Living frugally, or living life on the thrifty side, isn’t just about saving money, it’s a complete type of lifestyle that teaches one to do more with less money. Doing so by changing your mindset about money & learning to stretch the budget as far as possible (without sucking all of the joy out of life). This subject is explained in full, along with almost all of the tips and tricks you will need to be successful at it, by a single mother of four. Buckle up as you dive into The Complete Guide To Frugal Living.
Single moms know how to stretch the budget better than anyone on the planet, so I thought that it was high time that I shared with you all everything that I have learned about stretching those hard-earned dollars, because I have had more than my fair share of experiences of those times when there just wasn’t enough money to cover everything that I needed it to.
These are the things that I wish that someone would have told me to help me struggle and worry a bit less.
If you have been wondering what it means to be a “frugal person“, to “live frugally“, or need help understanding the word “frugality” in general… this is the place to learn everything you may possibly ever want to know on the subject.
Here is an exact quote from Wikipedia, as they define it like this:
“Frugality is the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.
In behavioral science, frugality has been defined as the tendency to acquire goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourceful use of already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.
Now to put it in layman’s terms…basically, what frugal means to me:
Being frugal means that you don’t just buy whatever you want whenever you want to. You develop a bit of self–control (creating frugal rules for yourself), and you also learn to either go without certain things, or at least shop around for the best deal (prices) on the things that you do need...and then you use those things until they completely wear out (even repairing them sometimes instead of buying new).
These habits are developed with long-term goals in mind, in order to stretch your money as far as it will go, so that you are not throwing your money away unnecessarily (being wasteful). Being less wasteful with our money will also free up the money necessary to do things in life that you do really want to do such as traveling, or even being able to make smart financial investments, or retire younger than anticipated.
Learning to live frugally will basically make it so that you can live much more comfortably on less money than you could otherwise.
How do you use frugal in a sentence? Here is a silly example of how I, a feisty ginger, would use it in a sentence:
“After shopping around, she was able to save herself lots of money…that red head is Frugal AF”… I’m totally teasing, and probably think that I’m way funnier than I actually am… but keep reading if I didn’t scare you off just yet…;).
That is the end of me trying to explain what living frugal is, or what being frugal with money is. I hope that I was able to cover it enough so that you will understand the rest of this post as we dig deep and I share all of my best ideas and suggestions to live your life as comfortably as possible, for as little money as possible.
Frugal Vs Cheap
Are cheap and frugal the same thing? There is actually a huge gap between these two words, although I have found that many people use them interchangeably (and wrongfully so)…so let’s gain a little clarity on what the differences actually are (in my opinion anyway).
Being cheap means that you actually rarely spend money on anything more than the absolute basic necessities that you, and/or your family needs for survival and sometimes it makes the others around you have to pick up the slack (often begrudgingly)…which is not something that anyone should want to be “known for” (the dictionary definition of cheap can be found here, and when talking about a person…it is definitely not a good thing).
I was guilty of cheap behavior long ago. At one point in my life…like in the worst ways possible, and it made life insanely miserable, not just for me, but everyone around me too.
I felt like I couldn’t spend a dime on myself, and forced myself to go without most things that a lot of people would consider necessities (I even went five years without a cell phone, at one point, to try to save some money).
I am trying to figure out the most tactful way to put this…but there’s really not much sugar coating that can be done in this case.
Cheap behavior on my end, was triggered because I had a particular person in my life that was more than a little self-centered. So much so, that only their own wants and needs mattered… like to the point that sometimes there wasn’t even money for food or clothes for anyone else involved.
On paper, this group should have been living fairly comfortably but it just wasn’t the case for my situation, unfortunately…and it created an enormous sense of financial panic that constantly weighed on my chest.
It didn’t matter how much I worked to help the situation (bringing in more income), or cut back the budget, or bought second-hand…the spending by the other person was so out of control it turned me into a “hyper-cheap-survival-Nazi”…for lack of a better way to describe how cheap I had become, as a way to try to counter this other persons insane spending habits and “needs”.
But…when it comes to extreme behaviors…we all reach a breaking point somewhere along the line!
Years ago, I had a bit of a breakdown and knew that I needed to make some big changes in order to gain power over my own life and be happy, because I was just constantly miserable and having to be so cheap was a huge factor to my misery.
I had to learn to find some balance with money, or I was going to go insane.
And that is how “Frugal Me” was born, after I burned “cheap Sarah” to the ground (and burned pretty much my whole life down) and started rebuilding my whole self, and the way I did everything, from the ground up.
(I talk about leaving Mormonism and detoxing my life in order to overcome my eating disorder in this other post here if you need/want more clarity).
I basically got to a point where I had to learn to take control of my financial situation no matter what outside forces had been at play, or caused my situation (what caused that hyper-cheap behavior) in the first place.
But, once I changed my life “game-plan”, and detoxed my situation, I figured out that I also had to change my financial mindset… and I also had to learn that it was okay to spend money on myself sometimes.
When I realized that another way to differentiate between cheap people and frugal people is that cheap people often have a victim mentality, and frugal people know that they have control of their spending and can make more money with hard work and determination.
I did NOT want to be associated with the word cheap on any level anymore.
No more playing the financial victim!
Changing my mindset also got me thinking about what changes in my habits and behavior that I needed to make so that I wasn’t so miserable all of the time, or expecting other people to pick up any slack (being a single mom does not mean I deserve special treatment, yeah, my situation sucks and I have gotten the short end of the stick on a sickening level over the years)…but it is what it is, and I had to learn to pull up my big girl panties and figure things out.
When I began to focus on the financial things that I can control in my life, I found that learning to be frugal/or thrifty, instead of being cheap, created the balance that I was so desperately in need of.
I have found that by developing a frugality mindset, and the behaviors that go along with it, it has given me the most beautiful sense of financial peace and well-being…and I’m hoping that by sharing this post with you, all that you can find some balance as well.
If you too are one of the people that want to have frugal lives, finding your own financial balance and become more at peace with a dose of financial well-being, it’s a good idea to start by learning to change up your daily routine to save money.
We need to reprogram our brains a bit, get out of panic mode, and learn some healthy financial habits while we are at it. Our daily habits add up greatly over time, and sometimes we don’t even realize how much we are spending because we are being mindless consumers.
Becoming aware of this “mindless consumer behavior” is important. It’s probably the first step to frugality, realizing the problem so that we can take the necessary steps to correct it… and then the rest is developing whatever balance we deem is a good fit for our personal situation.
With the simple frugal lifestyle tips and tricks I have for you, you should easily be able to adjust your routine a bit, and your thinking process about money, then you’ll know how to frugal throughout your daily life.
How to start living thrifty:
I’m going to break this down into all of the biggest categories that all people have to spend money on in our daily lives.
Frugal food tips and ideas
Let’s start with food (I may have lost over 100 lbs and continue to maintain it, but I’m still a fat-kid at heart, and always will be…lol. So we’re starting there)!
(These ideas should help you slash your food budget a great deal)
- Meal planning. I consider meal planning one of the easiest but most effective ways to cut back on your grocery spending is to plan ahead and take the time to meal plan. I promise it will help you save money. You will know exactly what you need to purchase at the grocery store, which helps prevent costly impulse buys while you’re shopping. Meal planning involves mapping out all the meals your family will eat for the week in advance. After planning your family’s meals, make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to make those meals. Stick to the list when you’re shopping. It will help avoid unnecessary purchases, then don’t return to the grocery store until the following week (after meal planning again of course). If you would like to learn more about meal planning, here are links to other posts I have written to get you started (7 Easy Ways Family Meal Planning Can Save You Money, 5 Of The Best Meal Planning Apps For Families, and How To Meal Plan On A Budget).
- Shop your pantry. Another simple way to reduce the amount of money you spend on groceries is to use the food you already have at home before buying more, or using it before it expires and goes to waste. As you plan your meals for the week, take inventory of the items you have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry and come up with creative ways to use those ingredients. After you have a plan, head to the grocery store to pick up your short list of items you’ll need to fill out the meals but don’t already have at home. Keep in mind that there are even websites out there that allow you to input what you have on hand and they will give you a list of recipes of what you can make with those items.
- Cook from scratch. While buying prepackaged meals and snacks may make things a little easier, making things from scratch is a tried-and-true frugality tip (think about how much “from scratch” cooking people had to do in order to survive the great depression). Purchasing basic pantry staple ingredients, like flour and sugar, is much cheaper and cost-effective than buying premade products. Plus, you get the added benefit of knowing exactly what’s in the food you’re feeding your family each day…which to me provides a lot of peace of mind as well. Here is a great resource that tells you all about the pantry staples that you may need to cook from scratch to save money.
- Cook in bulk or do some meal prep ahead of time and become a freezer cooking expert(like make three of the same casseroles at the same time and freeze the two that you’re not going to eat right now). I have found that if I find a great recipe that will replace the pre-made version of what I like to eat, that if I plan ahead and make a large batch of it ahead of time it saves me a ton of money, I have less dishes to do because I only had to dirty the cookware once, and it also saves me a lot of time because making a larger batch only takes a few minutes more of my time than I would have had I only made one nights serving of that same dish (best frugal cooking tip ever btw). I do this when I make my protein breakfast waffles and make enough to get me through a week of my healthy breakfasts. Frugal healthy meals are within your reach if you just know where to look, if you would like a good resource to get you started in freezer cooking, here you go.
- Grow your own food. Another traditional concept of a thrifty lifestyle is becoming self-sufficient. Similar to cooking from scratch, growing your own food, and herbs, is an easy way to save money at the grocery store. Plant a garden and or orchard in your backyard filled with vegetables, herbs, and fruits that your family enjoys, then skip buying the produce at the store to save a little money on your grocery bill. Here is a great resource to get you started in growing your own food.
- Develop some self control in eating. Did you know that overeating is actually one of the top ten most expensive habits that a person can have? Like, it is so expensive to overeat that it is listed up there with smoking and drinking as far as expensive habits go. Getting a handle on our eating helps us get a handle on our grocery budget too… it’s also a good motivation to battle the bulge when funds are low. In my free fitness series I explain how to understand fitness in general, and teach you the easiest ways to count calories…so here is a link to that free resource.
- Restrict (or just cut back a little) how often you eat out, at restaurants, or order delivery take-out. It’s easy to go crazy in food expenses if we’re not planning ahead a bit, or never telling our friends no when they invite us out to lunch (it’s ok to say no sometimes). Surprisingly enough, lots of restaurants out there have copycat versions of their recipes online so you can still have some of your favorites, but sometimes it’s a good idea to make it yourself at home to save money on the meal. My best resource for copycat recipes that I like to use, can be found here.
- Use Coupons When You Can…but don’t be a jerk about it (maybe this is more on the unusual frugal tips side…lol). It may surprise some of you that I’m actually against extreme couponing (I feel like it makes people really selfish wiping out the whole stock on the shelves, shoving to make sure they get it all, it promotes eating a ton of processed food, and it pretty much means that the manufacturers are deciding what foods your family is going to eat for the next several years). However, if there is an item that you use on a regular basis…you definitely should look around and see if you can find a coupon for it. If you’re purchasing on Amazon, often there’s a box you just need to check for a “coupon savings” just before you add it to your cart. Otherwise, before you buy your regular items, check the manufacturer’s/grocers websites to see if they’re offering any coupons and either download them to your phone or else print them out so that you have them handy when you need them. If you need a good resource for frugal coupon-free living, here’s how to save money on groceries without using coupons.
- Buy meat and produce directly from a farmer. Maybe you don’t particularly want to become a farmer yourself, but did you know that you can save yourself some money just by cutting out the middle man of the grocery stores and buying your food straight from the source? The cost of meat alone has gotten insane in years of late and our budgets have been suffering because of it. If you don’t know of any good local farmer’s markets that you can visit, try asking around and see if any of your frugal friends know a good resource nearby that you can use. If you would like a good resource on where to buy meat from a family farm, I have heard good things about this one, as well as this one (I’m lucky, my dad is a farmer so I haven’t used them personally, but my cousin and friend love them).
- Price per ounce comparisons/ learn to buy in bulk. (you can read all of my bulk buying tips here) Buying the things that you use on a regular basis in bulk (which means buying things in large quantities) can save you a lot of money…in fact, a Costco membership more than covers itself in those “buying in bulk” savings, but it can take a little bit of time to retrain your brain and start buying more than you actually think that you currently “need”. Get in the habit of buying things in bulk, but remember that any time you are at any regular grocery stores that you actually need to make sure to check the price per ounce that is listed below the product so that you can make sure that you are getting the best deal possible. If the cost per ounce is not listed, here is a good resource that will help you learn to calculate it yourself if need be.
- Switch away from bottled water, soda, coffee, or energy drinks (or cut back on alcoholic beverages). We waste a LOT of money by drinking things that probably aren’t even really very good for our health. It’s important to be mindful about what we are drinking, not just eating, so we could easily reduce our expenses in the drinks department just by cutting back a little bit. Or, we could switch things up further and take a more “healthy drink approach” and start using a reusable hydro flask. Maybe water sounds boring (drinking a gallon a day helped me get my weight under control so I am always pushing water), but if you need to add some flavor to the mix, there are easy ways to infuse your water with your favorite fruits. Here is a great resource to learn how to infuse your water.
- Don’t be a “name brand snob”. Often store brand items are just as good as the “real thing” but tend to be a lot less expensive. Don’t be above at least trying out the store brand of the things that you use often… don’t get me wrong, once in a great while you will find that the store-brand one is not worth the savings… but in general, you should at least try out the store brand and see if that is a change that you can live with without losing the quality of life that you like.
Start thinking about other ways that you can reduce your grocery budget and you will be shocked at how much money you can save just by planning ahead a little bit.
How To Live Frugally With A Family:
Frugality tips, learn ways to be frugal and save money with these inexpensive living ideas.
While spending money on groceries is a big expense, there are other necessities your family will need throughout the year, and those can be anything from clothing items to toiletries…and can really add up.
Luckily, there are a few simple changes you can make to your routine to help you cut back on your additional shopping expenses:
- Buy things secondhand. When shopping for clothing and toys for your family, the best way to save money is to purchase secondhand items. You can often find high-quality secondhand clothing and children’s items at thrift stores, yard sales, and online classified ads, like on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Don’t limit yourself to shopping secondhand for just clothing and children’s items though! You can find amazing deals on home décor, furniture, housewares, and entertainment items, like games and movies, at secondhand stores too. The secret to actually saving money by buying second-hand is to go to the thrift shops often, and only buy when you find something you love… and when you are buying things from an individual, learn to haggle/bargain. Haggling is a silly way to describe what it means to talk the price down. If you need help learning some good haggling skills you should watch American Pickers on the History channel (I love that show).
- Earn cashback. If you plan to purchase items from a traditional store, be sure you check for cashback opportunities. Sites like Rakuten or apps like Ibotta help you earn cashback on things you’re planning on buying new, so you may as well try to earn some cashback on the totally necessary expenses.
- Buy quality, if you must buy new. Believe it or not, but when you buy cheaply made items, for the things that you need to use often, you are setting yourself up for financial failure…and it creates a lot of waste because cheap things break very quickly and you are forced to purchase that item over and over (filling the landfills unnecessarily). Save yourself the headache of dealing with that rat-race, and just try to save up and buy a quality item from the get-go. Buying quality necessities pays off big over time…To buy quality items, I do a lot of research by reading Amazon reviews on products to make sure that I’m buying something that is not going to break quickly…and I typically won’t consider it “quality” unless it has over four stars in reviews by over 1000 people.
- Purchase only the necessities. While all these frugal ideas and tips for shopping are helpful when trying to be thrifty , the most important tenant of the frugality mindset is to at least try to only purchase what you need and reuse the things that you do have until you absolutely have to replace it. *Remember that all the deals and sales in the world don’t save you money if you didn’t need that item in the first place…I try to only splurge or treat myself on occasion, to keep those wants vs needs in balance.
- Don’t be against hand-me-downs. When a child has outgrown an item, pass it down to the next kid whenever possible… however, I draw the line at sharing underwear…don’t pass down the skid-marks unless you really have no other option…yeah, I just said that…hee hee (in which case, at least follow my tutorial on how to clean and disinfect second-hand clothes first)…but honestly, little kids really only need one or two nicer new outfits per size that they are in as they are growing quickly, so passing down items that are too small should be a no-brainer. *Remember, if you don’t have younger kids that you can pass things down to, I bet you could bless someone’s life by giving them their hand-me-downs instead of throwing those items away when you are done with them.
- Make sure that you’re also communicating with your financially minded friends too. Sometimes you can help meet each others needs just by talking about what your family needs and trying to help each other out whenever possible.
- Find fun cheap or free activities to do with your kids. A simple google search can give you countless ideas of what to do with your family on the cheap…but here are 35 fun ideas that you could do with them too.
Having a family does not mean that there is no hope for having a bit of financial wiggle room at the end of the month…sometimes it just requires a bit more frugality brainstorming to really save as much money as possible to really get the most out of the frugal mindset and lifestyle.
Frugal Tips For Fitness:
What if I told you that you don’t need a gym membership to get fit? Well, here I am telling you that…and coming from someone that struggled with Binge Eating Disorder for fifteen years and defeated it, to lose over 100 lbs (as of today I have maintained that weight loss for about two years and you can see my before and after pics here if you need a little motivation) I hope you take it to heart when I tell you that fitness does not have to be this big expensive thing.
You absolutely don’t need to pay for a personal trainer, or a nutritionist, or buy all the expensive supplements that your mlm “friends” are trying to push on you, or follow any of the crazy “fad” ways that people think you need to eat or exercise to get fit.
Fitness is all about learning the basics, and understanding how all of the pieces of the fitness puzzle fit together…and then putting them into action and being consistent (and loving yourself enough to make your health a priority)…literally, that is all that it takes to get fit and be healthy.
I go over all of those pieces to the fitness puzzle in my Free Fitness Series (make sure to skip ahead to post 2 in the series if you’re not struggling with emotional eating or any eating disorder), but fitness really is easier than you could ever imagine.
Of course, the way I approach it may not be the best option for some, in that case, here are some other great free or frugal fitness resources:
- Eating healthy on a budget
- Leslie Sansone’s Walk At Home Channel on YouTube
- The 9 Best Free Fitness Apps
There are lots of great cheap or free fitness resources out there, and I hope that some of them will help you gain the clarity you have been in search of so that you can get fit too.
How To Be More Frugal For Entertainment:
(My best thrifty tips for saving money on entertainment)
Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t mean you don’t get to have any fun! You just have to be a little more creative when finding cheap or free entertainment options.
Whether you’re looking for a frugal date night idea, or a fun way to spend the weekend with your family, there are a variety of frugal entertainment options to choose from.
- Check out the local public library. Your local library has a variety of amazing entertainment options available to your family for free. Get a new book, check out a movie, or enjoy some family entertainment all free of charge. Just remember to return them in a timely manner so that you don’t get any late fee’s…but it’s easy to set a reminder in your phone to return things on time.
- Cut the cable. Having a cable bill is so expensive! Especially if you have a lot of added on channels on top of a basic bundle. While cutting your cable may seem like you’re taking away entertainment, there are so many ways to enjoy your favorite television shows without the pricy cable bill. Whether you purchase a digital antenna to get free TV or subscribe to Hulu or Netflix for a fraction of the price of cable, your family can still get all their favorite entertainment without the need for a cable subscription.
- Stay in. If you don’t have money to go out, make staying in a little more fun. Host a movie marathon with DVDs/Blu Ray’s from your own collection, have a family game night with board games you already own, or create a fancy restaurant in your dining room and cook a delicious meal with ingredients you have in your pantry. Getting a little creative with your at-home activities is part of the fun of frugalliving.
- Invest in board and card games. During the holidays there are often sales going on to encourage people to buy games that can be played at home. They’re a good idea for birthday and holiday gifts because they can offer years of cheap entertainment (of course, only if everyone is good about putting the pieces/cards away when they’re done playing).
- Free offers. What frugal means sometimes is keeping an eye out for deals and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arise. Head to the local museum on free visitor days, check out that new movie during the matinee, go to the National Parks on their free days, or go out to eat on a weeknight at a restaurant where kids eat free.
- Start Doing Staycations. If your family likes to travel a lot but you still need to work on building up some savings or just needs a little more financial stability… try checking out all of the local attractions that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise. The cost of driving a couple of hours to get to your destination, instead of flying there, alone could save thousands of dollars…and hey, you may even get to spend more quality time together making memories of things other than a boring layover. The bonus to this is that it keeps the money local too, so it supports the businesses in your area.
Frugal Tips For Home:
In addition to helping me express my creativity, doing things myself also helps me save a little money. There are a variety of things you can do yourself to help your family live a little more frugally this year.
- Make your own toiletries. Did you know you can make your own soap, deodorant, and shampoo for a fraction of the price of store-bought items? And not only will making those things save you money, but they might also be a little healthier for your family to use.
- Simplify your cleaning product routine. I learned to save myself a ton of money on cleaning products when I switched over to a super concentrated Dr Bronner’s natural multi-purpose cleaning product… by switching I was able to throw away a myriad of toxic chemicals in my home, and it’s literally so multi-purpose that I only use it, and White Distilled vinegar to clean my entire house. You can read the post I wrote about how to use it here, if you need more info.
- Decorate on a budget. Adding new décor to your home doesn’t often fit into your frugal plan. But if you make your home décor on your own, you’ll save a ton of money! Purchasing items from thrift stores or garage sales and upcycling them into something beautiful and can be fun and frugal at the same time. I share all of my best frugal decorating tips in the post I wrote called Decorate Your Home As Frugally As Possible With These Cheap Home Decor Ideas…you’ll definitely want to check it out.
- Browse YouTube. With the internet as a vast resource of knowledge, anyone can learn a new skill. The next time you need something fixed around your house, check out YouTube to learn how to do it yourself before calling the repairman. My kids and I even like finding some easy tutorials that allow us to DIY a lot of our haircuts.
I do caution that you should be realistic about your “handyman” or DIY capabilities… My best DIY Saving tip is that if there’s a good chance that DIY’ing it is going to make the situation worse, and require a professional to come fix it later, do yourself a favor and don’t cheap out. Unnecessary repairs can be costly too.
How to enjoy being frugally minded:
Developing a thrifty or inexpensive lifestyle, or even a frugal routine takes time…and some trial and error, and sometimes a bit of patience for everyone involved…but the financial benefits are well worth pushing through those growing pains.
Just remember that as you are learning to hone, or “fine tune” your frugality mindset that it’s about creating balance in your life…don’t learn it the hard way like I did and be cheap to the point that your life is miserable. Try to save money on all the little things that really don’t matter at the end of the day, so that you can afford to splurge on the things that you really would like…which will bring you joy.
Yep, the more we stretch our dollars, the more money we have for financial security, or to pay for the big things that we actually want out of life.
At least that is my viewpoint on saving money. I hope you have found some useful information that will help you and your family to live as well as possible on less money.
These are just a handful (ha ha, I say that like I didn’t just write you a small novel on the subject…lol) of my tips, hints, and thoughts on how to be frugal or about frugal living in general…I do try to make my writing on this site as thrifty as possible, so take the advice or leave it, of course. I just hope that it got you all thinking about how to make those hard earned dollars stretch as far as possible.
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and supporting my endeavors to make people’s lives a little easier/better/more affordable. If you liked this post, or found it helpful in any way, please make sure to share it with your family, friends, and co-workers via social media…or you could even send them the direct link via email. Whichever way you choose to spread the love, I super appreciate it! ~Sarah
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**Remember to check out my financial advice section, as well as my DIY section for more tips on how to live frugally.**
Here are links to several of my other money conscious posts that you’re also going to like:
(Sidenote: I’m not one of those bloggers that are rolling in the dough…I still struggle a sometimes…In fact, it could be many more years before my business finishes recovering from what 2020 did to it, but boy do I get up every day working hard and trying to better my situation.)
*Please note that this post about frugallife was originally shared to the website/blog on May 26, 2020 and has since been updated to improve user experience, provide the search engines some fresh images, remain super relevant, as well as to make it as shareable as possible across all the social medias. This post will continually be improved upon over time.