If you’re among the millions of Americans with financial worries, adopting a frugal lifestyle might be a helpful remedy. At RISE, we’re celebrating Financial Literacy Month this April by sharing practical ways to improve your financial wellness and build better money habits—so let’s jump in to 20 essential tips for frugal living, covering everything from savvy grocery-shopping tricks to advice for reducing your electricity bill.
What is frugal living?
A frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to equal deprivation. At its core, frugal living is all about staying within your means and being careful with your money. The result? Less stress, more financial control and better overall well-being.
If you’re interested in being more frugal, try these tips and techniques, which we’ve grouped into two categories: better money management and smarter spending.
Better money management
- Build a budget. An effective budget is the cornerstone of a healthy financial life. It will help you quickly identify areas where you can cut back, such as unused subscriptions or excessive shoe shopping, and assist in planning for major purchases, like a new refrigerator or car. A budget will also help you see (and celebrate!) the positive effects of frugal choices.
- Establish an emergency fund. Make sure your financial foundation is secure by setting up a fund to help cover unexpected expenses.
- Manage your high-interest debt. Paying large amounts of interest on credit cards or payday loans can quickly eat up your available income. Frugal folks look for ways to consolidate debt at a lower rate and pay it off as quickly as possible.
- Be smart about medical bills. Health care expenses can destroy your budget and hurt your credit score. Know how to negotiate and cut your bills down to a manageable size.
- Don’t waste money on late fees. Keep close track of bill due dates and utilize automatic payment systems when possible.
- Handle your taxes. Taxes can be stressful and expensive—and those costs quickly compound if you file late or skip a payment. Learn how to navigate the system and keep more dollars in your pocket.
- Commit to ongoing education. The internet and bookstores are full of actionable financial advice from knowledgeable experts. Keep your frugal game sharp by constantly learning more.
- Save money when eating out. It’s no surprise that dining out can be a major expense—but it’s difficult to forego altogether. To cut back on restaurant bills, try going early to take advantage of happy hour or early bird specials. You’ll also save money if you stick to tap water instead of bottled water or soda.
- Make wise choices when grocery shopping. Never shop on an empty stomach and always stick to your list. It also helps to shop just once per week, since all the little trips can add up quickly. Avoid convenience foods, like pre-shredded cheese and lettuce, which can be more expensive.
- Prepare coffee and lunches at home. Did you know the typical American worker spends thousands of dollars each year buying coffee and lunches? It might seem like a few dollars here and there, but these expenses add up quickly. Frugal spenders know that preparing coffee and lunch at home can make a big difference.
- Try buying in bulk. You can save money buying large quantities of everything from toilet paper to ketchup. Strategy, however, is important—be sure to calculate cost per unit in order to avoid overspending on bulk purchases.
- Invest in a slow cooker. If you’re using a slow cooker, there’s no need to spend more money on extra-tender meat. Plus, a slow cooker makes it easy to prepare meals in bulk—a simple way to handle homemade lunches for work.
- Save money with coupons. While hard-core couponing is its own way of life, more casual coupon-users can save serious money, too. Check out coupon blogs to take advantage of up-to-date information compiled by experts.
- Consider used or secondhand products. Certain things, like cars and bikes, are great candidates for buying secondhand. You can also save money buying used children’s clothing, textbooks, kitchen appliances and sports equipment.
- Get creative with DIY and homemade projects. Learn how to do more things on your own, from manicures and spa treatments to cleaning supplies (hint: use vinegar) and holiday gifts.
- Spend sensibly on big-ticket travel. If you’re planning a vacation or attending an out-of-town wedding, you can save money by booking in advance, trying non-hotel lodging options, or renting your fancy dress instead of buying.
- Lower your utility bills. There are dozens of great ways to lower your electric bill. Try installing dimmer switches, using a clothesline, and taking advantage of off-peak rates. You can also change HVAC air filters and switch to LED bulbs.
- Seek out free entertainment. From community events to parks and libraries, it’s entirely possible to find fantastic money-free entertainment options.
- Work out at home. Most people pay $20 or more each month for their gym membership. Check out free online workouts, like Fitness Blender, to try at home with zero to little equipment.
- Embrace minimalism. Whether it’s your closet, garage or basement, de-cluttering and committing to thoughtful, targeted purchases can equal big savings.
RISE is dedicated to helping hardworking Americans build better money habits. Check out our collection of free, interactive tools for setting savings goals and managing debt.