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For many people, being frugal may come easy or natural, and they may have been taught to run a tight financial ship at an early age. Others, however, may not have enough in savings to cover a routine car repair. But rest assured—it's never too late to learn how to save money by being frugal.
You can live frugally (and happily) and save money along the way by doing things like sticking to a budget, trimming your daily expenses, lowering your monthly bills and embracing DIY projects. Living frugally can help you keep your finances in good shape and prepare you for tough financial periods. Read along to learn how you can achieve that.
Create a Budget and Stick to It
Want to live the frugal life and spend less money? If so, the first step you should take is creating a budget. A budget can put you on the path toward frugality by helping guide your spending and saving habits.
Why is building a budget important? Here are five things a budget can help you do:
- Pay off debt. A budget can help you figure out how much money to allocate toward paying off debt and how long it'll take to accomplish that. Paying off debt will save you money on interest that you'd otherwise pay to a lender.
- Live within your means. If you're spending more money than you're taking in each month, you're not alone. A budget can help you flip that scenario and leave you with some financial wiggle room at the end of the month. When money is less tight, you can focus more clearly on paying your bills and taking care of other financial needs.
- Save money. A budget gives you a cleaner picture of your finances, including how much money you can afford to designate toward savings. Following a budget can help you put money away in an emergency fund, set some aside for your child's college education, save for a down payment on a home or use it for other purposes.
- Reach your financial goals. Do you dream of retiring at 55? Are you itching to travel around the world? Do you want to wipe out your student loan debt within two years? A budget can help you prioritize your saving and spending so that you can get closer to attaining your short-term and long-term financial goals.
- Cut back on financial fights. It's no secret that many couples argue about money. Setting up a budget can reduce the financial tension between you and your partner by enabling the two of you to see eye to eye on how you'll spend and save your money.
How Do You Create a Budget?
To get started with budgeting, you'll want to figure out your income, analyze your expenses, establish financial goals and monitor your spending. Creating a budget could be as simple as writing down this information in a notebook or plugging it into a computer spreadsheet.
There are even plenty of helpful budgeting apps out there, including the personal finance management tool from Experian. To use this tool, log in to your Experian account and click "Personal Finances" at the bottom of the page. The tool connects to your bank account and helps you plainly see your income and expenses.
Keep in mind that budgeting will pay off only if you stay on top of it. At the end of every month, it's important to review your spending to see how it lined up with your budget. If it didn't, it's worth taking the time to review how it differed and adjust either your spending or your budget. It's possible, for instance, you could underestimate what you spend on groceries but overestimate how much you spend on gas.
Save Money on Day-to-Day Expenses
One of the best ways to adopt a frugal lifestyle and save money is to comb through your daily purchases and see what can be trimmed. When you're looking to curtail your spending, here are five common categories to consider for budget cuts.
- Groceries: Who doesn't want to save money at the grocery store? In May 2020, the typical four-member household in the U.S. spent anywhere from $679 to $1,350 per month on groceries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it's common for a portion of those groceries to be thrown away due to spoilage. To cut costs and get the most out of your food purchases, come up with a weekly meal plan so that you and everybody else in your household stays on track and eats everything you buy. Clipping coupons and using price comparison apps are two more easy ways to trim your monthly grocery bill.
- Transportation: For many of us, gassing up our cars is a big transportation expense. Regarding gas, you can curb costs by turning to a price comparison app like GasBuddy or using a credit card that rewards you for gas purchases. Other avenues for saving on transportation include carpooling, working at home instead of the office or commuting via public transit.
- Entertainment: Cutting cable is one of the easiest approaches to reducing your entertainment spending. After you do that, you could switch to a cheaper video-streaming setup (think Netflix and Hulu) or you could downgrade to basic service.
- Dining: According to one calculation, the average American could pocket nearly $37 per week by swapping all restaurant meals for home-cooked meals. But if you can't bear the thought of never eating restaurant food again, there are other ways to cut the fat from this part of your budget. You could, for instance, always fix breakfast in your kitchen, prepare your workday lunch at home and only sometimes eat food from a restaurant. It might be hard, but consider also giving up your daily caffeine fix from Starbucks and switch to coffee brewed at home.
- Clothing: You might button up your apparel budget by keeping an eye out for sales, checking out coupon apps, hunting for deals at thrift stores, or searching the shelves and racks at discount retailers. To avoid shopping altogether, pick up a needle and thread and mend clothes that can be repaired.
Reduce Your Monthly Bills
You might not pay much attention to them, but your monthly bills present plenty of opportunities for savings. Here are three common monthly expenses that you might be able to adjust.
- Utilities and similar services: We often take these expenses for granted and don't give them much thought. However, taking a closer look could yield significant savings. For instance, you might save money on your cellphone service by shopping around for a better deal with a different carrier. You also can cut costs by putting off buying a new cellphone. Other ways to reduce your utility bills include shopping around for cheaper internet service, installing a more efficient programmable thermostat, unplugging unused devices and upgrading to energy-efficient appliances.
- Housing: Keeping a roof over your head is probably your costliest monthly expense. So, how do you decrease your housing overhead? Among the things you might weigh are refinancing your mortgage to a lower interest rate (and a lower monthly payment), downsizing to a smaller place, renting out an unused room, getting a roommate, renegotiating your rent or relocating to a lower-cost area.
- Recurring monthly costs and subscriptions: Particularly if these recurring expenses are automatically paid every month, you might forget just how much you're spending on them. Go through your bank account and see which costs recur on a monthly basis. Then ask yourself: Am I using what I'm paying for? For example, you might not have worked out at the gym for three months, yet you're still paying for a monthly membership. Or you might be paying for more video-streaming services than you realized. Do you really need every one of them? To rein in recurring monthly expenses, go through your budget to uncover and then cancel ones that you can do without.
Find Time for DIY Projects
To fully embrace the frugal life, you might elevate yourself to do-it-yourself guru status. Before you make an appointment with a plumber or order a replacement appliance, figure out whether you can fix or make things on your own. Here are four ways to transform into a DIY ace.
- Tackle home projects. If the toilet is leaking or the basement needs a makeover, you might be able to save piles of money going the DIY route. If you're not up to speed on DIY know-how, YouTube features tons of how-to videos.
- Create your own household products. You might be loyal to certain soaps or detergents, but homemade alternatives can save you some cash. It's fairly simple to make your own laundry detergent, household cleaners, dish soap, fabric softener and similar products using off-the-shelf ingredients.
- Whip up your own personal-care products. Among the personal-care supplies that you can make at home are deodorant, shampoo, hair conditioner, mouthwash, body wash and shaving cream.
- Fix damaged clothing. Skip the tailor! When a button on a shirt needs to be replaced, a hole in a pair of pants needs to be patched or the zipper on a pair of jeans needs to be repaired, you can salvage those clothes at home and avoid buying new ones.
The Bottom Line
Being frugal can pay off, whether it involves living within your means, paring your spending on groceries, refinancing your mortgage or adopting a DIY attitude. There is no one way to live frugally, but there is one huge advantage to doing it: Saving money so you can become more financially secure.
Whether you use this newfound financial security to save for the future or take a well-deserved vacation, you'll be glad you took the time to think about how you can save.