10 Smart Ways to Live a Frugal Lifestyle

live a frugal lifestyle

The economy is still in poor shape, despite efforts to stabilize and strengthen it. As of April 2013, as many as 21.5 million Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. The number of citizens relying on food stamps has increased by 46%. Worse: 50 million Americans now live below the poverty line. 

This is why it's even more important to live a frugal lifestyle these days. You need to live below your means in order to keep your family safe from potential economic upheavals.

Your savings can prepare for your retirement, and you could even buy a home. See, a lot of people make the mistake of assuming that living frugally means you ought to deprive yourself. 

This is simply not true. You live frugally so you can spend on the things that are truly important to you. By cutting down on unnecessary expenses, you are able to save up and spend on the things that actually matter, like your child's college education, for example. 

Here are 10 Smart Ways to Live A More Frugal Lifestyle

Set A Budget

First thing you have to do before you start living more frugally is identify how much you're earning and how much you're spending. This will give you a good idea of where you stand financially. If you're spending more than you're earning, then you see the problem right away.

Create a budget. Start with your total monthly income, then list down the necessary expenses like rent, food, utilities, etc. This will let you know how much money you have left to spend on other expenses.

Identify Your Priorities

When you have a goal -- something you're saving up for -- it's easier to stay frugal.

Set your sights on something big, like a nice two week vacation, or renovating your kitchen.

You could even save up for a new house.

Make sure you know what your priorities are, so when you're tempted to buy new clothes, you can think of it as taking away money from your goal -- which would then stop you from making an unnecessary purchase.

Borrow, Don't Buy

The library is a very important ally when you're trying to live frugally. Instead of buying books or movies, go to the library and borrow something.

This should provide you with hours (or days, if you really love to read) of entertainment. It's a good way to enjoy yourself without spending money.

Shop With A List

They say you should never go to the grocery store when you're hungry. Now add this reminder: don't shop without a list!

To prevent unnecessary purchases, create a list with only the necessities. Stick to the list -- anything not listed is not something you should purchase -- and you'll be able to save money the next time you're at the supermarket.

This rule applies anytime you go shopping. If you need new furniture or new clothes, you should create a list before you head out to the mall as well.

Set  a spending limit for yourself based on what you are planning on buying and stick to it.

Cut Coupons And Look For Discounts

Some people are a little embarrassed to use coupons. This is an unfortunate mindset. There's nothing wrong with trying to save as much as possible. If you can avoid paying full price, why shouldn't you? 

Stop Dining Out

Although it's nice to dine out once in a while, remember that this can be a very expensive outing.

You're paying high, marked up prices for dinner and you have to include the tip, too.

Eating at home is less costly.

Save the nice dinner for a really special occasion. It becomes much more meaningful, too. 

Buy Second Hand

Visit thrift shops before buying anything. Other places to try: garage sales and outlet stores.

There used to be a stigma attached to thrift shops, but that doesn't matter now that everyone's trying to stretch their dollars. Thrift shops have a lot to offer, and you could get really great clothes for much less. 

Avoid Temptation

Don't spend time browsing shops online just for fun. You might be tempted to buy stuff that you really don’t need.

Similarly, leave your credit card at home if you know a trip to the mall could tempt you into making an unnecessary purchase.

The point is that you should never put yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to spend beyond your means.

Use the 30-Day Wish List

This is a good way to prevent impulse spending.

Sometimes you see a really nice pair of shoes or a jacket, and you decide you want them.

However, this impulse buy could end up in regret if you realize later on that you don't actually like the color of the shoes or that the jacket doesn't suit you.

The solution: write down the items you feel like buying. If after thirty days, you check the list and you decide you really want any of those things, that's the only time you should make the purchase.

As a matter of fact, this rule could apply to any purchase - from a new TV to new kitchen appliances - even to a new car.

Exercise For Free

Cancel that gym membership. Run or bike around your neighborhood -- that's free exercise. Spend an afternoon at the park playing with your kids, or play Frisbee with some friends.

Being healthy doesn't mean you have to spend too much. 

Does the thought of living a frugal lifestyle scare you? Understand that there is a significant difference between someone that is poor and someone that chooses to live a frugal lifestyle. Even some of the wealthiest people in the world drive older cars, live in tiny houses, and are very cautious about what they spend their money on. Living frugal doesn’t mean no fun. You can still do lots of fun stuff and even enjoy a nice vacation and a well decorated home. You just need to establish your priorities and then spend accordingly. 


    • glen.stephenson@gmail.com

      glen.stephenson@gmail.com 04/29/2013 6:03 a.m. #

      Great advice Sicorra. I honestly thing that people don't do very well when it comes to identifying their priorities. Often when I talk to people about their finances they have no idea what is really important to them. So it makes it very difficult to set any meaningful goals for them to achieve.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 11:58 a.m. #

        Thanks Glen! For many years I lived without setting true priorities as well, or perhaps I should say that I just made everything a priority ;-)

    • AverageJoe

      AverageJoe 04/29/2013 6:25 a.m. #

      Great list, Sicorra! I love the 30 day list and use it often when I'm just Jonesin' for something. When you make yourself wait 30 days you rarely end up buying that thing that you think you really, really, really need.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 12:01 p.m. #

        Thank you! We have started doing that as well. Between my husband and I we seem to take turns thinking we need to go buy stuff, so when one of us does the other says, no, let's really think about this. Whereas before, we would have been in the car and gone without blinking an eye.

    • Corina Ramos

      Corina Ramos 04/29/2013 7:11 a.m. #

      All great suggestions my friend. We've been doing most of these suggestions for a while now and it has saved us some money. The biggest challenge for us has been dining out.

      After doing our taxes I saw a good chunk of our money was spent on take out food. I've been cooking more lately and my goal is to see that number decrease next year, so it's sort of a mini challenge for me :).

      Thanks for sharing this with us. Have a great week!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 12:04 p.m. #

        Hey Corina, Good for you guys for making significant changes and for looking for ways to spend less money on take out. I know sometimes we feel exhausted and the thought of cooking is something we dread, but it is better for us.

    • Michelle

      Michelle 04/29/2013 7:52 a.m. #

      This is a GREAT list! These are all things that we are working on, especially eating out less.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 12:05 p.m. #

        Good job Michelle! I actually finding dining out less to be easy because there are few places around us that we really enjoy going to anymore.

    • John S @ Frugal Rules

      John S @ Frugal Rules 04/29/2013 8:34 a.m. #

      Great tips Sicorra! We do a number of these ourselves and it really starts with the budget for us. It helps us see where our money is going and allows us to cut back on some things so we can put it towards other things which are more important to us.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 1:22 p.m. #

        Yes, once you know exactly where you are spending it is easier to make adjustments as your priorities change.

    • Anthony @ Thrifty Dad

      Anthony @ Thrifty Dad 04/29/2013 9:49 a.m. #

      Good list. I like the 30-Day Wish List. We use something similar, although never attach a firm date to it. As you said, "frugal doesn't mean no fun". There are many benefits to living a frugal lifestyle. And all of things you mention, are fairly simple to do, and are all small changes that we can all make today.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 1:26 p.m. #

        I use to be one of the ones that thought being frugal meant no fun, but actually worrying about debt all the time is the no fun part. Being able to relax about things is much nicer.

    • Mackenzie

      Mackenzie 04/29/2013 9:58 a.m. #

      These are great tips! Identifying your priorities and avoiding temptation are big ones. Mindless spending won't help you stay in budget or get out of debt.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 1:28 p.m. #

        Avoiding temptations can be very difficult. I sometimes have to find things to distract me to avoid spending.

    • krantcents

      krantcents 04/29/2013 9:58 a.m. #

      Good points! I think I am rather creative how I manage to spend less and enjoy life. I have a small ($250) budget for dining out and rarely exceed it. I think it is important to keep reasonable routine when you are cutting back.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 1:30 p.m. #

        Your point of having $250 for dining out is a good one. It is something you enjoy but that doesn't mean you have to spend lots to enjoy it.

    • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

      Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 04/29/2013 11 a.m. #

      Great list, Sicorra! A budget and priorities are so important but so many people skip them. Or they just have a general idea, which is better than nothing, but when we know specifically want we're saving for - it's far easier to hold ourselves accountable. I absolutely agree that when you're trying to cut-back - don't put yourself in temptation's way! A lot of money has been spent to cure boredom. :)

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/29/2013 1:33 p.m. #

        It comes back to the comparison between dieting and spending money. If I spend the day on Pinterest looking at recipe blogs and all their beautiful pictures, suddenly I am craving all kinds of stuff. If I spend the day looking at big houses or sports cars suddenly I want to spend. That is where distractions really help out.

    • DC @ Young Adult Money

      DC @ Young Adult Money 04/29/2013 3 p.m. #

      While I don't follow all of these, I do follow some of them. Borrowing instead of buying is definitel something we have started to do while paying down our debt and trying to build up some savings. The library is a weekly stop for us.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/30/2013 10:38 a.m. #

        Using the Library is a great habit to get into. So many of us have bookcases full of books that we've never read more than once and it just doesn't make any sense.

    • Sarah

      Sarah 04/30/2013 2:24 p.m. #

      I have always been a library and thrift store girl, but the eating out at lunch and for dinner killed me. Now I buy groceries for work and/or bring leftovers. We've cut our dinners out WAY back. Result? I have paid off all but one debt and am throwing all the other money at that one! The one thing that helped me was creating a color coded spreadsheet where I could see where each paycheck was going for the whole year. It actually relaxes me to look at it and see that I have the money to cover all my needs, but it also shows me in no uncertain terms, that frivolous spending is not in the cards.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 04/30/2013 4:22 p.m. #

        Your spreadsheet sounds so cool Sarah! And I understand how that would help you to relax because you know things will be paid for and you do not need to worry about anything. Congrats on doing so well on paying off your debt so far too. :-)

    • CarolB

      CarolB 05/02/2013 5:08 a.m. #

      Great tips! We've implemented most of these over the years, but admittedly I lack the list one for groceries. I always seem to go over what I expected to spend when buying groceries - especially when I have my kids with me. Oh, there's a tip to add - leave the family behind when grocery shopping. Especially at Costco. lol

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 05/08/2013 12:40 p.m. #

        Yes, that is a great tip Carol. Leave the family at home so that they aren't tossing things they love into the cart. We do shop with a list, but like you, we still manage to spend more than we should. It is a work in progress.

    • Suzanne @ Financial Advisor Coach

      Suzanne @ Financial Advisor Coach 05/03/2013 2:19 p.m. #

      Sicorra, this is a nice concise post full of important tips. I can contribute this: one of the keys to my successful entrepreneurial journey has been to be wise with money. Some people think that "frugal" means cheap. To me it means SMART. In 2006 my husband and I avoided the urge to "move up" to a more expensive and larger house because we thought our house, at 1500 square feet, was plenty big enough for the two of us. Unfortunately many of our friends and family fell into the trap of bigger is better. BTW - love your 30 day list. Can I borrow that?

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 05/08/2013 12:43 p.m. #

        Thanks very much Suzanne! I agree - frugal does not mean cheap. As you said, it means making wise decisions.

        I know what you mean about 1500 sq feet being big enough for two people. Plus anymore, just means more to clean, right?

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