A couple of days ago, I decided to simply go through my day and make a list of everything that I did that was “frugal.” By “frugal,” I simply mean that it’s a more inexpensive version of something that I used to do. Whenever I noticed myself doing something “frugal,” I wrote it down in my pocket notebook. I’m sure that I missed lots of little things.
By the end of the day, I counted twenty two distinct “frugal” choices that I made. I thought I’d share that list with you so you can get an idea of how a typical person uses frugality to lower the cost of ordinary life while still enjoying a very nice lifestyle, and perhaps get some money-saving “everyday living” strategies along the way.
Let’s dig in!
I made scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast for my family of five. I did this early in the morning. I simply cracked a dozen eggs together into a bowl, added a bit of salt, beat them thoroughly, and let them sit for fifteen minutes while I went out back and cut some chives to mince into the eggs. I heated a skillet, added just a bit of butter and melted it, then added the eggs and scrambled them. I cooked a few pieces of toast along with it and everyone had an easy breakfast together. The total cost was about 50 cents per person, as we went through about six pieces of toast, a little bit of butter, and a dozen eggs. That’s a pretty cheap breakfast, and a pretty tasty one, too. Make simple, tasty meals at home from basic ingredients.
I turned the leftover eggs and a tortilla into a breakfast burrito for the next morning, stored in a container in the fridge. There were about two heaping tablespoons of eggs left over from the scrambled eggs, so rather than tossing them, I looked in the cupboard and found a tortilla. I tossed in a bit of shredded cheese, spooned the eggs onto the tortilla, and wrapped it up. That tortilla will make for a quick breakfast for someone in the next day or two. Save leftovers, and find ways to remix them.
I watched our neighbor’s children for an hour or so; later that day, my own children went to the neighbors for an hour while I ran errands. Our neighbor needed to run some errands, so she sent her children over to our house for a couple of hours while she did her thing. Our children played together in the basement while I took care of a few tasks around the house. Later in the day, I’ll send our children over there so I can take care of a few errands. The total cost of all of that child care is nothing. Share child care duties with friends so that you all save money.
I turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows when I learned that the forecasted high was just below 80 F. The weather outside was within fifteen degrees of our ideal indoor temperature, so the energy saving solution here is to simply turn off the indoor climate control and open the windows to allow our home to adjust to the natural climate. We typically do this when the outdoor temperature is between about 55 and 85 or so, give or take a few degrees due to variations in humidity and our activity levels. Within that outdoor temperature range, there’s really no reason to spend the money running the air conditioning or furnace, especially at daytime costs. Don’t run the air conditioning or the furnace on a nice day.
I cleaned up a pretty big spill in the kitchen with several reusable cloths. Most of a gallon of milk spilled across the dinner table. I was on it like a flash, but not with paper towels; instead, I grabbed some cheap microfiber rags from our rag drawer to mop all of it up. I wrung these out in the sink and tossed them into the laundry to reuse later. It doesn’t take many washings for the cost of such a rag to get lower than the cost of a few paper towels. Don’t use paper towels when rags will do the trick just fine.
I listened to several podcasts while doing housework. Podcasts have become my preferred form of audio entertainment. I subscribe to a couple dozen podcasts and I listen to them when I’m doing things like housework tasks or driving to and from errands. It took me a long time to find a healthy roster of shows that I enjoy; many of them are actually just rebroadcasts of NPR and American Public Media programs such as On Being with Krista Tippett. Here’s my earlier introduction to podcasts, for those interested. Find quality free entertainment so you can be more selective in terms of what you actually pay for.
I made a lunch entirely of leftovers from the previous day’s meals. When lunchtime came around, I simply looked in the fridge for leftovers before doing anything else and I found enough leftovers to cover everyone in the family for lunch. We had leftover pizza slices, leftover grilled potato slices, and leftover bean burritos. Everyone simply made a plate from the offerings that I sat out on the counter. It was incredibly easy and incredibly cheap. Leftovers make for a practically free meal.
While doing laundry, I used a spoonful of homemade laundry soap. I use a really simple mix for my own homemade laundry soap. I simply have a big sealed container in the laundry room with equal amounts borax, washing soda, and soap flakes in there. When it runs low, I just add a cup of each to the container and shake it. When I need to do a load of laundry, I add a tablespoon of the mix to the washer – I just leave the spoon right in the container. It takes about thirty seconds to add to a batch of soap and I only need to do it every fifty loads or so. The best part is that this powdered laundry soap is about 10% of the cost of Tide or other name brands – it costs me between two and three cents per load, whereas they cost twenty to thirty cents per load. Over the course of a year, that adds up to a lot. Homemade laundry soap is simple to make and incredibly cheap to use.
I hung up most of a load of laundry to dry in our laundry room. Rather than running the dryer for a small load, I simply hung up most of the items on a line stretching across the laundry room. If I don’t need the items very soon, allowing them to dry on a line will save a dryer load, which not only reduces electricity usage directly, but also doesn’t add any heat to the house on a summer day. Hang up some of your laundry so you can give your dryer a break and save on electricity and cooling, too.
I read a library book. In the early afternoon, I spent an hour or so reading a book I checked out from the library. The direct cost of that book for me was nothing at all, yet it provided an hour of thoughtful entertainment (paired with several hours on earlier days and a few more hours on later days). Libraries have an abundance of free resources for people to borrow, from books of all kinds to audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, magazines, and sometimes many other offerings depending on the programs of the local library. It’s worth your while to check out your local library. Library books are a spectacular free form of entertainment.
I took a nap. I felt a little tired and I knew that I’d be going to the store later, so I took a nap for an hour or so. The reason is simple: a rested mind is better able to make good buying decisions. If you go shopping when you’re tired (or hungry), you’re more likely to buy things you don’t need. Taking a nap before you’re going to make spending decisions is almost always a good choice. A rested mind makes better financial decisions.
I made a meal plan that tapped a bunch of items we already had in the cupboard. After I woke up, I wrote up a meal plan for the coming week. While doing so, I looked extensively at the items we had on hand already, as well as the grocery store flyer. My goal was to use lots of items already on hand, so the meal plan ended up being largely based on what was already in the pantry along with a few fresh items from our garden and from the produce section at the grocery store. Using up items you have on hand means they won’t go bad and it means that your grocery bill will be lower this week.
I made a grocery list from that meal plan. Once the meal plan was set, I wrote down a grocery list consisting of all of the additional items we needed to pull off that meal plan. Mostly, it revolved around fresh vegetables and a few fruits, so the list happened to be pretty short. Making the list straight from the meal plan ensured that I was only writing down things we needed for our planned meals and not a lot of extra stuff. Having the actual list in the store gives me something to focus on so that I’m not buying extra things that aren’t on the list. My list is efficient, and I’m efficient in the store – both save me money. Making and using a grocery list keeps you from buying unnecessary items at the grocery store.
I rode my bicycle to the grocery store and to the post office for errands. After I had my grocery list in hand, I grabbed my backpack and hopped on my bicycle for a two mile ride that took me to the post office to mail a package and to the grocery store to pick up the items on the list (which easily fit in my backpack). Doing this provided some nice exercise while also getting the errands completed without firing up our car, using gas, and putting miles on it. Riding your bike for nearby errands saves gas and wear on your car while also providing free exercise.
I traded for a board game rather than buying it. One of the packages I mailed was a board game, which cost just a few dollars to mail. This was done to fulfill a trade by mail with another board game player. He had a game I wanted and I had a game he wanted that I didn’t think I would play again, so we organized a trade. This effectively brought a new game I was excited to play into my possession for just a few dollars while also getting rid of a game I was doubtful I would play again. Bartering and trading is a great way to refresh your hobby collection at a very low price. Trade and barter items rather than buying them.
I poured the remaining ounce or two of a bottle of liquid soap into the new bottle. Whenever I finish a bottle of soap, I turn it upside down and leave it in the bathroom closet for several days while the new one is being used. Once the new bottle has been emptied a little (and I happen to notice it), I’ll pour the contents of the old bottle into the new one (since it’s been upside down for several days, I can usually get a surprising amount out of it). This helps to stretch out the use of liquid soap and it takes only a few seconds to do it – you just take the lid off of both containers and pour the remnants of the mostly empty one into the other one. Easy as can be! Don’t throw away the last little bit in a container; pass it forward instead.
I made an amazing potato salad using preserved lemons I made myself, six leftover potatoes, and a bit of mayonnaise and mustard and salt. About a month ago, I made a batch of preserved lemons when lemons were on sale at the store. It was easy – I just coated several quartered lemons in salt, let them sit in the fridge overnight, then pushed them tightly into a jar. Now, when I want to add a great flavor to a marinade or to a potato salad, I just take a couple of preserved lemon quarters, chop them finely, and mix them right in. By using those lemons, chives from our garden, a few potatoes on hand, and some condiments, I made a killer potato salad for very little cost that served as a side dish for dinner and will serve as a side for meals going forward. Making simple foodstuffs and even ingredients can save money and vastly increase your meal variety.
I grilled hamburgers and veggie burgers purchased on sale and frozen until ready to use. The main course of our dinner was cooked on the grill and it consisted of hamburgers and veggie burgers made earlier and frozen, pulled from the freezer for a final grilling. The beef and beans were purchased at the store when they were on sale; the patties were stored in freezer bags and separated by wax paper for easy separation. Thus, the burgers were very inexpensive because they were originally heavily discounted and saved by us until we were ready to eat. Stock up on sale items that you’re sure to use later.
I played checkers with my son using an old checkers set. After dinner, my son and I played a game of checkers using an old inexpensive checkers set picked up for a few bucks at some point in the past. We played a few games, so it provided most of an hour of entertainment and thinking and conversation for the two of us. Games are a great way to pass the time and use some parts of your brain that you might not always exercise. Find entertainment in what you have on hand already.
I made a small campfire using broken wood pieces from another project. We have a fire pit in our back yard. Whenever I find some scrap wood from almost anything that isn’t pre-treated wood, I’ll save it with the intent of using it in our fire pit for a backyard campfire on a nice summer or fall evening. This night was no different – the fire mostly consisted of extra broken boards from our children’s taekwondo classes along with some discarded wood I found several days earlier. Don’t throw away items that have a clear use later on.
I used junk mail to get that campfire going. Rather than using purchased fire starters or even my own homemade ones, I actually just used some junk mail to get the fire going. We had some junk mail that had accumulated over several days which I separated out when sorting the mail and held onto because I knew we would have a campfire that evening. Junk mail – especially newspapers and flyers – catches fire easily and burns hot enough to get small pieces of wood burning, which is all you really need for a backyard fire pit. Junk mail is great for kindling.
I turned off a bunch of lights and electronic devices before bed during a final walkthrough of the house. Just before bed, I walked through the house and turned off any electronic devices and lights that I found still running. The family computer was turned off. A handheld video game console was turned off. At least a dozen lights were turned off. All of those moves save us on electricity usage during the nighttime hours, which cuts down on our energy bill. Turning off unused energy eaters saves money on your energy bill.
What’s the point of this story? The point is that frugality isn’t something “special” that you do; instead, it integrates naturally into your life so that you spend less money in the course of doing the normal things you’d normally do. Frugality isn’t about devoting hours to scrubbing Ziploc bags for a second use or diving into dumpsters for moldy bread. It’s about finding more cost-efficient ways of doing the things you’re already doing and integrating them into your normal day-to-day life so that you have more money left over at the end of the month. If trying to be “frugal” is causing you frustration and angst, you’re going about it the wrong way – let go of the things that are causing negative feelings and instead find new ways to just do the things you normally do, except with less spending.