This is the most comprehensive, complete guide to frugal living I have EVER done. It has all my secrets, tricks and ideas that you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to surprise you, you’ll see. Read it now, bookmark it or pin it for later, because you need this one!
Marcello and I have had times of serious debt, little income and worry about how we would pay the bills. We’ve worked hard to not be in that place anymore, but we haven’t veered too far from our roots. We’re still thrifty, we still look for a deal, we still hate waste. We’re no longer living frugally for a season, we’re living frugally because we are frugal. Frugal and happy!
We are thrifty, but guess what. We live in our dream house. We go on trips. I stay home with the kids. If there’s something we really want, we buy it after we’ve saved for it.
On the flip side, we are thrifty, but we still give ten percent. We aim to be generous with others, especially those in need. We save money and live within our means. We don’t carry a credit card balance. Our only debts are one vehicle and a mortgage. And we have plans to whittle those away as well!
Updated May 2020
My point in telling you these things is not to brag, but to encourage you that living a moderate lifestyle when you’re young will pay off huge when you’re older. Young people tend to think they will make more when they’re older, and secure a financial future then. Maybe you will make more, maybe you won’t. It’s best to start living responsibly today and reap the benefits tomorrow.
In this four-part money series:
- How we got out of $18,000 of credit card debt
- How we afforded our dream home
- 100+ ways to save money
- VIDEO: A tour of my super frugal decor
Marcello and I began this budgeting journey together 10 years ago — $18,000 in debt and with a short term plan to get rid of that and get back to spending. But something different happened. We became content living within our means. We were grateful for what we had because we worked hard to pay it off. We resisted the urge to compare ourselves to others or let jealousy swell when we felt behind. We felt accomplishment as we moved forward, step by step, the right way — not the immediate gratification way.
Our short term frugality turned into long term frugality, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. We live frugally, but also happily. We have all that we need and look forward to using our future savings toward something outside ourselves.
When I talk about living frugally, don’t misinterpret that for being stingy or money-hungry. I’ve known people obsessed with money, longing to grow their bank account in a miserly way. That will never end well and they are truly miserable people (note those two words have the same root word).
That way of living will never leave you with enough money to make you happy. You will always want more. No one in need will ever benefit from the well-preserved bills, sitting in dust in the back of a vault somewhere.
miserly = miserable
The Bible says “the love money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Money itself is not evil. But our attitude toward it can be. What would a world look like if we saved more so we could give more? I said it in my last post, but will say it again:
Don’t forget, a blessing is something that brings you closer to the Lord. It’s not things or money, it’s intimacy with God. And blessings aren’t meant to stop with you, they’re meant to be poured through you, onto others.
So here we go. Here are all my frugal tips, big and small. When you change your mindset and identify need vs. want, you will see big changes. Beware! It’s addicting. And yes, even fun.
How to start saving money
1. Look at your last 3 months of expenses.
Write down every bill you have and how much you spent on extras on average during the last three months.
2. See what can be eliminated.
Anything that isn’t a crucial bill needs to be evaluated and hopefully eliminated.
Do you have cable? How much are you spending on personal care products like makeup, shampoo and skincare? How much is actually going toward food? How often are you eating out? Are you paying for any extra home services? Add up the real numbers, not a guess or what it should be.
3. Examine each bill left, one by one, and try to lower it.
Now look at each bill that cannot be eliminated — internet, cellphone, auto insurance, etc. How can each of these be lower? Call the company, ask for any deals available. Call other companies and compare cost. Maybe you currently have the best deal, but maybe you don’t and aren’t even aware. Don’t just coast along with whatever price you’re given.
4. Write out a new budget.
Make a new general budget. There are lots of programs and free spreadsheets on Google Drive to try and modify. Make sure it is realistic so you won’t get frustrated and drop it. Also consider incorporating holidays, yearly fees, birthdays or annual events.
Update: I’ve started using Dave Ramsey’s app, Every Dollar, and it’s SO helpful. This is not sponsored and it’s free! I set up our monthly budget and my husband and I both have the app on our phones. Each time we make a purchase, we add it to the app. You can also use the internet version on your computer. I highly recommend it!
Change your mindset
My number one tip to living a frugal, happy lifestyle is to stop thinking about what other people think, throw out any desire of impressing others and let go of the fascination with name brands yesterday.
If we are in a spending freeze and friends ask us out to dinner, why couldn’t I just tell them we’d take a rain check because we’re saving at the moment? Or they can come over to grill hot dogs! I don’t have to make up a see-through excuse.
If our friends go on a fancy vacation or remodel their kitchen, why should we be jealous? Why should we try to one-up them? We are not on the same path. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Maybe they saved a year for it. Maybe they’re in debt for it. But it shouldn’t matter to you! You are on your own financial journey and need to be content with what you have now. Do not covet. Nothing good will come from it.
Why should it impress anyone if I walked into Gucci and paid $3,000 for a dress? I will happily tell you I got my pretty new dress at Ross Dress for Less or thrift store and paid $10.
Do you hear what I’m saying?
• You do you. Don’t you worry about what your friends are doing or have.
• Live within your means. Don’t borrow from next month or even next week.
• The grass is not greener. Stop obsessing about the next thing you “need” to make you happy. The exhilaration of that new thing will fade, just as it did with the last one.
• Be content and grateful for what you have. How many people are praying right now to have what you have? You probably used to pray for them yourself.
I’m going to dive into all the specifics now. Are you ready!? It’s a lot of information!
Now we’re going to go category by category, starting with the major one — food. Most people feel they could cut back in this area, so let’s talk about a real numbers.
Here are two different guidelines to help determine a food budget:
1. Crown Financial suggests 11 percent of your income for a family of four (with an income of $45,000 or greater — 12 percent if under).
2. Another example would be $100 per person for the month. So if you are a family of four, you would have $400 for the month.
Meal planning 3 ways
Though the years I have gone through various stages of menu planning and grocery shopping. I feel like each one is a graduation to the next. So start with the basics (making a menu, a list and sticking to the list) and go from there.
This is how my grocery shopping has evolved over the years:
1. Write a menu. Make a list. Follow the list.
If you find yourself swinging by the grocery on a whim, buying what makes sense in the moment and adding a few impulse buys while you’re there, then this simple method will save you hundreds! This is a good place to start. Remember, only buy what is on the list! Menu printables are here.
2. Learn prices. Shop the circular.
Once you get the hang of making a menu plan and sticking to your list, it’s time to start learning prices. That way you’ll know if you’re getting the best price or not. Also, knowing the prices is the only way to make a grocery list that stays within your budget.
To learn prices, I started a simple spreadsheet. When I came home from the grocery store, I recorded what each food cost on the list. In the next column I recorded the cheapest price I had ever paid for each item.
So once you know what a good price is, you can look at the grocery store circular online and sift through the sales. You will then plan your menu around what you have in your pantry and what is on sale. My goal is to put only sale items in my cart. It usually ends up being about 80-90 percent of the items though.
3. Shop in bulk and stockpile.
So you make a meal plan, you know a good price when you see it and you shop the sales! You rock! Now you’re ready for buying in bulk and starting a stockpile.
If you buy something repeatedly, find the cheapest place to get it in bulk. Calculate if it is worth it by how much each item in the package costs individually.
Three things to know about buying in bulk:
- Not everything saves money buying in bulk.
Sometimes it’s the same cost at the supermarket and you don’t have to devote your pantry to storage.
- And not everything is worth buying in bulk.
Some things will go bad before you can use it all.
- A list is imperative.
When very few items cost less than $10, a couple extra additions to the cart will blow your budget.
I usually only go to Costco once a month to avoid over spending. I also keep a list of how much the things we buy regularly cost to help me make a budget and shopping list. You can see this post for the things that are worth buying in bulk.
When you get good at sales, you can start a stockpile. That means you buy multiple of the same item when it hits rock bottom price. The idea is that you shop your own pantry and only buy food at it’s cheapest. More on that here.
Here are some stores with great prices to try:
- Trader Joes
Grocery saving tips
- Make a menu.
- Make the menu around the store’s sales and what you already have.
- Take a calculator if you need one.
- Only go to the store once a week to avoid overspending.
- Don’t eat out unless it comes out of your food budget.
Grocer tricks exposed
- Don’t be loyal to one brand. Shift with the sales. Buy the store brand, especially if it’s on sale.
- Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s the best deal. Look at the other products and prices even if they’re not discounted to compare.
- Use the price-per-ounce printed on the shelf tag to find the better deal.
- Look on the lower shelves for the best deal, because they put the pricier items at eye level.
- In our grocery store, the spices in the Latino section are about half the price of the ones in the spice aisle.
- You probably don’t have to buy two to get the “two for a dollar” deal. If you need one, just buy one for 50 cents.
- “Surprisingly low price” does not mean sale.
If you continue to struggle staying on budget with food, try using cash and a calculator. When you use cash, you won’t go over in the grocery store, trust me! It’s embarrassing. But not too embarrassing that I haven’t asked to put a couple things back!
More ways to save on food
Pack your lunch.
Eat out less. You knew that was coming, so I’ll get that out of the way. Eating at home and packing your lunch are your new life. It’s healthier too, by the way!
Make inexpensive meals.
Think about how much the meal is costing per serving or person. That will help you gauge whether it is cost effective or not.
Do not buy drinks.
Just drink water or make your own tea. The mark up and cost of juice, soda and Gatorade is incredible and they’re not even good for you. American spend about $16 billion a year on these drinks.
Coffee: A cup of coffee at home is $.25-.50 vs. $3+ at Starbucks.
Water: You can drink filtered water at home and fill your water bottle. How Stuff Works states “For the price of a single bottle of Evian bottled water, you could pay for 1,000 gallons (3,785.4 liters) of municipal tap water.” You’re paying for packaging and convenience, not water.
Visit the farmer’s market.
Buy produce locally to support farmers. The price is often less than the supermarket.
Take advantage of the freezer
- Buy in bulk when there’s a sale and freeze.
- Make two dinners at once and freeze one.
- Freeze leftovers or anything that might go to waste.
I freeze soup that only has a serving or two left. Or chopped green onions leftover from a recipe. Or half the Brussel sprouts from a big bag at Costco. Or leftover spaghetti sauce. Even the banana half my son left on his plate for a future smoothie. As long as you keep the freezer organized so you can find and use these leftovers, the savings add up.
Use up food in the pantry and freezer for a week.
Skip going to the grocery store for a week and use what you have in your pantry and freezer. It’s amazing what you can find in there! I usually do this once about every other month, but because I have three little ones I cheat a little and buy something like milk, bananas and apples.
Buy whole milk and add water.
With three little kids, we go through a lot of milk! I started buying whole milk and adding water to make my own 2 percent milk. You can almost double your gallon!
Make your own baby food.
I did an experiment on what it cost to feed my baby jarred food versus homemade food. I found I can save about 50 percent making my own baby food. See the actual cost comparisons and how I did it in 45 minutes a week here.
Making baby food is a savings of about $430 a year.
Start a garden.
Grow your own herbs in pots. Start a little garden with the more expensive veggies. Grow fruit trees.
You can unplug everything that is not in use — toaster, coffee pot, microwave, lamps you don’t frequently use, to save money. Even if it’s off, it still pulls electricity. You could even try a strip plug to unplug the computer, scanner, chargers at the same time. A friend of mine tried this during one particularly hot summer month when it seemed her AC might never turn off, and she saved $20 in a small apartment.
It consumes less energy to leave the thermostat on auto, and not turn it up and down all day. And I’ve learned to make use of the scheduling program on our AC/heater wall unit. I’ve programmed it to run less while we’re gone and at night. If you have this option, you might as well take advantage.
More electricity-saving tips
- Adjust your living temperature up or down a degree or two, depending on the season.
- Add weather stripping to any doors that aren’t sealed tight.
- Use curtains and blinds. Keep them shut to help cool the room down, and keep them open to allow the sun to warm it up.
- Turn lights off when no one is in the room.
- Wait until there is a full load of laundry before running the washer. Washing in cold water uses less energy.
- Line-dry towels and blankets that take longer time in the dryer.
- Load the dishwasher completely full before running it. Dishwashers have actually been shown to be more efficient than washing by hand.
- Use your microwave or toaster oven for small things instead of your oven. You will consume about half the power.
- Consider ditching the garage fridge. It uses energy ’round the clock, and is especially draining if it is older and less efficient.
If you don’t have a deal right now, call today and ask if you are eligible for any new plans. Don’t let them upgrade you! But if it’s been a year or more, they might be able to offer you some incentive.
Owning your own modem is cheaper than renting one year after year.
This was our most drastic measure. We decided to cut the cord with our cable provider after frustrating service and rising costs. We don’t have time to watch all that much TV anyway, so the decision wasn’t incredibly hard.
We only have internet now and use it to stream ABC, NBC and PBS Kids (which are all free!) through a Roku streaming device ($30). It saves at least $50 a month.
Our cell phone bill was astronomical. Marcello needs unlimited minutes for work, but we just couldn’t believe we needed to pay that much. We went to the cell phone desk at Costco, where they carry all the major carriers, to find out if another company was cheaper or if we needed a different plan, or something!
They guy said, nope, we have the unlimited plan we need. Well, that wasn’t going to cut it, so we stood there politely (yet awkwardly) staring at him with our two loud kids in the cart until he decided to really help us. “You could cut your data back and save $75-100 a month,” he finally says.
“Yes! Yes. Do that,” Marcello said. Seriously.
I get as confused as the next guy with cell phone plans, but don’t just accept outrageous monthly bills. Cut back options or find a better plan.
Check to see if your place of employment offers discounts with wireless carriers. We weren’t using ours and could have been saving 15 percent! Forehead slap.
The wireless discount now saves us $270 a year.
When we bought our house, our mortgage broker told us an incredibly useful rule of thumb. By making an extra payment a year on your home, you will cut your mortgage payoff time by four to eight years. It also saves tens of thousands on interest!
I realize this doesn’t help the immediate monthly budget, but it saves a lot of money down the road. My aim for this year is to spread that extra yearly payment across 12 months and start getting to the principal of our mortgage instead of just the interest. It might not be obtainable at the beginning, but it can be a goal to keep in mind.
If you are renting, maybe it is worth it to downsize for a couple years and save for a downpayment on a house, if that’s a goal you have.
We had old cars that were paid off when I first quit my job in 2011. Did we want new cars? Of course. Especially Marcello! He drove a 1997 Pontiac Sunfire that he bought for $700. I’m not kidding. And then, he drove my aging Ford Explorer with duct tape on the back.
Fortunately Marcello and I both see vehicles as a way to get from A to B, not a status symbol or major goal in life. That held us over until we could afford more reliable cars. We’ve never had a car payment over $300.
Nowadays we have the mini-van paid off. And we owe less than half of the original loan on Marcello’s Camry.
Change the oil on time. Get an oil change about every 7,500 miles. (Yep, not 3,000, according to the New York Times. Hooray!)
Rotate your tires. Rotating tires will make them last longer and even prevent mechanical problems. This should be done every six months or 6,000 to 8,000 miles
Don’t drive like a jerk. If you slam on the gas, slam on the brakes and drive like a maniac your car (and wallet) will pay the price. Think transmission, brake pads and stressing all the framework down the line. And that’s not to mention accidents, speeding tickets and extra gas! Just relax, arrive three minutes later and take it easy on this expensive piece of machinery.
Another car consideration is gas. Before you make a trip somewhere, even across town, think about how much it will cost you. Check out this helpful site, Gas Buddy, that tells you how much you will have to pay site to site with your specific car. But here’s a warning: I made the mistake of telling a friend about the site, which made her realize it costs her almost $5 to drive to my house!
Check out apps on your phone to see who has the cheapest gas nearby.
Try to do all your errands in one day to save from making multiple trips.
First, I did some comparisons with different companies, but didn’t find a better deal. But it’s worth it to take the time to shop around. For us, Geico is currently the best deal.
Then, I looked at our car insurance policy online, detail by detail. By doing this you might notice some extras tacked on you may not need. I noticed that we were paying for a couple things already included in our AAA account, like roadside assistance.
I buy most of my kids’ toys and clothes at a consignment shop called Once Upon A Child. They carry gently used clothes in great condition at half or less than the store price. I can’t tell you how much money this has saved us.
And what’s great is that when you’re done with baby gear, you can even sell it back to them. (This is not sponsored, I just love them.) There are lots of great kids consignment shops. Get out there and take a look at what you’re missing.
And as some thrifty moms have reminded me, don’t forget about garage sales and thrift stores too!
Shop the season end sales.
If I don’t find it on consignment, I shop the sales when the season ends. For example, when summer ends, I buy clothes a size up in summer clothes for next year. I have a bin of clothes I bought on clearance for them, so when they grow I won’t have to run out and pay full price for a new wardrobe.
Buy shoes on sale when you see them.
It never fails, when my son grows out of his sneakers there are none on sale at the store. I am not into paying $40-50 for little sneakers. So, I try to remember to go down the shoe aisle at Target occasionally to check for sales, whether we need them right then or not.
I buy the next size or even two sizes up for the kids if price is right. I usually end up paying about $15 for new sneakers this way.
The boys are about too big now (because big boys’ shoes are gross), but when the kids are little, you can buy shoes at consignment/thrift stores. Little ones don’t wear them out and everyone overbuys for little girls! They’re barely used.
Have less clothing.
I tend to think of my kid’s clothes as more of a capsule than a wardrobe. They grow out of things so fast that it seems a waste to have too many clothes. When they have what they need, I stop looking.
I have found the cheapest diapers to be the Kirkland brand at Costco — in the store, not online. The quality is just fine, comparable to Huggies. I wish I wouldn’t have waited until my third baby to try them!
A friend of mine uses the CVS brand and stacks their coupons with their sales.
Another friend used the 40 percent off your first month of Honest Company’s subscription.
Some swear by the Amazon subscription.
Give cloth diapers a shot if you’ve got it in you ;)
We don’t do a lot of toys, but instead focus on experiences for birthdays and rewards. Experiences don’t have to cost a lot either — think national park, camping, picnic, bowling, skating.
And when the kids were little all their toys were thrifted. They don’t know or care! Same with sports equipment. Give Craigslist a shot too.
Now that the boys are getting older, I buy them new toys. I give Ross Dress for Less and Marshalls a shot first. Walking into Target is my last choice, haha! Most of my price comparisons have them more expensive.
The goal when shopping is to never pay full price. If you can’t find a sale on something you need, at least look at a few different stores to see who has the best price. A dollar here and a dollar there makes a difference!
You can compare online, but sometimes the Target price in the store is not the same price online. Do your best to know where the things you buy regularly are cheapest. I find that many things on Amazon under $10 are cheaper in the store. They have to make up for free shipping somehow!
When I go to a store, I go because I’m looking for something specific that we need/want. Because I’m an impulse buyer! That sort of shoots the shopping as a pastime in the foot, I realize, but it’s worth it in the end. You have to change your mentality and get creative with what you have!
Wait until the end of the month before you buy most things.
Amazon used to be my weakness. I would decide we “need” something and order it lickety-split before giving much thought into how I can make do with what we already have. I’ve changed my strategy now to only buying these things at the end of the month if there is still room in the budget.
I keep a list of these things we’d like to buy on my phone or in a notebook by the computer. It’s amazing what you’ll be willing to take off the list because you’ve found that you can make do or decide the item is not so important after all. And most importantly, this way you’ll stay on budget!
Season end sales
Same as the kids, I buy a lot of my clothing at the end of summer because I live in Florida.
I buy all seasonal decor for half off after the holiday is over for the next year. It’s just as fun, I promise. Every year I open a new bag of Christmas decorations that I scored for a fraction of the cost the year before!
Thursday I’m going to give you a tour of my house and tell you how much I paid and where I got everything!
No new clothes for six months.
Make a goal not to buy any new clothes for six months. You’ll be shocked at what you can find in the back of your closet and how creative you can be!
Stock up on small gifts.
I have started keeping a box of inexpensive gifts in my closet. When I see a good deal on something fun, pretty or special that’s around $5, I add it to my collection. My box has picture frames, wallets, kid bubble guns, stationary, candles, bracelets, etc.
This way when a birthday sneaks up or I forgot to get a little something for a teacher gift or hostess gift, we don’t have to run out and pay more than we need to.
And while we’re talking gifts, the Dollar Tree is a fantastic place to buy wrapping paper, gift bags, clear wrap for gift baskets, bows and cards. The store closest to us is out of the way, so I try to keep all these things on hand. See this post for my favorite dollar store buys.
Save on cleaning.
Use water, vinegar, and baking soda to clean instead of buying multiple cleaners.
If you shop at Target, get the REDcard.
I’ve had a REDcard for three years now and I see no real downside to it. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it hasn’t. You get 5 percent off all your purchases and free shipping online. My first argument against it was that I didn’t want another credit card, but they stopped in my tracks because they can link it with your debit card. It’s a win, win for me. (not sponsored)
I saved $75 this year with the REDcard, not counting the free shipping.
Join loyalty programs.
When you frequent a shop, join the loyalty program to earn coupons and extra discounts. I use the World Market, Old Navy and the Once Upon a Child programs to stack discounts.
Use a cash back shopping site.
I have only been using Ebates a short while, but getting something back for something I was going to buy anyway is ok by me. It works by going through their website when making online purchases. They give you a percentage of your purchase back in cash. Also, when you make your first online purchase, they send you a $10 gift card to the select store of your choice.
Because I order the majority of my purchases online, I estimate I could save around $75 a year.
Have a spending freeze
First, set the dates you would like to have the freeze and talk it over first with your spouse and then with the kids. Be specific so everyone knows it’s just for a period of time. It’s easier to do it when you know it won’t last forever. Pick a week, a month, whatever. If you’ve never done one before it’s probably good to start with one week.
I’ll walk you though goals and tips in this post: How to do a spending freeze
Ask ‘How long did I have to work for this?’
Before buying something, ask yourself how long you would have to work for it. My mom taught me this when I was a teenager and I still use it. Would I work an entire day for this dress? Probably not.
Try a natural skincare routine.
I use coconut oil to remove makeup and wash my face, and apple cider vinegar as a toner. These are inexpensive, last a long time and 100 percent toxin-free! See all the details in my natural skincare post.
Do your own mani/pedis.
I would get a manicure or pedicure about twice a year before, which isn’t a lot, but I decided I’d like the salon quality more than my biannual visits. I ordered a base/top coat polish (affiliate link) and buy OPI and Essie colors at Marshalls for $3.99. Color stays on my fingers for a little over a week and about a month on my toes. I don’t know if I can make myself go back to the salon now.
I save at least $50 a year doing my own nails.
Get your hair done every other month instead of every month. I go to Super Cuts and use coupons.
Learn to cut hair and save on kids’ cuts. With two boys, this saves about $300 a year.
Save eating out
- Check Groupon for discounts.
- Buy discounted restaurant gift certificates on sites like Cardpool.com and Cardcash.com
- Buy the gift certificates with the Ebates link to get more saving.
- Look online for a coupon before you go.
- Find where kids eat free certain days of the week.
- Lunch is cheaper than dinner.
- Share appetizers instead of ordering entrees.
- Go for happy hour.
- Everyone order water.
- Eat out on your birthday for special discounts and/or free dessert.
- Share a larger dinner.
Save at the cinema
- Go to the matinee.
- Some days of the week are cheaper.
- Look for student and senior discounts.
- Costco sells tickets at a discount.
- Check out free summer kids movies.
Make your own theater
One day we considered going to the movie theater as a family and I added up the price of tickets and popcorn. For that price we could buy our own projector I thought! So I bought one for under $100 and made our own theater. It’s so cool and takes up the whole wall!
We subscribe to Netflix DVDs for movies. We don’t do streaming because my kids started watching junk. And the DVD plan offers new movies and a larger selection. We currently pay $8 for one DVD at a time.
Cheap family fun
- Check out local festivals and concerts going on locally or nearby.
- Go camping.
- Go to a new park.
- Have a picnic.
- Play a game of family kickball or softball.
- Play a board game.
- Bake cupcakes.
- Go on a bike ride.
- Go for a walk.
- Build a temporary fort — inside or out.
- Teach your child to do something you love.
I will confess we are not library people. Why? Because we destroy books, can’t sit still or be quiet. Sometimes there is wrestling. Also, returning things on time seems to be a problem for us.
BUT I have friends who love love love the library! Check to see if your library has any of these fantastic benefits and resources for FREE:
- new movies
- new music
- new books (duh)
- story time
- kids reading programs
- local museum tickets
- ancestry.com and heritagequest.com access
- passport processing
The daytime trick
If you can get out during the day I supremely (that’s more than highly) recommend it! Here’s what happens when you make your date during the day:
- You get meals at a discount. Lunch menus are cheaper than dinner menus.
- You can hit up happy hour specials, especially if it is a weekday.
- Generally speaking, eating during off-peak lunch and dinner hours will get you zero wait, better service and fresher food.
Some of the best free options for dates are free local events, especially in the summer. Check out upcoming local lists of free concerts, museums, movie showings, festivals and mark them in your calendar so you can plan around them, otherwise you’ll probably miss them!
More free options:
- Picnic outdoors in a scenic spot.
- Go hiking or take a walk in nature.
- Find the prettiest place for the sunset and grab a bottle of bubbly.
- Play tennis or hoops or go for a swim.
- Pack a blanket and snacks and star gaze.
- Eat dinner on the patio and light candles.
- Visit friends.
- Go on your own bike tour somewhere new.
- Take a stroll downtown.
Save on wine
If you want to celebrate or just make yourselves feel special order two glasses of sparkling wine — prosecco or cava. Bubbles make everything feel like a celebration! These two feel like champagne, but they are much less expensive.
My second wine tip. (Can you tell my husband works for a wine company?) You can typically bring your own bottle of wine and they will charge you a corking fee, usually about $20, which is less than what you would pay for a bottle from the restaurant.
Especially with nonessential purchases, it’s important to wait until you have the money to buy something. Don’t buy it because you will have the money, or next month should be better. Buy it after you’ve already planned it, it’s in the budget, and the money is there. In the same tone, don’t borrow money from next month’s budget. If you’re already on a shoe-string budget, you’ll surely need it next month.
Extra income ideas
Maybe you want to see even more savings or pay off even more debt. Let’s talk about that side hustle.
Walk around your house and think of what you don’t use or need or want anymore and sell it on Craigslist — furniture, sports equipment, appliances, electronics, kids’ stuff. I price things slightly below what other people are asking and it always goes fast.
During out last spending freeze, I sold a few small pieces of furniture. Marcello had a wine vertical he had been collecting and sold it for a handsome price. (A wine vertical is when you have the same wine for several years in a row. I didn’t know either ;)
If you have enough things, have a garage sale.
Cash, gift cards, rewards
See what you already have in your wallet as far as cash, gift cards or other resources to use up during this time. I have found unused gift cards and a $20 stashed in a side pocket.
Check and see if you have any cash rewards available on your credit card that you can redeem.
Take back purchases.
Do you have anything you need to take back? I had some pants to return. I also had a light fixture part that was $30 that our electrician didn’t need. I sent it back for a credit. $50 closer to our goal.
Get a side hustle.
Here are some things to consider starting from home:
- Start a photography business
- Start an Etsy shop with your hobby
- Refinish furniture to sell
- Watch other children while you watch your own
- Give music lessons
- Tutor students
- Teach English online
- Start a blog (Here is everything I know about blogging.)
- Write freelance
- Graphic design freelance
- Offer proofreading services
- Offer data entry or transcription services
- Offer accounting services if you are trained
- Be a social media manager
- Sell essential oils or jewelry
Don’t blow the tax return.
Instead of looking at that tax return as free money, invest it. We try to put ours straight into savings. Put it down on a credit card. Do it right away, before it gets spent somehow!
Get on the same page with your spouse
This is a tricky one, because what two people want to spend money on the one same thing? My husband would prefer to spend all our money on food and fancy ingredients. I, on the other hand, would like to spend all our money on decorating our house. But we each made a pact to stick to our budget and consult each other before purchasing things not on the list. He has expensive taste (he had Prada undershirts when I met him!), but he’s actually better at sticking to the list I am. (And I have shown him that he can buy Calvin Klein pants for $25 at Marshalls. It’s not Prada, but hey …)
Discuss how your family can live within your means and spend less than what you have coming in.
Yearly expense list
Keep a list of irregular annual expenses and what month they usually occur. This will help you plan for the month and avoid unexpected surprises.
On paper, our budget might say we’re saving money, but if I haven’t included the yearly car registration fee or spouse’s birthday gift, it doesn’t help us. When I make the next month’s budget, I check my yearly expense list to make sure I’ve included these things.
Here are some things on my list: car registration, auto insurance, taxes, AAA, annual fees, hair cuts, birthdays, holidays, back to school shopping, end of season sales
We were lucky enough to get out of our credit card debt before I quit my job. It was HARD WORK. For over a year we lived off very little and Marcello worked two or three jobs. But we did it and it was worth not eating out or shopping or traveling to have that debt off our plates. After time, we learned to trust ourselves with the credit card and started using it to our advantage.
We got a Capital One Venture card (also not sponsored) for the travel rewards. Now, we put most everything on the card to earn points to pay for trips. But it can be a slippery slope, so I have to monitor it carefully and make sure the balance is paid off every month, otherwise it’s obviously not a good deal!
Don’t put it on the credit card if the money is not already sitting in your bank account.
We tithe 10 percent of our income each month, and this is not a place where we cut. And let me tell you, it is freeing. We have been given more than we need so we can give it to others.
Knowing that we have that money set aside for God’s kingdom, does several things for us:
1. Honor God.
2. Help those on Earth do God’s work. And to help others see God’s love through those people.
3. Keeps us from being stingy when we need to be generous. If you’ve worked hard to save every penny, sometimes it’s hard to let go of it, even if you have a tender heart. When that money is already dedicated to give away, it’s freeing and even fun.
4. Give and sincerely not expect anything in return. We once had a friend in hard times who had lost his job and had two kids. We gave him money in a subtle way. He was so touched that he mailed us a letter a year later to thank us and tell us he had gotten back on his feet again. He shared that he was able to pay that money forward to some else in need. How beautiful.
5. See God provide for our family. Since we got married and made the decision together to tithe, there have been countless times when money has just shown up when we were in need. I don’t mean it arrived in an envelope on the doorstep, but it came in other ways — a late wedding present, an insurance overpayment, an unexpected bonus. And in exact amounts that we needed. We never miss the money we give away. In fact, we do better.
6. To grow closer in our relationship to God. It is good to set aside money for God’s kingdom, but it is not good to spend it where he has not designated it. We have to pray about what he wants us to do with it. And when we do, it might take some time, but there’s always something obvious. We know it’s from the Lord especially when we both have the same thought.
If you’ve never tried tithing before, it will most definitely change your life. I once read an article that said that if you make over $40,000 you are in the richest 8 percent of the planet. That in itself encourages me to give!
- Look at every single expense you have and be ruthless. Whack your budget to it’s bare bones, and leave only what you really can’t live without.
- Pay off anything you can (starting with debts with the highest interest rates).
- Set realistic budget goals, otherwise your budget will fail every month and you’ll give up on it.
- Keep track of each expense, no matter how small. This allows you to see how you’re doing on the budget during the month, and can show you where your budget need adjusting in future months.
- Only buy things you have planned for and have the money in the bank for.
- Keep putting some money into savings.
- Give, even though you’re trying to cinch your wallet at the moment.
- Crown Financial offers wonderful budget calculators on their website. I used them as guidelines when I begin cracking down on our budget.
- I keep a spreadsheet I altered from this one in Google Drive and try to update it weekly.
Things aren’t as tight for us as they were when I first quit my job, and I’ve since had success at being a freelance graphic designer from home, but I still don’t want to waste money! I plan to carry on with most of my thrifty ways no matter how our income changes.
Please share your best tips too! I can’t wait to hear them!
Update: Ideas from readers
I keep getting such wonderful ideas from you (here and on Instagram) that I have to share them! Keep them coming! I’ll keep adding.
Stephanie: I have one tip that’s been amazing for us. We are part of our neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group, and regularly give away or get for free so many things from our neighbors! Food, baby and kid clothing/gear, garden spoils, furniture, jewelry, clothes, beauty products, and craft supplies, etc etc etc. It’s been so, so great. This week alone I’m picking up a lot of baby boy’s clothes, a baby bath (we gave away our last one), and a bag of fresh roasted coffee. It also is a super great way to get out and meet your neighbors! They’re all over the world, so you should see if there’s one where you are!
Danielle: Have you tried eBay for shopping? I tend to use eBay for specific clothing items I have in mind because the prices are almost ALWAYS cheaper than they are anywhere else. And they usually offer free shipping. We use Samaritan ministries for health insurance (for us it makes sense, I know it doesn’t work for everyone) and it saves a TON of money and is a really awesome ministry to take part in.
Chiara: I love trying recipes from @budgetbytes they are super cheap and delicious, AND you know how much they are going to cost you
In this four-part money series:
- How we got out of $18,000 of credit card debt
- How we afforded our dream home
- 100+ ways to save money
- VIDEO: A tour of my super frugal decor