Frugal Living: The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Achieving Financial Freedom

By Vicki Andersen

It’s the end of the month. You’re paying the bills and you feel a clenching in your gut. As you look through the pile of bills, you know you shouldn’t have bought those new shoes and paid for brunch for all your friends last Sunday.

You wanted to treat them and look good doing it. But why does it feel like a bad decision right now?

The bills are never-ending; student loans, medical bills, credit cards, utilities, and more credit cards.

You think what you’ve never admitted to yourself before, “I have way more debt than savings.”

But what can you do? You get up and work hard every day. You pay what you can and ignore the rest. Forget retirement, how will you EVER get beyond surviving each month?

It’ll all work out someday, but how?

Why not choose to prioritize the things that matter to you most. Spend money on those things and cut back on spending in other areas, instead of wasting time and money and working to pay for it like a hamster on a wheel. Save money, erase debt, and still have financial goals. But how?

It’s called frugal living.

Frugal living is a creative and smart way to manage your money, instead of it managing you.

Frugal living empowers you. It can give you the freedom to do what you want with your money without creating debt.

So what’s frugal living all about? Do you have to be stingy and watch every penny? What if you still want to have some fun and treat your friends? Sure you can, but do it with a plan.

Will you still feel satisfied living a simpler life? Why not try it and see? What have you got to lose, except the debt and worry?

This guide is full of frugal living tips and ideas to get you started. Beyond just tips, we’ve included ways to cut costs on your monthly bills. Living frugally can be the key to financial independence…and creating a future free from financial worries.

Frugal Living, Is It Really Worth It?

You don’t have to be Bill Gates, Beyonce, or a billionaire to be able to afford the lifestyle you want. Being frugal means being smart and spending your money with intention, not spending it randomly.

Frugal people are thrifty so they can afford the things that really matter to them. Sometimes it means being able to afford the bad stuff too, so you’re not financially ruined when an emergency hits.

Most of us don’t have oodles of cash sitting around, nor will we ever have that. But by being clever with our spending, we can create financial freedom and achieve our biggest dreams.

Oh the Places You Can Go With A Frugal Lifestyle

What long term financial goals do you have? If you’ve never thought about your finances beyond paying rent and covering your bills monthly, try dreaming about what’s possible. What do you truly want?

What about never worrying about credit card debt? How about affording your own home instead of paying rent or even paying off your mortgage early? Maybe you want to save for a dream vacation or pay for college tuition without huge piles of debt. Your dream might be retiring comfortably without having to win the lottery.

No matter what your financial goals are, simple f​rugal living can help you achieve it.

What’s the Difference Between Frugal and Cheap?

A frugal person makes educated decisions about ​the money they have and want to have. They prioritize their spending and live simply.​ ​Being cheapis just about spending less money overall.

Can Being Frugal Make You Rich?

Getting the most you can from your money and saving towards bigger goals opens up a world of possibilities. Will you feel deprived or will you feel empowered having money in your pocket to spend the way you want? Isn’t that the definition of being rich? Having money and spending it the way you want to, instead of spending it the way you have to.

The Polar Opposites: Want Versus Need

Know the difference between what you want and what you need. We all have things we want, but may not be good for our budgets. When you live frugally, you know what you need and spend mostly on these necessities. Making impulse buys might feel good for a minute, but what is the cost long term? Remembering your bigger financial goals can help stop impulse buying.

Frugal Living: The Fun is Just Getting Started

This guide offers a variety of simple frugal living tips you can start using today. Pick out the ones that fit for you now and try out some that seem a bit more extreme. See where they take you. Have fun with the tips. Saving money feels good! Combine these tips and our monthly frugal cost-saving techniques to create a less expensive lifestyle. Some tips might require a little legwork, but are well worth your time when the savings start adding up.

20 Frugal Living Tips From the Great Depression

Frugal living became a habit during the Great Depression when people really lived the expression “waste not, want not.” Never letting anything go to waste was essential to people who had very little money. Every item had a purpose and could be recycled or repurposed. We can still use these tips today. Some ideas might seem extreme, since we are used to spending, but they can make an impact on your bottom line.

  1. Make do with what you have, no need to buy more stuff. This was the norm in the Great Depression because people couldn’t afford to buy. Try limiting impulse purchases by waiting 24–48 hours and decide if you really want or need that item.
  2. Patch old clothes. In the past, clothes weren’t thrown away for holes or tears. They were repaired. Buttons and zippers were replaced and clothes were patched. Invest in some basic sewing kit items to help lengthen the life of your clothes.
  3. Shave your shabby wool clothes with razors. Even today, when wool sweaters get pilly, shave them with household razors to refresh them.
  4. Old clothes can be repurposed. An old T-shirt can become an art smock, a pair of long pants that are too short can be cut down to shorts. If the item is at the end of its useful life, save it for making a quilt or for rags.
  5. Make your own furniture or shelving from items around the house. Buying furniture is expensive. Build shelving, tables or storage racks from materials found in your yard or at home-improvement stores.
  6. Buy used furniture at garage sales, flea markets, on Craigslist or other community listing websites.
  7. Layer clothes to keep warm, instead of turning up the thermostat.
  8. Make sure your home is well insulated to save on electric and heating bills.
  9. Make your own draft blockers out of old pillowcases filled with dried lentils or make them out of pool noodles.
  10. Wear clothes and use towels multiple times before washing them unless they are heavily soiled or stained. This saves wear and tear on them and it’s less time running the washing machine, saving energy costs.
  11. Hang your clothes on a clothesline instead of using a dryer. An added benefit is clothes dried outside will smell of fresh air and there’s no need to buy dryer sheets.
  12. Buy your clothes at the end of the season. Clothes are cheaper when just about to go out of season. Stores don’t want to keep them for another year and they may have been price reduced several times, giving you great bargains.
  13. Hand wash dishes. Fill a sink or basin with water and hand wash the dishes rather than running the dishwasher. If you do use the dishwasher, make sure it’s full before running it.
  14. Make your own soap. Instead of buying it, Google how to make your own soap and scent it with your favorite essential oils.
  15. Make your own laundry detergents and household cleaners using vinegar or baking soda using recipes found online or in library books. They clean just as well and at a fraction of the cost of store-bought cleaners.
  16. Put a big bottle or rock in the toilet tank. If it’s not a high-efficiency toilet, putting something large in the tank will reduce the amount of water needed to fill the tank per flush
  17. Paint your own home rather than hiring contractors. All you will pay for are the paint, tape and brushes.
  18. Barter for services. If you can’t afford to pay outright for a service or goods, see what skill set or goods you can trade to pay for it.
  19. Make your own gifts for friends and family. Bake some goodies or make some crafts.
  20. Buy quality over quantity. Sometimes an item costs more because of its quality and is more durable. It’s worth paying more for quality and durability because a cheap version tends to have less quality and a shorter lifespan.

Recycling Food at Home Really IS a Thing

You can reuse food scraps and reduce food waste in the home. Here are a few tips:

● Regrow vegetables from food scraps. Use potatoes, onions and romaine lettuce head scraps to regrow them in your garden. They don’t need seeds to regrow.

● Compost waste scraps in a barrel or pile and use the finished compost to fertilize your garden to grow more of your own vegetables.

● Save coffee grinds. Use them in the garden for soil enhancement and to repel insects and bugs naturally.

● Bake your own bread instead of buying bread from stores.

● Use old bread to make your own breadcrumbs. Heat the bread in the oven to fully dry it out and grate it to make your own breadcrumbs.

● Preserve your garden harvests by canning your own foods. Invest in a canning system and reuse yearly for tastes of the garden even in the dead of winter.

● Invest in a freezer to save your garden harvests and freeze foods you may have purchased on sale.

Gotta Eat! Keep Your Food Budget on a Diet

Grocery bills are one of the easiest ways to begin living frugally. There are many options for cutting down weekly grocery costs. Try using one tip a week and make it a game to see how much you can save weekly or monthly.

● Use coupons. Apps like snipsnap.com and couponsherpa.com can make you a coupon king or queen. Use coupons by either printing and cutting them or use them right on your cell phone.

● Buy in bulk, either at your local supermarket in the bulk goods aisle or even on their shelves. Be sure to check the unit pricing; the biggest items aren’t always the most cost-effective.

● Buy a membership at clubs like Costco or BJ’s Wholesaler. The yearly fee is usually under $100 and it gets you food at a lower cost per unit. Bigger families will find the most value at these clubs.

● Make food from scratch instead of buying pre-made convenience foods at the supermarket.

● When working, bring lunch from home, rather than buying sandwiches or lunch foods at restaurants or coffee shops.

● Plan and prepare meals in advance on the weekends and freeze them for easy dinners after hectic weekdays. Having already prepared meals helps prevent trips to take-out windows and restaurants.

● Make coffee at home and bring it with you in a travel mug to skip pricey coffee shops.

● Grow your own herbs, vegetables and fruits and either freeze or can them to enjoy in winter months.

● Serve vegetarian meals a couple of days a week to cut down on meat costs.

● Eat leftovers.

● Drink more water instead of expensive carbonated drinks.

● Cut out or limit expensive paper products like paper plates and paper towels.

● Reuse plastic grocery bags for trash instead of buying garbage bags.

● Stock up on non-perishable items when they are on sale.

● Make household cleaning products like window cleaner and laundry detergent at home by Googling recipes.

● Always make a grocery list before shopping for ingredients for home-made meals.

● Go to Pick Your Own (PYO) local farms that allow you to pick your own food cheaply. Visit pickyourown.org to locate farms near you.

● Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or a food co-op near you to buy seasonal food from local farms. Each week, the farm packs a box full of the fruits and veggies of the week and you pick them up. Prices vary by region, but it is the freshest produce you can buy. This is a good option if you don’t have room for your own garden or the time to tend it.

● Make your own cookies, cakes and desserts from scratch.

● Use the crockpot for slow-cooked meals made during the day while you are working.

Smart Suggestions For Simply More Savings

● The public library is a total resource for frugal living. You can borrow books, movies, ebooks and magazines for free. Use their internet service and print your pages there to save on home printer and ink costs.

● Embrace Do It Yourself (DIY). Watch YouTube videos for advice on fixing appliances, computers, cars or anything else you might need to repair.

● Take online classes for additional DIY skills. Udemy.com, coursera.com, edX.com all offer free or discounted classes to learn DIY skills.

● Do proper maintenance on lawnmowers, furnaces, and central air systems to keep them running without issues.

● Get your car serviced regularly and have oil and filter changes as recommended to keep it running smoothly.

● Wash your own car to save on car wash costs.

● Buy an internet modem or router to save on rental fees from your internet provider. The one time cost will be cheaper than what you continually pay monthly for rent.

● Rent single wear clothing for special occasions. Instead of buying a dress or outfit you will only use once, rent the clothes from places like renttherunway.com, stylelend.com, letote.com.

● Find a cobbler to repair your shoes, resole them and give them loving restoration rather than just tossing and always buying new.

● Shop thrift and consignment stores for vintage clothing.

● Use coupons and freebies when shopping for clothes and household goods.

● Use pharmacy apps for savings on prescriptions. Popular apps include FamilyWize, GoodRX, ScriptSaveWell RX.

● Use drug store cards for health and beauty items savings, i.e. a CVS ExtraCare card, or a Walgreens card.

● Buy gift cards on discount sites. Either buy brand new gift cards on sale from stores for their own merchandise or buy ​pre-owned discounted gift cards. Discount gift cards were previously given to someone who didn’t want them for whatever reason and they sold them to a gift card reseller. Google gift card resellers to find one that carries the brands and stores you prefer. Popular sites include cardpool.com, justdeals.com, restaurant.com.

● Sign up for free customer loyalty programs. Some companies offer ‘buy a certain number of items and get one free’ promotions.

● Purchase theater tickets for matinee days or weeknights other than Friday. Tickets can be cheaper for those performances.

● Purchase board games and have game nights with kids or adults instead of going out.

● Rent movies in-house instead of going to the movie theater.

● Cut and color your own hair using DIY hair dyes bought in stores or online at places like madison-reed.com.

● Do your own manicures and pedicures. Invest in nail clippers, emery boards and nail polish for a home nail treatment at a fraction of the cost.

● Use accumulated credit card rewards and points for family activities or bigger purchases, such as home electronics.

● Attend and enjoy free community events and concerts for entertainment.

● Hiking and biking and camping are low-cost ways to get outside to enjoy a break in nature.

Knock Down Your Credit Card Debt Before It Knocks You Down

My parents were immigrants who lived through the Great Depression. They never carried a credit card. Their rule is still a good one today, if you don’t have the cash on hand, you can’t afford it.

But sometimes using a credit card is unavoidable. Be careful with how many charges you put on a card. Try to pay off the debt at the end of the month. Leaving it unpaid leads to additional finance charges. Unpaid credit card balances with large interest rates can quickly pile up to massive debt. That’s a burden that can take years to escape. Setting a monthly budget and sticking to it is key. Impulse buys will throw that carefully planned budget out the window.

Paying off the full balance monthly is best. But if that’s impossible, pay off as much as you can each month to avoid hefty finance charges. You can transfer big balances from a credit card with high-interest rates to a card with a 0% interest rate and no yearly fees.

I knew a woman who was massively in debt after years of living off of her credit cards. She would transfer her balance to a new 0% credit card every six months, just as the 0% was about to expire. After about ten years, she finally paid off all the charges. What a day of relief for her! But she was smart, she never paid interest after she began using this method. Was it a hassle? Yes! But she didn’t add to her debt as she was working to pay it off.

You can do the same if you find yourself in that boat. While it may take some time and effort to transfer a balance from card to card, you won’t be accruing more debt while you pay down the balance.

Make a policy to wait at least 24 hours after seeing something you want over $100 before buying. Waiting may show you it was an impulse buy and wasn’t really something you needed.

Make Credit Cards Do Double Duty For You

If you are going to carry a credit card, get one that offers cash rewards or points towards purchases. Some credit cards offer airline miles or hotel points you can use for cheaper vacations. Gas credit cards offer rewards for purchases like cash back or points for future gas purchases. Nerdwallet.com can help you figure out which credit cards will get you more bang for your buck.

Rainy Days and Leaky Roofs Do Happen

Sometimes unexpected things do happen and you don’t have the money to pay for them. This can wreak havoc on your finances. Needing costly repairs on a car or home, or having unexpected medical expenses can add up. If you haven’t set aside some emergency funds, start putting aside $20 or $50 a paycheck into a rainy day fund.

“Living within your means is essential, and you may find you have to cut some discretionary spending in order to save. Try putting aside five to ten percent of your pay each month into a money market or savings account,” says Sharon Epperson, CNBC senior personal finance correspondent.

Your Paycheck Can Pay You Twice!

If your employer has a 401K savings plan, you should participate and have your contribution taken out before it even hits your paycheck. That way, you can build a nest egg that you won’t be tempted to spend. Some employers will match your contribution, up to six percent per year. You won’t pay any taxes on money put into your 401K plan and will only pay income taxes when you withdraw the money.

Put a Chokehold on Your Monthly Costs

Now that you’ve gotten a handle on frugal living tips, let’s explore cutting monthly costs. Being frugal with monthly household costs will help you live a less expensive lifestyle overall, putting more money into your pocket.

Monthly costs like utilities, phones, and TV can be bleeding money out of your budget that you haven’t even noticed. You select these services once and then just pay them blindly. But little changes can bring big savings. Why pay more on monthly household bills than you need to?

Surprising Facts Your Electric Company Doesn’t Want You to Know

Everyone has fixed electricity costs that they can’t change or negotiate, right? Wrong! Did you know that in many deregulated areas of the United States, you can compare electric rates from different companies via computer apps. All you need to know is your zip code and approximately how many hours of energy you use monthly. Apps like uswitch.com or chooseenergy.com can help you figure out what a good rate for your area looks like.

Make sure the companies listed are licensed and able to provide service in your area. Electricity plan term lengths can vary, they can include month-to-month, three- to six-month, 12-month, and 24- to 36-month plans. So if you don’t want to do this

frequently, choose a longer-term length. Switch more often if you’re into negotiating and getting some extra savings.

Is There an Electricity Vampire Lurking in Your Home?

What is an electricity vampire and what does that have to do with frugal living? It’s an appliance or anything plugged in with an electric cord that still uses electricity even when it’s not being used. Think of all the electronics that are “remote ready,” in standby mode ready to receive orders to switch on. By pushing a remote power button, or even using your voice on devices like the Amazon Alexa and Echo portals, they turn on instantly. You pay for the instant response because these devices use electricity to stay “ready.”

The National Resource Defense Council estimates Americans spend about $165 to $440 per year on these vampires. ​Common electricity vampires include televisions, gaming consoles, laptop and desktop computers, printers, cable and satellite TV boxes, modems and device chargers. Kitchen appliances are also big electric vampires, especially “smart” items such as refrigerators that have internet connectivity.

Put a Stake Through the Heart of These Vampires

How do you stop these vampires from running up your electric bill? For bigger appliances for the kitchen and laundry room, make sure they are Energy Star Certified. For smaller devices like printers and gaming systems, plug them into power strips and unplug the power strips when not being used. Unplug charging devices when you are done with them.

Landlines Are Going the Way of the Dinosaur

What do landlines have in common with dinosaurs? They are going extinct. Unless there is a compelling reason for a landline, cutting it out altogether is a way to save money. Instead, use your cell phone.

Cell phones can also get ridiculously pricey. Shop around to see who’s offering the best data rates and family plans before it’s time to renew your contract. See if any carriers will buy you out of an existing contract if you want to switch quickly. Using Wi-Fi whenever possible helps save on data charges.

Stream Your Way Into Entertainment Savings

TV entertainment costs are another area for potentially big savings. Switch to a basic cable or satellite TV plan to shrink the number of channels and your bill. Switching from cable or satellite TV to streaming sticks and boxes can also bring great savings.

Streaming TV services only need two things, a good internet connection and the streaming device itself. Streaming devices include Apple TV, Roku devices, or Amazon Fire Sticks. Choose which subscription services you want to pay for monthly, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube Premium, Sling, Philo, or subscriptions to premium networks such as Showtime or HBO. Using streaming devices and monthly subscription plans can fill your screens for a fraction of what you might pay monthly with cable or satellite TV services.

Learn to Play a New Instrument: The Thermostat

Moving the thermostat in both winter and summer months can help save money. Set the thermostat to 68 degrees in winter when people are home. Then turn it down by up to 10 degrees when people are sleeping or away from the house. Throw on an extra blanket or sweater if you feel the chill.

In warmer weather, set the thermostat to 78 degrees and push it up to 85 degrees when no one is home to keep central air conditioning costs low. Also, open windows and use fans instead of constantly running the air conditioning.

According to the U.S. ​Department of Energy​, homeowners who follow this plan save an average of $83 per year.

Enjoy Your Golden Years Without Feeling Pinched

Seniors or those about to enter their retirement years might worry about having enough savings to see them through their golden years. Changing some habits, downsizing, and watching the budget closely can help you live those retirement plans in style.

Frugal Living Tips For Seniors

● Find free financial advisors to help you strategize and set a budget for your golden years.

● Downsize your housing and decide what is essential. Choices could be staying in a house or downsizing to a smaller house with less work and maintenance. Low maintenance options include condos and apartments.

● Sell, donate, or give away extra furniture and household items to reduce clutter.

● Downsize to one car or no cars, both moves save money on car insurance.

● Use public transportation or car services like Uber. Lyft, Via, Gett, Curb.

● Eat at home more versus eating out.

● Exercise to stay fit and healthy to reduce health care costs.

● If you can, schedule more costly medical procedures after your deductibles are met.

● Do free community screenings for blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, etc.

● Get senior discounts through AARP and AAA.

● Receive payouts from 401K, pensions, and other savings plans for cash flow.

● For qualifying seniors staying in private homes, see if your state has a plan to freeze property taxes through a Property Tax Relief program.

● Attend community events and free events at the public library near you.

Continuing the Journey to Financial Freedom

Remember that pile of bills on your desk? The endless cycle seemed inescapable. The worry and frustration spilled from one month to the next. There was no plan in place.

Use the frugal living tips you’ve learned here. Learn how to do more with less. Frugal living gets you all you need for less. Less really IS more.

Every journey begins with a step. For all the people living a frugal lifestyle, each one does it differently. You do you, using whatever methods speak to you. Cut your spending and have fun with the challenge, all while keeping your eyes on the ultimate prize, financial freedom. Freedom to afford what you want when you want it.

So, dream of that vacation, of college, of a wedding or retirement or whatever your ultimate goal is for the future. Living frugally will put you on the path to getting there, one step at a time. It’s all in your hands.

Now imagine, it’s the end of the month and after living frugally, you’re feeling way better about your bills and having a plan. You have the freedom to control your own financial destiny and you have peace of mind.

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