pizza, etc.
  • Pick your take-out days: leave aside money in your budget for dinners out with friends, and pick the day or days in the week you can afford to order in: maybe you like to start or end the week with a rewarding, hassle-free take-out menu
  • Trust in foodies: instagram and the blogosphere are chock-full of restaurant enthusiasts dedicated to bigging up the cheapest spots in town. Do your research and you might wind up with a whole new list of frugal dining options 

Frugal approaches to fine dining aside, the real savings are made in the kitchen. Try these approaches and live frugally without cutting the ‘fine’ from your fine dining: 

  • Cook and freeze: we’ve all heard this one before, but there’s a reason for that. Dig out the frost buildup in your freezer and cook meals you can freeze in blocks for quick reheating and long storage. Try pestos, curries, dips, soups, lasagnes, and more
  • Let Google do the work for you: if you’ve been scared off from cooking by the lists of obscure ingredients you spend lots to use only once, try adding words like ‘cheap’, ‘affordable’, ‘student’, and ‘budget’ to your recipe searches. Lots of websites promote affordable recipes and you want to bring those to the front page
  • Buy the books: the internet is a wonderful resource for recipes, but it’s cluttered with unprofessional advice. Reputable recipe books by chefs curating their collections to a certain theme can both make you a better cook and provide you with a whole host of frugal-themed cooking options
  • Cook for your friends: invite a few friends or family over and cook your best dish. One of them is bound to repay you with a dinner of their own and maybe soon it turns into a tradition and you’ve got one free meal a week. You can also try creating a rotating meal roster in the flat. It brings everybody together and promotes socialising through frugality

Frugal living tips for groceries

The necessary companion to frugal cooking, groceries are a key element to a frugal life. Your access to affordable groceries will depend on where you live, and how much space you have at home. 

Don’t buy what you can grow. More challenging for those of us living in apartments, but any amount of space can still be utilised for plants. Use your balcony or put up some shelves in your room to grow mint, sage, basil—any of the herbs you love to use in cooking, and you’ll never have to buy them again. For anyone with backyard space, why not start up a veggie plot? You could even sell the occasional basket of tomatoes or extra juicy pumpkin if your goods are overflowing. 

Budget and be firm. Create weekly budgets for your grocery shopping and stick to them. Plan meals ahead for the week so you know what you’re buying when you go in, only bring cash so you’re limited to what you’ve planned for. It’s also a good idea to check the supermarket’s specials ahead of time and plan recipes based on the bargains. They may be small but the savings add up, and that’s what frugality is all about. 

Figure out your long term ingredients. It might seem frustrating to buy a bottle of sesame oil for the first stir-fry you’ve ever made, but consider the purchase as covering you for the next ten or 20 stir-frys. Do a big shop for all the ingredients that last forever on the shelf and play crucial roles in lots of different meals. You want to keep your cook interesting so you don’t slide back into ready-made meals and take-out every night. 

Frugal living tips for entertainment

Are you easily seduced by the city nightlife? Is your idea of entertainment a lavish dinner and a pricey theatre show, followed by cocktails at the hippest restaurant in the block so you can catch a glimpse of the social elite? Maybe it’s not any of those things, but the way we get our entertainment can often be a drain on our expenses. This is often because we associate entertainment with fun, and we don’t think of frugality as playing a part in that fun. 

Weekend and nightly activities often depend on the weather, so let’s look at some frugal fun for both cold nights and sun. 

Winter entertainment

It’s easy to just want to hole up by yourself and wait for winter to end, especially if you’re trying to live frugally. However, it’s not necessary. Winter can bring people together indoors for lots of different activities and result in some of the most cost-effective fun you’ll have all year. 

Try these kinds of activities in the winter:

  • Board game nights
  • Cooking together
  • Movie nights
  • Winter markets and mulled wine
  • Karaoke nights

Summer entertainment

Summer is easier to find things to do—everybody’s out doing something until the sun goes down anyway—but it’s also a bigger challenge for those of us attempting to live frugally.

Here are a few frugal ways to enjoy the sunny season:

  • Picnics
  • Beach trips or lake trips
  • Games in the park
  • Nature walks and hikes
  • Find free community events
  • Bird watching

Frugal living tips for commuting

If we’re not careful (or in this case, not frugal), transport costs can build up on us. Fuel prices are soaring, making commuting instead a better option for everyone, but it always depends on your location. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn has reduced its public transport costs to €9 per month for the whole summer, but living in an area without transport infrastructure means driving may be the only way you get to work. 

There are always things you can do however to reduce the costs of whichever commuting method you need to use:

  • Driving: organise a carpool, get your car serviced, buy cheaper fuel, park in free parking, use the company car
  • Cycling: pick days of the week to cycle to work, buy a good bike
  • Public transport: buy annual tickets, ask your company to pay for your transport ticket 

Frugal living tips for holidays 

You might think that going frugal means no more holidays. But this is more a ‘cheap’ approach and isn’t likely to do you any favours. Travelling and holidays are a necessary part of living a healthy life. Without them, we’re likely to burn out from work or feel claustrophobic from never leaving the same surroundings. This can lead to binge spending on nights out, ruining our frugal budget. 

For instance, instead of trying to hit several countries in Europe or all the states you can manage in one road trip, start small. Pick a region and explore it thoroughly, instead of hopping and skipping round the place. 

Opt for road trips instead of flying if you can afford the fuel, and pick areas with free or cheap activities: hiking, swimming, camping, etc.

Think about what you really need from your holiday as well. Is a trip into the city, running around between shows and dinners and clubs really what you’re looking for? Or is it peace and quiet? You want to take the right kind of holiday so when you get back to the grind, you won’t immediately feel the need for another one. 

Plan ahead, making sure you’re always budgeting for your holiday throughout the year. If you have money put aside specifically for your holiday, you can plan a holiday based on what your budget allows. 

Don’t skip on taking remote working holidays or ‘workations’. While working in a new city or remote spot is no substitute for time off, it could clear your head and give you some of the space you need to push on a little longer. That way, you can save for the holiday you really need. 

Frugal tips for hobbies

Your hobbies are often the things that keep you from spending needlessly, but hobbies can be pricey too. The key with maintaining frugality in your hobbies is to stick to the same ones. It’s about commitment and knowing you’ll stick with it before you spend the money. 

For instance, a musical instrument is a great hobby, but it’s also a classic impulse buy. How many houses have you been to with a dusty bass guitar in the study or a drum set packed away in the basement? 

Keep these things in mind when applying frugal habits to your hobbies:

  • Borrow first: maybe you want to start playing guitar but you’re not sure? Ask one of your musician friends if they have a spare you can use for a week, or find a shop in town that lends musical instruments
  • Set goals: Challenge yourself with new cuisine each week if your hobby is cooking, give yourself a number of finished paintings by the end of the month, start working through a list of books you want to read: establish milestones and work towards them to keep yourself progressing and focused
  • Keep it fun: it is a hobby after all. Don’t take it too seriously or put too much pressure on yourself, or you’ll spoil your hobby and go looking for a new one, threatening your frugal lifestyle with more expenses

Conclusion: frugal living tips to build serious savings

Frugal living is a challenge. There’s no doubt about that. It takes perseverance and dedication and frequent attention to your budget and lifestyle. But the result is conversely a richer life, one in which you can afford the things you want because you saved on frivolous spending elsewhere. 

Remember to start small with frugal living and approach it bit by bit. Like anything it’s a skill, but it’s one everyone can—and probably should—learn. 

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Frequently Asked Questions about frugal living

Frugal living takes perseverance and dedication, but it gets easier the more you do it. This is because it will initially be a large lifestyle change, but it will eventually turn into something you do without thinking. The key is to start small and tackle frugal lifestyle choices categorically, rather than trying to change all of your spending habits at once.

Getting rich should not be the goal of frugal living. It’s not a winning lottery ticket. What frugal living can help you do, however, is live a richer life. You will be able to afford things more easily and you will feel less guilt after spending because you will plan ahead and budget accordingly. If you are planning to get rich with frugal living, you’re likely not approaching it in a way that will assist your frugal lifestyle.

Plan ahead. Cheap living is short-term thinking and price-focused. Frugal living is long-term and quality focused. To avoid cheap living, always consider how each purchse is going to affect you later on rather than if it’s the cheapest option on the shelf in front of you.

Many of the world’s richest people live frugal lives. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly shops at Costco, Richard Branson is embarrassed by displays of wealth, and Warren Buffet still lives in the house he bought for $30,000 in the 1950s. This is because frugal living is not a path to richness or an emergency method to get out of debt. It’s a lifestyle for better living.

Frugal commuting, buying better quality items, growing your own food – many of these frugal options are good for the environment. Much of environmental devastation and greenhouse gas emissions are caused by short-term solutions and excessive lifestyles. Frugal living is the opposite.

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