Living on a limited income can be challenging. You might feel like you cannot afford anything and you will be stuck pinching pennies and being miserable for the foreseeable future.
Do not give up so quickly. Life is never as black and white as we fear.
There are plenty of options and choices we can make that can help us stay on budget without making us feel like we are living the life of a secluded nun (or monk).
Below I have listed 15 ways to live frugally, but not punishingly.
1. Meal Plan
I have two questions for you. First, have you ever had a bad day at work and then remember it’s spaghetti night and things just got a little better?
Secondly, who would buy groceries while hungry without a clue of what to make for dinner for the next week and buying everything twice?
I have had plenty of bad days and the prospect of a home cooked meal always cheers me up.
Of course, I’m plenty guilty of going grocery shopping when hungry and buying things I neither need nor have ever had before.
I mean those pickled capers looked really good sitting on the shelf and paired with smoked salmon on thin toasted bread is a delight.
The problem is, I probably had that appetizer twice in my life at a restaurant, but never at home. So, now I’m stuck with a whole jar of pickled capers.
What I’m trying to advocate here is the systematic use of a meal plan. Sit down with your spouse (and children, if you have any) and figure out what everyone would like to eat for dinner for the upcoming week. Check your pantry and fridge to see what items need to be restocked and which you still have.
You’ll be amazed how much time and money you save at the store each week.
One of the added bonuses of having a set meal plan is the fact that you can coordinate leftovers as lunches, saving money on buying lunch.
Another bonus is the reduced risk of cooking two meals or more in one evening, because everyone wants something different. The plan was made and everyone has to accept it.
I know it can be tough making time to cook especially when one works long hours, but adjustments can be made. You can cook ahead, plan meals that are easy to make, yet still nourishing, and it really cuts down on the temptation to eat out.
You can even get someone else to do the hard part for you! $5 Meal Plan is a great service that will send you a detailed grocery list and a list of meals to make with it every week for only $5 a month! You should try it out for free for two weeks!
2. Home Cooked Meals
This tip goes hand in hand with tip number one: cooking your own meals.
It’s a jarring endeavour when you have never truly cooked before. How do you not give yourself food poisoning? How do you stop the roast from catching on fire?
I’m probably not making this any easier right now, but trust me when I say it all depends on practice.
Check out some online recipes and start small and simple, so maybe save making duck confit once until you feel comfortable working in your kitchen.
Also check out youTube for easy to follow recipes and how-to instructions that can save you a lot of guessing work (and maybe the use of a fire extinguisher, which is a good idea to own by the way).
You will save money by cooking your own meals instead of ordering take out. Also, your sodium levels will thank you once you hit your 50’s.
3. Containers vs Foil
Now that you know how to cook without killing yourself or your family, what do you do with all those delicious leftovers?
Easy, pack them up for lunches, freeze them for quick dinners when time is short on hand or keep them in the fridge for next day’s dinner.
But how do you pack them up? It is so convenient to just cover everything in plastic foil or dump everything in Ziploc bags, but those are a huge waste. They are bad for the environment and your wallet.
Instead use containers. I recently purchased two sets of glass containers that come in three different sizes.
Glass containers are healthier than plastic ones when you plan on heating up your lunch at work and they last a lot longer (unless you drop them, don’t do that, though).
They are also a bit more expensive, but they are an investment. Ditch the foil as much as possible, you are basically just throwing money in the trash, because it is not reusable.
4. Shop Online with Rakuten
When you use Rakuten to do your online shopping, you will receive a percentage of the amount of your purchase in cashback.
You simply go through rakuten.com, look for the link to your online store and start shopping.
Just make sure that your adblock is temporarily disabled and that you start with an empty shopping cart, if you are returning to your favourite online store.
The cashback is a great incentive to do your shopping only, because, obviously, it gives you money for shopping from home in your pyjamas.
But you also save the money on gas/transportation plus the potential cup of coffee/tea that you would have stopped for during your errand running.
Plus, online stores are always open, so no need to add more stress by squeezing a shopping trip into your schedule during rush hour.
5. Have an Emergency Fund
Before you indulge (in moderation) in your online shopping activity, it is a good idea to create an emergency fund.
Have a designated account (savings most likely) that has a three months’ worth of rent and living expenses.
This money is only to be used in case of job loss, a reduction in income due to illness or an accident, or unforeseen medical bills.
It is your safety net, just in case life decides to kick you in teeth.
6. Cut Non-Essentials
When on a budget it is important to take a look at your finances to figure out which costs are non-essential.
Do you really need that subscription to that seemingly prestigious magazine that gets delivered to your door every month and has been piling up in the corner of your bedroom for as long as you have been signed up?
If so, maybe it’s time to let go. The intention to read that magazine is there, but the time isn’t. So, right now that publisher is getting your money for a service you do not use.
If the desire to read that magazine ever overcomes you, there is a good chance your local library has a partnership with the publisher and provides free access to library card holders.
It’s digital and free, so mess in your house or apartment, you are saving paper and, of course, money.
Overall, take a look at your monthly expenses and be honest with yourself about all the services and subscriptions you have currently running, which ones could you do without?
7. Get Rid of Cable TV
This step is also in the spirit of cutting unnecessary expenses, but it has been such a staple in our lives growing up that it can be difficult to let go.
But hear me out, cable TV is really expensive and you can’t control when or what you are watching. You are tied to the broadcasting schedule.
But what if you can’t make it home in time to watch the next episode of your favourite show? You most likely find other means to watch it the next day or stress about getting home in time to see it.
Nobody needs more stress in their lives. If you miss the episode and find other ways to watch it later, proves already that you really don’t need cable TV or pay $100 or more for it.
Can you imagine saving at least that much money each month? That is $1200! In your pocket!
If that isn’t incentive enough then I don’t know what is.
You can try out Amazon Prime for 30 days for only $3! That’s worth a try if you ask me.
8. Try an All Cash Budget
Sometimes, it is good to go back to basics and only use cash. This point ties in nicely together with my article “How to budget with cash envelopes”.
By eliminating the temptation of losing track of your spending by using credit/debit cards are you taking control of your money and budget.
It is a good option to cut out bad habits, such as overspending and buying unnecessary items, because if the money is gone and all you bought are ice cream sandwiches, you might be in trouble.
There some expenses you cannot switch over to cash, such as automatic bill payments for your internet service or cell phones.
Make sure you leave enough money in your account for those payments so that your account doesn’t go into overdraft. For everything else use cash.
9. Prioritize Goals
It is so easy to get caught up in everything we want to do, see and buy so that we are not missing out on anything.
But take a step back, sit down with your partner/significant other and decide together what is important to you.
What are you trying to save your money for? Is it a down payment for a house? That dream vacation? Or maybe retirement?
Whatever those big dreams are, I strongly suggest that you prioritize them and make a plan of action.
Which ones can you afford to accomplish within the next 5 years? 10 years? Which ones are realistic and within your income? And which ones need to be put aside, because they really aren’t as important as some of the others?
Prioritizing your goals gives you a vision of what’s attainable and an opportunity to start planning.
Also, taking the time to communicate and figure out some long term goals are very important in a healthy relationship and can work wonders to establish a deeper bond between the two of you.
10. Ditch the Car
I spent a good portion of my young adult life in a smaller city and I was always so fascinated by the fact that a large number of families had two cars, sometimes even more!
I understand that having a car is very beneficial for destinations that cannot be reached by bus, but most everyday places are usually on or near a bus route.
And a car schedule can be organized to make sure the members of a family all get where they need to be.
So, ditch that second or even third car. You will save a ton of money on car maintenance, gas and insurance.
Instead take a walk. To the bus stop, to the park, to the nearest store, if you only need to pick up a few items.
The fresh air and exercise will do you good. It’ll get the blood pumping and those lovely endorphins flowing through your nervous system, making you feel better about yourself.
It is a well-known fact that regular exercise will increase your self-esteem, self-confidence and body image. So, what do you have to lose, except those feelings of insecurity?
11. Don’t Try to Keep up Appearances
At one time or another we have all done it: we compared ourselves to someone else and made decisions based on what would look good and give the best impressions so that we didn’t look like we couldn’t afford that one thing or another.
It is a bad habit. It is a toxic way of existing, because you will never be happy and you will never know who you truly are.
There will always be the newest car model that Mr. Jones just purchased and is driving down your little, perfectly manicured suburban road or that vacation Mrs. Jones can stop gushing about.
Ok. So what? You are not them and they are not you.
I partially grew up in a society that put an extreme amount of time and emphasis on comparing themselves with those around them.
There were times this behaviour was encouraged as friendships became “friendly competitions”, friends were cut out of the circle, because they fell on bad times and it might rub off or they had a bit of success and then they are just boasting (none of it was true).
It is a tiresome way to exist. It is draining and distracts one from the true pleasures in life.
It is also costly, because you are constantly making purchases that you hope will keep your place in society.
Also, you are bound to make more purchases, because you deserve to feel happy and that happiness you might think is hidden inside those new diamond earrings or designer watch.
12. Organize your Life and Home
You are taking control of your finances by cutting out unnecessary expenses, making meal plans and creating a budget.
But what about your house or apartment? I bet you have a lot of things stored in your dwelling that you have barely used or forgotten they exist.
Go through your storage closets, clothes, kitchen and bathroom cabinets and you’ll be surprised how many items you have already purchased double or has been put on next week’s shopping list.
Take what you don’t need and sell it. Take what you use on a regular basis and organize it in an efficient way.
It might not seem like much, but an organized home reflects an organized headspace and helps you stay on top of things.
As we have seen before, organization is the key to living a frugal and financially manageable lifestyle.
If you really struggle with organizing your home, you need this book. It’s called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and it helped me organize everything!
13. Have a Frugal Weekend
It’s the weekend, let’s party! Or maybe not. Maybe you are tired and grouchy from a hard week’s work and want to treat yourself.
Absolutely, you deserve it, but it doesn’t have to cost money. If you are just starting out getting used to a lifestyle of frugality, designate one weekend a month you do not spend any money on activities.
Once you get the hang of having one frugal weekend, have two frugal weekends a month. Very soon you will ask yourself why you ever blew your budget out of the park, trying to have fun weekends.
I have a great article titled 51 Things To Do on a No Spend Weekend! The tips include indoor and outdoor activities, creative and quality time, couple’s and children’s activities.
14. Talk to Your Partner
Talk to your spouse or significant other about the household financial plans you are making or intend on making.
Having a spouse, who is on board and agrees with the financial decisions makes sticking to a budget and saving money that much easier.
Your relationship is your partnership in life. Do not leave out the other person and communicate your want for your significant other to be a part of all matters of your shared life.
You can motivate each other, keep each other from making questionable purchases that aren’t in the budget and treat each other for a job well done the previous month.
It can be very difficult having to take on the burden of the finances on one’s shoulders. It can also feel extremely lonely.
Communication is crucial. Work together towards a shared future and shared financial goals.
15. Focus on Quality Time
You don’t have to pay money to spend time with your loved ones.
Plan a game night with your significant other and your children (if you have any).
Have a movie night. Go for a walk. There are plenty of ways to connect or reconnect with your loved ones without feeling the harsh consequences on your purse strings.
Facetime (actually being physically and mentally present when spending time with someone, not the Apple product) is so much more valuable than any amount of money you can throw at a loved one when you want to have a healthy and happy relationship with them.
Wouldn’t it be something, if we didn’t have to worry about a budget or living frugally or if money didn’t exist at all.
But we don’t live in some fairytale, so we should stop wistfully dreaming.
The tips I have listed cannot provide you with unlimited wealth, but it will give you a great way to embark on a frugal life that doesn’t feel constricting.
It can be extremely rewarding (and even fun) to declutter your life of financial burden and take charge of your future.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and it takes work and patience to figure out the best strategy for your individual household.
But don’t give up, you made the first step by reading this article. The rest is just a series of small steps towards your goal.
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