23 Frugal Living Resolutions Anyone Can Master


Ooooooooh! I love a good challenge, don't you?

Every year, 50% of Americans make a New Year's resolution. But each year, 88% of New Year resolvers fail to meet their goals. How is that possible? And how can we beat that disheartening statistic?

Do Less, More Often

The problem with most resolutions isn't too little willpower, but too much abstraction. Most people choose a gigantic, but vaguely defined, goal to achieve. Too many moving parts, mission creep, a steep learning curve; these things are obstacles to attaining goals. The key to success is to make the goal a small, but achievable habit. To quote Tim, my yoga teacher: "Do less, more often."

For example, I am currently trying to lose the 15 pounds I packed on this past year while recovering from an ankle injury. If I want to be successful in my goal to lose weight, my New Year's resolutions should not be, "Get back in shape." That's a huge and amorphous mandate. Instead, my New Year's resolution should be a tiny daily habit like, "Jump rope for 20 minutes every morning before breakfast."

Plot twist: My New Year's resolution isn't actually about losing weight. My resolution this year, as it is every year, is to save more money.

Choose a Resolution That Requires No Talent

"Save more money" is about as undefined and unwieldy as you can get with a New Year's resolution. There are so many things that can throw a wrench into your plans and destroy your motivation to save in the course of 12 months. Trust me, this resolution is dumb.

If you want to grow your savings, simplify your life, or just live a little lighter on the planet, here's a list of simple, frugal living resolutions that require no talent.

1. Don't Drive Like a Jerk

It was a word problem on a 7th grade algebra exam that taught me that speeding wastes money. Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) can lower your gas mileage by up to 33%. Stop speeding and practice hypermiling instead.

2. Carpool

My husband saves thousands of dollars each year by carpooling to work. But don't limit your carpooling to just your daily work commute. You can save a ton of money by using a rideshare service to carpool home for the holidays or to a cultural event in another city. My awesome neighbor Patria and I carpool our errands at least once a week. It saves time, money, wear and tear on the car, and makes boring trips to the post office way more fun.

3. Go Carless for Short Trips

I try to walk, bike, or take public transportation to all events within a three-mile radius of my house. This habit saves me on gas money and allows me to avoid a costly gym membership. The hardest part about this practice is the time management. I no longer have to schedule around my workout, but it takes me much longer to get to the grocery store.

4. Stop Paying to Park

The hardest thing about driving in Los Angeles is not the traffic, but the parking. The city makes up its budget shortfall by aggressively doling out parking tickets, which start at $35 and go up from there. Parking signs are notoriously difficult to parse, of course.

The key to saving money on parking is to give yourself extra time to find a free or cheap parking spot, so schedule that into your day. Also, there have been manifestos written about how to park on a budget in LA. I am sure parking apps and maps exist in other cities, too.

5. Be on Time

It takes absolutely no talent to be on time. There's a reason why the saying, "Time is money," is a thing. Even so, American CEOs are late to 80% of their meetings. According to a survey by Proudfoot Consulting, CEO tardiness costs the U.S. economy $90 billion in lost productivity every year.

But, even if you aren't a captain of industry, lateness is a money loser. Worst case scenario, you could get fired. As the job market becomes more competitive, more companies have decided to take a zero tolerance stance against employee tardiness. Your boss might be able to show up late, but you could lose your job.

Also, being chronically late says a lot about you, and none of it is good.

6. Get Rid of 10 Things a Day

Clutter will keep you poor and drive you crazy. My November 1, 2001 Resolution was Get Rid of 10 Things a Day. I keep clutter at bay by removing 10 things from my home every day. That comes to 300 things per month, or 3,650 things per year, that leave my house. A thing can be as big as a car or as small as a safety pin. I can trash, donate, or recycle a thing. As long as the item physically leaves my house, I can count it as part of my 10 things.

7. Mari Kondo Your Home

Japanese organizing guru Mari Kondo has taken the world by storm with her very simple method of managing clutter: Only keep the things that bring you a spark of joy. (Anything that doesn't bring you a spark of joy gets tossed.)

8. Downsize Your Storage

If your goal this year is to downsize, you should definitely start by emptying your storage.

If you have ever watched Storage Wars, then you already know that most people pay a lot of money to store a lot of worthless crap. Personal storage is a huge money drain. Do the math. It might actually be cheaper to buy and then sell seasonal items like sleds and garden tools each year rather than paying to store them during the offseason.

9. Join the Compact (Buy Nothing New for One Calendar Year)

I joined The Compact in 2007 out of green guilt. Almost 10 years later, I am still a subscriber to this conservation movement. In addition to helping me live a more environmentally sustainable life, it has also helped me save over $30,000. Also, it's a super fun challenge that has taught me so much about myself!

The core idea behind The Compact is to lighten your environmental impact on the planet by reducing the number of virgin resources you take out of it. You achieve this by agreeing to step off the consumer grid and buy nothing new for one calendar year, save for necessities like food, medication, and safety supplies.

While buying nothing new sounds like deprivation, it's really more like a treasure hunt, because you can buy anything you want used. Under Compact rules, you could buy vintage furniture, or used clothes, or even a classic automobile, because none of these items are new.

It's a super simple idea that runs deceptively deep, as sourcing used goods upends modern life's push for instant gratification.

10. Create a Capsule Wardrobe

While fashion bloggers on Pinterest and Tumblr might lead you to believe that a capsule wardrobe is all about shopping for the perfect minimalist wardrobe, I would argue that those people are doing it wrong. A true capsule wardrobe is a tightly edited collection of garments that fit your lifestyle, year-round.

A capsule wardrobe shouldn't be about perfection, but about creativity and practicality. How many outfits can you create out of the smallest number of garments?

Since most people only wear a fraction of the clothes in their closets, downsize to the favorite items you wear over and over and get rid of everything else. Replace only your favorite garments when they wear out. Your new, smaller wardrobe will save you money and time.

11. Shop in Your Own Home First

Before you make a purchase, search your home first for an alternative that you can use instead. Can you make do with a navy blue dress instead of a little black dress? Can you learn how to cook on the stovetop instead of replacing your broken microwave with a new one? For the love of all that is good and beautiful, can you watch an instructional video to learn how to make your own fancy coffee at home for 10 cents versus buying it for $2.00?

12. Be a Part-Time Vegetarian

Meat costs a lot of money and is hard on the planet. The Meatless Monday Movement found that by cutting meat consumption to just one day a week saved participating families $80 per month on their grocery bills. Save even more by going meatless several days a week.

13. Eat Your Leftovers!

My sister and I grew up eating last night's dinner leftovers for breakfast. In addition to cutting food waste, eating leftovers also sped up the morning schedule because on most days, we didn't even bother reheating the food. This weird, frugal hack has saved my sister and I a small fortune in food costs.

A lot of people who hear about our dinner for breakfast habit are grossed out. Of course, these same people probably have no problem with eating dinner for breakfast as long as they pay a lot of money for steamed table food and call it brunch.

If dinner for breakfast doesn't float your boat, make Thursday Night Soup out of your kitchen scraps to stretch your grocery budget and keep your fridge compost-free.

14. Bring Your Lunch to Work

My husband has saved over $2,500 this year just by bringing his lunch to work instead of going out to eat. My husband doesn't feel deprived or shamed by his brown bagging. A brown bag lunch doesn't have to be boring. My husband takes great pleasure in preparing elaborate meals for himself that cost pennies.

Alternately, if you have a favorite food, eating the same lunch every day can be a comforting ritual that saves a lot of time. Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox famously ate the same salad for lunch for 10 years. My mother, who is an excellent cook, loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so much, that she has special refillable tubes that allow her to take her favorite lunch ingredients with her when she goes camping. Eating the same lunch each day also makes it easy to save money on groceries. You can budget down to the penny what your lunch costs and buy the ingredients when they go on sale.

15. Use Less

This one is easy. Just use less. If you use half the amount of detergent, will your clothes still get clean? Can you split an entree at dinner with a friend and still feel full? What would happen if you just lathered and rinsed, but didn't repeat?

16. Save Water

Is your water bill sky high or would you just like to do your part to preserve the water table? It's time to plan out your water-saving plan.

17. Save Electricity

Turn off those lights! Make these energy-saving strategies part of your daily life and save big.

18. Cut Down on Your Trash

The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash per person, per day. You can do better! Here are 12 ways to cut down on garbage and save money (and your sanity, too).

19. Recycle

Before I was old enough to legally work, I earned pocket money by collecting bottles and cans and recycling them for money. As an adult, I still make several hundred dollars a year recycling the bottles and cans that my wino neighbors throw onto the parkway. Yes. It might be embarrassing to cruise target-rich public areas like fraternity row or the trash cans outside your local concert venue for recyclables. But, if you are scrambling to make ends meet, consider the cost of your vanity. There's at least one Los Angeles family that sent their three kids to college with the money they made collecting bottles and cans.

Recycling is obviously good for the wallet. But, if you already recycle for the money, consider recycling items that don't offer a rebate for the sake of the planet. An increasing number of companies are now offering free recycling for their packaging.

20. Keep Making Payments

My husband and I finally paid off our home equity line of credit! We've been making the $423 payments each month for over a year now, and we intend to continue paying the $423… but as extra principal payments on our home mortgage. Since we're used to covering the $423, we won't even notice a difference in our budget.

21. Collect the Change

Every time you get a $5 bill, put that money into your savings account. If your budget won't permit $5 increment savings, put your spare change into a piggy bank at the end of each day. Either way, your savings will pleasantly surprise you at the end of the year.

22. 52-Week Challenge

This savings strategy has a slow roll out, but strong payout. Every year is divided into 52 weeks. On week one, put $1 into your savings account. On week two, put $2 into your savings account. On week three, save $3. You get the idea. The largest weekly deposit you will have to make is $52. At the end of the year you will have saved $1,378!

23. Learn and Practice One New Skill

I didn't become a ninja saver overnight. Every year I try to master one new skill that will make or save me more money. One year, my friend Carol Ann taught me how to can my cranberry jam, and now I own an artisanal food company. This last year I learned how to forage for edible plants in my own backyard to save money on fresh produce. Years ago I taught myself how to sell online on Etsy and eBay. Each year I make at least $1,000 selling trash picked items that I have literally pulled out of the garbage, for cash.

In 2017, I am going to learn how to refinish wood furniture like a pro. With the help of my friend Kirk, a retired painting contractor, I am currently refinishing an original Jens Risom coffee table that was purchased for $3 at a garage sale and hidden under layers of paint. Modern reproductions of this same table sell for over $3,000 and originals in pristine condition go for even more.

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Guest's picture

I have really enjoyed reading your budget challenge articles this year. I'm always looking to save more and I like your suggestion for the 52 week challenge. I'm definitely going to give it a try. Looking forward to more of your articles in 2017!