The word “frugal” often has negative connotations attached to it. Some people hear the term and associate it with being cheap or stingy, but that’s not the case at all. Being frugal can actually be a very positive thing in your life, especially if you’re trying to change your spending and savings habits for the better.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to adopt a more frugal lifestyle or money mindset. Certain frugal money habits, no matter how beneficial they might be for your present and future, can be tricky to implement in your day-to-day life.
Some frugal habits can take time, patience and consistency to truly adopt, while others are relatively simple. In both cases, switching to a more frugal lifestyle is often more than worth doing.
Buy Food Strategically
Groceries are an essential expense, but it’s easy to go overboard and splurge on things you don’t need. Most grocery stores are designed to encourage impulse buying, especially when you first walk in or are nearing the checkout line. But if you’re trying to cut down on spending, one of the first things you should consider is your grocery bill.
One way to reduce unnecessary expenditures on groceries is to shop with a list and only buy the things that are on that list — no exceptions.
“One of the areas that many people have been struggling with saving on is groceries [as] the cost has gone up a lot over the past few years,” said Kendall Meade, certified financial planner at SoFi. “Have a grocery list (and plan it around the sales that week or month).”
While you’re at it, do some weekly or biweekly meal planning so that you know what to put on that list. You can also check your cupboards or refrigerator to see what you already have and plan your meals around that.
“Meal plan to ensure no food goes to waste (people also might be hesitant to implement this one because it does take some work on the front end but may actually save you time overall,” Meade said. You can also shop at discount grocery stores such as Sam’s Club, Aldi, Lidl or Costco to save on groceries.
Another way to save money on groceries is to buy in bulk — but only if you know you’re going to be able to use whatever you get.
“One of the biggest savings for me personally has been shopping in bulk, but many people struggle to do this because it can be a bit of additional work. A lot of times, people think that if you have a smaller family, it is not worth it to buy in bulk. However, I do this for just my husband and I,” Meade said. “I am able to separate out meat in freezer bags so that it can last us all month! By implementing this strategy, I was able to cut my grocery bill by 25%.”
Buy Generic Goods
Most people have their preferred brands, but if you’re willing to try something new or let go of the brands you usually use, you could experience some great discounts. Oftentimes, generic or store-brand goods — like food — use the same or similar ingredients as more popular, more expensive options.
“Buying generic products instead of name-brand is a habit that can cut grocery bills nearly in half,” said Todd Stearn, founder and CEO of The Money Manual. “For example, Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, and Lucky Charms in my area are well over $5 for a 12-ounce box. But generic versions that taste nearly the same are $2 and change.”
You can also purchase generic medications to save money. If you’re taking a prescription medication, just make sure to run it by your doctor first.
Always Shop With a List
This one applies to more than just food. Whenever you’re about to head out for a shopping trip, whether it’s to the grocery store, the mall or your favorite retailer, bring a list with you. That way, you can limit unnecessary spending and still end up getting what you need and have budgeted for.
“Sticking to a list makes it easier for shoppers to stay on track with their budgets. Not to mention, knowing exactly what you need to buy reduces decision fatigue at the store,” said Rob Weisberg, EVP and president of the Incentives & Loyalty Division at Inmar Intelligence. “Shoppers can confidently pick up the items on their list without feeling overwhelmed by choices in the aisles or online.”
If you find it challenging to stick with a list, consider adding a small splurge item or two to it. That way, you can still buy things you want but don’t necessarily need without buying things in excess.
Eliminate Streaming Services
The idea of canceling your streaming or other monthly subscription services to save money isn’t a novel one, but it’s still one that many people resist doing. For some people, this is because it doesn’t feel like canceling just one service will really make much of a difference. For others, it’s too much of a hassle to actually do it. And, of course, people often enjoy their subscriptions.
But if you have a few streaming services or subscriptions that you really aren’t using, pulling the plug on them now will benefit you in the long run. In doing so, you might even find that you don’t miss the ones you’ve canceled. And if you do end up wanting them back, it’s usually easy enough to set them up again.
“Cancel streaming services no longer worth the price. And take advantage of streaming services bundled with other services you already have such as mobile and grocery delivery,” said Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money. “For instance, Walmart+ customers get Paramount streaming bundled with their yearly subscription to grocery and product delivery. Amazon Prime comes with Amazon Prime’s Video streaming service that includes NFL Thursday Night Football. Certain Verizon Unlimited plans come with Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.”
As an alternative to paid services, Lieberman suggested, “Try free streaming services such a Roku, Pluto, Tubi, and Crackle. You can watch live feeds of NBC News and ABC News on their YouTube channels. And many news channels post their segments on YouTube such as PBS NewsHour, CNN, FOX News, and more.”
Switch To a Minimalist Lifestyle
When so many things are readily accessible and convenience is the name of the game, it’s all too easy to live in excess. And while the occasional splurge or two is generally OK, you’d be surprised at how much money you could be spending on things you don’t need, want or even use.
That’s where switching to a more minimalistic approach comes in handy. By cutting out unnecessary expenses and adopting a simpler lifestyle, you can also live more frugally without sacrificing comfort.
“Adopt a minimalistic lifestyle and shop for second-hand items like furniture, electronics, and clothing,” said Dr. Enoch Omololu, a personal finance expert and founder of Savvy New Canadians. “You don’t have to sacrifice quality while enjoying significant savings. Mindful spending is good for you and the environment.”
Cut Back on Discretionary Spending
Discretionary spending basically refers to nonessential spending — that is, things that don’t fall within the “needs” category of spending.
“Frugal habits that people might resist but are highly worthwhile include cooking at home instead of eating out, using public transportation or carpooling, and cutting back on non-essential expenses like subscriptions and impulse purchases. These habits might be challenging to implement, but they can significantly improve one’s financial situation in the long run,” said Anthony De Filippis, the director at Amplify 11, a Penrith Chartered tax accountant firm.
“Cutting back on non-essential expenses helps individuals prioritize their spending and allocate funds towards more important financial goals, such as paying off debt or building an emergency fund,” De Filippis said.
Use Coupons, Loyalty Programs and Cash-Back Apps
Many retailers and grocery stores have loyalty programs that offer discounts or sales on items. These programs are generally free, but they do require an initial signup. You’ll also have to get into the habit of using a phone number, card or app when shopping to take advantage of these deals. But once you do, you could start seeing some decent savings throughout the year.
“Loyalty programs typically offer great deals and sometimes special store hours. Many retailers are investing to be able to personalize offers for shoppers, so by signing up and using your loyalty programs when you make purchases, it can help you get more relevant offers in the future,” Weisberg said.
Coupons and cash-back apps are also a significant way to save money and live more frugally. Cash-back apps, such as Upside, are growing in popularity because they make it easy to earn cash back on everything from groceries to gas to dining out. You simply download the mobile app, then search for offers at stores near you. After you hit the “claim offer” button on your app, you automatically receive cash back when you make the purchase.
Create and Stick With a Budget
Creating a realistic budget and sticking with it can be a challenge, but it’s one that really pays off. Having a good budget can help you cut back on unnecessary spending, save money and understand your money habits. It’s also a great tool you can use to start working toward other financial goals you might have.
Your budget should cover both fixed and variable expenses, including groceries, housing, utilities, gas, entertainment, clothes and debts. Try to set realistic budgets for each category and avoid going over them as much as possible.
Lower Housing Expenses
For many people, housing is one of the biggest monthly expenses, so finding ways to lower this cost can help a great deal.
“The biggest expense for most folks is housing. So, the best frugal habit you can have is to live with roommates. Or at least live below your means,” Lieberman said. “Some people might be able to live free or cheaply with family.”
If you’re used to living on your own, you might not want to live with family or roommates. But by doing so, you can cut housing costs and put more money toward savings, an emergency fund or debt payoff.
Use Cash Not Card
Leave the credit and debit cards at home, or use them only for emergencies. This can take some getting used to, as it might feel very limiting, but it’s usually worth it.
“Use cash instead of your credit card. While this is less convenient, you will be more aware of your purchases and avoid overspending,” Omololu said.
And if you do need to use a credit card, only spend as much as you can afford to pay back each month so that you can avoid interest.
“Sometimes, you’re forced to use credit for an emergency,” Stearn said. “But avoid using your credit card for lifestyle choices you can’t really afford.”
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