Frugal for Life: Five Ways to Spend Less and Live Well

By Mike Peterson
In January 28, 2011

Frugality isn’t about buying the cheapest thing available.  It’s not about saying no to family vacations or the occasional dinner out.  It’s not even about cutting out every little indulgence you love, like lattes or gossip mags.

Real frugality – the kind you can actually live with on a day-to-day basis – is about making smart choices.  It’s about needs vs. wants, “must-have” splurges vs. things you’re willing to go without (or substitute, rent, or borrow instead).  If you want to start living within your means, you have to start with a budget you can actually live with.

Not sure where to start?  Here are five ways you can cut spending – without cutting into your quality of life:

  1. Become a DIY maven.  Change your own oil.  Fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen.  Cook dinner instead of ordering out.  Do your own nails or cut your own hair.  If you’re like most people, you probably shell out several hundred dollars every year on things you could probably do yourself.  Not a naturally handy guy or gal?  No worries.  Check out your local home improvement store for free home repair workshops or ask a car-savvy friend to teach you the basics of auto maintenance.  And don’t forget the Internet:  With a quick search you can learn how to do all kinds of handy, money-saving things, from stuffing a turkey to giving yourself the perfect French manicure.
  2. Buy quality – even if you have to spend a little extra. Cheap stuff is, well, cheap.  And cheap things wear out quickly, which means you have to replace them more often.  In general, the more expensive something is, the better the quality, materials, and workmanship.  Think of it this way:  a pair of faux-leather shoes from your local bargain store may cost $20, but they’ll probably wear out more quickly than their $75 department store counterparts.  A slightly pricier – but energy-efficient – washing machine will save you more money on your monthly electric bill.
  3. Forget the Joneses. Don’t spend money just to impress or keep up with the neighbors.  Just because three of your neighbors drive brand-new, shiny SUVs doesn’t mean you have to jump on the (gas-guzzling) bandwagon.  So what if you’re the only one on the block without a five-zillion-inch flat-screen TV or a newly remodeled gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and a double oven?  You may also be the only one on the block who isn’t drowning in debt.
  4. Make a list of what you need, what you want, and what you’re willing to do without. Needs are easy:  rent or mortgage payments, transportation, insurance, food, utilities.  But what about fun extras like DVD rental or the occasional dinner at your favorite restaurant?  Living frugally doesn’t mean you have to give up every little luxury in life.  But it does mean you’ll have to make some compromises.  Want to keep your Netflix account?  That’s perfectly okay – but you might need to give up that magazine subscription or trim a few bucks off of your grocery budget.  There’s nothing wrong with a few indulgences – as long as you’re willing to cut spending in other areas.
  5. Stop using your credit card.  Period. You can’t live frugally if you’re paying off hundreds – or even thousands – of high-interest credit card debt.  If you don’t have credit card debt, keep it that way.  If you do have credit card debt, start paying it off now.

You don’t have to live cheap to be frugal.  A few adjustments to your budget and lifestyle can add up to major savings.  Frugal living isn’t about not spending – it’s about spending wisely.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.