14 Frugal Living Tips That Will Save You Money
It’s hard to come by and easy to spend, but here are some ways to stretch that cash.
Contributing Writer at Tally
February 13, 2020
Money doesn’t come easily — you work hard for it — but a few thrifty choices can help you make the most of what you earn.
While some may live frugally by dramatic life changes, there are plenty of ways to save money that can blend in with your current lifestyle.
If saving money is one of your financial goals, check out the list below for 14 practical frugal living tips that won't require dramatic changes to your everyday life.
1. Skip the mall and make your own gifts
When holidays or birthdays come around, you may be tempted to pick up a gift. Unfortunately, splurging on gifts for others can put a big dent in your frugal living.
Instead of buying gifts, try making them instead. Not only will this save you a ton of money, but there’s something special about a handmade gift.
Even if you’re not overly creative, there are plenty of ideas you can dig up online. You can even search social media sites like Pinterest to get some ideas.
Whether it’s a knitted scarf, a photo clipboard, a holiday ornament or something else, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll be giving a highly personalized gift with a great story behind it.
2. Buy discounted meat at the grocery store
Most grocery stores leave their butchered meats unfrozen, which limits their shelf life. This results in the store having to discount them deeply as they near their sell- or freeze-by date.
Save money by picking up this meat. If you’re not going to use it immediately, pop it in the freezer as soon as you get home to extend its life. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, fresh beef, pork, lamb and veal can last up to 12 months in the freezer. Chicken and turkey can last up to nine months.
3. Take advantage of cash back
Cash back comes in many flavors, and one of the more popular ones is the rewards credit card. These credit cards give you cash back or points you can redeem for account statements, gift cards, store credit and more.
Some cash-back credit cards offer a flat cash-back rate on everything. These cards generally hover in the 1-2% cash-back range. Other cards offer higher cash-back percentages in rotating categories, like grocery stores, gas stations, utilities and more. Make sure to choose a cash-back credit card that offers the highest rates in a category that aligns with your frugal lifestyle.
While the rewards aren’t huge, these small percentages add up over the course of a year. Remember, you must remain diligent and pay off the credit card every month so a month’s worth of interest charges doesn’t negate several months’ worth of rewards.
You can also get cash back in-store using apps like Ibotta. You earn this cash back by finding the deals you want in the app, then either paying with Ibotta’s mobile pay feature, linking your store loyalty card in the app or submitting your receipt through the app.
4. Fix your tattered threads
There is no doubt that Americans spend a ton on clothing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American household spent a whopping $1,866 per year on clothing and related services in 2018.
Consider how much of your clothing expenditures come from replacing damaged items. You can save a large portion of this expense by picking up a cheap sewing kit and fixing small repairs yourself instead of replacing these damaged pieces. If you don’t know how to sew, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials ready to guide you.
While you may not want to wear a self-repaired shirt that had a massive hole in the front, a tear on a seam is a quick fix that’s easy to hide.
5. Create monthly meal plans
While it may seem like a bit of a drag to do meal planning a month in advance, this is a great way to save money on groceries. If you know what you’re going to cook a month ahead, you have time to find coupons and specials instead of rushing to the store to buy food for dinner each night.
Also, if you plan to use the same ingredients across several recipes that month, you can buy in bulk, deepening your savings. Experts say buying in bulk can save you about 20%, but some purchases will get you even larger discounts.
6. Skip the new car
That new-car smell may be intoxicating, but it’ll cost you. No matter what type of special deal you get upfront, the depreciation is where you lose big.
A new car can lose 20% (or more) of its value by the end of your first year owning it. Over the next four years, it loses about another 10% annually. So, in just the first five years, your car may have lost 60% or more of its original value.
Should you skip owning a car altogether? That would certainly help, but it may not be a feasible option for you. Alternatively, you can look into the used-car market.
New vehicles see their steepest depreciation at years one and four, so one strategy is to buy a used car as close to the current model year as possible. For example, if the 2020 model years are available new, your ideal used car would be from 2019 or 2020. Buying a vehicle in this range means it’s already taken its largest depreciation hit and still has 3-4 years before it hits the next steepest decline.
7. Get rid of your dryer
Every little bit of savings matters, but you’d be surprised how pennies can add up over the years. This is especially true when doing laundry.
The average dryer uses 2.79 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and the average U.S. electricity rate is 13.19 cents per kWh. Using these numbers and assuming it takes 45 minutes per load, you add 29 cents to your electric bill every time you dry a load of clothes.
If you have kids, you may find yourself doing up to 10 loads per week, which would add more than $150 per year on your electric bill.
Instead of tossing the clothes in the dryer, harness the power of the sun by hanging them on a clothesline or drying rack instead. If you live in an area where it’s warm year-round, you could pocket that full $143.52 each year and invest it.
As a bonus, you’ll no longer need to replace your dryer when it breaks, saving even more.
8. Enjoy free entertainment from the library
Got a few magazine subscriptions, a Netflix account and a newspaper subscription? Save money by dropping those subscriptions and enjoying entertainment for free at your local library.
Libraries not only have a vast selection of great books — and e-books — to dive into, but many have DVDs you can check out just like a book. They also typically have a variety of magazines and the local paper that you can enjoy while you’re there.
9. Fix drafty windows and doors
According to the Department of Energy, fixing air leaks in your home can decrease your heating and cooling bills by more than 20%. Leaky weatherstripping is a common culprit.
Some weatherstripping leaks are easy to find due to the small draft they create, but there are often small ones that require testing to detect. Sure, you can hire a technician to perform the test, but that’s not the frugal way to do it.
Instead, the Department of Energy lays out a process where you can perform your own test with incense and a little time.
To do it yourself, turn off any combustion-based appliances, like a gas stove or water heater, and close all windows, exterior doors and fireplace flumes. Turn on all the outward-blowing fans in the house, such as the bathroom vent fan, the over-the-stove fan or the dryer. Light the incense and run it along the edge of every closed window and door. If the smoke gets blown away from the window or door or sucked into it, you need to replace that piece of weatherstripping.
10. Stay home for family game night
Taking the family out on a Saturday or Sunday can cost you big time. For example, the average movie ticket costs $8.93, so you’d spend over $35 to take a family of four to see a movie. And that’s not including snacks.
Why not put that cash toward a few board games and make weekend nights family game nights? You can save even more money by skimming through thrift stores to pick up secondhand board games instead of buying them new. Just make sure all the pieces are there before you buy any used game.
11. Skip the fancy coffee
Picking up your favorite cup of joe from the local cafe can put a huge dent in your finances. The average American pays $2.99 per cup of coffee at a restaurant or gas station. If you’re into those fancy coffee joints, the average surges to $4.24 per cup.
If you get just one cup of coffee per workday, you’re looking at around $777-$1,102 per year. That’s a lot of money for something you can brew yourself.
At an average of 16-18 cents per cup when you brew your own coffee, you’d shell out just $41.60-$46.80 per year if at one cup per day. That’s enormous savings of $730.60-$1,060.80 per year you can stuff in a high-interest bank account.
If you’re into fancy lattes, you can pour some of those yearly savings into buying a more upscale machine that can help you make your favorite drinks.
12. Get debt-free
Debt steals money stealthily, as its small interest charges chip away at your frugal living. Eliminating your debt not only rids you of interest charges, but you also save money on monthly payments. But where do you start?
For frugal-minded savers, the best way to eliminate debt is with the debt avalanche method. Using this debt repayment method, you pay off the debt with the highest interest rate and balance first then roll that payment to the debt with the next-highest interest rate and balance.
13. Shop for new car insurance every 6 months
Though it may seem illogical, the longer you stick with an insurance company, the more you risk rate hikes. Many insurance experts recommend shopping for new car insurance every six months to keep your premiums as low as possible.
For one, there could be changes in your life, such as getting married, having a kid, buying a house or improving your driving record, that may help you spend less on monthly insurance premiums. Here are other ways you might be able to save:
You can get new-customer discounts.
You may find a newcomer to the industry offering lower rates.
Your state insurance laws may have changed.
Your credit score may have improved — many states allow insurers to base premiums on your credit score.
You may have had an old ticket that fell off your driving record.
14. Cut the cord
Bundling your cable phone and internet seemed like a great idea 10 years ago, but with cell phones now replacing home phones in most U.S. households, this type of bundling is far less attractive.
The average triple-service bundles hover in the $120-per-month range. Nixing that unnecessary home phone drops the average price to $107. On top of these high monthly costs, cable companies are not shy about raising their rates each year.
Instead of paying for these bundles that include hundreds of channels you’ll likely never watch, consider cutting cable and moving to internet-only service. Then you might pick up one of the numerous streaming options. There are plenty of subscription-based options, including YouTubeTV, Hulu and AT&T TV NOW, to name a few. There are also free options like Pluto TV, Tubi and Crackle.
You can plan on paying around $50-$60 per month for internet. Add to that the cost of a streaming subscription, which can be as little as $5.99 per month, and you can save some serious cash. If you can live with one of the free services, you’ll save even more.
Live frugally in a way that works for you
Taking a step toward frugality is an excellent way to meet your personal finance goals. Any of these frugal-living tips will get you moving in the right direction.
The key to success when switching to a frugal lifestyle is to avoid trying to do too much at once. Choose one or a few tips you know will fit your lifestyle and execute them. With those in place, you can move on to a few more until you’ve developed a delicate balance of living frugally and living how you want to. When you’re ready to go further, here are 17 life hacks to help you cut costs even more.