12 Frugal Compromises


When we talk about frugality, it can be easy to get into an "all or nothing" mentality. Our two options are to eat a big meal out or cook at home. To have a lot of stuff or pare down all of our possessions to the very basics. But the reality is that there are a lot of savings compromises that can be made — frugal things you can do that, while they may not save you as much money as other efforts, might also save you time, make you happier, or make your life easier. Here are 12 frugal compromises to consider. (See also: How to Agree Without Compromise)

1. Buy Part of Your Meal Already Prepared

If you're running short on time, buy part of your meal already prepared and cook the rest. Rotisserie chickens are especially popular for this, but also consider things like side salads, bread, dessert, or even a pizza that you could pair with a salad.

2. Hire Moving Helpers

One way that I've come to define adulthood is owning furniture that I cannot conceivably move on my own. But instead of booking movers for my most recent move, I simply rented a U-Haul and hired moving helpers for two hours to load and unload the items I could not carry myself. I saved at least $150 over hiring movers (maybe more — the estimates I received were in the very broad range of $350 to $900!), and I didn't have to worry about being unable to rally strong friends ot help with the heaviest items.

3. Meet Somewhere Cheap for Dinner

Going out to eat doesn't need to be a fancy affair. Meet at a diner, sandwich shop, or somewhere else that's not too expensive.

4. Buy New Accessories

Add pizazz to your wardrobe with tights, a brightly colored belt, chunky necklace, or other inexpensive statement accessories.

5. Drink Cheap Beer...or Just One Nice Beverage

Personally, I go back and forth on cheap beer — I'm not above (and, especially on hot days, legitimately enjoy) beers like PBR and Corona. But I also appreciate a well-crafted cocktail. The trick when ordering a fancy drink is to keep it to just one.

6. Hire a Cleaner Once a Month

Save time on house cleaning by hiring a house cleaner to do a deep clean once a month. You'll only need to do the more surface-level, day-to-day cleaning.

7. Don't Take the Car...Sometimes

All of the "take public transit" yammering can get old if you need to have your car for work, family, or other reasons. But you don't have to take your car all the time. Save on gas, parking, and wear and tear by carpooling, taking public transit, walking, or biking.

8. Get Takeout Instead of Delivery

When you get food delivered, you should give the driver a full tip (seriously...please tip the driver). But if you pick up takeout yourself, all you need to pay for is the food, plus maybe a buck or two.

9. Rearrange the Furniture and Buy One New Thing

Give a room in your house new life by rearranging the furniture and buying one new thing — art, a rug, a lamp, a slipcover, or even a small piece of furniture — to tie the new scheme together.

10. Have a Coffee Treat Day

By now, most of us have heard about the "latte factor" — the idea that small savings, like making coffee at home, can really add up. But you don't need to do it every day. Choose a coffee treat day for yourself when you'll get a coffee from the coffee shop — whether it's to ease yourself into the workweek on Monday or treat yourself for making it through on Friday.

11. Trim Your Own Bangs

If you have the skills to fully cut your own hair, by all means do it. (I cut my own hair for several years, although it left me for a bit with a style that could only be worn one way and could occasionally be described as "proto-mullet.") But even if you're a klutz with scissors, it's probably within your power to give your bangs a trim, extending the time between haircuts.

12. Use Disposables Alongside Reusables

Doing all of your cleaning with paper towels or all of your food storage in one-time-use bags is just wasteful. But sometimes those tools are helpful, which is why I fully believe that disposable zipper-lock bags can live in harmony with your use-again Tupperware, just as paper towels have their time and place in conjunction with rags.

What are your favorite frugal compromises?

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Guest's picture

Great tips here, and your sharing them really helped me reduce the guilt that I sometimes feel because I'm not able to devote myself to housekeeping the way that I was able to pre-injury.

Especially when you are in a busy season in life (new baby, kids in multiple activities, busy project at work, etc.), sometimes you just need to cut yourself a break.

Guest's picture

"If you pick up takeout yourself, all you need to pay for is the food." That's cheap, not frugal. Most takeout places have a tip jar, and the counter staff works as hard as the delivery drivers. The adage "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out," applies to takeout, too, unless you're talking about McDonald's.

Guest's picture

No they don't. I scough at your broad ignorance.

Guest's picture
Jen H.

I'm going to have to disagree on #8. The server putting your meal together at the restaurant is still paying taxes on your meal, so you do need to tip. Yes, they are not giving you tableside service, but making them actually lose money to take your order is not ok.

Meg Favreau's picture

Jenn and ADD,

There's a lot of talk out there about what to tip -- or not tip -- for takeout. I'm a big proponent of tipping, but the standard I had always heard (and that has been echoed a lot) is to not tip for takeout. I will, however, default to a voice of authority on this one -- the BA Foodist (http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/bafoodist/2009/05/should-...). He suggests tipping "a couple of bucks" for takeout and giving the delivery driver a full 15-20%. I've updated the article to better reflect this, but the basic message is still the same -- the tip is less for takeout than delivery.

Maggie Wells's picture

I shop for most of my clothes in second hand stores, consignment shops and etsy (live in a rural area without many shops). I love the savings and the random interesting pieces sometimes almost new that I find. BUT I splurge on good quality leather shoes. Always.

Meg Favreau's picture

Yes! Good quality shoes are something I splurge on as well. I don't know how anybody comfortably walks around in cheap shoes!

Guest's picture

Great story. Frugality calls for creativity and this article hit the nail on the head!

Guest's picture

Love these ways to be frugal! Here's a big hitter - don't buy a house just to impress your neighbors or to have an extra room for your pet Fido. Instead, buy only a modest size house that you can afford to pay off in 10 years or less. If you can't afford to do that, then here's a thought - rent! There's nothing wrong with renting.

Guest's picture

I agree with the house comment. We are striving to pay off our house and should have it paid off 3 1/2 years after moving in. Hopefully we will be mortgage free for the rest of my life.

Guest's picture

Careful with trimming your own bangs, believe it or not, they can be the most finicky part of your hairstyle. If you go to a half decent hairstylist they should do free bang trims between haircuts.

Guest's picture
Guest: Jill G in TX

Reasonable compromises for me: I buy zip lock freezer bags, use them for the food or other storage needs then use them again for the cat litter clean up - for me it's less smell in the house and more sanitary to carry when I can take it to the trash.
About every other month I get the plastic bags - I live alone - I cannot lift larger bags of trash due to physical problems - so I recycle the grocery store bags as trash bags. Not as green as I'd like. This way I stay physically independent.