i never realized that i was very good at saving money, because in my adult life it’s usually been necessary. being frugal feels normal, for me.

here’s a fact: i was financially independent starting at 17 and i put myself through college. i began living off campus and paying rent starting at 19, at dee’s house. a large portion of my tuition was covered by scholarships, but a good chunk of it wasn’t and in order to stay in school, i had to come up with $10Kish every year, in addition to living expenses. i never thought about it as a whole picture at the time – it was more a constant series of “i need $500 for this month’s rent”, “i need $300 for books”, “i need to put gas in my car”. so, i went about making the money i needed to, and cutting costs where i could. i developed some habits, and they’ve stuck with me over the years.

here are some of the things i do to save dollars:

1) i cut my own hair. i’m kind of lucky on this one, because i have curly hair and mistakes are easily forgiven. but fear not – there are a plethora of youtube tutorials on how to do this yourself, with good results. i think the last time i had a salon cut was three years ago – they’re insanely expensive in nyc, and i don’t miss them. also fancy environments make me feel weird and anxious, so i’m totally fine sticking to my bathroom. pro tip though: do order a pair of actual haircutting scissors. they’re not expensive and they do make a difference (spoken from experience).

2) i’m not fancy: i have bags from payless and clothes from target and old navy. i let myself buy things only when i actually need them – as in, when they are replacing something else that has worn out, or when i’ve noticed an emerging need over time (such as, “wow, self, it’s 60 degrees every day and you have tank tops. maybe it’s time for sweaters”). most of the time, i just tell myself no, and delete the email/click away from the tab that’s enticing me with something out of my price range. i refuse to put clothes on credit cards, and force myself to stick to the money i actually have. i’m an abstainer, not a moderator, so this works really well for me.

3) i cook: i know, some of you are totally averse to this, and I GET IT. there have been weeks on end where i relied on frozen pot pies and pizza delivery because LIFE. i know. that said, if you can make time for it (and you can), you’ll save a very huge amount of restaurant/delivery money. and start basic! roast a chicken (it’s actually really easy – here’s a great starter recipe), do rice+beans+veggies, or omelettes, or a simple pasta. you don’t need to martha stewart it out here. save that shit for the weekend. take one hour on a sunday and chop a bunch of veggies, and some lettuce for salads – most of that will keep in the fridge for the week, and you’ll save time when you’re tired after a workday.

4) i plan: so when you get to cooking level 2, you can do things like note when meat is on sale and dedicate a large portion of your grocery budget to it. then you have a lot of chicken (or beef, or whatever). you’ll get to the point where you always have something in the freezer, and you got it on sale because you are SMART. also in the food realm – plan ahead for your meals. even, like, two of them. this is where the sunday prep time comes in super handy. real life example – tonight, i made this butternut squash soup (and it’s pretty great, so i’ll recommend it). last night, i was lacking some of the ingredients, but i did have the squash and the sweet potatoes and the onions so i chopped them up and saved them in the fridge. once i picked up the stock and apple i needed tonight, throwing everything together was SO easy.

5) i use things until they’re done: look, I KNOW THIS SOUNDS INSANE, and you’re free to laugh at me in the comments. the comments are there for you, but this is for me, so here’s my freak flag. you know white stick deodorant? you know how when you’re done using it, there’s a little plastic grid left, with deodorant stuck in it’s squares? yes. i poke out the deodorant, put it in a plastic snack bag, and apply it with my fingers for as long as it lasts, which is usually another two weeks. something less insane: i try to apply this philosophy to as many consumable items as i can. and this goes perfectly with the next item…

6) i fix things: i have an ikea dresser that’s at least seven years old. it’s a lovely dresser and it’s in excellent cosmetic condition. except that thing happened where all the drawer bottoms started sagging. so i googled how to fix it (hint: it involves strong glue) and i fixed it, one drawer at a time, for a week. i have a cheap full length mirror. the mirror started to detach from the frame on the back. duct tape, guys. duct tape. it leans against the wall – the back doesn’t need to be pretty, and the mirror still works just fine. most of the things you own are reparable, with a little research and time. did you know you can fix a cracked eyeshadow or blush? do you know how to sew a basic tear on a clothing item, or replace a button? it’s totally worth learning.

7) i research: do yourself a favor right now and sign up for ebates and fatwallet. they are not scams – when you visit certain retailers through either of those sites and make a purchase, you will get a small percentage of cash back. is it huge? nope, not at all, but it’s something. ebates even has a chrome extension which will LIGHT UP when cash back is available. don’t ever make an online purchase without checking retailmenot. i actually don’t use these (YET!), but there are services that will track amazon items for you and let you know when the prices dip. camelcamelcamel is one, but there are others. also, just google the stuff you want and see if you find better prices somewhere else – i just saved $60 on a pair of awesome boots because i used google’s shopping search. i ended up buying them from a site called rogansshoes.com, but what do i care? spend five minutes with google, and your checking account will thank you.

8) i wait: this is a biggie. most of the time, when i want something that’s non-trivial, i wait a while to get it. either to make sure i really need it, or to make sure it’s worth the expense. sometimes this lands me in a spot where i feel sort of like a hobo (such as earlier this winter when none of my boots kept my feet dry), but hey, i’ve made sure that i’ve gotten as much use as i can out of a product. i wait until things i want go on sale. my advice is this – pick a dollar amount – let’s say it’s $30. the next time you want something that’s over $30, make yourself wait a week. do you still need or want it? how strong is that want? if it’s not quite strong enough, wait another week. usually you can wait out your own desires, or at least save them until your birthday or another gift-giving holiday.

how do you find ways to save some dollars here and there?

9 thoughts on “7 Ways to Be More Frugal

  1. I do a lot of this stuff automatically too. I mean, I’ll go through phases where I buy stuff as I want it, but on principle I rarely buy non-essential items new. I’d rather wait until I can get a DVD or book for a few pounds on Amazon Marketplace or Ebay. I save up Tesco reward points, and I’m actually about to replace our clapped-out kettle and saucepan with those this week.

    If I can get a discount on a recurring expense by paying the annual amount in one go rather than paying monthly, I do that. The money saved may not be huge (£12 annual on insurance just now), but it’s something, and only having to track that one annual figure leaving my account is easier for me than having to be conscious of a smaller figure every month, because when you have a bunch of insurance, subscriptions and whatever, those little figures become a confusing blizzard.

    A friend just recommended keeping multiple bank accounts – she’s got one for groceries that she draws cash from (so, when it’s gone, it’s gone), and others she keeps for holidays, home improvements, Christmas, recurring payments like insurances and mortgage.

    Food-wise, it’s a good idea to check out Brand X. For a lot of foods and household products, using the cheapest version really makes no difference, particularly since a lot of the big brands make processed foods for the supermarket own-labels anyway. Grocery shopping online is great for this, because smaller local branches of Tesco tend to stock only the pricier stuff (the scale goes: Tesco Everyday Value, Tesco, Tesco Finest, premium brands; and in my local Tesco you will only ever see the latter three – often, only the latter two), but when you go online you can type in “[name of the chain’s cheap label] tomato soup/toilet paper/mixed biscuits”.

    Even in the big stores these are often not displayed prominently, so you may not realise they exist until you experiment a bit. That said, Tesco have a nasty habit of randomly hiding them on the website too, so it was through a combination of touring the biggest Tesco I could find with a notebook and pen, and exploring the website, that I generated my list of regularly bought cheapo groceries. There’s a few things I don’t compromise on – I get the standard minced beef rather than the Value one, because I prefer more actual meat than fat and gristle, but I’m pleased with the quality and flavour.

    Also, you’re so right re: cooking. I keep a lot of frozen pizzas and tinned soups and instant noodles for when we’re both in bad shape and can’t cook, but we also try to make sure that when we do cook, we get at least two days’ worth of food out of it. If you’re going to be using electricity to heat pots and pans, you might as well cook a larger quantity of food that you can portion off into freezer boxes…

    1. i love this ALL! i buy a lot of media things used – even as gifts for chris because he understands, and i will also pay an initial higher amount to avoid spending more in the long term. i’ve heard of the multiple bank account thing, but it always seemed like a bit much for me to manage and wrap my head around – although it would certainly serve to keep you on track. AND A HUGE YES to freezer cooking. i love when i can make ten meals for the future in a day.

  2. This was excellent and there are a few more bits and bobs that I do but they’re pretty obvious; they include a direct debit that goes straight from my pay cheque into my savings account every month, conducting regular clearouts and selling the results on eBay/Amazon, always bringing my lunch into work and never paying full price for anything if I can manage it. I’m sometimes a bit over cautious when it comes to money but it tends to work out for me and it’s great to have a cushion especially being a contractor.

    1. OH LORD YES – how could i forget selling things online? this is my favorite thing to do when i’m having financial panic of any sort – it helps me feel like i’m taking control of things. and LUNCH. this one is huge, too.

  3. I do a lot of things that are already mentioned in this smart post and the smart comments. I think the only thing I have to add is that if I know I want something, like REALLY want something, I will go without it for a while happily if it means I can get a better quality one when the time comes. I am not talking about things like twelve-dollar Ikea curtains that I expect to change every other year or so, but more like furniture, clothes that I expect to wear more than a dozen times out in public, and OH, appliances. I had two cheap immersion blenders (which I use ALL the time) and both died on me before a full year. Shockingly, they last MUCH longer if you just spend a little more on them at first. I also research the hell out of things like appliances so I feel better about sinking that soul-destroying amount of money into an expensive item.

    My best frugal cooking advice is to learn what to do with spices and buy them in bulk when you can, so that you can experiment with small amounts. I would feed my bean dishes to just about anyone with pride; they are fucking amazing and cost almost nothing because they are well seasoned and never feel like Punishment Food. (Not my term but SO APT.)

    1. i very recently learned about the “buy it for life” philosophy (there is a subreddit dedicated to this, who’s surprised?), and it’s something i’ve always had kind of blanketing my spending philosophy but i’m really glad to put a name to it, finally. i agree with you 100% on this. also, i’ve always been envious of your spice-having and knowledge. it’s truly impressive.

  4. excel is my frugality secret. when i really wanted to get a handle on my money, i built a master budget. a tab for every credit card’s amortization schedule, an entry for every recurring expense. each cost is assigned to a paycheck, and each payday, my morning routine is coffee and bills. a little savings, a lot of bills, and i then know exactly how much i have left to spend. it’s been a hugely helpful tool/restraint.

    1. YOU are hardcore my friend. i have actually zero idea how to calculate amortization and am duly impressed that you do.

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