Updated on 09.15.14

Tips On How to Live a Frugal Life

Trent Hamm

As soon as people hear the word frugality, they often respond by saying “I don’t have time for that!” The perception is out there that frugality always demands hours of doing things like cutting coupons and mixing up batches of homemade laundry detergent. While those projects save money, they’re only one avenue towards trimming the financial fat in your life.

In fact, many of the best frugal tactics not only require no upkeep time, many of them actually save you time, adding hours back into a life that’s highly compressed. Try these three tactics on for size.

Tactic One: Better Choices
Pontivy, and a good choice of apples by Rhian vK at Flickr!One efficient way to improve your financial situation is to simply make better snap decisions. We’re faced with hundreds of little choices every day – simply resetting your mind to make a few better ones each day can save you a bundle of money. Here are four approaches.

Don’t shop for entertainment’s sake Want to go have a good time with friends? Don’t choose to go shopping just for fun. Instead, think of something else – almost anything else – to do. Shopping for entertainment’s sake is just an excuse to spend money on stuff you don’t need. Don’t leave behind the social occasion, just sometimes choose to do something besides shop for fun.

Grab the generic option instead of the name brand when shopping When you’re strolling through the store, grab the generic option instead of the name brand option of the food item you’re buying. It’s usually almost identical in quality and will quickly add up to some serious savings if you do it regularly.

Reduce your time commitments instead of taking on more Got a schedule so packed full of things to do that you simply don’t have time to eat at home, bringing on the expense of eating out? Spend all your time burning gas flying from activity to activity? Cut out a few of the more peripheral things. You’ll save gas money and maybe be able to eat an inexpensive meal at home sometimes instead of eating out expensively.

Eat a better diet Instead of choosing unhealthy options at the grocery store, choose healthy ones. Buy skim milk to drink. Buy fresh vegetables to eat. While it won’t make a ton of difference at the checkout, it will improve your immune system (making you less likely to get a cold and thus less likely to spend money on cold medicine, doctor’s visits, lost income, etc.) and help with your long term health.

Tactic Two: One-Offs That Keep Saving Money
polzeath sandcastle 2 by Captain Mish at Flickr!You have an hour to spare right now. How can you save some money over the long haul? Here are some ideas that you can set up once and they’ll keep slowly saving you money.

Install a programmable thermostat Stop by the hardware store, buy a programmable thermostat, and install it yourself. Then program it to not run the air conditioning or the heat during the hours you’re at work, only kicking on in the hour or so before you arrive home. Automatic energy savings – you can walk away and it’ll just work its magic, trimming your electricity and/or gas bill.

Air seal your home Use this useful guide from the Department of Energy to caulk and weatherstrip your home, preventing air leaks and drafts from causing you to lose cool air during the summer and warm air during the winter. Do it once and you’ll save money on every energy bill thereafter.

Set up automatic bill pay Use your bank’s online bill pay service (it does have that, doesn’t it? If not, consider switching) to set up automatic payments of the monthly bills you have with a fixed amount. Not only will this save you on stamps, it’ll also help you avoid late fees and also save you the time of writing out that check each month.

Prepare a bunch of meals at once Spend an hour preparing supper – but prepare three duplicate meals at the same time and pop them in the freezer. Later on, you’ll be able to just grab a meal out of the freezer and pop it in the oven (or in the microwave) – saving you time in food preparation and money because you’re now able to eat at home instead of going out.

Tactic Three: Toss Out Bills
Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) by mikebaird at Flickr!Trimming the excess from your monthly bills means fewer bills to worry about – a time saver and a money saver! Here are four places to look.

Toss out the cable box and go with a digital TV receiver If most of the programs you watch are on the non-cable television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and PBS), toss out your expensive cable bill and instead just get a digital TV receiver. You’ll still have a bunch of channels, get all of your old favorites, and it’ll cost you nothing each month.

Toss out your land line and go with only a cell phone Have both a land line and a cell phone? Find yourself rarely using the land line at all? Get rid of it.

Toss out your unused club memberships Got a gym membership you never use? Haven’t been to the country club in years? Haven’t returned a Netflix movie in weeks? Just cancel your unused memberships and you’ll immediately save money each month.

Toss out unread magazines (and their subscriptions) If your table has a big pile of unread magazines sitting on it, that’s probably a clue that you’re not keeping up with your subscriptions. Toss them out and cancel those subscriptions, saving you more money and eliminating some clutter, too.

All pictures used under a Creative Commons license. Click on the pictures to see more from that photographer!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. spyscribbler says:

    Okay, I feel stupid, but could you let us know how, where, what to google for when it comes to a digital receiver? What does it receive from? Don’t you need cable for that, too? I googled digital receivers, but they all need DirecTV, Dish, or cable.

    I’m totally going to cut out my cable bill. I mean, most of the network shows are posted online for free, anyway.

  2. todd says:

    Can you recommend a digital tv receiver? We just ditched digital cable TV but I would love to be able to pull in the big networks and PBS stations if possible. When I search for “digital tv receiver” I mostly find directv and dish network; any googling tips?


  3. Shanel Yang says:

    So true that being frugal creates time instead of drains it! With less time wasted shopping and going out to eat, I find myself having to find things to do to occupy myself. So, I actually read all the unread books on my shelf and am hunting around in libraries now for more! Thanks for the great tips! It was useful for me to check off the list to make sure I’m doing all I can for now — without making my own laundry detergent! ; )

  4. Jules says:

    I think when people say, “I don’t have the time for that!” they really mean, “I don’t want to go through that kind of trouble!” A lot of the things I do to save money (keeping a sharp eye out for deals, knowing store prices, making massive quantities of chili and soup) are so integrated into my life that it’s only when I list them that it strikes me as to how much of my life appears to be devoted to saving money.

    Note: “appears”. I spend a lot (too much, actually) of time reading blogs and keeping my own. Because the tactics I use are so integrated into my life, they don’t require much time, energy, or effort on my part.

    It starts with the little habits–turning off the lights when you leave the room–and works up to the big things, like buying that hybrid.

  5. Willow says:

    Cutting back is great, but free alternatives like checking out DVDs and magazines from the library is a money saver (my kid watches only DVDs from the library and the free section at the video store). All libraries I’ve used can request materials from other lending libraries (if you happen to live in a small town like me) for free! And, if you think about it, our taxes are paying for you to use that library so really you are subscribing twice to DVDs, books, magazines, etc.

  6. Katrina says:

    Hi Trent,
    Thanks for the great suggestions – a question, can you point me to more information about a digital TV receiver? Thanks!

  7. Max says:

    Air Sealing, you may be eligible for free professional air sealing from your local CAP agency which is often grouped together with other energy saving things as “weatherization” (youcan find your cap agency here: http://www.communityactionpartnership.com/about/links/map.asp)
    or from your utility in some cases. They will often use a device connected to your door frame that actually pressurized your whole house and find all of the cracks you would probably never find on your own!

    Also, in some cases eligibility is tied to income and family size, in other cases it isn’t.


  8. Chris says:

    I actually discovered through digging around on the AT&T site that its cheaper to get dsl WITH a phone line than it is without. They advertise the $25 DSL only package, or you can do what I did and pay $7.25 for a ‘measured rate’ home phone(meaning you get limited local calling), then pay $10/month for Basic DSL that’s available only to home phone subscribers. So… $17.25 with home phone or $25 without. :)

  9. Neal says:

    Does anyone know how the digital receivers work or a good website where I could find out more information?

    Are they basically high-tech rabbit ears?


  10. Focus On Your Money Maker says:

    @ Neal,

    The receiver part I’m not sure what you are asking. You just have to have a digital tuner in your TV. All newer TV’s already have this. If it’s not a newer TV, you will have to get a set top tuner. The gov. has a coupon for you to purchase one for your old TV’s. Here is there website. As far as getting the signal. Do your rabbit ears have to be special? No, they don’t have to be high tech anything. I bought a pair at Wally World for $7.

  11. Marisa says:

    Hey, Trent – What’s your recommendation for high-speed internet? I pay for a combined IP voice/ cable/ high-speed internet, but I HATE the company I have to use in this city. Their billing is always weird, they never manage to charge me correctly, and their customer service is terrible. I’d love to drop their cable package, but since I use their high-speed internet service, it’s easier just to use all three.

    What’s your take?

  12. Nancy says:

    I remember when Amy author of TIGHTWAD GAZETTE(one on your recommended reading list) was featured in Parade Weekly introducing her newsletter – the insert that comes with the Sunday newspaper. Ever since then, I have been incorporating frugal practices.

    The one struggle I have is with the television subscription. My husband is adament about ESPN and Fox News. I would like to do away with the 85.00 a month television billing but my husband does not budge. Any suggestions? Nancy

  13. Sara says:

    Yep, with the exception of couponing (which is time-consuming for the first few go-rounds) and comparison shopping (but if you’re being frugal are you really buying a whole heck of a lot?), being frugal is a time-saver in almost every case.

    That’s one thing I love about frugality: it (sometimes) gives laziness a good name.

  14. Jenzer says:

    Under “Eat a better diet,” I’d add “develop a new appreciation for simple, wholesome foods that require little or no prep time” — things like nonfat cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, hand-held fruit in season like apples, peaches, plums, etc.

    Back when I commuted two hours a day, I’d often be crunched for time in the morning and would use that as an excuse to hit the McDonald’s drive-thru for an Egg McMuffin. Then one morning I timed how long it would take to put together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread to take with me on the road. PB&J: four minutes. McD’s: seven minutes. There went my excuse!

  15. nuveena says:

    I must be an odd duck because I can wander around a store for entertainment’s sake and walk out the door empty handed.

    I think one misconception people have about time spent being frugal is that it’s just that; and investment. Some of the frugal concepts I invested the time in a couple of months ago are now starting to pay off and I’m actually saving time (and money). Some things I thought would be time consuming actually were not and other things that did take a few minutes of my time to do, were worth the time I spent doing them.

    I agree with Jules. I think people say they don’t have time to do something, they mean they don’t want to go through the trouble. of doing it.

  16. Paul says:

    I have one to add.

    Drop your cell phone when the contract comes up and get a pre-paid one instead. If you don’t use that many minutes anyway, it’s way cheaper. I pay $39.99 for 400 minutes and the phone I have doubles that automatically for me (it was a free bounus feature when I bought the phone)which gives me 800 minutes for $40. That lasts me around 6-8 months. Far better than what I was paying for Verizon ($50/month).

    Also, rabbit ears and a digital convertor are not the same thing. If you wish to cancel your cable you will need a good set of rabbit ears (I have the amplified kind that plug into the wall) and in Feb. of 2009 you will also need the convertor box because tv stations are going to broadcast all digital signals. Some newer TV’s will not need a convertor. Check out http://www.dtv2009.gov for more info and to see if your tv needs a convertor box.

  17. jason says:

    I have used T-Mobile pay as you go for a couple of years–if you buy a 1000 minute card it works out to 10 cents a minute. It seems the best of the plans because they don’t have daily fees or anything (although they do charge a minimum of 2 minutes per call). I hate talking on the phone, so I only spent about 3000 minutes a year, ~25 bucks a month. The problem with pay as you go is when you are stuck on hold or in customer service limbo, your minutes are burning up.

    I recently bought a Cisco cordless internet phone for about 30 bucks and a one year skype-out plan for a little over 20. Now I can make all the outgoing calls I want from my house without incurring any additional costs. This will drop my cell phone minutes down to 1000 a year or so (they expire after a year anyways). So far, I’m very happy with the setup–except I have to fire up my computer if I want to make a call, and incoming calls still go through my cell phone. I usually have my computer turned off on a power strip to avoid phantom load.

    As far as internet goes, I have cable internet only, and re-negotiated my contract down to 30 bucks a month (from 55)for a year by telling them that I was planning on switching to DSL. I use a roof mount antenna and get all of the over the air channels for free in high def. This probably wouldn’t work for rural folks though.

  18. Scott Page says:

    I seriously love this website, its one of the few blogs I read regularly.

    Does anyone have a good site where you can get recipes for meals that can be frozen? I have started making all my lunches the sunday before and then freezing them. Some of things I have made (fried rice, spaghetti) turn out well, but some other dishes just taste horrible after being reheated.

  19. David says:

    In an otherwise lowfat diet (say 10% calories from fat), is there a particular reason that skim milk is healthier?

  20. K says:


    Check out this site:

    Digital TV boxes connect in between your TV and your antenna and get all major networks plus a few additional channels. They cost between $50-$60, but you can go to http://www.dtv2009.gov to get a $40 coupon (up to 2 per person). The picture is excellent. We get 8 channels right now. You may get more or less depending on where you are, but keep in mind that the stations don’t have to broadcast full power until Feb 17, 2009, so if you try now and don’t get too many, you may want to try again later.

    If you have a newer TV, the digital tuner is built in so you don’t need a separate device. Also, many DVD recorders have them built in as well.

  21. Steven says:

    I removed TV from my life about 10 years ago and have no regrets. Not only have I saved money on not having a cable bill, I have been able to put that time to better use – like reading, for instance.

    I just read if you watch 2 hours of TV a night starting at the age of 21, and living to age 78, you have watched TV for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, for 4 years and 9 months of your life.

    Time is too precious to waste it.

  22. kevin says:

    What? No mention of CFL’s? :)

  23. Nancy says:

    Scott Page – try the Leanne Ely’s Saving Dinner.com website for recipes and plans for freezing meals.

  24. Debbie says:

    I call my library’s website, my personal Amazon.com! When I see a book, I would like to read, I check the library website and order it and have it sent to the library nearest my home.
    I also get large print books for a woman I visit in a nursing home.
    I have also discovered their books on CD collection.

    I do make donations to the library’s new building fund as I feel I save so much by not buying books.

  25. TJ says:

    On the thermostat I have a question. My husband’s friends work at in the heating and airconditioning business. They say not to have too big of a gap with your program, or your furnace or AC will use more power working really hard to cool down or heat up when you want. So we’ve tried to keep it within 6 degrees. I’d really love to know if anyone has some good data on the savings. (If someone does, my email is on my blog, I’d love to hear from you.)

  26. Macinac says:

    Don’t air condition. My house has none. When it gets too hot we sleep in the basement. Once this is set up there is no extra time needed. At bedtime we just go to a different room from the usual one.

  27. Lenore says:

    Great article, Trent. I’d love to see a list of fun and frugal “retail therapy” alternatives. I’ve come a long way in battling shopping addiction, but it still seems like most ideas for getting out of the house entail some kind of purchase or exposure to tempting merchandise. Staying home to save gas and money is fine most of the time, but I feel like life will pass me by if I don’t get out more. I know I was able to find plenty of cheap thrills in my teen and college years, but I seem to have unlearned how to entertain myself. Maybe you could ask your readers how they amuse themselves for free or very little cash. You’ve mentioned playing bridge before, and that’s something I never would have thought about. What other things do you do alone or with friends that cost next to nothing?

  28. Sherry says:

    I used bill pay for almost a year, at a cost of $7/month. I sat down and figured out which bills I was actually paying with it and then cancelled the bill pay. I realized that I drive by my utilities, cable/internet and cell phone places every day and could easily drop off my bills at their outside collection boxes (don’t even need to leave the car). The other bills I was using the account for had auto-pay option available for free so I signed up and added a recurring reminder to my email account so that I would remember to subtract that amount from my checking account. Sure this only saves me $84/year, but that’s my heat bill for a month. My point is, take a look at what you’re paying for the service and determine if it’s worth the convenience.

  29. The one struggle I have is with the television subscription. My husband is adament about ESPN and Fox News. I would like to do away with the 85.00 a month television billing but my husband does not budge. Any suggestions? Nancy

    @Nancy (#12): Is there a fewer-channel package you can get and then “add-on” ESPN & Fox News? Or perhaps you could call the cable company (and competing cable companies) and see if there’s some way they could give you just those two channels. If that doesn’t work, you may just have to spend the money every month. There are things I’d like to spend less money on each month but Husband doesn’t want to. Sometimes it’s just not worth the fight (provided spending that extra money every month doesn’t make you unable to pay things like your mortgage or rent). Good luck!

  30. Chris B says:

    Yes, people are usually lazy when it comes to getting involved with smarter spending. Re: Eating Healthy — it’s often more expensive to eat a healthy meal in the short-term (i.e. I can feed my family a lot cheaper at McDonald’s than if I fed them the good stuff). However, like air-sealing your home, the up-front cost outweighs the long-term term medical bills (just looking for the link….)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *