25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today

by Ray Jamali on 30 March 2011 35 comments
Photo: Rinelle

Frugal living does not have to involve drastic changes; a few simple everyday changes can go a long way. Here are 25 changes you can make today and start living a frugal life without taking frugality too far. (See also: The Line Between Frugal and Crazy)

1. Reduce/Eliminate Daily Luxuries

Cut down on your daily Starbucks coffee and brown bag your lunch. Small daily luxuries can add up quickly and end up costing you a fortune. We are not talking about the occasional treats, but regular daily expenditures you can easily cut down without a dramatic impact on your life. Instead of buying coffee every morning, make it at home and save $1,500 on coffee.

2. Carpool

Get a few colleagues together and start a carpool. Not only do you and your carpool buddies save on gas and other vehicle maintenance expenses, it is also better for the environment.

3. Prevent Repair Costs

Sometimes frugality can go too far and end up costing you more than saving you. One area you cannot and should not be frugal in is maintenance. Ensure you do your oil changes and tire rotations on a regular basis to prevent costly car breakdown. Regular maintenance around your house, regular check ups at the doctor and the dentist will prevent steep expenditures from creeping up on you.

4. Share Toys

Buying toys can be expensive and rarely are they used to their full potential. Share your kids’ toys with your family and friends. This will enable your children to play with a variety of toys without you having to buy each item. Create a system that will allow multiple households to share in the fun and costs together.

5. Shop on a Full Stomach

When shopping on an empty stomach you tend to buy items you don’t need or want for your diet. However, hunger makes you vulnerable and you end up purchasing what you crave at that moment. Usually these tend to be the more costly ready-to-eat snacks and meals, that are also high on calories, sugars, and sodium.

6. Share Baby Clothes

If you have a child start swapping clothes instead of buying brand new items. Parents understand that babies grow out of clothes at lightening speed. So before you go splurging on those Baby Jordans ask around and you will be surprised to find how many parents have brand new baby clothes that they can donate. As well, be generous and share your little ones’ items with your friends and family members. A little can go a long way.

7. Purchase Generic

Brand shopping can be obsessive and quickly get out of hand. First it’s one purse and then a pair of shoes and before you know it the designer is making all the things you love. I hear you, you can’t help but love beautiful creations. However, know that there will never be an end to new and hottest brands and they are always overpriced.

8. Buy in Bulk

Sometimes buying in bulk can be a great cost saving technique. This is especially true for cleaning and daily use items such as paper towels, detergent, or bleach. Wait until they are on sale and buy enough to last you until the next sale rolls around. Make sure to buy things that can be stored for a long time without any defects.

9. Turn off the Lights

Turn off your lights and fix water leaks. With some effort reducing water and energy bills can be accomplished rather easily. Depending on your location you might also have options between several service providers. Use websites that can help you find the best rates such as energyshop.com. You can easily save 10% or more on these costs. A few hours of research can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over a year.

10. Purchase Used Items

Although there are some items that you would not purchase used, there are many things one is better off buying used than new. Garage sales can often be a great money saver. One big-ticket item is a car; I am not a fan of purchasing a new car (depreciating asset). A few other items one can purchase used are home appliances, furniture and gardening tools. A few hours on craigslist, ebay or autotrader can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

11. Cut Food Costs

Cut out junk food and plan meals in advance. After housing and transportation, food is the next biggest expense for most families. Although you cannot eliminate food (at least I can’t), there are strategies you can use to reduce the cost associated with it. By planning your meals ahead of time you can avoid wasteful shopping, and reducing junk food will not only help your wallet but also your health.

12. Reduce Reoccurring Costs

Cut down on your cable, internet, phone, magazine subscriptions, and other reoccuring costs. As an entrepreneur I love subscription based services — they bring in consistent reoccurring income. As a consumer I don’t think there is a bigger evil than subscriptions. Go over your monthly subscriptions and start cutting where you can. Small incremental amounts can end up taking a large chunk of your income. Are you still a cable subscriber? With services such as Netflix and redbox, there is no need for hefty cable subscriptions. Although those are also subscription based, the cost is a fraction of your cable bill. Review your internet and phone bills and start shopping for better plans.

13. Save Your Spare Change

Set up a piggy bank and start saving your spare change. You would not believe how much you can accumalte by saving small amounts of change throughout the year. This is extremely effective; in fact some banks have started offering products based on this concept.

14. Shop Online

Online shopping has become extremely popular over the last few years, and often it's the online retailers that can offer big discounts. Not only is it convenient shopping from your home, you can easily compare prices and look for coupon codes.

15. Drive Steady

Start driving at a steady pace and avoid excessive speeding. With gas prices going through the roof saving money on gas can add up very quickly.

16. Start Bargaining

Start bargaining! Although you may not be able to bargain at Walmart, you can do it at your local farmers markets, with your phone and cable provider, and many other purchases. Just ask!

17. Eat Steak at Home

You may not succeed on your first attempt to make a great steak, however with practice comes perfection. Save yourself a few hundred dollars by making your steak at home, the way you want it.

18. Pre-Drink at Home

If you are planning on a Saturday night out and hitting the bar, consider pre-drinking at home. I find getting a buzz at the bar can quickly become a buzz kill. Ensure you have a designated driver.

19. Use Coupons

Get cutting! In case you have not heard this before, coupons can save you money! Start using coupons for your everyday purchases; these small amounts can start adding up quickly. These days you don't even have to look for coupon booklets anymore — there are many variety of places to find coupons.

20. Watch the Game at Home

I am a big sports fan and love watching a good game at the bar. However this can get very expensive very quickly. Invite a few friends over and ask them to bring their own alcohol — you provide the snacks and entertainment. You can have just as good of an experience at home, if not better.

21. Fix It Yourself

If you broke it you can fix it. Fixing your broken items yourself can be a cost effective. With the Google and YouTube you can virtually find videos on anything you may need. Of course, be careful and make sure you have the right tools and skills for the job.

22. Romance on a Budget

Being frugal does not mean you cannot romance your partner. Instead of an expensive dinner out, create a romantic ambience at home with some candles, romantic music and home-cooked meal. Instead of expensive Hallmark cards, you can write your own short poem or just an I love you letter.

23. Be Debt Focused

I know this is not a debt reduction article. However paying off debt can never hurt. Often the goal of frugal living is to become financially independent. What better way to achieve that than by extinguishing debt.

24. Do Your Own Taxes

Taxes often intimidated people. However with all the tax filling softwares available, doing your own taxes is very straightforward. Unless you have a complicated situation, there often is no need to pay hefty fees for someone else to file your taxes.

25. Learn More about Frugal Living

Often frugal living seems complicated and/or boring. But the first step to living a frugal life is to learn more about frugality. Read books, articles, and blogs about saving money — like you're doing right now!

Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

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Guest's picture
Susan L

I've always loved living a frugal lifestyle and voluntary simplicity. I've been following Wisebread for quite awhile now, and I guarantee the tips are right on the money - pardon the pun. I'm proud to say I now follow nearly all the 25 tips listed above, and it's made a tremendous difference in our finances!

Guest's picture
MoneyIsTheRoot

I definitely agree with purchasing generic. Most products there isnt much of a difference, such as toilet paper, napkins, paper toweling, aspirin, etc.

Guest's picture
Cable Loving Guest

Can we stop with things like "With services such as Netflix and redbox, there is no need for hefty cable subscriptions?" Spending money is intensely personal. No two people will probably do it the same way. My wife and I think our Cable-TV subscription is some of the best money we spend, every month. We get access to 24hr news, weather and terrific programing that is not available via Netflix and redbox. I understand that others may not agree. I know a lot of people who clearly don't follow the news. I know a lot of people who aren't interested in BBC programming or A&E or Discovery, or National Geographic, and so on. Were we to cancel *our* cable, we would probably end up spending the same amount of money (or more) going to first-run movies, going to bars and bookstores and elsewhere. I would never try to force everyone to get a cable TV subscription, but can't we allow for the fact that not everyone uses cable the same way? For some of us, it's a very good deal.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm with you, Cable Loving Guest. My husband and I actually save money by having cable - watching movies or great cable tv shows ("Burn Notice", anyone?) instead of spending money at a bar or movie theaters. No, we're not couch potatoes, but we do enjoy the cable channels and what they have to offer way more than your standard network tv.

Guest's picture
Rose

Well, I do wish I could figure out a way to cut the cost of my cable service, I really think I'm at a wall with what I can do. Netflix and Redbox are useless to me - I rarely watch movies, and when i do, well, we have a large DVD collection, acquired cheaply. Why, why, why do "frugal" writers assume that cable AtV is only for movies, and we'd all be better off with Netflix?

So why do I have cable? Two words - sports, and income. My husband and I love sports, and watch many. And live sports is not something you can get much of for free! Secondly, my husband is a freelance sports writer, and one of his jobs is writing about boxing - and we can get a lot of fights on cable. Yes, he goes to live fights, but that's hard to do for fights in other countries unless you're a big shot. And he gets some online, via paid streaming services. But cable is essential - along with phone service for interviewing people and high speed Internet. We get a discount for buying all 3 from the same company, and we scaled back to a mid-level package (basic doesn't include what we need).

Guest's picture
Guest

In Canada especially, Netflix doesn't have all that much content. There are a few good tv series on it, but only the first 2 or 3 seasons, and there aren't many movies that I want to see. After a few months I had pretty much watched everything on there that was interesting to me. Also Netflix DOES require that you have a PS3, XBox 360 or Wii if you want to watch on your tv, which is an extra $100-$200. Watch on a computer isn't bad if you are alone, but if you are watching with more than one person, it doesn't work.

I do appreciate that CTV, Citytv and Global have their shows online though, but then again, watching on the computer is not that great.

Guest's picture

A lot of these are just so obvious, such as planning meals (reduces waste big time) and turning off the lights.

Andrea Karim's picture

Obvious to some, intriguing to people who have never thought about it.

Guest's picture
Daisy

I have to agree with Andrea. Most people don't think about how they use items in their home and how small expenses affect the bigger picture. While many of us who read blogs like Wisebread have heard it time and time again, there are some people who will have the light bulb light up after reading this great list.

Guest's picture
TK

Perhaps instead of encouraging people to drink before getting into their vehicles to go somewhere and drink some more, people who like a night out at the bar should either limit the number of drinks that they order or have friends come over to their home to enjoy drinks there instead.

Guest's picture
Jae

You must have missed the "Ensure you have a designated driver" line.

Guest's picture
Hunter

This is a fairly comprehensive resource.

As a newcomer to America I have another suggestion. Dry your clothes on a clothesline. I can't get my head around how wasteful it is to put all your laundry into a dryer. It uses so much energy, and costs $$$ too.

Guest's picture
Guest

this is actually illegal in many areas of the US. My neighborhood being one of them.

Guest's picture
Guest

I would LOVE to be able to dry my clothes on a clothesline in the spring and summer. However, living in a condo complex, the Home Owner's Association does not allow it :(. What I do, however, is hang several pieces of my work clothes to dry overnight on the shower rod. It has saved wear and tear, extending the life of my clothes.

Kentin Waits's picture

Great post -- I'm definitely a fan of buying almost anything used.

Guest's picture

Regarding #15 Most modern cars hit peak economy between 50-70mph. It isn't the speeding that costs you at the pump, but the braking and then needing to accelerate again to get to rate of traffic.

You don't need to be a hyper-miler (in fact many hyper-miler tips are downright dangerous) just remember that a constant rate of travel leads to better efficiency. So try to avoid unnecessary braking, don't tailgate, pick routes with few traffic lights, and avoid stop and go traffic whenever possible.

Guest's picture
Guest

Most modern cars hit peak economy between 50-60mph on flat track like conditions when the engines are brandnew. Which means peak efficiency on actual roads equates closer to 45-55mph. Also, as a car ages its gas efficiency deminishes.

Guest's picture
Marni H

5. Shop on a Full Stomach and 18. Pre-Drink at Home really hit home.

I always buy too much if I go grocery shopping while hungry. Also, pre-gaming isn't just for college kids!

Guest's picture

We should all pay particular attention to Reduce Reoccurring Costs. Budget killers are those items that we overpay for, even by a small amount, again and again and again. Pay very careful attention to any subscription or auto renewing purchase. Gym memberships, cable, insurance and cell phone plans are all expenses that we need to carefully review from time to time.

Guest's picture
Diane

"Use the library" should have made the list. For books, magazines, music, videos, presentations, used book sales.

Guest's picture
Guest

Definitely! The library has actually become one of my favorite places to visit each week. I used to spend $$$ on books and movies each weekend, and now I don't spend a penny and have just as much enjoyment!

Guest's picture
Guest

#11 is great! By cutting down on trips I make to the grocery store, I've been able to cut $60 or more per month in grocery expenses. I now plan two weeks of menus per large shopping trip vs. the one week I used to shop for. It takes discipline, but you adjust to it.

Guest's picture

I agree with a lot of the things in this post, but you partially contradict yourself.

You say there isn't a need for cable and suggest getting rid of it. However, you then go on to say watch the game at home. Well you can't get rid of cable and then watch a game at home. Actually, getting rid of cable would force me to go to the bar far more often to watch games. That would result in a large bar tab and me spending more than I would have on cable.

Guest's picture
Amy Saves

agree with lots of the tips! my friends and i always pre-drink at home. $12- $15 drinks at bars sure add up.

Guest's picture
Guest

Here's an idea.....stop drinking! That will save you enormous amounts of money per year (plus add years to your life and life to your years!)

Guest's picture
rosa rugosa

Just as an aside, "reoccuring" is not a word. It should be "recurrent."

Guest's picture
Guest

I thought it was "recurring" instead of "reoccurring."

Guest's picture
Carol F

I don't mind paying for cable. Everyone has their own frugal "comfort zone". For me, being frugal means choosing wisely for myself, what to spend my money on.We have movie night at home, have movie food (hot dogs, popcorn, and chocolate), and snuggle.
We cut back in other areas...cook from scratch, seldom eat out, buy staples in bulk after comparing prices, consolidate trips to save gas, adjust thermostat to just comfortable, purchase clothing and other goods at thrift store. I just bought my son a designer white dress shirt and black designer dress shoes for total $12, both look like they were never worn. I make our laundry detergent for pennies and line dry clothes whenever possible.
I choose where my hard-earned dollars go and make sure I'm getting the most value for them when they do. It's not that hard to do. Saving money becomes a habit. We live a pretty good life. We have everything we need and a good deal of what we want.
BTW, we will be completely debt-free in about 7 years, including our 100K mortgage.

Guest's picture

I love the idea of sharing. I read a book about Carol Burnett. Her and a few other girls shared a dress for auditions. They all pitched in to buy it and they had to take turns using it. Sharing and creativity needs to be brought back to finance!

Guest's picture
Leslie

There are lots of ways we can cut back without feeling deprived. Your list certainly hits a lot of them. Thank for compiling.

Guest's picture
Haha...

I think it's hilarious that you talk about being frugal and then suggest buying *paper towels* in bulk. You want to be frugal? Get some kitchen towels, cut old bath towels into rags for cleaning, and stop buying stuff you just end up throwing away.

Guest's picture

On #9) If you are able to get a cheaper gas or electric rate, you can save oodles. You have to be in a state that is deregulated though. Here is a map: http://www.oracleconsultinggroup.com/energy-deregulated-states-/

The saveonenergy site is a pretty good starting point. They don't have all the info tho, so sometimes you have to dig deeper and get quotes from actual energy retails. The saveonenergy site is really thourough about data from Canada though, if you live there.

Guest's picture
Guest

I rent and pay a round "all-inclusive" rate, so in my case water/electric/repair savings don't apply. I also don't have kids and don't have a car; I use public transit.

I realize that not owning a home, a car or having children are all pretty helpful when it comes to saving money.

I got rid of magazines subscriptions recently because I was only skimming them and then they just cluttered my place. If I really want to check out a certain issue I go to the library. I have a basic cell phone plan, avoid expensive outings ($15 movie ticket - no thanks), and barely ever drink.

The expenses I have the most trouble with are groceries, coffee or tea and lunch at work (I hate packing a lunch), home furnishings (Home Sense makes a lot of money from me) and gifts.

Guest's picture
Jon Smith

"Save yourself a few hundred dollars by making your steak at home, the way you want it."

Where do you eat steak?!

Some great ideas here - look forward to more.

Guest's picture
Guest

Doing your own taxes is not necessarily the best idea. If you have a simple straight forward single employed income without investments, multiple properties, freelancing, etc then it works great. Otherwise a tax professional could potentially save you a significant amount of money.