10 Frugal Tips You Haven’t Already Heard


If you’re a regular reader of my posts or Wise Bread in general, you already have a pretty good education on how to live a frugal lifestyle — the basics, if you will. Now it’s time for the advanced course. That’s why I’ve dug deep into my bank of frugal knowledge to pull out these money-saving nuggets. Peep the gems below and start saving savvier than ever before. (See also: 25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today)

1. Put Something Back Every Time You Shop

This tip is especially good to remember at the supermarket — save money and guilt by putting back that bag of chips — but it can work wherever you’re shopping. If you find yourself with an arm full of new shirts and pants at your favorite store, give one of them back to the associate at checkout. When you’re at Target, just say no to at least one of the things in your cart that you definitely don’t need. You can even institute this rule when you’re Christmas shopping — one of those presents is probably for yourself; put it back, and wait to see what Santa has in store for you.

2. Treat Frugal Living Like Staying Healthy

Exercise and eating right is an uphill battle for me, but it’s one that I’m committed to fighting. When I fall off the wagon, I don't give up my hopes of rock-hard abs, throbbing biceps, and bouncing pecs. Rather, I get back in the gym and work a little harder. Treat living frugally the same way. There will be times when you give in to temptation. It’s OK. Just try not to make it a habit, and try to make up for your mistake somehow.

3. Look at Your Credit Reports Annually

Many of us only look at our credit reports when we’re prompted to — applying for a new apartment or making a big purchase — but you should stay up to date on your financial status regardless. We’re all entitled to one free report per year, and you should take advantage of it. It’s beneficial to know where you stand, so you know what you can qualify for when it comes time to make those big purchases. It’s also a good practice so you can be sure that your identity hasn’t been compromised in any way.

4. Calculate the Cost Per Wear Before Buying New Clothes

The theory goes that you should divide the price of the clothing item by the amount of times you plan to wear the piece to find the cost per wear (CPW). The general consensus seems to suggest that the cost per wear should be around $3. You can get that lower, of course, by buying cheaper clothes (or finding better deals at least) and wearing them more often.

5. Institute a Self-Audit Every Three Months

Evaluating your budget every 12 months is problematic because you could have cut out unnecessary items 10 months ago, resulting in an extra 10 months worth of savings. To keep yourself on the right track more consistently, schedule a self-audit every three months. See where you’re at with regards to your income, your savings, and how much you’re spending, and make moves to eliminate expenses you don’t need. This a good time to set goals, too; it’s been proven that shorter-term goals are easier to achieve than long-term goals.

6. Establish a Frugal Buddy System

I mentioned earlier than keeping to a frugal lifestyle is like living a physically healthy lifestyle — it’s hard, it takes work, and sometimes you’ll fail at it. But you’ll have a much better chance of success if you have a frugal buddy on whom to rely. This person (preferably someone with the same frugal goals as you) will be the shoulder you need to lean on in times of weakness. They’re the friend who will tell you that you don’t need that cashmere sweater. And they’ll be the one who sits at home with you on a frugal Friday night watching TV movies while all your other friends are out eating and drinking their paychecks away. 

7. Less Is More — Sometimes Much More (Than You Need)

So many self-proclaimed frugalists fall into this trap (myself included) — just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you should buy whatever the coupon is for. Coupons save you money on things you need, sure, but they’re a marketing gimmick first and foremost to get you to purchase the manufacturer’s product. You’re not saving any money if you’re buying something you don’t need, even if it’s at a steep discount. Before using that coupon, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" If the answer is no, do not buy it. Remember that those purchases that you think are super deals add up over the course of a year. When you don’t use the item, it’s wasted money no matter how little it cost. 

8. Eliminate Most Disposable Products From Your Life 

This will not be easy by any means — we love convenience, but we also have to pay for convenience. If you want to save a sizeable chunk of change, make it a rule to stay away from most products that cannot be cleaned and reused many times. This includes paper and plastic plates and dinnerware, paper towels, sponges, and many other kitchen, bathroom, and around-the-house items that make our lives easier because we can throw them away.

9. Start a 30-Day No-Buy List to Curb Impulse Buys

I can’t say that I always stick to this tip, but I do try my best. The concept is simple — when you’re browsing online or even in person and come across something that you just have to have, stop for a minute, breathe, and pull out your list. Add the item to the list, and let it sit there for 30 days. If you still want it after 30 days, buy it (you should use that 30 day grace period to save up for it), but chances are — and this is the nature of impulse buys — you won’t want it anymore when day 30 comes to pass.

10. Active Living Is Cheaper Living

The more time you spend working on your health and fitness, the less time you’ll have to shop, go out to eat, hit the bar, go to the movies, and otherwise spend, spend, spend. There’s no downside to this method of frugal living either; not only will you be healthier with a better body to show for it, but your savings account should enjoy an influx of funds. Staying active doesn’t have to cost a dime — you can workout outside or at home (invite your frugal buddy over and make it a team effort) — and contrary to popular belief, eating healthier doesn’t have to be expensive. Many people will disagree with that, but I’m living proof. Before I started planning out a weekly meal calendar with healthy recipes, buying my groceries online, and sticking strictly to my list of ingredients, I was spending almost twice as much at the grocery store, going through every aisle, and putting in my cart my list items plus a few extras. Give it a try, and let me know how you fare.

Do you have a frugal tip that you think most of us haven’t heard of? I’d love to learn about it. Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

My favorite on this list is the avoidance of the disposable items; whether you're prepping, going green, or just trying to avoid consumerism, that's some important advice.


Guest's picture

I agree!! I can't believe how much money I wasted on disposable razor blades. Now I have a beard trimmer that costs about the same as two packs of razor blades, but can be used for years. Not only have a I saved time but my face is no longer getting cut up! so I'm saving on band-aids too!

Guest's picture

$3 per wearing? Good grief. You people must be buying junk, or things that are really overpriced. I expect t-shirts to last 2 years (50+) wearings, and slacks (jeans) to last a lot longer than that. With proper upkeep and maintenance my (admittedly expensive) shoes last for years. My cheap jeans ($20 per pair at ..., and $25 to tailor them to fit properly) are worn 2-3 times/week for a minimum of 6 months. Even my dress clothes (wool suits and silk shells) last forever, because I take care of them. When I was working and dressing for clients every day, suits lasted 5+ years, and shells...well I still wear some of them occasionally 20 years later (and they cost $20 on sale, back in the day). I've found several (mail order) purveyors of nice men's wear that provide durable, classic, clothes for my husband, and the cost per wear for his shirts and slacks is similarly low (shirts average 100 wearings and cost in the neighborhood of $30 (when I can find them on sale for $15), tropical wool slacks are year-round wear in our climate and I buy him 1 or 2 pair every so often (eighteen to 24 months) to replace the 10 year old pairs that are finally giving up the ghost. My husband still dresses for clients... Buy classic, buy quality, and you land up spending a lot less money in the long run...

Guest's picture

Amen, KK! I don't know who came up with the preposterous $3/wear figure. I, like you, aim more at the $.30/wear like your shirts. I probably do better than that most of the time, but I shop frugally and wear things out most of the time before I replace them. $3/wear would be for expensive clothes that you don't like. Daily stuff should last much longer.

Guest's picture
Mark D.

I agree, I have a pair of jeans and sweater from when I was in high school, that was over 10 years ago. The cost per wear for my clothes are much less than that of $3.

Guest's picture
Insurance Hunter

Looking at your credit report annually is something that most people don't do, but should. Looking at it each year will give you a good idea of where you stand financially. It could also be a wake up call for people that tend to live above their means.

Guest's picture
Leslie Tayne, Esq.

What a great tip: '30 day no buy list.' We too counsel our clients to be careful with spending, especially when trying to get out of debt! I would agree that this definitely can help curve impulse shopping, but it also goes hand-in-hand with budgeting and living a financially responsible life! Great job and very creative.

Guest's picture

I use the "one week" rule. For every $100 something costs, I wait at least a week between thinking "I want that" and actually buying it. For example, if I see a $600 big screen TV in a Black Friday ad, I think "wait 6 weeks" before reaching for my cash card. I've found that by the time the waiting period is over the impulse to buy whatever it was is gone.

You can also use that time to save up the money. In the example above, if the TV was an impulse buy or unplanned budget item, I'd have to save $100 a week (minimum) before buying it. This forces you to decide where to get the $100 every week...what do you cut in order to get the surplus? You may end up thinking "a new TV isn't worth the sacrifice".

Even better, especially in the cases of technology and gadgets, by the time the waiting period is over the price has usually gone down even more or there's a comparable or even better deal on something with better features than the original item.

Guest's picture

although a very small tip - it's more about the mindset than the actual savings involved.
When you buy vitamins, remove the cotton and save for cosmetic use. Why throw it away only to go and buy cotton balls? Besides the fact that the cotton stuffed in a vitamin jar is likely to have traces of good vitamin juju.

Again, not a huge money saver, but start thinking in a 'waste-not' mindset and the possibilities are endless.

Guest's picture

This is awesome! I love the idea of number one, its a great habit to get into- even though it'd be very tough for me to actually employ. Numbers 3 and 5 can actually be conjoined- because there are three credit bureaus, you can actually get a credit report from each one, once a year. Spreading these out so you get one three times a year can allow you to check your credit every few months and stay up-to-date with it.

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

Great tip, Kelly! Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Happy holidays!

Guest's picture

I have to admit that I use far to many disposable products. Thanks for these uncommon frugal tips. I featured this article on the Frugal News Review Podcast episode 25.

Guest's picture

Great tips!! I adhere to the notion of one mistake isn't the end of the world. When I am exercising, I may miss a day here or there. Before, I would get upset at myself thinking that the goal will never happen now. But it still can. Same with getting out of debt. It's not the end of the world if you spend a little more than your budget this month for groceries. Just re-evaluate things for the next month so that you don't trip up. Always remember that failure is simply a learning opportunity.

Guest's picture

Didn't see any new tips here. But then, maybe it's because I'm old and grouchy. Happy Holidays is not really a good time to promote anti-consumerism.

Guest's picture
Thomas Chongruk

I wonder if the $3 cost per wear has a breakdown per industry / job function. If I'm a company executive my costs should be different than if I can dress casual on the job.

Guest's picture

Frugality is wise, but buying your groceries online neglects a lovely opp'ty to get to know your local farmers and save on fresh foods from close to home. (Side benefit: this kind of eating can help you save on medical bills.) Local food networks are a great way to connect with and help sustain other frugal folks.

Guest's picture

I don't trust whoever picks out the groceries to check that the vegetables are fresh or that none of the eggs are cracked. Most grocery stores in my area average 1 cracked egg per two cartons, and vegetable quality is highly variable, so this is pretty important.

Guest's picture

Making coffee at home has been saving me quite a bit of money lately. I was doing a budget through mint.com and it really shed light on how much I was wasting on coffee drinks. So I bought a coffee pot and have been enjoying coffee at home. It took about a week before I didn't miss going to the coffee shop at all.

Guest's picture

I don't use a coffee pot either. Coffee, filter and small pitcher. For coffee on the go, I use via packets, under a dollar for a decent cup at work.

Guest's picture

The Active Living tip is pure gold. I recently started working more hours and spending an extra 20 minutes working out each week. With just these two small changes I noticed that I was spending a lot less. It can be easy to break your budget if your are bored and inactive. When you stay busy, you don't even have the time or the urge to bust your budget.

Guest's picture

thankful for the person who shared this on twitter! some things i already do, but others i could certainly do a better job of executing.

Guest's picture

and remember that Staying Healthy is very Frugal Living!

Guest's picture

Wow! These are amazing tips. Most I hadn't even thought of. I agree however with your last tip to focus on health and fitness. That has proved to save me money plenty of times.

Guest's picture
Sawdust Lady

I am following Dave Ramsey's "baby steps" plan; I am on a strict budget and am paying cash for everything now. Handing over cash hurts more than whipping out the debit card (my credit cards have been long ago shredded)!

So, when I pay cash for things, I usually get coins back as change. Every Friday, I empty all of the coins from my wallet into a coffee can (that's duct taped shut so I can't see what's in there). The can is tucked on a shelf in my closet. I have no idea how much is in there, but I weighed it last week, and it's over 3 pounds. When it's full, I'll open it up and go "splurge" at Goodwill or Salvation Army!

Guest's picture

I so agree with your frugal tips. These are very useful and creative too! I believe a lot of those who end up buried in debt and are not able to save are in this situation because they haven't even tried to control their impulsive buying. I especially like the 30-day list! That's very ingenious and true.

Oftentimes it's the imagination that controls the emotion which pushes us to buy stuff we don't really need or won't really use a lot. Thus, instead of imagining how we'll look in a particular dress, for instance, I suggest imagining first how your credit report and bank account will look and what will happen to you when you're not able to pay your bills. It may not be a good picture, but a lot of people have attested that this strategy is effective. It's efficient too for other emotions that you want to have control over. After all, these are ultimately for your benefit and better future.

Anyway, thanks so much again for these wonderful, practical tips!