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How to get started on the frugal life

Recently a reader emailed me with the following question.

HOW does one get started being frugal? I stink at it, but know that God’s wanting me to be a much better steward.

I’m overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.


Normally, I would say that in order to have a frugal transformation, a person needs to have a changed mindset. Trying to live frugally when your heart is still in spendthrift mode is awfully hard. But, you, dear reader, sound like you’ve already got the itch to live frugally and are just wanting to practical where-to-start advice.

So, I’m going to share my top ideas and then I’m going to ask the rest of my readers to chime in with their top five beginner frugal activities!

1. Cut back on eating out.

Eating out is insanely expensive. This was brought home to me on vacation when a sit-down meal for the six of us at a mid-priced chain restaurant cost over $80 (I did have gift cards, never fear!). In a pinch, I can feed all of us for an entire week for $80, and we spent that on just one meal at a restaurant. Yikes.

Takeout food and fast food, while not as expensive as sit-down food, are still far more pricey than eating at home., If you want to save money, cooking and eating at home is one of the most effective ways to accomplish that.

Here are a few tips to avoid eating out.

plan a menu. Keep it simple. If you plan difficult meals, you’ll want to eat out.

-make a grocery list and stick to it.

-do a little dinner prep early in the day. (get meat out from the freezer, chop some veggies)

-if necessary, buy some convenience foods at the grocery store. They’ll likely be cheaper than takeout.

If you want to start cooking dinner, check out some the main dish recipes I’ve posted. A lot of them are very easy, and my family and I think they’re all delicious.

2. Don’t shop unless it’s necessary.

Unless you’ve got tons of self-control, stay away from malls and department stores. Only go there when you’ve got a specific purpose in mind (taking a frugal person with you is a good idea for accountability purposes!).

3. Switch to a cash budget.

I personally use credit cards (I pay them off every month and only buy things I’d buy otherwise), but if you’re having trouble controlling your spending, consider switching to cash only. This will keep you from splurging at the store and from online shopping sprees.

4. Explore the second-hand market.

Of course, buying second-hand stuff willy-nilly won’t save you money, but when you need to buy or replace something, consider looking second-hand before you buy. Freecycle,, Ebay, Craig’s List, the Pennysaver, flea markets, and thrift stores are all good places to find gently used items. And if you’ve got kids, hand-me-downs are an awesome thing…put the word out and let people know you’d be happy to be a hand-me-down recipient.

5. Hang out with frugal people either online or in real life.

I’ve written before about the power of positive peer pressure, and I’m still convinced of its value. Being with people who are trying to be careful with their money will likely inspire you and help you to be careful with your money.

If you have frugal friends in real life, make it a point to hang out with them so that you can learn from them and be encouraged to carry on! And by the same token, if certain people in your life tempt and encourage you to spend, it might be wise to limit the time you spend with them.

If you don’t know any real life frugal people, though, don’t give up! Read some good books on frugality (The Tightwad Gazette*, which you can probably find at your library, is a good place to start) and subscribe to frugal living blogs (you can find some of those on my list of favorite blogs)


To that list of 5 things, I’d add that you should not give up when you experience a frugal living setback. The goal here is progress, not perfection. I’ve been living the frugal life for an awfully long time, and I still chuck my menu plan and order pizza sometimes. Don’t throw in the towel if you order takeout or overspend at the grocery store…just dust yourself off, pick yourself back up, and keep on going!

Readers, what are your top 5 suggestions for a frugality newbie? Also, please do share your favorite frugal living blogs so that CM can get herself surrounded with like-minded people.

*Amazon affiliate link

Today’s 365 post: Joshua vs. Mr. FG

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Saturday 24th of March 2012

Also try making extra money online via surveys or special offers. Swagbucks does an excellent job combining these methods, plus you can earn money for just searching on the internet! It's free to sign up and use. You can redeem for a variety of items and gift cards. I like the amazon and paypal rewards card myself, but there's also nike, ll bean, sears, jc penney, lowes, kmart, apple, and lots more.


Tuesday 23rd of November 2010

Here is a tip for you: do a no buy month! I Di this every so often when I feel like I'm getting too "consumer-y". Everyone sets their own rules for a no buy month but mine go like this. Things that aren't allowed: - shopping for clothes or housewares - going out to eat or going to bars - paying for entertainment - I don't specifically limit grocery shopping but I make an effort to plan meals from the pantry - spending on travel

This exercise always makes me aware of how prevalent the urge to buy is in my mind! And it doesn't hurt that at the end of the month you'll probably have saved a chunk of change!


Friday 19th of November 2010

I was so encouraged by Marc Cuban's advice mentioned in Get Rich Slowly. The fact that a billionaire would say one of the best things he can do with his money is to stock up on things when they are 30 - 50% off is such a boost to my motivation. I mean, I knew that was the case, but just didn't know just how important it was in the big scheme of things. Well, I knew it was important, but just didn't figure billionaires thought that way. Maybe I have a millionaire mind after all....!


Wednesday 17th of November 2010

There's a couple of things I like that help me save money.

1. Make my own bread. It's SUPER cheap, super easy (even if you're baking incompetent), and actually kinda fun. :) Same goes for pizza dough, etc. The awesome recipe I use can be found here:

2. I stock up on items when they go on crazy good sales (usually with the help of coupons). I'm a one girl (and one dog) household, so I don't need crazy amounts of groceries-but when I see something I like that's on an AMAZING sale that will stay good for a while, I stock up. I got about 30 cans of Rotel last year for about 4 cents a can. They're usually over a dollar a can!

3. I don't go grocery shopping weekly. I try to eat out of my pantry as much as possible. I get creative and try using up most of what I have (except for some staples that I keep stockpiled) until my next trip to the store. Really helps decrease impulse buys.

4. Have fun nights in. I'm a social girl, but hate paying to go somewhere with my friends. So, what do we do? I have tons of board games, movies, etc. We make a big meal together (for cheap), have some drinks (liquor/wine bought on sale- which is WAAAAY cheaper per drink than going out), and play some games. it's amazing how nice it is to not feel pressured to have to spend money to have fun!

5. I read lots of Frugal blogs, like this one, and spend my money when it makes sense. I buy when things are at crazy low prices so I don't have to pay full price for things when I run out. I have enough shampoo and body wash for the next year, that I bought for next to nothing!

Good luck!


Sunday 14th of November 2010

Our frugality was born out of medical necessity, and although I know Frugal Girl (whom I admire greatly!!) manages to cook from scratch and spend an amazingly low amount of money to not only buy her groceries but toiletries and cleaning products, the first thing I did was learn to use coupons. I learned to use them to get free food, toiletries and cleaning products. Not all coupons are for highly processed and unhealthy food altough a lot of them are, so pay close attention to the things you can get that are healthy like frozen fruits and veggies (for things not in season) and salad in a bag. Also look for your food at places other than the grocery store if you have the time. For instance, you can often get eggs, milk and bread cheaper at Walgreens or CVS than the grocery store. If you learn to shop at those stores effectively you could get not only your personal items adn cleaning items free but free food too. All of that depends on how much time you're willing to spend. You can e-mail me kristinbrianne at yahoo dot com if you want pointers. i had a blog but i have a bone infection I'm fighting now so I had to shut it down until (hopefully, God willing) I get better. I'll be glad to help w/ couponing questions.

Also look for ways to entertain your family cheaper. Rent a Redbox movie instead of going to see one in the theater. I can't tell you the last movie we went to see, an we used to go several times a month because people in wheelchairs get in for free at our local theater. We were still paying for my husband, and we always at least got a drink. Now the thought of paying for a $3 or $4 drink sickens me lol.

If you, like me, don't have any nearby really good thrift stores, shop end of season for the next year and buy basics that won't go out of style. I've had better luck buying end of season clothing for $3 or less brand new than I have at our local thrift stors but you have to know when to go. Get on every store mailing list you can for coupons to add to those savings. Don't buy new clothes because they're wanted, buy them because they are needed. Buy a size bigger coat than you think your child will need for the next year because they can always grow into it but it's too late to take it back if it's too small.

I have so many frugal tips I've learned, and a lot of them have to do with saving on health care. Like I said, feel free to e-mail me if you want/need more suggestions. One last thing: Don't give up! There will be days when you slip up and spend money when you don't need to, but you can always bounce back. Responsible use of credit cards is a wonderful thing (a la TFG!!) but I can't trust myself not to overspend so we do not have them in my home. Establish an emergency fund if you don't have one ASAP so that you dont have to rely on credit cards for survival if the need arises. Also, never take insurance for granted!! Don't go overboard but don't go without.

Sorry, Kristen...I get "wordy"! I miss my blog but this is one of those rare days where I'd have the energy to post, and I guess I took advantage of that here!


Monday 15th of November 2010

Hi Kristin (there are a lot of us on this blog:) I couldn't agree with you more on the coupons, there are so many coupons out there for non-prepackaged foods, you just have to do a little looking for them. CVS in my area has milk almost $2 cheaper then any grocery store and there is a coupon for pretty much any toiletry item out there. My rule is that I never pay more then $.50 for shampoo/conditioner/styler. Toothpaste/brushes/deodorant/floss/floss picks/body wash/mouth wash/lip care/monthly products have to be free so won't pay for them. The amount of money to be saved on toiletries alone is unbelievable! Even following my rules above I just today donated an entire shipping box full to the top of the things above to my daughters school and I paid NOTHING for any of it! Not a single store in my area double's Q's so I know it can be done anywhere!

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