A good financial situation is an intricate balancing act between how much you make and how much you spend. I am currently on a quest to find as many different ways as possible to make more money - just take a look at the massive collection of extra money making ideas that has been coming together, and you’ll see why I believe that anyone can make more money.
That said, the other side of the balance is equally important. And that is how you spend your money. Or rather, how you protect yourself from spending too much money. Without this balancing aspect, no matter how much you make, you will never have enough.
Here’s what I do to live frugally and keep my spending in check.
- Cook at home as often as possible: I love cooking exotic dishes once in a while. And I *hate* regular everyday cooking. I am a foodie and at the end of a busy day spending an hour in the kitchen to fix a plain (aka “healthy and nutritious”) meal just doesn’t feel like it is worth the effort. But I have been trying hard to get into the habit of cooking at least 5 times each week and some of the things I laid out in this article and this article have been coming in pretty handy.
- Take lunch with me to work at least 3 times a week: This is one thing I am really proud of. Even during my bleakest unfrugal days, I have stuck with this schedule. It has been a little over
a year5 years (!) since I started working, and in the entire period I think I have gone out for lunch more than twice a week only 4-5 timesless than a dozen times, and even during those weeks, the max I ate out was 3 times a week.
- We have coffee and breakfast at home, rest of the time we drink free coffee available at office. We don’t entirely ban coffee houses or starbucks, but usually reserve it for occasions when we meet old friends. Over time, we have come to associate coffee houses, with lazy leisurely evenings spent catching up and swapping old stories. And being loathe to spoil that association keeps us away from running in and out for an overpriced cup of coffee that is drank in a hurry at the desk or while driving.
- We don’t have a telephone land line: We have gone for over 4 years now without a phone land line and have not missed it a bit. We both make sure that our cell phones stay charged all the time, so we are never at a loss of an instrument to make calls from. On the cell phone we have the least expensive plans with fairly low minutes, but since many of our friends have the same service provider, we get to talk to them for free. Only once in the past 4 years have we paid for extra minutes.
- Shop for pretty much everything during “sale” and after researching the prices thoroughly. Avoid impulse buy. One of the first lessons someone told me when I landed in the US is that if you pay full price to buy anything, you are a sucker. At first I thought it was a joke. But now, I firmly believe it. As long as you can avoid impulse buying, you can get pretty much anything on sale.
- Drive our cars to death: People who are regular visitors to this blog may be surprised that I have listed this here since I recently confessed that we bought a fairly unfrugal car. Over the long run though, our car ownership turns out to be quite frugal. We take good care of our cars (regular oil changes, get necessary repairs done as soon as we possibly can etc.,) and drive the car until the wheels fall off – literally. The car we just replaced was 14 years old and had 165K miles on it and we drove it until the engine finally quit on us. Both our current cars now are pre-owned and we plan to use them (hopefully) past the 150K mile mark too!
- Hang out with like minded friends: It’s not just how frugal you are, but who you hang out with. If all the friends around you are spenders, then some time or the other you will crack up and give up being frugal. In our case, we have been fortunate enough to have friends who are fairly like-minded. Even though frugality is not the core of our conversation or anything, we still end up making choices that do not require too much expenditure, and still end up having a blast.
- Watch movies at discount theatre, or watch it before 6:00pm if it is a regular cinema hall. Both the better half and I like watching movies in the theatre. Since it is something that we really enjoy and it helps us unwind, we don’t bother to curb this indulgence. Instead, we try to wait for the movies to screen on the discount cinema ($2 per ticket). And, if we really don’t want to wait for 3 months for a particular movie, we catch it before 6:00pm when the tickets are less expensive.
- Go to the movies on a full stomach: We very rarely get popcorn or soda at the movies. I mean, what’s the point in watching a movie in a discount cinema for $2 per person, if you blow $6 per person on pop corn and soda?
- I go grocery shopping when I am too hungry or too tired: Basically any time that I really don’t want to be doing grocery shopping. And I go only once a week, no matter what I remember/forget to bring. Believe it or not, this is the most efficient and money-saving way to shop. At least in my case, since I am ever curious and if I have the time, I will walk through all the aisles looking for new and strange items and buy them so I can “try them out”.
- Make a list before going shopping: This is particularly important when I go to Costco! Like I said earlier, I get easily tempted to buy something that looks new and interesting. And at places like Costco, that can be quite damaging since the portion sizes are large and so, even though the unit price may be less than the regular store, the large portion sizes make buying unnecessary junk a big costly mistake.
- Stock up non-perishable items on sale: When I find the things we use often go on sale, I generally stock them up. That particular grocery run my bill will be pretty huge, but I make it a point that during the subsequent trips, my bill is small so the average is around what I have budgeted for.
- Keep an eye on expiry dates: I hate throwing out stuff because they have expired – so while buying stuff, I check to make sure I buy something with the farthest expiry date. This is true particularly with meats and milk – the grocery store always puts the stock with the closest expiry date at the front. And every once in a while I have a “clearance week” when I do minimal grocery shopping and clear out the fridge, freezer and some of the canned goods.
- We don’t buy anything at the vending machines. Neither of us have the habit of snacking, but in Texas if you spend some time outdoors, it is usually very tempting to grab a coke at the vending machine. To avoid this temptation, if we plan on staying out for long, then during the previous day, we fill a bottle of water and shove it in the freezer. Next day we take the frozen bottle of ice in the car and generally we get to drink cold water (or at least “not hot” water) for the better part of the day.
- Buy second hand when possible: I do not like buying some things second hand (eg. clothes, mattress etc.) but I have no hassles buying some other things second hand (eg. books, car etc.). So whenever, I have no stigma against something, I try to buy it second hand. Maybe not as frugal as a lot of people out there, but still every bit helps.
- We throw away the advertising mailers left in our mailbox without even looking. We only make an exception when we need something and know that it is possible to get a discount using the coupon in the mailer (e.g., haircut coupons – (gasp!) Yep, I use a coupon to get a haircut).
- We have a habit of switching off electric items when they are not in use. For instance, when we walk out of a room, we make sure the lights and fan are switched off. When I am not watching TV (which is most of the time), I keep the TV off. When we go out for work we switch off the A/C (the jury is still out on whether this is good or it is better to keep it on at a constant temp, but we just do this out of habit).
- We DIY things when possible: The lawn is taken care of by the better half, and home cleaning by me. In the 2.5 years of owning the home, I have had the maid service come in once to help me with the cleaning. The temptation is very strong to let them come in and help again. Until now, I have not given in and have stuck to keeping the house clean myself. Currently, my plan is to have them come over once every 3-6 months to do a thorough cleaning (particularly bathrooms, over side of fans, window blinds etc. that I don’t do often) and do incremental cleaning by myself during the rest of the time. Additionally, small repairs around the house are handled by the better half with me acting as the able assistant
- When we travel, we usually search for discount airfares and in the nights, don’t hesitate to crash in Motel 6 or Super 8. Or any place with or without a numeral in the name for that matter as long as they let us stay for cheap and don’t look like they could be a candidate for the set of a scary slasher movie. And if they throw in the breakfast, all the more better
- Every now and then we love going to a good ol’ buffet place. All-you-can-eat buffets are great ways to have a frugal feast. No they do not serve gourmet food in buffets (unless you are in Vegas), but when you are hungry, there is no better way to get the best value for the buck than to go for the most extensive buffet place around. We have tried out a few in our area and now know the ones we like best and on days that we feel like packing in a lot of food, we skip the restaurant and go get in line for the buffet. (As a side note, if you are a fellow buffet-lover, you should read this post by Nick @ Punny Money – funny and informative – can it get any better?)
That’s all I can think of now. As you can see, I don’t particularly deprive myself of anything, but when possible, I try to incorporate little bits of frugality in every day things. Every small bit helps.
I will not tag anyone in this post, but I do encourage those of you on the unfrugal part of your cyclical behavior to go ahead and do this exercise. Just thinking about it and writing it down, has filled me with renewed determination to stay frugal during the coming days. As I have mentioned before, for some people living a simple and frugal life comes naturally. But for the rest of us, it takes conscious effort, determination and a fair amount of discipline to incorporate frugality in our lives. And an exercise like this goes a long way in helping us stay on track.
PS: If you don’t have a blog, feel free to use the comments section below as a scratch pad, or send me an email with your list and I will publish it here.
And if you are looking for inspiration about what others in the blogosphere are doing to stay frugal, here are some good reads –
- What I Do to Live Frugally @ Mapgirl’s Fiscal Challenge.
- 25 Things We Do To Save Money @ Money, Matter and More Musings
- Strategy – being frugal @ Savvy Saver.
- Four ways I live frugally @ Stop Buying Crap.
- 3 Ways I Live Frugally Without Feeling Deprived @ My Money Blog.
- Green Living is Good for the Pocketbook @ Suddenly Frugal.
- Things I Do to Save Money @ Cal Girl Finance.
- What can one person really do to make a difference? @ The Good Human.