Are you trying to learn how to live frugal? Living frugally isn’t just a personality trait you’re born with. Just like establishing a daily exercise routine or learning how to conquer procrastination, building up your frugality muscles and learning how to live frugal is a habit you develop over time.
Maybe you want to pay off debt. Or perhaps you want to save more money because you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe you’ve been laid off from work. Maybe you’re interested in giving more to charity. Or your family might need a new car or fun trip.
Identifying why you want to learn how to live frugal is the first step. Sometimes the actions you might take to live cheap take some extra effort and time. So having a frugal goal in mind – the why behind your actions – will make it easier for you to achieve cheap living success.
I grew up with frugal parents. But frugal living was born out of necessity, not fun! Once I got a bit older, I realized that they taught me how to live frugal, but I still had to learn how to enjoy the process.
Over time, I developed some strategies for how to live frugal and cheap without pain.
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How to Live Frugal by Trimming Your Expenses Step by Step
#1 – Get your bills organized
Before you can trim your finances to create more room for paying off debt or saving money, you have to know your starting point. Organize all of your financial paperwork. Create a list of all of your debts. Make sure your taxes are up to date. Have your financial account info ready, including usernames and passwords.
#2 – Make a simple budget
List out all of your monthly and yearly expenses. Identify how much money your household currently brings in. What bills are essential? What services or expenses can you cut? And how will you direct the savings?
If you have more bills and expenses than you do income, starting a side hustle may help you close the gap between your inflows and your outgos. Here are a few articles about making money that could help you:
- 50 Easiest Things to Flip for Profit and Make Money – and Where to Buy Them
- How to Make $500 to $1000 Extra Per Month with Surveys
#3 – Cancel extra services and subscriptions
Go through your bank accounts and credit cards statements. For every recurring expense ask yourself: Do I need this service? Must I have this subscription? If it’s a required necessity for your job or career, you might keep it. If you just like it or find it fun, consider cancelling so you can put your money toward your cheap living goals.
Consider scrapping: satellite radio, Amazon Prime, magazine or newspaper subscriptions, gym memberships you don’t use, water delivery, or music streaming services. Call your cell and Internet provider to see if you can drop to a cheaper plan as you learn how to live frugal.
One way you can stop wasting money is by automating your finances with a trusted company called Trim. Trim makes it easy to find extra money to pay off debt since they automatically work with your service providers to get you the best rates. And what if you didn’t have to call each subscription you have to save money? Outsource the pain of recurring bills by signing up with Trim.
#4 – Automate your bills and savings
For the remaining necessary expenses, automate as much as possible. Most bills can be paid online through your bank or auto paid to your credit card. Set up automatic transfers to your savings account every month (make sure to align them with your paydays so you avoid overdrafts).
#5 – Check your finances daily to stay on track with your goals
If you don’t feel like messing with spreadsheets or need some help managing your finances online as you learn how to live frugal, check out Personal Capital.
Personal Capital is free, takes only about 30 minutes to set up, and allows you to easily track your income, expenses, and net worth online. You simply enter your bank account and credit card info one time, and then the online app updates your debt and income automatically. It also offers super cool graphics and charts to help you manage your money.
Cheap Living with Friends and Family
Your social life doesn’t have to suffer just because you’re into cheap living. Invite your friends to these free activities: dinner or breakfast at your home, a walk or run around the neighborhood, hike a local trail, or game night or puzzle night at your place.
#7 – Ask for what you need
Sometimes, learning to live frugal and cheap living means learning to ask for what you need or want. Instead of just buying a second car for infrequent use, you might ask a friend or co-worker to drop you off somewhere occasionally. If you’re looking for a discount on insurance, ask for recommendations on good brokers or deals on social media. Uncovering savings often means asking around.
#8 – Swap tools and labor with friends and family members
Don’t hire out landscaping, painting, or home renovation projects – organize a work day for your home with a group of friends one weekend, then swap and work on a friend’s place the next. Borrowing tools and free labor means you spend less to DIY.
#9 – Cook from scratch
If your grocery shopping list consists primarily of items in boxes and cans, learning to cook from scratch can be a major money saver. Pinterest is an amazing resource for scratch recipes that are frugal and perfect for cheap living. Type in “frugal soups,” “frugal chicken recipes” or “frugal keto meals,” just for example.
#10 – Plan out every meal your family eats
Once a week, create your frugal meals shopping list. Figure out what every member of your family will be eating for breakfast, lunch, dinners, and snacks every day and add all of those ingredients to your shopping list. Gather any coupons you plan to use, or at the minimum, load the digital coupons from the store you shop at to your store card.
#11 – Choose low or no waste products
Does it make frugal sense to buy bottled water, bottled sodas, and then throw those products away? Not at all. Not only are disposable products bad for the environment, you spend money buying stuff you’re just going to throw away. Chances are you have reusable water bottles around; skip the bottled water and refill from your tap if possible. Here are my favorite products for reducing waste from plastic bottles, grocery bags, and plastic bags.
#12 – Build meals around what’s on sale that week
Every grocery store publishes their sale items (called loss leaders) in their weekly flyers (or you can get them online). When you make your meal plan, take the best deals that week and make them the centerpiece for cheap living. If pork loin is on mega sale, plan meals like Shredded Pork or BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders.
#13 – Shop in bulk or at discount grocery stores
Buying regularly used items in quantities so you can get a discount is a great way to live frugal. So is shopping discount grocery stores, which offer items at deep discounts when they’ve been marked down by retailers. Just be careful you don’t buy more than what you need (the main reason I don’t have a Costco membership: as a family of three, we are often wasting food because it goes bad before we can eat it all).
#14 – Meal prep your lunches or dinners
Preparing your work lunches ahead of time is an easy way to save hundreds every month, compared to eating out. Plus it’s easy to use up tasty leftovers. You can find lots of ideas for make-ahead meals by typing “meal prep” into Pinterest or visiting the Reddit forum /mealprepsunday (lots of people there do meal preps on Sunday, setting themselves up for frugal success for the week).
These are my favorite meal prep cookbooks:
#15 – Drink coffee at home
My husband and I love coffee with fancy sugar free syrups. We could buy these at Starbucks daily for about $5 each. But we’re frugal so we order coffee syrups in bulk online and make our own at home. I estimate we spend about $75 per month for the two of us to have 100 large coffees a month. Contrast that with the cost of Starbucks, which would cost about $500 a month for the same number of coffees. Fixing your own coffee at home saves a lot. Here are a few of the products I recommend to make your own coffee drinks at home:
#16 – Do DIY research instead of spending
One of the best ways to learn how to live frugal is to turn your focus from spending to fix a problem to researching how to fix a problem yourself. Youtube is a fantastic resource for this. If your dryer breaks, instead of paying for an expensive service call by a technician, find a DIY tutorial and order the cheap part yourself and fix it yourself to save on labor costs.
#17 – Lower your thermostat in winter and raise it in summer
Reduce your utility expense without sacrificing comfort by setting your indoor temperature a little cooler or warmer.
#18 – Take care of your health
For many American families, health care is a major expense. Taking care of your health with healthy food, exercise, weight maintenance, and preventive health care is the very definition of living cheap. Your health care plan should provide certain preventive services every year, such as checkups with your primary care provider and mammograms for women over 40. Make sure you take every advantage of the preventive health care options you have to maintain your health.
#19 – Use a cheaper phone or delay upgrading
Cell phone plans and payments can be a major budget drain. Instead of upgrading the minute you can, use your older paid off phone a while longer. Search for alternative providers that might get you a cheaper plan, such as Ting, Republic Wireless, or Cricket. Go in for a family plan with a friend or family member to reduce your monthly cost.
#20 – Shop your closet and stop clothes spending
Men, women, and children in the United States spend more than 15 billion on clothes and shoes every month. [Source] It’s safe to say that most people have more clothes than they need. If you are trying to learn how to live frugal, stop buying clothes and shoes altogether and just use what you have already.
#21 – Do a no spend challenge
One of the best ways to learn how to live frugal and cheap is to eliminate all spending for a time. This can be a great way to save extra for an unexpected bill or just to get some extra money in savings for a month. The trick is not to inflate your spending in the period before and after your no spend challenge (because then you’re not really saving). Instead, focus heavily on using up items and food you already have, curtailing gas usage, and finding creative ways to save.