Frugality is the animal that must be bred to achieve financial goals. There is no amount of income that can’t be spent, and then some. If you don’t believe that, take a long look at the U.S. government to get a view of an amount of money that can be spent with ideas to spend more.
The seed of wealth is the money you didn’t spend and instead invested. That is the only course in building a steady stream of income to enjoy the life you want.
The investment isn’t the problem; the seed is. You can generate a generous income stream from real estate, index funds or a business. In each case it is the excess cash you didn’t spend that is the seed that grows to satisfy your dreams.
The more frugal the lifestyle, the less you need to retire.
Image a man with a million dollars invested. Is he rich? Could he retire? Well, the questions are impossible to answer. If he spends $300,000 per year the million isn’t so much. If he spends under $40,000, he qualifies under the 4% rule to retire because he is unlikely to ever deplete his nest egg.
We have all seen short lists of frugal things we can do to cuts costs. Those lists tend to focus on daily actions that can save a few dollars. This list will have some of the same advice, but will also include actions that are long-term in nature and build serious financial wealth. Coupled together, the long and short term frugal behaviors, lower your cost of living without giving up anything that you value in life.
Frugality sometimes gets a bad rap because it is perceived as depriving yourself of things you want. Nothing could be further from the truth! Frugality is discovering what you truly value and focusing on those things that give you the greatest pleasure. Nobody ever found nirvana in being a buying unit. (Well, except for that one guy in Tupelo, but I have it on good authority he doesn’t read this blog so I am safe.)
This list of frugal tips and tricks will not ask you to give up anything. I will ask you to reconsider your behavior, as in, how to acquire the things desired.
Epictetus gave us words to consider close to 2,000 years ago:
Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.
For our discussion, this means that we can’t gain the maximum benefit from these frugal tips and tricks if we refuse to make even the most minor of changes to our behavior. In other words, you can still enjoy a pot of coffee every day, but every cup doesn’t have to cost $5. (I might ask you to consider a more modest caffeine intake over health concerns if you consume a whole pot every day, however.)
As we begin our list, know that these tips are in no particular order. I am not going from smallest savings to largest or shortest term to longest term tips. I mix it up because that is how life comes at us, in bits and pieces. It is how our billfold gets crushed, too. Rarely are our financial woes the result of one decision (and even if it is, these frugal tips will get you back into the game quickly); it is usually financial death by a thousand cuts.
Let’s begin with our morning cup of coffee since the topic has already been broached.
1.) The Best Coffee You Ever Drank for Pennies a Cup
The morning cup of coffee is something many people cannot give up. I understand. Office coffee can be nasty so stopping at Starbucks along the way has become a routine. At 5 bucks a cup (price depends on geographic location) that adds up over a year.
You can have coffee equal in quality or better with the right coffee machine and coffee beans. Many years ago I wrote a series of short articles on getting a really good cup (or pot) of coffee for a fraction of the price at a coffee house. Fill your coffee mug before you head out the door and you keep $1,825 in your pocket each year, assuming you only imbibe with one cup per day.
Here is the list of articles I published on coffee:
2.) Trains, Planes & Automobiles
I never saw the movie, but the title is catchy.
This tip is a biggie. So big that it can single handedly make you rich!
I know, I know. There are bloggers that say you should never drive. Bike and walk everywhere. Awesome idea, but not for everyone.
Your car can drain your finances more than any other purchase! It is a depreciating asset. The speed at which it travels to zero is determined by make, model and condition. But make no mistake; it will end up in the scrapyard like every other vehicle ever made.
People all too often focus on the depreciation of an automobile. There is another vehicle cost that digs nearly as deep: transaction costs.
I have only owned 3 cars in my life and I’m on the wrong side of 50. I tend to buy used vehicles and keep them for 20 years. (Most vehicles come to their natural life expectancy around 20 years.)
Depreciation still hurts. Fortunately, I don’t have that accelerated depreciation newer vehicles suffer. The best news is that I have few transaction costs because I don’t do a lot of transacting. Every time you buy a car the state wants a piece of the action. With the exception of 5 states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon) you will also pay a sales tax.
Used car prices are out of line as I write this. I probably would buy a new car if I was in the market at this time. Regardless, I buy a vehicle when my current vehicle is close to the grave and then keep it for a really long time.
This one tip can save you enough to fund your retirement account if you funneled all those payments you didn’t have to make. And you would trade title, transfer and sales taxes for a tax deduction! Easy choice, I think.
3.) Grow a Garden
I’m lucky in that I live in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin. Gardening is easy for me.
If you have the ability (space) to grow a garden I would encourage you to do so. It doesn’t have to be big. A few tomato plants, carrots, beans and anything else that pleases your palate can make a difference.
Living in an apartment limits your ability to do this. You can still grow a few plants by windows that get sun. There is nothing like enjoying your own fresh tomatoes.
It isn’t the food you grow that saves a lot of money. There are savings, but the real advantage is spending a few more meals at home with your family enjoying a home grown and cooked meal. And that is priceless compared to the $500 or so in savings over the course of a year from avoided dining out.
Might I also suggest planting a fruit tree if you have the room. There is nothing like picking your own fresh apples/peaches/pears/plums . . . The flavor from tree ripened fruit is nothing like you find in a grocery store.
4.) Adjust the Temperature
I know I’m a bit more extreme on this than most.
Living in a northern climate (in the Northern Hemisphere) allows me the luxury of rarely using air conditioning. The winters are another story.
I have found that my entire family can enjoy a cooler house in the winter comfortably (low 60s F). Yes, we wear clothing in the winter, as in a flannel shirt or other such comfy warm garment. The wife and kiddos cover with a blanker when watching TV (me when I read). The cooler house means we sleep better at night, too.
During the summer we adjust to the warmer temperatures. When it gets hot in July we draw cool basement air into the house. Rare is the year when we kick on the AC. (I actually have a geothermal heat pump for space heating, water heating and AC.)
5.) Use the Library
It is well known that I sin when it comes to buying books. I love owning books. It is my one non-frugal habit.
However, several local libraries still know me on a first name basis. Some books I borrow from the library. But the library is so much more than books, books on tape, music and so forth.
I encourage you to read this post on all the surprising things you can get for free from the library. (Did you know your library might offer free college courses, tutoring and more? Some libraries have fishing equipment and one I interviewed even had a sewing machine they borrowed out.)
6.) Down Time
One of the most frugal things you can do is give yourself down time. Bill Gates has a “think week” several times per year. Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs both scheduled “no time” where they had no duties or interruptions so they could focus on just thinking creatively.
While it might be hard to understand how down time is a frugal activity, it is time where you are not spending money and instead are focused on making good decisions in your life, finances and business.
Creativity happens during down time. When I write I close the door. This is “me time”. I’m actually talking to myself and letting you listen in.
Time spent with the door closed and the internet and email off is vital to mental wellbeing and financial wealth. Your best ideas will come from the quiet time where distractions are not demanding your attention.
7.) Write it Down
Along the same line as down time, writing notes, a journal, a blog, a to-do list and any other things you want to think about later during down time is important to a frugal lifestyle. Frugality is not only about money. You can always make more money, but you can’t make up for lost time!
Slowing down and writing notes is the best way to reduce expenses! You are not buying the best goods and services when you are fighting the clock.
Notes allow you to slow down and make better decisions. I can give you a million ways to reduce costs, but only you know what things you can reasonably cuts costs on.
The goal of this post is to provide ideas and spark ideas in your mind. Don’t just do it because some crazy accountant from the backwoods of NE Wisconsin told you to do so.
Write it down. Record your thoughts in a journal and review those thoughts later. Use a grocery list. You will be amazed at how your thoughts change and the money you save.
And always be willing to revise. Editing your notes and lists is required. The first draft is always junk. That is why you need to review and edit, preferably with the door closed.
8.) Health Insurance
This tip only applies to my American readers. Virtually every country on the planet has a single payer healthcare system. In the U.S. getting sick is a major crisis that requires work on your part at your lowest moment of health.
Serious savings can be had by comparing your options. If your employer offers health insurance be sure to review what is and is not covered. Be sure to review the health reimbursement features if your employer offers one.
For everyone else, you need to review the Affordable Care Act options, private insurance and medical health sharing.
I personally settled on the Christian health sharing options. It was the best value. My worry was it would not deliver if claims were made. A serious illness in my family has put those concerns to rest. You can start your health sharing research here.
Read voraciously! Reading is the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge is power!
Don’t read only one source. Not even this blog! (Please, continue reading my blog as a starting point. Thank you.) Dig deep into a topic from multiple sources and come to your own conclusions. It’s important.
Learn to think. Reading builds your thinking muscle.
Read good books. Even a pleasurable novel now and again.
Very few have built serious wealth without serious reading.
10.) Cut Cable
Are you the last person on the planet to cut the cord? Cable is so 1990s. And expensive!
You do know that the local networks broadcast over the airwaves 30 or so channels now? You can watch about as much for free from broadcasts as you can with cable and at no cost.
Then you have YouTube and Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and many more. YouTube is mostly free. Netflix is still pretty cheap. If you have Amazon Prime you already have a streaming service at no additional cost.
You can also check out the library tip above for even more free programming, including the expensive stuff on HBO, etc. Yes, your library has many of these programs, available at no cost to you. Check it out.
11.) Cell Phone
Cell phone service can be out-of-this-world expensive. I (my whole family) switched to Visible Wireless a few years back. You get unlimited data, messages and minutes. Visible Wireless is owned by Verizon.
All this for $25 a month!
Since I live in the boondocks I have few options for internet. I use my Visible phone as my internet as well. They even have 5G in areas where available. I am writing this post over my Visible Wireless data using the hotspot.
Visible Wireless is the best deal for cell service I could find. Be aware the link in this tip is an affiliate link. Also know that I went to check to see if they had an affiliate program if I refer them. They did and I signed up just now because, well, I may as well get paid for my referral if I was going to make the referral anyway.
12.) Buy a Freezer
When a food item goes on sale it is time to stock up. . .
. . . if you have the space.
A freezer can cut 20% or more off your food bill. A meat special can be maximized. You can prepare larger quantities for later consumption.
For the best meat quality and price, check your local butcher shop. Many sell the whole animal (already in the familiar cuts) for significantly less than buying piecemeal over time. A freezer is required is such a situation.
A freezer is a must if you have your own garden or fruit trees. Nature produces more than you can consume before it spoils. A freezer pays for itself quickly.
13.) Can and Dehydrate Your Excess Food
Canning is a lost art. It used to be that folks in the backwoods canned their food. I only know of one other person that cans their own food now. That is a shame since it is such a money saver.
Mrs. Accountant cans and dehydrates like crazy. Fruits and vegetables fill our cellar. When a semi brings fresh Georgia peaches to Wisconsin, we stock up. A lot. We eat peaches until we have our fill and can the rest for later.
The wholesale trucks are hard to find so keep your eyes and ears open. The prices are super low! A box of peaches can run a few dollar at most. And they are better than we can find in the grocery store.
Consider canning as a hobby. One that pays you in more than one way.
As long as you are at it, you should consider dehydrating food, as well. This is easier than canning. And your food will taste incredible.
14.) Cut Your Electric Bill 80%
A watched pot never boils, it is said. I’m not so sure about that. When I was a kid I kept my eye on a pot on the stove, and sure enough, it boiled.
Electric bills are out of control. There are so many phantom energy drains in the average home that half or more of electricity consumption goes down the drain without any benefit to the homeowner.
Read more about recording your electricity consumption here. This one simple step can lower your energy costs significantly.
15.) DIY, Except When You Shouldn’t
The mantra is getting old. The frugal tip of doing everything yourself is a double-edged sword.
Sure, you can save money doing it yourself. Sometimes. If you know what you are doing.
When I owned rental property years ago I learned quickly I was not cut out for carpet laying. It was cheaper to hire it done. (Really, I was bad at it. One job was so bad all the carpet had to be ripped out and tossed.)
Where you are able to handle the repair or maintenance, doing it yourself can save a lot of money. Changing the oil in the car, sharpening lawn mower blades, light appliance repair, changing a faucet and other tasks might be under your purview. If so, by all means, consider it a DIY job.
However, knowing when to hire the professional is important. A DIY job when you don’t know what you are doing can lead to disaster.
If you want to increase your skills, consider volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. A summer of free time spent learning several crafts of the trade is a powerful education that will pay off the rest of your life.
16.) Consider a Spending Fast
Sometimes the best way to accomplish a goal is to go all-in. This is where a spending fast comes in.
A spending fast is exactly what is sounds like. There are 5 levels to the spending fast. Each level teaches new financial skills and supercharges your frugality muscle.
17.) Manage Your Taxes
Taxes will cost you more than any other thing in your life, including your home. It may not feel like spending, but taxes are a massive expense everyone can do better at reducing.
I see people in my office all the time that had prepared their own tax return. In nearly all cases they overpaid the government.
Since income, sales, excise, property and other taxes consume over half of the national income, you will need a two-pronged approach in applying frugality to your tax spending.
First, most people need a tax professional to assure they are utilizing as many tax benefits as possible. The tax code is complex and getting more so every day. Even the pros struggle to keep up with the changes. What chance do you have? And the over-the-counter DIY software can’t do everything for you either.
Second, even with a tax pro in your corner you need to keep yourself informed on tax issues. Read about tax breaks that apply to you. Question your tax professional. Don’t be afraid of paying for some consulting with your tax pro. When I consult with clients I have in excess of a 10x return for the client. That means for every dollar they spend they benefit over $10. We call that hyper-frugal!
18.) Stay Healthy
Easier said than done.
Illness is expensive and the cost goes beyond the medical. Lost wages and a lower quality of life are two huge costs of poor health.
Staying healthy is easier for some and harder for others. Regardless, you need to eat quality food in proper proportions. Exercise is vital.
Because everyone reading this will be in a different place with their health, I encourage you to consult with your doctor in building a plan to improve your health. Get on the right diet for you. Find the best exercise program for you.
Don’t forget your social life. Family and friends play a large roll in your health. If you sit in taverns with friends that drink too much and smoke, you might have a problem. Consideration for your lifestyle is an important part of your frugal lifestyle. Choose who you associate with well.
19.) Make Your Own Laundry Detergent
Laundry detergent in the box stores have so many fillers just to make it look like you are getting a lot for your money when you are not.
You can cut your laundry costs up to 98% by making your own laundry detergent. It is easy to do and it cleans better than store-bought detergent.
Consider the detergent-making process a family project. It is fun and teaching your children the low-cost way of living is priceless; a gift that never stops giving.
20.) Stay Put
As discussed above with vehicles, transaction costs add up fast. The same applies to where you live.
It is expensive to move. It takes time and requires helping hands and/or a moving truck, etc. If you are renting there might be some damages that get deducted from the security deposit; the new place will also require a security deposit.
Owning your own home can be a very frugal move! But take a page from Warren Buffett’s book. Buffett is one of the financially wealthiest people on the planet. He bought the home he lives in back in 1958 for $31, 500. His home is worth over $650,000 now.
Buffett mentioned many times he would not be happier living in a bigger or newer home. He is happy right where he is. And good thing. The money he saved in Realtor fees and other selling costs would have come from the seed money he used to build his fortune.
Fees generally are things you pay that give you next to nothing in return. Cutting fees is the surest frugal step you can take. Stay put. Move only if you have to (i.e.. job change).
21.) Use a Clothes Drying Rack
Everyone loves the smell of clothes dried outdoors.
We saw in Tip #19 how to save money on laundry detergent. How about cutting the cost of drying your clothes to zero?
If you are able to hang clothes outdoors, do so. If not, you can use a clothes drying rack. They are inexpensive and pay for themselves many times over.
As a bonus, you add moisture to the air during the dry winter months. That means your frugal clothes drying habit will also make your home more comfortable.
You can read more about the clothes drying racks I use here. There are some links to Amazon to help in your search for the best clothes drying rack also.
22.) Get a Free Bike
You can save the world and yourself one frugal act at a time. Whenever possible, bike to work, the grocery store, the bank or anywhere else you might be going.
There are bloggers who think you should live close to work to be frugal. I personally love living in the backwoods where I grew up. It is 15.1 miles from my driveway to my office. And I bike it many times every year.
I had an old Huffy bike I rode forever. I decided to get myself a new flashy set of wheels and pulled out my pencil and paper to calculate exactly what it would take to get a free bike. You can read that story here. It is about halfway through the linked post.
23.) Dispose of Disposables
How full is your recycling bin each week? How about the garbage bin?
All the stuff in those bins is filled with stuff you paid for only to throw it away.
Want to inject frugality into every purchase? It is simple. Buy stuff with the least packaging.
Packaged foods are the worst. Processed food is a bad health choice, as well. All that packaging is paid for by you. But did you want the food inside or the box? The food, of course. Yet you paid for the box, too. (There is no free ride. The box has a cost and it is added to the price of the product.)
When you purchase something, be aware of the packaging. It is costing you a fortune.
24.) Watch Your Water Consumption
Water isn’t an expensive commodity in my part of the world. That isn’t true everywhere. Water can be an expensive purchase. Heating the water adds more to the cost.
Shorter showers and a low-flow shower head is an excellent way to reduce water consumption. Turn off water when not in use. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
So much of frugality is common sense. Examine all water use. It should be easy to see where you can reduce consumption in your household.
25.) Clean Filters
Filters make a difference.
I have an open-loop geothermal heat pump in my home. The filter where the water comes in needs to be cleaned periodically. If it gets dirty the efficiency is reduced. If dirty enough, the heat pump trips off.
The air filter also needs changing a few times per year. I have a reusable air filter I clean and then put back into the unit.
Filters on your vehicle, lawn mower or any other item in the house, need to be charged or cleaned on a regular basis. Forgetting this reduces the life of the item and increases energy consumption.
And clean the grill behind your refrigerator! And under the darn thing, too! Stressing the compressor on your refrigerator can cause the compressor to fail. Have you seen what refrigerators cost? Yes, it is very frugal to clean and replace filters often.
26.) Insulate Your Living Space
A sure way to save money is to keep the heat (or cold) where you want it. Insulate the attic. Wrap your water heater and the hot water pipes. Weather stripping around windows and doors offer serious energy savings.
If doors and/or windows are deteriorated it might be advantageous to replace them. Tax credits are available to reduce the cost.
27.) Dump the Landline
Is there anyone left with a landline? Everyone has a mobile phone today. There is no reason to have a landline as well.
And as long as we are talking about it, stop paying for AOL!!! Or any other unnecessary service. It blows my mind when I see people still paying for dial-up service or other such nonsense.
28.) Cancel Recurring Payments
Companies love to set customers up on recurring payments. The customer is later either too lazy or doesn’t remember to cancel the service.
Recurring payments are a cancer on the family budget. It is also low hanging fruit when it comes to frugality. And some subscriptions are outright scams!
These recurring payments are financial death of a thousand cuts. They drain you dry a few drops of blood at a time.
You must review all your credit and debit card statements each month. The same for all checking and savings accounts. Highlight the little buggers nickle and diming you to death each month and exorcise them. Be merciless! Your frugal reputation is on the line. You can probably retire 10 years sooner if you avoid these vampires.
29.) Review Insurance Annually
Insurance is a necessary evil. At least for home and auto coverage.
The insurance they sell to protect a $100 purchase at Best Buy or Walmart or Amazon is worthless, in my opinion.
Insurance is a commodity. The insurance company hopes you don’t see the relentless climb in the premium.
Your best defense is to review and shop your insurance annually. This is the only way to ensure the best insurance for you at the lowest cost.
Also be sure to review that you have adequate coverage. Especially liability. Lawsuits can take out just about any nest egg.
30.) Get All the Rewards You Deserve
Just about everything today has a rewards program attached to it. Credit cards have offered cash-back rewards for a long time and debit cards have also started adding rewards programs.
If you enjoy playing the game, you can find inconsistencies inside rewards programs. You can game the system for profit. Doctor of Credit is a good place to start playing the game. Sign up for their newsletter and get a weekly email on all the deals and specials on rewards programs. There are juicy deals each week. It can even be a profitable side hustle.
Paying with a credit or debit card also comes with hidden perks. Many credit cards offer free extended warranties of products bought with their card. Purchase protection guarantees the lowest price or the card will refund the difference. Roadside assistance, delayed or lost luggage, trip cancellation, auto insurance are all free perks found with many credit cards if you know enough to ask. Even if you have an item stolen, many credit cards will replace the item!
And don’t forget about local rewards programs. A local gas station created so many moving parts to their rewards program that I will pay under $2 a gallon for gas for the next year and a half.
31.) Have Fun
Frugality only works if you are having fun. Deprivation is not a long-term solution. Make it easy. Make it fun.
Your financial goals are closer than you think if you can get rid of all the dead weight spending.
And it is even okay to be silly about frugality. Here is a post on 10 Ridiculous Ways to Save Money.
Life needs to be fun. Frugality is a way of life, a way of living. There is no need to give anything up! Quite the opposite. You can actually have more while being frugal. And so much of it allows for high-quality family time. It is fun to see how things work. It is not about yelling at the kids to turn off the lights.
I hope you enjoyed these 31 tips and tricks to cutting spending. Frugal seems to be a dirty word until money is tight. I think good money habits are best applied at all times so money stress is reduced or even eliminated.
And please, don’t let me do all the heavy lifting. My back is sore as it is. Share your favorite frugal tips and tricks in the comments below.