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Fifteen Expenses I Cut from My Life (and Never Looked Back) After Becoming More Frugal
Over the years, there have been certain types of products that I once faithfully bought that gradually slid out of my usual rotation of purchases, either because they were directly replaced by something else or because I simply realized I didn’t need that expense in my life any more.
I tried assembling a list of these products and, while the list wound up being pretty long, I found that many of them were easy to combine into the same “group” of things.
So, that being said, here are fifteen specific things (or groups of things) that I used to spend money on without a second thought that are now essentially nonexistent in my life.
Name brand household products and toiletries We used to buy almost all of our household products – things like laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, dish soap, trash bags, and so on – in name brand form, as was the case with toiletries – things like toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and so on.
Replaced with name brand or entry level versions. Over time, I came to the realization that I couldn’t actually explain why I wasn’t using the entry level or store brand versions of a lot of these things, so I tried them out and in virtually every case, they worked just as well as what I was using with regards to the features I cared most about. Now, we buy store brand versions of basically all toiletries and household products except in cases where they don’t seem to exist, and in those cases we buy the entry-level versions. I strongly encourage you to give store brand and entry level versions of the household products and toiletries you use a try and then only upgrade from there if there’s a clear and tangible reason to do so.
Golf club and country club memberships I used to play golf quite a lot, as it was not only a game I modestly enjoyed, but I viewed it as a great way to build professional and community connections. I kept it up for years, golfing with a small group of people and hanging out in clubhouses quite a lot.
Replaced with nothing, honestly. I took a break from golf and quickly realized that those guys just wanted a golf buddy, not a friendship with me. I can find those kinds of “buddies” in almost anything that I choose to do in life. Since then, I’ve become a lot more involved in hobbies and social organizations where I don’t have to spend money just to participate, and I’ve built up a lot of “buddies” over the years as well as quite a few genuinely good friends that I share other parts of my life with.
Bar visits I used to go out drinking after work with a group of young professionals, where I’d consume a few drinks and usually some bar snacks in an effort to build a tight network of professional relationships. Over time, though, I realized it wasn’t actually an effective way to build really strong relationships, as people would come in and out of that group and be forgotten almost the second they walked out the door. Again, these people were “buddies,” not friends or lasting professional partners.
Replaced with rare drinking at home when we have guests over or when the kids go to bed. I almost never drink aside from having a single craft beer or maybe a mixed drink in a social situation or to have a glass of wine or a craft beer with my wife on a nice evening after the kids go to bed. It’s gone from being something I tried to use as social lubricant to merely being a rare treat.
Gym membership I used to continually renew a membership at a local gym, switching between a few different gyms over the years. I would go in bursts, going every day for a while and then trailing off into no participation, only to amp things back up again a while later. I felt that, as long as I kept that membership open and occasionally went to the gym, I was always keeping a path open to physical fitness, and if I ended the membership, that would close.
Replaced with a family martial arts class through our local parks and rec department. This was not only much less expensive than the gym membership on an annual basis (as the parks and rec department somewhat subsidizes it), but having a regular schedule of classes and very clear things to work on outside of class has done more for my fitness than anything I’ve ever done in a gym. The keys for fitness, at least for me, were to have people to do it with and a clear program for improvement on my own between sessions, and I really didn’t need to shell out a ton of money for that.
Cable subscription For years and years, Sarah and I spent between $100 and $150 a month on our cable subscription. We would just watch something by default every evening, and we usually had news or weather on in the morning each day. Over time, however, we found our cable watching was slowly declining, as we turned to things like apps on our phone for the weather and binge-watching shows on streaming services instead of watching whatever was on cable – and I personally found myself watching very little television, period.
Replaced with a single streaming service. We just bounce from service to service these days, binging the shows available on that service, and then moving to another one. I don’t watch much television at all aside from digging through a series I’m really interested in with Sarah over a series of nights; Sarah watches television as background noise when doing mindless tasks, but there are many series that suit her needs for that. Our children watch almost no television at all other than occasional Youtube videos.
Pre-made foods We used to make a regular routine of stopping at the meat counter at our local grocery store and getting prepared chicken breasts wrapped in bacon or stuffed with cheese, or getting stuffed mushroom caps, or other items like that. While this was definitely cheaper than eating out each night, it was still a pretty expensive food routine, and one that I eventually decided to cut into.
Replaced with foods I’ve prepared myself. Most prepared foods from the store really aren’t very hard to prepare at home. Not only is it easy, it’s cheaper, and it’s also very easy to modify it to be exactly what you want it to be. Rather than making a frozen breakfast sandwich, with a bit of practice, it’s pretty easy to make one out of an egg, a slice of cheese, and an English muffin for a fraction of the cost. It just requires practice in the kitchen.
Paper towels These used to be a very regular part of our kitchen supply. We used them to clean up all kinds of little spills and messes, just tossing them in the trash when used. Unfortunately, that also meant that more paper towels were a very frequent purchase for us.
Replaced with a “rag drawer.” This started off with a bulk buy of washcloths on sale that we stuffed into a drawer in our kitchen, but it wasn’t long until using those cloths and tossing them into the laundry room for washing with the next load became the routine. After a while, those cloths were supplemented with all sorts of rags, including old cut-up t-shirts and other items picked up here and there. They more or less completely replaced our paper towel use, usually did a better job, and cost a lot less, too.
Coffee shop coffee I used to stop at a coffee shop each and every day, picking up a nice coffee each day and a bagel on most days. I thoroughly enjoyed this routine, but it was hard to look away from a $30 expense each and every week.
Replaced with cold brew coffee at home. Now, I simply make cold brew coffee at home in the fridge using coffee grounds, water, and a simple cold brew coffee maker. It’s always in the fridge and I have several fresh cups every morning; I prefer it cold, but if I wanted to warm it up, that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s delicious and a tiny fraction of the cost.
Soda Sarah and I were both regular soda drinkers, which meant that there was a constant cost to keep buying soda for home consumption. We tried a bunch of different strategies for cutting the price, like buying in bulk at warehouse clubs and trying out a SodaStream, but it was still an expensive cost to keep drinking sugar water, and we’re not even looking at the costs for health care over the long term.
Replaced with ice water. Seriously. I was able to very effectively replace my water habit by just keeping reusable water bottles filled in the fridge. At first, I put a bit of fruit juice in each one to keep it “sweet,” but before long, I was just drinking water all the time, maybe occasionally with a slice of lemon in it. It’s still part of my daily routine to this day.
Convenience store snacks I used to stop at a convenience store near where I lived almost every day, usually grabbing a beverage and some kind of snack and chatting with the person working there. This became a routine, something I did almost every day at the same time, and at first I didn’t think a whole lot about it. Eventually, though, I began to realize that this was a $5 or so daily expense, adding up to another $30 a week that was basically vanishing from my life.
Replaced with fruit or toast. Instead of hitting a convenience store for a snack, I usually just grab some fruit out of the fruit bowl at our house – usually an apple or a peach as of late – or making a slice of toast, putting a bit of butter on it, and putting a bit of “everything bagel” seasoning on it. The key was simply breaking the routine of going to the convenience store, and once I was used to a quick snack at home instead, the desire to stop in for a snack vanished.
I also started packing in advance for road trips, taking along some water bottles and things like granola bars, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to go into a convenience store when I would stop for gas.
Pizza delivery We live within range of a few different pizza delivery services and, for quite a while, we had a routine of getting pizza delivered each Friday for our family “pizza and movie” night. I didn’t mind the cost of the pizza, but I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of cash was leaving my hands each week in the form of a reasonable tip for the delivery driver.
Replaced with a mix of takeout and making my own pizza. I basically just decided to start making my own pizza on Fridays, which I did for several weeks in a row. After that, there were some Fridays where prepping a pizza was logistically difficult, but in those cases, I’d just order pizza somewhere and pick it up rather than paying the delivery fee – after all, I was already out running an errand. This has drastically reduced the expense of our “pizza and movie” night, which is something of a family tradition.
New low-end clothing I would regularly replenish my wardrobe with a bunch of items from the local big box store, occasionally adding in some really expensive dress clothes for work purposes. I’d dress nicely to work on any day when I might have any sort of meeting and dress much more casually on other days at work and days when I didn’t work. The problem was that the big box store clothes wore out quickly and was often poorly made.
Replaced with mostly secondhand clothes. At this point, I buy well-made socks and underwear that last for a long time, but most of the rest of my clothes come from secondhand stores. I’ll go there and browse the racks looking for well-made but scarcely used clothing items that fit me and, though I browse right by a lot of items, I find good stuff more often than you might think, and it’s at a great price. I’ve wound up with lots of very nice items – polo shirts and dress shirts and really well made t-shirts and jeans and dress pants, all of which fit well and all of which are well made and all of which cost less than what items would cost at the local big box. It just takes time to browse the racks on a regular basis and an understanding that the vast majority of stuff is junk. You’re looking for the hidden gems, and there are quite a few, especially if you go to secondhand stores near wealthy neighborhoods.
New small kitchen appliances Whenever I needed something like a toaster or a slow cooker, I’d head to the store and buy a new version of those items. Often, when I just wanted to try something new, like a bread machine, I’d do the same.
Replaced with used versions of the same items. Here’s the thing: almost all of those items are easily available in very good shape, used, at your local secondhand store for a fraction of the cost. A slow cooker is a simple machine, as is a toaster. Often, they wind up in secondhand stores not because they’re overly used, but because they got put in a cupboard, forgotten, and then carted off when someone is cleaning out their house. That’s a perfect situation for getting an item like this at a fraction of the sticker price. It’ll work like a champ for you for many years.
New release video games, movies, and other media I used to deeply enjoy seeing movies on opening weekend and getting video games on the day of release. I’d do it so that I could always be the person who had played the newest game or seen the latest movie and could talk about them.
Replaced with renting and borrowing movies and playing games a year or two later. The thing is, I realized that being able to talk about the “latest and greatest” really didn’t matter too much. I could still participate in a conversation, even if I hadn’t yet played the game or seen the movie, and I could still have that social bond. Further, movies and games (and books and other things) are still very enjoyable a year or two later.
Barber visits I used to visit a barber shop each month and get the same exact haircut, almost like clockwork. I’d chat with the barber, get my hair trimmed nice and short, and slip him a $20. What I began to realize, though, is that what the barber was actually doing with my hair was actually really simple, and I would often end up sitting around the barbershop and eating up a bunch of time when I would get my haircut.
Replaced with a set of hair clippers at home. I now cut my own hair using hair clippers. I just watched what my barber was doing a few times, then picked up some hair clippers and tried doing it myself. The first couple of times, I cut it a little long so that I could always go to the barber if it looked disastrous, but after that, I just cut it in the way I like it. It takes maybe fifteen minutes, I do it in a spot where cleanup is really easy, and I’m not paying $20 per haircut and spending a bunch of time sitting around the barbershop.
If you add up all of these expenses, they easily add up into the hundreds of dollars per month. Not every such substitution will work well for everyone, but if you can find fifteen substitutions like these in your own life, you’ll find that you’re saving tons of money.