Living the frugal life is more than just a trend these days. It can be a downright necessity for some.
But are all frugal living tips great? As in, do they really save enough money to make them worth the time and work to implement?
There are a several reasons why a family or person might decide to take up this way of life.
Maybe they were raised that way, maybe it is the only thing that gets them from paycheck-to-paycheck.
Most reasons are great reasons. But there is a certain amount of competition lurking among the devotees of frugal living, too.
I'm all for healthy competition if it has a reward, but "healthy" is the keyword here. In the frenzy to "be better at being worse off than you", a lot of people take living meagerly to an extreme.
That's why I am giving my opinion on living below your means, and pointing out some common sense do's, don'ts and maybe's of frugal living:
How many times have you seen this advice pop up? Is it a good way to save money? Yes and no.
If you don't have the money to invest in the cost of bulk foods to begin with, then it doesn't matter how much you save per ounce or unit.
Sometimes you have to focus on what you can afford in the moment. So buying bulk is probably a "don't" for anyone struggling to survive on a very limited income.
Buying in bulk is also a "don't" when you are buying just for the deal. You might think getting a million boxes of macaroni and cheese is an awesome deal if each box comes out to be a penny.
BUT...if you don't eat macaroni and cheese that often, then you probably just wasted a lot of money.
Bulk is great for those who are feeding a lot of people. Its a definite "do" when you have the money, when the food is something you will eat, and if you have a place to store it properly.
Do: buy non-food items in bulk if they will save you money throughout several months or the whole year. Stuff like toilet paper isn't going to expire. Also, cooking staples with a long shelf life can be a good deal in bulk.
Growing and Preserving Your Own Vegetables, Do or Don't?
Gardening to save money CAN be a good idea. But, it may take a long time to see any results. And it depends on a lot of factors that you may or may not be able to control on your budget.
Gardening to save money will only save you money the first year if:
- You already know what you are doing
- You have good soil and climate for a garden
- You already have gardening supplies
- You like it well enough to stick to it.
- You already own (or can borrow) the supplies to preserve most of what you grow.
If you don't already have the supplies you will need plus fantastic gardening soil, then it may take two or three seasons before your garden will pay off.
Once it starts to produce well, then yes. A garden can save you money on fresh vegetables. It can save you even more if you can or freeze your own harvest.
BUT...canning supplies are costly too, so for that first year, you may only break even in the savings department. Buying the supplies might be a great investment that will save you money "in the long run", but if you don't have it to spare, then you could end up with a lot of spoiled produce.
Also, remember that growing a garden does not magically save you money if you don't already eat a lot of vegetables.
Before jumping into gardening, I recommend taking these things into consideration:
- Time (it requires time and sweat to grow a good garden. Could that time be better spent earning money instead?)
- Energy used to build, grow, harvest and preserve garden. (you might need to start plants under lights in the spring, and don't forget those days worth of cooking and sterilizing when canning.)
- Cost of getting started (including equipment).
- Your freezer or pantry space (food's gotta go somewhere)
- Water (especially in drought-ridden regions)
Do a little figuring before you make your plans. You may find it is better for you to just save a little extra by growing two or three favorite vegetables in pots rather than creating a whole garden plot.
It cost us well over $300 to start and maintain a small garden here, and the yield is never enough to replace grocery shopping.
(Certainly nothing left over to preserve.)
Re-using Stuff Like Foil, Freezer Bags, Etc. Do or Don't
The number one frugal living trick--save your aluminum foil!
I'm not sure how much foil the average person uses to make this even worth the effort.
I tend to avoid aluminum foil when possible because I almost ALWAYS cut my thumb on the serrated edge.
Seriously. I've had the same box of foil in the kitchen for almost two years. And not because I reuse it.
When it comes to saving anything that has touched food, I think some common sense is in order. If aluminum foil has been over a plate of raw chicken, then its probably not worth the risk to try and clean it and save it.
If it has just been over plate of cookies, then it can probably be used again to line a baking sheet or cover the grill.
I personally don't wash and reuse plastic storage bags if they have been in the freezer. Or any that have had anything liquidy inside. I might reuse one that had dry snacks in it for other dry snacks.
But that is about as far as I will go in that department. The integrity of the bags isn't that great, and once they've been handled a lot or frozen, they often split a seam or seal poorly.
I also know a lot of people who save bread wrappers. But I can't think of anything I would use them for. So I don't.
They don't even keep bread fresh, so what good are they anywhere else? If you want to keep them though, I doubt it is very harmful. Might want to wash them well though so they don't attract mice with all the little crumbs.
Saving certain food containers is a "do" however. But only in moderation if they will be used. I like to save a few peanut cans to cover in decorative paper. They make nice canisters for holiday candy and nuts. Some plastic trays make good disposable paint palettes.
I don't save plastic stuff like butter bowls because I don't have a use for them. Sometimes I will hold on to one to use as a paint cup for an art project. Then I can toss instead of wash.
Should you save food containers or wrappers? If you want to, sure. If you need them, yes.
Just don't go overboard and be that crazy hoarder with ten million empty butter bowls stashed all over the house that you never use.
My tip is to not save anything unless you can think of a specific use for it at that very moment. Otherwise, it is not really saving you money, it is just taking up space, and possibly stressing you out.
Going Without Hot Water, Do or Don't?
Go ahead if you want, but this is a big NO for me. I might wash dishes in tepid water or laundry in cold water. But will not take a cold shower on purpose.
Some people like them. That's fine if it's your thing. But I would say "don't" do this to children or pets who can't control their situation. Its just cruel.
Living Without a Fridge, Do or Don't?
This has come up a few times in some more extreme frugal living blogs and articles. The theory is that it saves on wasted food and energy usage, while encouraging less eating and dependence on perishable foods.
This could be a "do" if your diet is made up solely of food that can be stored at room temperature, but it might not save much money if you are having to buy perishable goods daily to prevent spoilage, eating out regularly, or buying large quantities of ice.
Its definitely doable, but it requires eliminating a few things from your diet, and a lot of work to prepare foods for long-term storage.
How often you need perishable goods, versus how far you have to go daily to buy them should be taken into account, as well as the supplies and time spent to preserve (canning, dehydrating, etc.) other foods. In the end, I can only imagine you saving a few dollars per month at the cost of a lot of convenience and stress.
Again, could that extra time be better spent earning extra money rather than trying to save that little dab?
Limited or No Running Water?
Like living without a refrigerator, most of us wouldn't want to do without water. Some people do choose however to live without it in order to be more frugal.
Other people opt to put severe restrictions on the water usage, with rules including only flushing once a day, or only showering once every week or so, and using a small measured amount for cleaning jobs.
People who choose not to have running water at all mention employing tricks such as:
- Washing dishes and clothes in outdoor or public water areas
- Collecting rainwater for baths, and cleaning
- Filling up and hauling containers from free water sources
- Showering at places like the pool
I'm going to say that monitoring your water usage is a "do", if you want to save both water and money, in moderation.
Going without running water completely by choice...should really be a "don't" unless you have a water source near your house. (It won't save much money if you have to drive several miles to take a shower.)
Although it is POSSIBLE to live comfortably without water, it can be risky if you aren't keeping up with basic hygiene and home cleaning. It is definitely a "no" if you have children, as it could be misconstrued as abuse or neglect.
Plus, drinking from streams and public water sources might not be the safest thing either. Just because you haven't gotten sick yet, doesn't mean you can't.
Its probably not worth the gamble and there are probably other places where you can shave enough savings to cover the cost of water.
The cost of a hospital bill is much higher than having fresh, clean water in your home.
How Far Will You Go to Save a Penny?
So how far will you go to save some extra money? Are you moderately frugal, or do you tend to be extreme?
Do you ever go over the areas where you cut costs to see if they are working, then reevaluate?