7 Ways to Be More Frugal

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?