We hear everyday that there are financial troubles brewing in not just America but the entire world. Greece, Iceland, the United States and many other countries are reporting economies in decline. On the street level, that translates to an increase in unemployment, salary cuts and general all around hardships. If you watch the news, they’d have you believe the solution is giving more money to large banks but that still doesn’t help the little guy—you and me. I for one am lucky however, in that there really hasn’t been much hardship for me and my family. It’s not that we’re rich or that I have a good job; in fact, I’ve never really made much more than a couple thousand a month. The way we’re getting by is through my life-long practice of frugal living.
“So what is frugal living,” you might say. Depending on who you ask, you’ll find that different groups of people have different answers. For example, the main-stream media would have you believe that frugality means spending extravagantly on things you love and cutting back mercilessly on things you don’t. So in their eyes, a $5.00 cup of coffee everyday, is a frugal expenditure if you love coffee. The “Green Police,” on the other hand, would have you believe that frugality means not taking a shower or washing your clothes to cut back on water use to save Mother Earth. From a strictly, dictionary definition stand point, both views are wrong. Frugality is a purely economic philosophy that centers on the notion of thrift. A frugal person, would make their own coffee at home, for a fraction of the price charged by the coffee shop. Mr. and Mrs. Frugal might also cut back on water use but only as a way to save money.
So now, your next question might be, “Based on the definition above, what are some frugal tips, I can use?” Some of the more common answers found on the internet and in newspapers, include things like shopping at thrift stores, using your local library, and reducing the number of times that you eat out in restaurants every week. These are fine ideas indeed, but if you’re already finding yourself without a lot of money, you don’t really need someone telling you to eat out less. So without further ado, here are a few “real” frugal tips.
Learn how to cook. According to the USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture), a family of four spends between $474 and $1064 a month on food (2007). By learning to cook, you can feed a family of four for under $200. Here are a few examples of how to do that. By learning how to really cook, you’ll become aware of how much ingredients are in one serving of food. Generally, most people cook more food than what they need for a single meal. This means they’ll have leftovers, which unless controlled with an iron fist, usually end up getting spoiled in the back of the fridge. If you’re able to eat all of those leftovers, say for lunch the next day, that’s great but in my family at least, that’s been a problem. By cooking to create a particular serving size, you’ll eliminate leftovers and waste.
Another way that learning how to really cook saves you money, is you’ll know what to do with all of those perimeter ingredients. People looking to loose weight are often encouraged to shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where processed foods are not. Well it also happens to be where the cheapest foods are. Processed foods are not just unhealthy, they’re also costly. A TV diner for example can cost over $4.50 for one serving. That same $4.50 can feed my entire family! And that’s a three course meal with dessert. Baking is another great example. A loaf of bread made at home costs less than $0.50—in the store, close to $2.00.
Cycling to work is another great way to cut back on costs as well. You’ll save not only the gasoline, but also on the oil changes, insurance and other maintenance related costs. And as an added bonus, you’ll be skipping out on some of those government taxes associated with driving. Finally, look to see if there are some ways to reduce the number of disposable things you depend on or see if there are cheaper alternatives. One example is the cost difference for cartridge razors vs the old-fashioned dual-edge (DE) single blade razors. Cartridge razors refills cost nearly 3 times as much for half as many DE razor blades and DE razor blades are just as comfortable.
It would be impossible to cover all frugal-living tips in a single article but hopefully, you’re mind has been sparked enough to want to delve into frugality a bit further on your own. The important things to take away here are: learning to become more self sufficient as well as having an open mind towards trying new things. I hope you have good luck on your journey to frugal living!