Frugal Living For Beginners

Brewing coffee at home can save a lot of money in the long run.

It’s hard to make changes. Believe me, I know. It takes a lot of effort to change. When you’re used to doing things one way, you can just move through life on autopilot without thinking much about what you’re doing.

But when you’re trying to change a habit, you have to actually think about what you’re doing. You’re in unfamiliar waters, and it’s not comfortable.

That’s why I suggest you change one small thing at a time if you’re trying to pick up some frugal habits. Don’t try to change everything at once. Here’s a list of 5 things to get you started on living a more frugal life. Pick one and work on it. Once you have that one down, pick another. Before you know it, you’ll be in the habit of looking for new ways to live a more frugally.

1. Cook From Scratch

These days we pay a lot for convenience. We pay not only with money, but with our health, too. Picking up an extra value meal at McDonald’s is not only more expensive than making your own burger, but it’s probably a lot more calories, too.

By making things from scratch, you put in a little extra time, but you will be healthier, and your wallet will be happier, too. Prepare ahead for busy nights by making double portions of some dinners and freeze the extras. When you’re tired or short on time, you can eat your homemade frozen dinner.

2. Plan Ahead With Lists

I like to keep a list of the clothing sizes of my husband and children in my purse. Then when I’m shopping and there’s a clearance sale, or I’m at a garage sale, I know what to look for. I also like to keep a list of current clothing needs, items that I need for the house, and books I’d like to read.

It’s also good to keep a running “needs” list on the refrigerator. Train your family to write things on the list as the need arises. You then have the freedom to find the best deals on your family’s needed items. There’s nothing worse than coming home from a trip to Target to hear your husband say, “Hon, I need some razor blades.”

3. Consolidate Trips Into Town

Instead of running to the grocery store one day, soccer practice the next, and the bank another day, try to plan your driving trips. Run errands before or after soccer practice. If you work outside the home, run your errands on your way home from work, or all at once on a Saturday.

Consolidating trips into town serves two purposes. First, it cuts down on gas, which we all know is expensive these days. Second, when you’re running lots of errands in succession, you tend to run through each errand quickly, rather than stopping to browse in a store. This will prevent those expensive impulse purchases.

4. Carry Your Own Water With You

Bottled water is expensive. Stopping at the drivethrough for a soda is expensive and bad for your health. I recently bought some stainless steel water bottles for our family, since even the hard plastics are now believed to be bad for your health. When I’m heading out, I just fill up my water bottle and go.

If you prefer the taste of bottled water, Gibble recently wrote about buying a reverse osmosis filter. In the long run it saves money and it’s better for the environment than plastic water bottles.

5. Make Your Own Coffee

In recent years it’s become trendy to stop at Starbucks for a cup of java in the morning. In our area, there seem to be coffee stands on every corner. At $3.50 a pop, my morning mocha quickly became an expensive habit. Fattening, too.

These days I brew my own coffee at home. Instead of buying the cheap Folgers coffee that I used to buy, I spend a little extra money on some good, organic coffee beans. Even at $8.99 a pound, it’s still a lot less expensive than buying coffee from Starbucks every morning.

What other small changes can frugal newbies make to become more accustomed to frugal living?

Photo by powerbooktrance.


By , on May 22, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Jody:

    My latest push to be more frugal centers around controlling my grocery expenditures and staying away from fast food chains; the easiest way for me to be sure I don’t go to the nearest drive-thru (a former weakness, fingers crossed that I’m cured) is by making sure I have meals prepared ahead of time.

    Basically, I go grocery shopping every second Friday on the way home from work (saves on gas) and then I spend the next afternoon making up all of the meals and freezing them. It’s amazing how spending a little bit of time getting organized (review flyers, make grocery list) and then doing a ‘mass cooking’ can really save a lot of time and money and is so much healthier. Even though I am only cooking for one person, I always do double and triple batches of the meals that I prepare (I still have enough spaghetti sauce from the beginning of May in the freezer to last most of June – I love spaghetti). There is always a lot of variety in my freezer so I am happy with my meals. That said I sometimes wind up having a bowl of cereal or an egg sandwich for supper instead – not a problem that just means that my frozen meals will last longer.

    Typically, cooking day sees me cutting up all of the vegetables first and then cutting up meat for those meals that need it (doing this first makes everything else go much better) once that is done, I quickly get things going and have something in the slow cooker, something else in the oven, something simmering in the wok and several dishes on the stove. It really doesn’t take as much time as you think it will – the worst thing is that I have a small kitchen with very limited counterspace and no dishwasher so I am slowed down by having to wash dishes as I go (often because I need one of the pots for something else!) and having to move things around to make room on the counter.

  2. Kris:

    I totally agree with Duncan. If I have cash, I will spend it so much more easily, and wastefully, then I do if I use my debit card. Plus, because many places have a minimum to use a debit or credit card, if I don’t have cash I don’t go there. For example, the local cafe near work has a $10 minimum, which means I don’t buy a $2.50 egg sandwich for breakfast there unless I have cash, which I almost never do. It’s saved me a lot of money!

  3. Bev:

    I own a suds saver (Maytag washing machine). I believe they still sell them. It is a great moneysaver. You reuse the water (and consequently the detergent). Do you realize how still clean the water is after you wash sheets or towels? It can easily be used to wash another load. The rinse water is not saved so it is clean with each load. Saves water, saves the heating costs of hot water and saves detergent

  4. Duncan:

    I noticed one reader said, “…only spend cash. Don’t carry debit cards…”. For me, quite the opposite is effective. I cannot carry cash, else I’ll spend it. Instead, I pay for everything via debit. Whenever I have a few moments I can download my bank statement, attribute the various expenditures appropriately and I know where my money has gone. For me, cash is a danger.

  5. cordelia:

    I regularly “comb” my budget: look at the phone bill and see if there are services I can cut, call the credit card company and ask for a lower rate, get an energy audit done, rethink the daily Starbucks :), read up on my insurance deductibles and policy, etc. My next move is to get historical data on my utility bills and start monitoring usage.

    I remember suds-savers! I haven’t seen one in years, either.

  6. Great post Lynnae, and the comments so far are really helpful too.

    My addition would be to walk or use public transport wherever you can. I believe it can be difficult in many places in the US as towns are set up for cars`, but anything you can do to reduce petrol expenses can only be a good thing these days.

  7. Chris from St. Mary's:

    I use the library to rent DVDs, too. They’re free. I go online and put it on hold. They email me when it’s ready to be picked up. I go in and it’s got my name on it. Wonderful!

  8. H Lee D:

    Besides packing lunch (and possibly breakfast), keep a snack around. I have some trail mix in my desk at work, so if what I’ve packed for the day isn’t sufficient, I’m not hitting the vending machine. (This is better for both the wallet and the waistline!)

  9. JLA:

    I believe there is something to the expression Time=Money.

    My wife and I are both extremely busy professionals with a 1-year old. Finding time to keep up with dishes, laundry, yard work and home maintenance is a constant stuggle. Cooking from scratch or planning ahead in so many little ways to save money seems even more daunting.

    We earn a good income, but we’d like to be more frugal in order to pay down debt and perhaps allow my wife to stay home eventually. So far, our frugal efforts have consisted of things like packing frozen (packaged) burritos versus buying lunch everyday, and making coffee at my desk versus walking downstairs to Starbucks.

    Perhaps we’ll move away from packaged foods eventually, but I don’t think we’ll be ready to give up our Trader Joe’s simmer sauces (etc.) for a while…

  10. Faye:

    I definitely love your posts. I’m still far from being frugal. I enjoy buying videos of movies I’ve always want to watch. The Philippines doesn’t really have a very good library system. I can’t wait to go back to Gainesville, FL.

    Anyway, I hear you about the Starbucks or any coffee shop for that matter. My favorite is Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Before, every time I receive my paycheck, I always budget, and I’d always include my coffee breaks (around $3 if you convert Philippine peso to US dollar). I’ve decided to cut back, but I miss chai latte too much. So I’ve decided to do the next biggest thing. I bought boxes of milk tea from Lipton (about a dollar for 5 packets) and for coffee I go for a cappuccino, I buy Hills Brothers cappucino (fave flavor is French Vanilla) for only $6 and I can make at least 10-12 cups coffee.

    Frugal…maybe, maybe not. But it’s a start.

  11. Lynnae:

    Great tips, everyone! I’m definitely going to try the mocha recipe!

    Dawn – I’ve actually gotten a lot better about not buying books. Our library was actually closed for about 6 months, due to budget cuts, so it wasn’t an option for a while. Fortunately it’s reopened, and I do use it a lot. Our library system isn’t super-extensive, though, and to get a library book from outside the county system costs $4. So for me, sometimes it is cheaper to buy books at garage sales, especially reference type books that I’ll use again & again.

    That said, I love the online system! They started it right before the library closed. Now that it’s open again, I use it all the time. It’s better than dragging the kids along and making them wait while I find books. We still browse the children’s section though.

  12. Dawn:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for some time but I’ve always wondered why you buy books at all. The local library is fantastic. The best part of it is that yours probably has an online system. I search for books I’m interested in reading, put them on hold, get notified that they’re in, and renew them – all online! No matter how cheap the books are at yard sales, they’re still cheaper at your local library. And, after all, your taxes are paying for it.

  13. Sara:

    I think you’re right on with those five things. I’d add: packing a lunch and eating breakfast. Both are easy to skip, but once you’re in the habit, your food bills can drop dramatically. Also, checking Craigslist for deals can be good–but sometimes it’s too tempting!

  14. Excellent post, as always, Lynnae. Stumbled and delicious-ed!

    •Compost. Saves on trash, excellent free fertilizer.

    • Buy fewer, higher quality clothing items. They’ll last much longer, they fit better, and they take up less space.

    • To do the above frugally, shop at resale stores in the rich neighborhoods.

  15. Susan:

    I only buy whats and sale or if i have a coupon it’s best you you have both!!!!

  16. Cheryl:

    Before throwing something away, see if you can re-purpose it, or extend the use of it.

    Before you buy something, see if you can find an alternative item you already own to use instead.

  17. AA:

    Invest in a few reusable food storage containers. Label them to match tops and bottoms. Use these instead of plastic baggies which aren’t great for the environment and are a pain in the neck to wash. My mom used to wash them and reuse, but I find the solid containers are easier to deal with.

    If you buy food items in plastic containers that have a lid, reuse these for hauling around snacks. It’s easy to forget to eat when running errands and cheerios or other small snacks are good for irritable adults as well as irritable kids :) I found just having something to “tide me over” keeps me from buying unhealthy fast food – cheaper, and less fattening!

  18. Fabulous tips! We’ve actually begun employing all of them. One thing we do is have the kids give us a list of fun family things they want to do that are free. This way, we’re keeping them happy, spending family time, and saving money at the time.

  19. Kelly:

    My best frugal tip is to use just a little bit less. If you usually fill the cup of laundry soap to the top then draw a line in permanent marker lower down and only fill it to that line. Same for dish soap, shampoo etc. Use a spoon to measure out milk for your morning coffee, then add a little less the next day. If you do this with most things, most days, it quickly adds up.

  20. Kristen:

    I hear you about Starbucks! I love Starbucks, but lately I’ve really cut back on how much I go there. Gas prices have seriously cut into my coffee budget. People know I love Starbucks and buy me gift cards for Christmas or birthdays. That’s mostly what I use, and only once or twice a month now instead of once or twice a week.

    I do brew Starbucks at home, but I did the math and figured out that based on the number of cups we get per pound of coffee, it’s about 21 cents per cup. That’s a lot better than almost $4 each for a latte. I can still indulge at a far better price.

  21. Hilda:

    Oh, goody. I’ve been looking for an alternative to my Rubbermaid water bottles. I tried using those Snapple glass containers but I’m afraid I’ll drop and break it one of these days. The stainless steel water bottle seems perfect: no chemical leaching to my water and unbreakable, too.

  22. Great Tips! The only other one I would add is to just start with a budget for everything. This has helped us be able to be successful with all the tips you’ve suggested!!

  23. About a year ago I learned from a friend how to indulge in my beloved mochas, and not break the bank. And so I became converted to the “Poor Man’s Mocha”.

    1. Brew coffee at home. I use a French press for the flavor of the coffee shop, using good organic coffee.
    2. While the coffee is brewing, put a tablespoon of instant cocoa mix in the cup you’re going to use and add a few ounces of water to dissolve it.
    3. Pour your freshly brewed coffee over the cocoa.
    4. Add a dribble of whole milk (or flavored creamer, if you’re feeling like indulging)
    5. Enjoy!

    You could go all out and add a small amount of whipped cream (the cans last a long time) and a dribble of chocolate syrup (ditto) for that coffee-shop look. Great (frugal) way to indulge on a Sunday morning in your jammies without having to leave the house.

  24. the best frugal tip, only spend cash. Don’t carry debit cards, credit cards, checkbooks, etc around. This is especially helpful at the food store.
    Also track your spending. Take 30 notecards and everyday write everything you spend on one card (if you are married also have your spouse do this, then you need 60 cards, or a small notebook is fine.) Write down everything! You will be amazed at where money is leaking out. -Becky in NJ

  25. Great tips, thanks for mentioning my BPA article Lynnae!

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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

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