5 basic rules of frugality

Super Frugal vs. Just Trying to Save a Buck

by Amy Burns

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In the last couple of decades, frugality has become hot. Not that it wasn't always cool to keep more of your money, it just wasn't a topic that got a lot of press in that overheated, live-to-consume decade known as the '80s. Sometime in the 1990s, the "new" environmentalism brought thrift and recycling back in to the public eye. In the twenty first century, the Internet has provided a knowledge rich, friendly forum for people to share their expertise and experience.

Today, there are a lot of us out in Cyberspace searching for ways to tighten budgets, save for houses, send kids to college, and simply get through the week. Like me, you've probably noticed that some folks have had incredible successes. Their names are mentioned often; many of them have published books or appeared on radio and television.

I was a little intimidated by these Super Frugal people when I first started searching for answers and advice on the Internet. I assumed that they had some sort of magic that I didn't get. After all, I was just trying to save a buck here and there. A lot of the time, I was overwhelmed by how much there was to do. I searched in vain for a more simplified approach.

After five years of frugal practice, I'm no longer intimidated, although I'm not yet Super Frugal, either. And I've had a long time to tease out some general themes from all the frugal living blogs, websites, and boards. If you're just getting started with a thrifty lifestyle, here are my Basic Rules of Frugality. Apply yourself to these golden rules, and you will gradually reform your freespendin' ways without spending hours on the 'net sorting through tips.

  1. Eat your own food. That's it, in a nutshell. Most of us will save a lot of money. Pack a lunch, make dinners ahead, etc., but don't eat out very much at all. It'll be more special when you do get around to it. For extra savings, cook mainly from scratch with items you've purchased on sale and cut out the packaged foods. Keep a garden.
  2. Don't waste energy. This covers a lot of areas. One timely example is gas. Do errands on the way to other errands on the way to work. Don't make a lot of single trips. In the house, turn off lights, televisions, and computers when you aren't using them. Ensure your weather-stripping is good. Caulk leaks, tighten faucets, and don't excessively water your plants. Turn down your thermostat two degrees in winter and up two in the summer. Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees.
  3. Imagine how much simpler life could be if you were debt free. Now take the first step to getting there.

  4. Don't waste time. I suspect a lot of people, like me, dabble with the idea of being frugal a long time before they actually do something with all that web-acquired knowledge. Use some of it! Start doing something today and build on it, whether it's making your own pizza or writing down what you spend.
  5. Don't be afraid. You will not end your days in a house crammed with stacks of newspapers because you start cutting coupons. Thrift has gotten a bad rap. Remember, thriftiness and stinginess are two different mindsets in a mentally healthy individual. In fact, thrift can provide a path to being extra generous to others in need by freeing up resources to lend a hand. If family members or friends needle you about your penny-pinching ways, steel yourself and have a sense of humor about it. Realize that you are "bucking the system" in your own way and be proud of your independence. Without confidence, your progress will be slow.
  6. Use it up, make do, make it last, or go without. This is pure thrift poetry. Turn over the shampoo bottle for the last bit. Wear last year's coat this year. Use a lip brush to get the last of the lipstick in the tube. Live without soda or cable. Live with the avocado refrigerator another year. The longer something can be used or its purchase deferred, the longer money is in our pocket. If we use less over time, we spend less.

By following these five basic but very important tenets, you can become frugal now, as in today. Switch off the computer (and turn off the power strip) and prepare your family some dinner to eat at home and you will be following the path blazed by all those Super Frugals before you. It's up to each of us how long we want or need to make the journey to a more thrifty life.

Reviewed August 2017

Amy Burns is a stay at home mother of two young children. Having recently survived a move from the Southwest to the much more expensive Windy City, she is enjoying applying frugal living techniques in a new environment.

Take the Next Step:

  • Start doing something today and build on it, whether it's making your own pizza or writing down what you spend. There's no time like the present to begin your frugal journey.
  • Discover dozens of additional ways you can cut monthly costs and create a little more wiggle room in your budget with The Dollar Stretcher's Guide to Trimming the Budget and Cutting Expenses.
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