Even just five years ago, I don’t think I would have been ready to say that I wanted to make a lot less money and live my life differently. I think I’ve wanted to live more simply for a long time, but for many years, I was just too afraid to make the change, too afraid to go backwards in the money department and taking that big pay cut.
But, as you know, I finally got brave enough to give Thoreau’s advice about wanting less and working less a chance. But I am such a slow thinker or thoughtful planner (I think I prefer the latter) that I didn’t just jump into this without a lot of planning.
I have been studying how to live more frugally for years and practicing for at least a year before we decided we could live on half the money we had been living on before. Yes, half. Actually, a little less than half. No matter how you slice it, you can really feel living on half the money you used it, so we practiced a bit before we took the plunge.
We started slowly after reading about different ways people were finding to live more frugally, as the advice seemed to be everywhere. But, I think, along the way, after practicing the advice and getting a sense of what would work for us, I learned that I actually really liked living frugally, and I was learning so much along the way.
This week’s post is devoted to offering my own sort of advice related to living frugally and what worked for our family in the hopes that you might see one thing listed that could work for you, save you money, and give you a bit more time.
But, before we begin, here’s the one big lesson that is important to share before reading my list or any kind of list, for that matter: It’s helpful to start with one small thing; practice it; live with it a bit to see if you can really live it.
I think, for most of us, or at least for someone like me, taking baby steps is critical.
OK, finally, my list…
1. We cut our cable. In our case, it was actually satellite television we cancelled, but it saved us about $100 per month. I feel like they should be paying us to watch all those commercials anyway.
2. I learned how to shop differently. This one was on me, and I learned new habits because I really wanted to learn new habits. I had grown up in a culture in Texas in the 1990s where shopping was like a way of life, and I started to realize how wasteful it was. So, now, there’s no “going shopping” unless we really, really need something, and we try to buy things that will last as much as possible. This means paying more for quality items, but I estimate that we save about $75 per month using our new system of buying quality items—just far fewer items.
3. As much as we wanted to save money on food, we decided that this was one area we could not be “cheap” about because of our health, so we had to get creative. I am a firm believer that most Americans should probably be spending more money on food, not less, so trying to be frugal about food is more of a challenge, but we have found a few key ways to save money:
- We quit buying grated cheese. We now buy big blocks and grate it ourselves. This adds time to my cooking rituals, but we eat a lot of cheese, so this saves us quite a bit of money. This is a really small thing and may not seem worth the time, but I think it’s a pretty good plan. I figured it out, and in most cases, we end up with three times the amount of grated cheese for the same price.
- We make our own bread and snacks. I realize this is one that takes some time, but if you have the time, you will save money and have healthier food for you and your family. Plus, there’s nothing better than seeing your six year old devour his “favorite pumpkin muffin” you just made. This one is cost saving tip that can add time, but, for me, this is how I want to spend my time.
- We grow our own food. Buying local and organic is important, but when you want to quit your job and will be making less than half what you used to, you have to figure something out. For us, it was growing our own food. The seeds are inexpensive, the rain and sunshine are free, and some foods provide seeds for the next year as well. This has been a huge savings for our family. Even if you have a small outdoor space, you can grow some key foods relatively easily, and you get the taste and health benefits as well.
- I use my tea bags twice. I love tea and usually drink two large cups of chai tea every day. I used to use two tea bags per day. Then, I learned a trick from a friend (you can learn a lot of frugality tips from Mainers) to save the tea bag and use it twice. It totally works, and I spend half as much money on tea.
- Finally, my best strategy in the grocery department is to always eat our leftovers. This was huge for us because I was so bad about letting leftovers go to waste. But we totally try to live by the “waste not want not” rule, as cliché as it sounds. I have found that, at the very least, leftovers for lunch saves us quite a bit on our lunch budgets, but, sometimes, I am able to get entire supper meals out of the leftovers, which can mean a big savings. Plus, it’s good not to waste food. I mean, think about what your mother used to tell you to get you to eat your dinner.
4. I quit buying products for my face. So part of this one is going to be difficult for most women I know, but I quit wearing makeup unless there is a special occasion. I grew up in Texas where this was just not the way of things, so it actually took me some months to get used to my face without makeup. That sounds weird, right? I had to get used to my face without makeup. It does save me a lot of money, as I was buying some pretty expensive cosmetics.
But here’s the easy part of this tip: I started use aloe vera straight from the plant for my skin care. I can’t tell you what a miracle worker pure aloe really is! I have always had hormonal acne, and I was spending $50 per month on my facial cleaners. I now spend $0 per month because I bought a few plants at the store for about $3 each and just grow my own skin care.
I discovered this little life hack when my poor husband was burned with chemical burns from a cement adventure this summer. The aloe healed his wounds better than anything else. So I researched the benefits of aloe and found that it also helps with acne. I’m here to tell you it does! It works much better than the expensive stuff I was buying, is totally natural, and, in addition to clearing up any acne, makes my skin look softer and shinier.
I also shared this one with my teenage son, whose skin is so much better on the aloe. Plus, we were spending $50 a month on his skin care as well, so the aloe has saved us quite a bit of money—and it works beautifully.
5. We changed our holiday habits. Let’s face it. Our culture shoves materialism down our throats during any and every holiday season, and it can be hard to go against that. But, this year, we have no choice, and we started with Easter. Here in Maine, Easter seems to be a pretty big deal, almost like Christmas-lite. The Easter Bunny doesn’t just leave eggs. He leaves presents! But, this year, we had to make the change.
I purchased a used Pottery Barn Easter basket on E-Bay that we have had for four years, which serves as my youngest son’s Easter basket every year. It’s well made and eliminates the need to buy more “stuff” like an Easter basket. Then, this year, there were no presents. We didn’t even do plastic eggs.
We have chickens, so I decided to do something creative with those free eggs. We had been reading the illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (which I highly recommend), and I saw a beautiful illustration of dragon eggs and decided to use non-toxic craft paints, some of which we had. I did have to buy $2 in additional colors, and we just did our best to make dragon eggs. Our whole family enjoyed this!
Now, I have to be honest. My youngest was a little disappointed that there were no Easter presents this year, and I did feel a little guilty when I saw all of the amazing Easter present pictures on Facebook. But this is it for us. My youngest has a tendency to be a little more materialistic than I would like anyway, so I think we’re all going to be learning some important lessons as we make this transition.
Easter was our start. I’ll let you know how we do at Christmas. And Halloween’s going to be tough too, I think.
So these are my big frugality “tips” for this week. All of these may not be for you, but I am telling you, I think you should at least give that aloe a go. It’s a cheap little miracle.
As for the rest, everyone does have to find their own path, but I am enjoying our journey into frugality—at least for the most part. I just need to become more of a “maker,” and I am planning to start knitting lessons soon. In the meantime, I guess we’ll have to buy our socks and hats, but I can totally make some dragon Easter eggs and an awesome cherry pie!
Oh, and if you have any frugality tips, please share them here. I am, as always, a work in progress.