If you want to save money, you might consider cutting out your daily latte. While you’re at it, ditch anything else you enjoy, if it’s not an essential expense. That’s what being frugal and budgeting is all about, right? Wrong.
You can live on a budget and have your latte, too — or cake or vacation or whatever else adds joy to your life. In fact, frugal living can help you afford what you want. Here are some frugal living tips to help you cut costs without cutting out everything you love.
1. Identify Priorities to Eliminate Unnecessary Spending
The best way to budget without feeling like you’re restricting yourself is to think about where you want your money to go.
“Before people start looking at the numbers of their spending, it’s important to identify your priorities,” said Liz — aka Mrs. Frugalwoods — who writes about achieving financial independence through simple living at Frugalwoods.com and prefers that her last name not be used. “What are the things you value, and what are the things you want to accomplish?”
Perhaps you want to take a vacation every year, retire early or have one parent stay at home. Once you know what your goals are, you can comb through your expenses to see whether your money is going toward things you value or things that aren’t as important.
“It becomes easy to cut out unnecessary spending when you think about, ‘Would I rather get my nails done every week or take a two-week vacation in Hawaii?'” Liz said.
She and her husband made it a goal to leave their office jobs in the city and work from home on a 66-acre homestead in Vermont. They were willing to pay a lot for a nice house because they spend most of their time at home. But they drive an older car, Liz’s husband cuts her hair, and she hasn’t bought new clothes in two years — because those things aren’t as important to the pair.
2. Find Ways to Trim Recurring Expenses
Eliminating unnecessary spending and living frugally will help free up more room in your budget for things you value. However, Liz noted that you also need to look at your recurring expenses — such as mortgage or rent payments, utilities, and gas for your car — to identify the costs that are fixed and not fixed.
“Groceries are not fixed,” she said. “We need groceries, but the amount we’re spending on them is not fixed.” To save money on food, Liz and her husband buy raw ingredients in bulk — rather than items that are packaged and pre-made — and make most everything they eat, including bread and baby food. “Our grocery cart is typically all things that need to be cooked,” she said.
The couple typically cooks large batches and then freezes them in smaller portions that can be warmed up for easy meals during the week.
“I call it frugal take-out,” Liz said, adding that this choice leaves more room in the budget to indulge in some of the pricier food items they enjoy.
So, don’t gloss over your recurring expenses and assume they’re all fixed. In addition to cutting food costs, you might be able to lower your monthly bills by switching service providers, negotiating lower rates or even eliminating services you don’t need.
3. Do What You Love for Less
Holly Johnson, founder of the blog ClubThrifty.com, said that when she and her husband created a plan to cut expenses so they could pay off debt, they agreed that travel was one category of spending they didn’t want to eliminate.
“As a result, we cut back further elsewhere so we could continue traveling a few times per year,” she said. “Our trips are a huge treat we don’t want to live without, so we sacrifice elsewhere to afford them.”
However, Johnson also found a way to make traveling more affordable — by scoring free flights and accommodations with credit card rewards. By charging all of her family’s expenses to credit cards — and paying off the balance each month — she earns enough rewards to take seven to eight trips a year at almost no cost to her.
Another way to do what you love for less is to use discounted gift cards. Author Donna Freedman said she finds gift cards for movie theaters that cost 20 percent to 25 percent less than face value at sites such as GiftCardGranny.com. She uses the cards to save money on “fun stuff, like going to the movies or taking my nephews out for a burger.”
Freedman also suggested that individuals sign up at sites such as Swagbucks.com and MyPoints.com and earn points by taking surveys and watching videos. You can then redeem the points for gifts cards to theater chains or a variety of retailers. By looking for ways to enjoy the activities you like at a lower cost, you won’t have to eliminate all luxuries from your life to save money.
4. Look for Inexpensive Substitutes
Another tip on how to be frugal without cutting out the things you love is to find lower-cost versions of them. For example, you can save money by buying generic brands instead of brand-name items — especially at the supermarket. In fact, store brands can offer great value at a lower cost.
Liz said that she and her husband love seltzer water but didn’t want to pay a lot to buy it in bottles or buy a machine that turns tap water into sparkling water.
“We thought, ‘How can we do this for less?'” she said. So, her husband figured out how to turn an inexpensive carbon-dioxide tank into a seltzer maker.
Thanks to the internet and YouTube, it’s easy to find hacks and do-it-yourself videos to acquire or make the things you want for less. So, search online for a cheap alternative before you buy.
5. Make Compromises
You might be able to afford some of the things you want if you’re willing to make compromises. For example, if you love designer clothes, you can get your brand-name fix for less — if you’re willing to buy gently worn items at a consignment or thrift store.
Mike Delgado, director of social media at the credit bureau Experian, said he loves music — especially hip hop.
“[I] can easily go crazy buying songs by Kendrick, Lupe, JGivens, John Givez,” he said. But he cuts his music budget drastically by using Spotify, a digital service that offers free access to music. He then uses the cash he saves by not buying songs to see the concerts of his favorite artists because he values the experiences more.
6. Trade Time Instead of Money
You’ve no doubt heard the saying that time is money. But Liz found that she could save money on an activity she loved — yoga — because she was willing to trade her time.
While living in Cambridge, Mass., Liz enjoyed practicing yoga at a studio but wanted to find a way to do it for free. She found out she could take classes at no cost in exchange for volunteering a few hours at the studio’s front desk and taking out the trash once a week.
Her Frugalwoods blog readers have also been able to score free classes in exchange for volunteering their time at studios and exercise facilities, so Liz’s experience isn’t unique. If there’s an activity you enjoy, ask whether you can do it for free by trading your time.
Keep Reading: 50 Ways to Live the Big Life on a Small Budget