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One great thing about being frugal is that once you start doing it, it kind of snowballs.
I've been frugal my whole life, partly because I believe that saving money is just as good as making it, and I don't like overpaying for something. But what really kick-started my frugal lifestyle was being laid off in 2008 from the newspaper industry. Without a full-time job, I no longer had benefits and the same income I had before, so some frugality was called for.
Here are 16 tips I've learned, either on my own or by talking to people cited below, to kick-start frugality and make it an everyday part of life. Some are small tips to save a few dollars a week, and a few are big that can add up to hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, so be sure to start with the easy ones before jumping to the big ones.
Read on to find out what saves big time.
- Start Saving With Direct Deposit
- Track Spending For a Week
- Skip Treats and Luxuries For a Week
- Spend Only Cash
- Don't Buy Anything
- Don't Shop at the Grocery Store
- Don't Eat Out
- No Big Group Meals Out
- Get Your Teenager to Wait a Year Before Driving
- Pay Yourself to Meet Your Goals
- Don't Buy a Book For a Month
- Cut Back on Haircuts
- Walk, Bike, or Ride to Work
- Get Rid of Your Car
- Dump Cable TV For a Month
- Live in a Tent
Whether it's a payroll savings plan to save for retirement or simply moving $100 each month from a checking account to a savings account, putting money aside before you get a chance to notice it and spend it is a great first step to being frugal.
Keep track of every penny you spend for a week, and you'll likely see a pattern. Fidelity Investments, of which I'm a customer, has a barrelful of tips for saving money, and it recommends keeping track of every dollar. It has a graphic that shows how far saving a dollar for retirement can go at different ages. Obviously, the younger you start saving, the more money you'll have as it compounds. By tracking spending for a week — either by the dollar or penny — you'll see your weak spots (too many trips to the vending machine at work or coffee house) and can adjust and have the extra money automatically transferred to a savings account.
Stop buying anything you eat, drink, or smoke that would be considered an "extra," and instead drink boring water, make it yourself, or bring something cheaper with you. Bring an orange instead of buying chips at the vending machine.
Financial counselor and editor Adrianna Domingos-Lupher told me that she broke a coffee house addiction two years ago by investing in an espresso maker and having lattes at home. Her family has cut their coffee house expenses by nearly 75 percent, dropping from $30 a week on coffee to less than $10 now. "Granted the learning curve to froth the milk and find the right grind of coffee was a challenge, but I'm glad to report that I visit a certain celestial coffee house a lot less than I used to," she says. "It's more of a treat on weekends than an everyday affair."
Try this for a week — it's not as easy as it sounds. Like tracking your spending online, using only cash will show you where your money goes and will limit what you buy.
Author Alan Corey says he started being frugal by simply going to the ATM once a week for $100. Everything he bought had to be in cash. "It kept me on a budget without having to save receipts or planning too much ahead," Corey says. "All I had to do was look in my wallet to see what I could spend, and then determine if I could get by on until my next ATM outing." He later lowered it to $80 a week after $100 was working well, allowing him to save more money.
This is a much more drastic step than what Corey does, and it probably shouldn't be your first step to starting a frugal lifestyle. But if you want to make the big jump in the frugal pond, this will do it. The "no spend challenge," as many bloggers have written about, starts with cutting all unnecessary spending cold turkey. Only spend money on the basics, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, and basic groceries. If anything will lead to a frugal snowball effect, this will.
Jen Smialek, a personal finance blogger in Boston, says a month-long no-spending vow helped her save $600 one month. Smialek says she only spent money on rent, utilities, and basic groceries, and that the habit has helped her stop unnecessary spending for the past four years.
I can do this for a week, no problem. In fact, my refrigerator is now almost empty and a trip to the grocery store is imminent. With a well-stocked pantry, visits to the farmers market, and buying $25 worth of groceries from an online organic grocer, Michelle Jackson, a personal finance blogger, says she went seven weeks without having to go to a grocery store. Jackson says her grocery bill dropped from about $75 per visit (two to three times a week) to $275 for the entire seven weeks.
For 30 days in 2006, blogger Carrie Rocha and her husband did a no eating out challenge. It included no stops at the coffee shop, no soda at a gas station, no rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, no concessions at a ballpark, and never a meal in a restaurant. They were successful that month and saved hundreds of dollars, but the real benefit was realizing their lack of self-control. Before, they took joy in a midday treat, and learned that because they couldn't afford to indulge, they had to find healthier ways to get through the temptations. They bought healthier on-the-go snacks and have saved thousands of dollars in the seven years they've been living within their means.
If eating out once a week with your spouse is too difficult to cut from your lifestyle, try to at least cut out group meals with friends and co-workers.
Mitchell Fox, co-founder of a tax monitoring website, says the best thing his wife and he did to start saving money was to skip on big group dinners in San Francisco, which is an expensive city at any income. The dinner bill always seemed to come out to at least $50 per person, sometimes much more with drinks added to the bill. "What we have started to do instead is suggest house parties — either inviting people to our place or suggesting they host — or meeting up for happy hour drinks instead of dinner," Fox says. They used to eat out at least once a week with friends, but this step has cut their monthly spending by at least $500, he says.
This kick-start method can help teach you and your teen how to save money through delayed gratification, although convincing a teen of this may be difficult. If you can get around the hassle of driving your teen around for another year when they turn 17, you (and the teenager) will save money by not buying a car or paying for maintenance or extra gas. You also won't have to pay the 20 to 80 percent surcharge from some insurers for teenage drivers, according to AutoInsuranceCenter.com.
Putting a few dollars in an envelope or some spare change in a jar whenever you meet a frugal goal is a way to reward yourself for being frugal. Lisa Boesen was successful in her "Lenten Challenge" to use up everything in her pantry and freezer during Lent, so she put $5 in a jar every time she and her husband followed their frugal guidelines. They ended with $100 in the jar last year, Boesen says, and are continuing to add to their own tip jar whenever they meet a frugal goal they've set.
I've done this for a few years (except on trips) when I realized I was spending about $50 a month on new books for my Kindle. I sometimes buy used books and save 50 percent, but I mostly go to the library and check them out for free. Getting new releases can be tough, although I've found that if I get on the waiting list early enough, the book is available within a month or so. You can also save money on DVDs, music, and other media at libraries. Getting a library card is too easy, so there's no excuse to try it for a month or so.
After spending $200 a month for 25 years so she could have her hair straightened, lifestyle strategist Melisa Alaba eliminated that expense by chopping her relaxed hair and wearing her hair in its natural style. She puts the savings in an education fund for her daughters, and since starting this three years ago, she has learned to do her own hair, and as she puts it, has learned to "embrace my natural beauty."
Moving close to work so you can walk is a big step, but worth thinking about the next time you change jobs. I've made it a life-long habit to live near where I work, and have always lived within a few miles of my job. While I've often needed a car at work, I've been able to walk and bike to work, and live in an area where I can walk to stores for quick errands. I've saved on auto insurance by driving fewer miles, which has also cut maintenance and gas expenses.
Obviously, this is a big step. I've always wanted to try this, but haven't because I think it would be difficult without having the public transportation of a big city. Comedian Jim Dailakis of New York has, taking public transportation whenever he can or renting cars. Dailakis accumulates points as a gold member with Hertz, allowing him to sometimes rent a car for free.
As I've written before, this step has much more than financial benefits. The biggest has been not wasting time watching TV. I read more, have more free time, and watch programs that I really want to watch. After the initial equipment costs to make the switch away from cable TV and buying monthly services such as Netflix and Hulu, we've saved at least $30 a month.
This is the biggest, most life-changing way to kick-start frugality, and you might want to make this the last frugal choice you make. But if you're really committed, as Richard and Laura Pawlowski were, then this could be the first kick-start to a life of frugality.
The Pawlowskis are in their 70s and wrote about living in a tent for two years after being pushed from their home of 35 years. They traveled to more than 50 campgrounds in 10 states, saved money, and rebalanced their debt. They no longer paid $1,200 in monthly rent, using some of the money for gas and food.
It's a heck of a kick-start to frugality and makes skipping a daily latte look simple.
How did you kick-start your frugal habits?
— Aaron Crowe
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