My One Favorite Frugal Living Tip

by Meg Favreau on 9 June 2011 20 comments
Photo: GreenPimp

As the Editor of a frugal living website, I read a lot of suggestions about how to have a less-expensive, more-fulfilling life. Every day, on both Wise Bread and on other frugal living and personal finance sites, I come across dozens of inventive and useful ways to save, spend, reuse, and live better for less. (See also: 25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today)

But there is one suggestion that is more important than all of the others, one that I will share with you now, if you’ll allow me to be a little crass —

Nut up.

Or, if you prefer: bite the bullet, grow a pair, hunker down. Be the tough that gets going.

Basically, don't give up.

It’s easy to read about living frugally in the same way that you might stare jealously at the toned cover model on this month’s issue of Shape. If you just try an ab exercise or two, you’re never going to look like that woman. She probably spends hours and hours a week working out — because that was a decision she made and stuck with. She likely does crunches to the point where her abs scream with exhaustion.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely that you will achieve your frugal goals — or, really, any goals — if you don’t make some serious, occasionally painful, and most importantly, consistent effort.

Of course, consistent, painful effort isn't easy, and it can seem even more difficult when you try to follow suggestions or techniques that simply aren’t right for you. Yes, it’s not hard to feel like a failure when you just can’t stick with what seems like very sensible advice. But you also have your own priorities, your own beliefs, and your own ways of working that are most likely to lead to success for you. Not every good-sounding suggestion will actually improve your life.

For example, let me admit something — even though I have been passionate about frugal living for several years and ultimately made a career out of it, I can tell you that I lived without a budget for an embarrassingly long time. Even though I lived frugally, my finances suffered.

Why no budget? Because I had tried making a couple of very simple spreadsheet-based ones, and they simply didn’t work for me. I thought that meant I was hopeless when it came to sticking to the numbers. What it really meant was that I needed a more intensive system for tracking my funds. I tried more ways of tracking my budget, and eventually found a method that worked great for me.

When trying to achieve any goal, there will be trial and error. There will be setbacks. The most important thing is to keep at it.

Wise Bread, of course, is here to help you. In addition to giving you new ideas for ways to spend smarter, save better, and enjoy life, there are also several articles specifically about sticking with it. Follow Sarah’s best kept secret to frugal living, read about Philip’s comparison of frugality as a tactic and a goal, and Julie’s piece on goal setting, deconstructed.

And don't give up.

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Guest's picture
Olivia

So true. I've found a physical paper notebook works best for me, in spite of all the technological options out there. Somehow adding/subtracting numbers with a pen makes the saving/spending impact feel real. Sort of the difference between paying with cash and swiping a card.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Haha i like the expression "NUT UP"! "Make your nut" is also a good one.

Guest's picture
Victoria S

The post I needed to read today! Not about money only, but about life!

thanks

Meg Favreau's picture

I'm so glad it was helpful, Victoria!

Guest's picture
bechego

Meg, you talk about the women in Shape magazine as if they are actually really and truly that skinny, and then you make it sound as if you have to kill your body to get there. I recommend you do a YouTube search under photoshop girls to see how fake these so called skinny women are and how much pressure they put on the young girls of today.

Meg Favreau's picture

Bechego -- I am aware of (and none too happy about) how photos of many models are edited. It's awful! However, I do still think it's an apt comparison. A woman is not likely to get on the cover of Shape (or a similar fitness magazine) if she doesn't have a certain level of fitness and put a certain amount of work towards it.

Guest's picture
Jerry

From my Dad: Don't live poor so you can die rich.

Guest's picture

THANK YOU! Gosh it's about time someone just put it out there like that. All it really takes is a little effort. Just putting that much in every single day gets you closer to the goals you want whether it's being frugal or lose weight. Everyone has the power to take charge of their situation.

Guest's picture

Amen! You are right on the mark! I've seen a lot of people give up too fast and too easily thinking it's just a bunch of bunk or that they aren't cut out for it. Or worse, that they already are doing their best at frugality when they know in their hearts they aren't. Like anything else, frugality is a habit and it takes time to develop the frugal habits that work best for you! Great post! Thanks for saying it and saying it so well!

Guest's picture

We've been trying to maintain our standard of living while making small, frugal changes over the last few years and your one piece of advice is absolutely right and essential when trying to make the small changes that add up.
Great advice and a great post - many thanks.

Guest's picture

Olivia,

Thank you! Your comment was very timely. I have it a point where frugal habits have begun to become an integral part of my life, yet I am not fully "there". I know that my spending challenges have a direct correlation to my emotions. I have made it a goal to not crack under pressure and your article reminded me of why I need stick with it!

Guest's picture
Kala

Great advice! Simple, but far reaching!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for that. I've been feeling pretty discouraged lately. I'm just so scared that I won't be able to provide for my kids. It kills me to think of them going hungry. But I just need to stay focused and keep going, day after day after day. Someday things will get better!

Guest's picture
James Martin, RN

I grocery shop on a "dollar-a-pound" plan and we eat, on average for a "dollar-a-meal". Here's how it works. You can't eat much more than one pound of anything. Don't believe me, try to eat a 16 oz. steak sometime without anything else like bread or salad, just a 16oz. steak. Then fix a 16 oz. salad. Don't guess, just weigh it and try to eat it. An average sized stomach can just hold so much and a pound is a lot to eat. If you still don't believe me buy a one pound block of cheese and try to eat it, or about 8 or 9 eggs. Get the picture?
Potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, lettuce, bananas, milk, many pastas and pasta sauces, and many other grocery items you may find will be under, sometimes well under, a dollar a pound. The onions, potatoes and carrots can be bought in bulk like 5 to 10 pounds at a time to get the price down. It's important to get these bulk items as low as possible because that bonus money will be spent on cheese, meat, tomatoes, peppers, butter, coffee, sugar, and all the other good stuff that are well over a dollar a pound.
Believe me this works, I've been doing it for years. Many canned foods are right at a dollar a pound, sometime lower. The cheapest hotdogs and "balony" are a dollar a pound. And don't forget that items like dried beans, rice, pastas, coffee, soups and the like, we add tap water to while preparing. So if you buy a box of pasta for a dollar, you end up getting 3 or 4 pounds of food for a dollar.
Which, by the way brings me to my next point, water. Drink a glass of water seconds before you start to eat, you will eat less. Also, try to serve soups as often as possible before the main course. They are good and they fill you up with water (which few of us get enough of) so you don't end up eating too much meat or cheese or butter.
Please contact me at jemjjm at yahoo.com with any questions or comments. Once again, this works, works well, is easily explained and implemented and turns out to be healthy to boot! What more could you ask?

Guest's picture
Mike_ILG

As for me and my wife, we just try to live within our means. We don't buy stuff on credit if we know we can't pay for it when the billing statement arrives. We stir clear from anything that incurs interest.. ;)

Tara Struyk's picture

Love it! Thanks for the simple perspective.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hurray! Thank you for the ungilded truth.

Guest's picture
J Harn

I totally agree. So many of my friends to claim to live frugally, however, really tightening the belt most of them have no clue. I am so extremely frugal and I work out everyday plus I do all the things that they do and they all look at me wishing they have what I have. They are not willing to do the work. It is a massive amount of time and effort loss sleep, and working when I did not feel well,. Etc.......
Things are not always as they seem, If we eat rice and beans but hold on to our home, then they go out to eat and after years of paying off our mortgage, everyone looks at us once we pay off the home / saying how lucky we are.
It's not luck , it was a ton of hard choices.
In 2006 at Christmas we were broke. I could not feed my family, I could not buy gifts, A friend gave me some pasta. I served it with watered down sauce and sat on a park bench and cried. It was the only meal we had all day.
My life changed after that I woke everyday trying to figure out how I could earn a bit of money everyday. It slowly started to make a difference it took us four years we paid off all of our debt and we have not gone back.
We all wake each day, we will work for just coins if we have to but we work a portion of everyday and we have money left over at the end of the year.
My friends have all chosen to be the bird with a head in the sand. It does not fix the problem.

Guest's picture

After budgeting and making an effort to live frugally years ago... it's now totally natural for us. People give us a hard time saying that we need to "live life" and "money isn't everything" - but to be honest, we have absolutely everything we could possibly want, and do everything that we love to do.

Guest's picture

Excellent advice and I love that you have boiled it down to the essential difference between those who go for their dream/goal and those who dream but never start. It is such a simple lesson, but taking the first step and then consistent (even if small) steps forward is what is needed.

Brilliant and concise insight. Thank you for reminding us all and for putting our a wonderful set of articles to keep us all on track.