A Frugal Living Guide to Spend Less Starting Now (49 tips and ideas)

by Karen MacKenzie

You know you need to spend less than you earn. It’s your way out of living paycheck-to-paycheck, how to escape the burden of debt, and how you build savings. 

But you don’t want to be cheap and deprive yourself. You don’t want to give up your morning latte, the one with the cute heart design that brings a smile to your face. 

Here’s the good news, frugal living isn’t about deprivation and arbitrary sacrifices. It’s about determining what is most important to you. 

Frugal living is about carefully managing your financial life. It’s about looking for the best value you can get when you spend your money.

Think of frugal living as the accelerator in your car. For every dime you don’t spend, you start to move faster towards your goals. When you use the principles of frugal living, you can mash that accelerator to the floor. You begin to make serious progress in attaining your financial dreams.

But first, let’s get this question resolved:

How can I be frugal without being cheap?

Being cheap has a different focus than being frugal. It lacks a reason why; a purpose for spending less. It’s about scarcity; that awful feeling of not having enough. Being cheap often involves shoving costs onto others. It can even venture into unethical territory.

Being frugal involves looking for the best value for your money. In contrast, being cheap just looks to spend as little as possible. Being cheap can cost you more money in the long-run. High-quality items may cost more up front, but they tend to last longer and perform better. 

A good example is buying cheap clothing which often starts to fall apart within a year. This is not only frustrating, but you also end up spending more money to replace it anyway.

Now that we have that out of the way…

What exactly is simple frugal living all about?

Simple frugal living is about appreciating and using what you have, instead of always looking for the next shiny whatever.

It is about being intentional in how you spend your money. You avoid merely reacting to what advertising or social norms say you should spend your money on.

Careful budgeting makes frugal living possible. It has you focus on what you need. It helps you look for ways to cut or reduce spending on the things you don’t need. Instead of thinking of a budget as a restraint on spending, see it as a tool for gaining control. It allows you to harness the power of money to work for you.

Smart spending, stretching every dollar, helps you pay for what is truly important to you. You learn to look for the best ways to get the most value for your money. 

It becomes a game to see how you could satisfy a want or need for less (or in some case for free). You rise up to the challenge by being creative and resourceful.

No matter how much you earn, if you spend everything you make, you have limited options. Frugal living opens up a gap between income and expenses. That gap opens up a world of possibilities for what you can do in life.

How awesome is that?

Frugal living on one income and other dream possibilities

Frugal living allows you the financial means to achieve what you want most in life. It is a matter of putting dreams before stuff, especially stuff you don’t need. It puts relationships first, allowing you to spend more of your precious time with the ones you love.

Here are just some of the possibilities:

  • You could get out of debt. Think of how free you would feel after paying off high-interest rate loans, student loans or even your mortgage.

  • You could create a healthy emergency fund. This provides resilience in the face of the financial challenges life can throw at you.

  • You could channel your savings into investments. For example- real estate, your own business and/or retirement accounts to name a few.

  • You could free up money for fun big-ticket items like taking vacations.

  • You could live on one income, allowing a partner to stay home and raise children. Or free up one partner to leave a job they hate to look for a better job or a new career.

  • You could save up enough to take a mini-retirement or a sabbatical.

  • You could achieve financial independence with the option of retiring early. 

In the beginning, the difference between what you earn and what you spend may be small or non-existent. But over time, that gap will grow as you learn how to spend less. You can earn more money, but without a frugal lifestyle, the risk is that you only spend more. The gap between earning and spending is what makes your financial dreams possible. 

Sounds good, so how do you live a frugal lifestyle? 

Frugal living tips for saving money are a great starting point, and there will be plenty offered here.

But it all starts with a budget. It’s the tool of choice for creating and maintaining a frugal lifestyle. 

In the process, you may even find yourself redefining what really makes you happy.

Here are three steps to take charge of your financial life through budgeting:

  1. Understand what you are spending your money on right now.

    Use a budgeting app, a spreadsheet or even pen and paper to figure this out. Determine how much you currently spend and what you spend it on. Then compare this to what you earn. It is essential to know where you are starting from so that you can make the best decisions. You need to know what you have to work with; what you can afford.

  2. Write out your goal; what you are looking to achieve.

    After you decide on your goal, translate it into a yearly number. This gives you something concrete to aim for.

    For example, if you want to live on $30,000 year, but you are spending $40,000, you’ll need to find $10,000 in expenses to cut or reduce. If you take two years to do this, you’ll need to reduce expenses by $5,000 each year.

    For the longer term goals, start with a yearly savings number. Don’t set this too high, you want a realistic, attainable goal to begin with.

  3. Brainstorm ways to reduce or cut your expenses to meet that goal.

    Category by category, determine what is essential, what you can cut and where you can save money. Frequently, just seeing what your expenses are can help drive changes. If you are spending money on something you don’t even care about and could do without; there’s an easy cut!

    Focus on your highest expenses first for the most impact. These are typically housing and vehicle expenses.

The point of this is to get your spending in line with your values. You work on reducing your expenses so you can meet your goals.

Each time you consider purchasing an item ask yourself “Do I really need this?” or

“If I buy this, what am I giving up in its place?” 

Beware of the “you deserve it” mentality. Many times you are picking this idea up from the barrage of advertising surrounding us.  What you do deserve is to achieve what you want in life.

You need to develop smart spending habits to reduce your expenses and keep them low. When you shop, look for the best deals. Use the internet and the latest technology to save money online. An example is the honey browser extension for Chrome.

Warning: This can get addictive! It becomes a game to find the best price or get the best value for your money. 

Are you excited for some specifics on saving money? Read on!

Let’s get started: Frugal living tips by category

Home/Household

  • Think small. Bigger families need bigger living spaces, but if you can spend less on housing, this will have the most impact of anything on this list. 

  • Downsize if possible. This will lower your expenses, and a smaller house or apartment is easier to maintain and clean, saving you time as well.

  • Move to an area with a lower cost of living. Use a cost of living calculator such as this one from Bankrate to see where you can live for less money.

  • Lower utility costs; look for ways to save on your electric, heating, water, cable and cell phone bills. Here are a few suggestions:

    • Electric bill – shut off the lights when you aren’t in the room. Yes, this is small but it really works, and it helps reinforce the frugality mindset.

    • Heating bill – turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees. You may barely notice it (and if you do, you can always wear warmer clothes).

    • Water bill- take quicker showers, install low-flow showerheads and don’t run the water while you brush your teeth.

  • Keep your house clean and decluttered.

    • Clutter makes your house feel smaller. A clean and decluttered home will feel more spacious, and you’ll have a better idea of what you already own. How many times have you purchased a duplicate item because the original was in the back of a cluttered drawer or closet?
       
    • Maintain your house. Yes, it costs money, but it is more frugal to take care of the little repairs before they grow into substantial repairs. Ignoring a small water leak can lead to ugly, expensive repair costs later. 

Transportation/Vehicles

  • Replace your vehicle less often. That new car smell is very expensive. As an article in CARFAX  states, “According to current depreciation rates, the value of a new vehicle can drop by more than 20 percent after the first 12 months of ownership.”

  • Consider buying used. This allows you to avoid the steepest depreciation costs. To avoid any issues, purchase from a reputable dealer or have a mechanic look it over first.

  •  Look at the 5-year cost of ownership vs. the purchase price. Kelly Blue Book’s website is a good starting point.
  • Follow the scheduled maintenance of your vehicle. Skipping maintenance is not frugal as it can lead to hefty repair bills later. Regular $50 oil changes can save you from having to replace a $3,000 engine.
  • Drive conservatively. Drive slowly and smoothly versus stomping the accelerator, then the brake. This saves wear and tear on your car. It is also safer and costs less in gas and maintenance.
  • Use a bicycle or walk instead whenever and wherever you can. If you live in a pedestrian or bike-friendly area, this is an excellent way to save money and stay healthy!

Food/Groceries

  • Cook meals from scratch. As an added bonus, the food you cook yourself is healthier.
  • Plan your meals for the week. Planning and making a list means you only need to make one trip to the grocery store a week. This lowers the temptation for impulse purchases and saves time.

    Planning for the week also solves the “What are we going to eat tonight?” problem, which is too often solved by take-out or fast food. Bad for your wallet and your waistline!
  • Try store brands or generic label foods. Many times there is no difference, although this varies. Experiment to see what works for you.
  • Drink more water. Water is healthy and has zero calories. Drinking water with your meal may help you eat less as you’ll feel fuller.
  • Eat out less often. Cook fancy meals at home instead. For a fun bonding opportunity, have the whole family participate.

Health and Wellness

  • Exercise. Exercise keeps you physically and mentally healthy. Staying healthy puts the odds in your favor for avoiding significant medical expenses.

    • If you can, workout at home to skip the gym membership.

  • Eat healthy meals. For the same reason as above; doing what you can to stay healthy is a frugal living move.
  • Schedule regular doctor and dentist visits. Preventative care can save you money, and its value goes well beyond financial.

Entertainment/ Recreation

  • Get outside! Outdoor recreation is either free or low cost (in the case of park entrance fees). It’s also great for your physical and mental health.
    • Hike- there are plenty of easy, beginner trails; you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started.
    • Ride your bike- look for rail trails or bike paths nearby.
    • Swim- visit town or state beaches (and pack a lunch for the family). 
  • Use your library. Your local library has incredible resources! 

If you don’t have one already, get a library card and ask your librarian what is available.

Here’s a sample list of what you can find:

  • Books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, video games
  • E-books, E-zines, digital audiobooks
  • Free online classes in various subjects
  • Passes to local museums, zoos, and other attractions
  • Play board games or get a deck of cards and play card games. In this digital age, sit down with your family to play an old-school analog board or card game. Beyond being a frugal form of entertainment, here’s another bonding opportunity. You may get to see your family’s faces instead of the tops of their heads as they stare at their respective screens.

Keep it going; more frugal living ideas to save money

  • Avoid recreational shopping. If you catch yourself aimlessly wandering retail stores or clicking around online because you are bored- stop! Otherwise, you will most likely waste money on stuff you don’t need.
  • Beware of “sales.” Remember that you only save money when you get a great deal on something you need. You don’t save any money buying something you don’t need, even if it is on sale. 
  • Use coupons and look for rebates wherever possible.
  • Borrow or rent instead of purchasing if it is something you’ll only use a couple of times.
  • Plan ahead for your purchases:
    • Research large purchases and buy quality items that will last longer. Take the time to read product reviews.
  • Wait a few weeks before a purchase to make sure you really want it. Even a mere 24 hours later, you may find that the desire has faded. Setting this rule helps to avoid impulse purchases.
  • Buy in bulk when on sale (if you have space).
  • Try using less; only what you need to get the job done. More is not necessarily better. This applies to anything in a bottle or tube, like cleaning supplies and toiletries.
  • Take care of what you own. Maintenance is less expensive than repair.
  • Do-It-Yourself whenever it makes sense.

    Before you buy something or pay for a service, consider if you could make it or do it yourself. You could save money and maybe discover a new hobby in the process.
  • YouTube is a great educational source. Watching videos can give you an idea of whether or not you should attempt the repair (look at both the cost of repair compared to replacement and your skill level first!).    

Speed up the savings with frugal living tips from the great depression 

Here are some additional tips from a time where being frugal was necessary for survival. 

  • Pay cash. If you don’t have the cash, take a good hard look to see if you can really afford it. Instead of paying by credit card, could you save up for it first? Save first, buy later; guaranteed to keep you out of debt.

Paying interest is a waste of money. If you use credit cards for points or cashback, make sure you can pay the bill in full each month.

  • Buy used. Avoid buying new whenever possible.

    This tip is excellent for both your wallet and the environment. It is incredible how many bargains you can get at yard sales, estate sales, or thrift stores. You can also search online for used items at sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace.


Remember to purchase only what you really need, even if it is inexpensive. Also, have a good idea of the retail cost before you shop for used items. People tend to overvalue what they own; I’ve seen used items priced over retail!

  • Don’t waste anything (this especially applies to food).
  • Grow a garden. Growing your own food, especially if you use organic methods, can allow you to eat much healthier for less. As an added bonus, gardening gives you a bit of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.

    • Focus on growing produce that is either hard to find at the grocery store (like varieties of hot peppers), and/or more expensive (like tomatoes). Avoid growing items that are inexpensive to buy or that no one in the family wants to eat.

    • Fresh herbs are expensive to buy but easy to grow. Adding them to your meals is an affordable luxury when you grow them yourself.

  • Make your own cleaners. The basic ingredients of vinegar and baking soda can be used for many cleaning jobs. Here’s an article from Good Housekeeping explaining how.

  • Make homemade gifts. These can be fun to make and may mean more to the recipient than a store-bought item.

  • Learn how to sew. Making simple repairs or alterations can save you money. Sewing a button back on a shirt saves that shirt, so you don’t need to buy a new one.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that once you see the rewards of saving money, you’ll embrace the frugal lifestyle wholeheartedly.

Don’t lose momentum- Frugal living going forward 

Now that you’re comfortable that frugal living doesn’t entail random sacrifice and acting cheap make a plan to get started. 

Define why you want to spend less so you can stay motivated. Frugal living will help you get out of debt, live on one income, take time off from working, retire early, or whatever your financial dream may be. 

Create your budget. Determine your priorities; what is important to you. Put your goal in numbers. Using a budget will guide you in your day-to-day spending.

Look for ways to get the most for your money; smart spending is a critical part of frugal living. Stretch the money you have using frugal living tips, ideas, and principles. Be creative and resourceful in getting what you need for less.

Going back to our car accelerator analogy, the more money you can save, the faster you will get to the goals you established in your budget. 

Pick three tips or ideas from above to use to get started. You can keep adding more later. 

Every time you put your hand on your wallet, use this as a cue to think about your financial goals and dreams. Frugal living is all about spending in line with your values.