How to Start Being Frugal

When I first started this blog I knew the basics about frugality, but I also knew there was plenty of room for improvement. I started reading blogs such as Like Merchant Ships and Wise Bread, and I felt overwhelmed. Every idea I read seemed like a good idea…a good idea I was not yet practicing.

I wanted to implement the new ideas, and I wanted to implement them all at once. At first that’s what I tried. And I failed. Miserably. I’d do OK for a week, and then I’d spend a lot of money, because I was tired of feeling restricted by my new budget.

Sadly, my story is not unique. It’s the beginning of the year, and many people have set the goal of saving more money through frugality. And many people will fail, because their new frugal life will feel too restricting.

To help make sure you’re not one of the people destined to toss frugality aside because it’s too hard, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned that have helped me enjoy being frugal.

Baby Steps are the Key to Being Frugal

You can’t change in a day. Frugality isn’t something you just decide to do. Frugal living is a process. A year and a half into my new frugal lifestyle, I still have a lot to learn. At this point I enjoy looking for new ways to be frugal, but it wasn’t always that way.

If you’re new to frugality, pick one area of your life where you want to save money. And then pick one thing you can change to save money in that area. Let’s say you want to save money on food. Resolve to take your lunch to work every day, instead of buying lunch. If that’s too much, shoot for 4 times a week, and treat yourself to lunch out on Fridays.

At first it will take a lot of work, but after a while, packing your lunch will become routine. When you find that packing your lunch has become easy and almost automatic, pick a different area to work on.

Once your frugal changes become habits, you won’t see them as work anymore. But in order to make a new habit, you have to start small.

Being Frugal is a Learning Process

I don’t think there is any one person out there who has mastered everything there is to know about being frugal. If there is, I’d love to meet that person!

No matter how frugal a person is, there is always more to learn. Frugality is a lifelong process, and you never stop growing. That’s what’s so exciting about it! I love finding new ways to save money! And I love trying new tips that other people give me!

Being Frugal is a Group Effort

It’s hard to go at it alone. It’s important to have support. The best support comes from the people who live around you, but if you don’t know any frugal people in your area, online support can work, too.

It’s important to know other people who are frugal and happy being that way. If you’re surrounded by people who are constantly spending money and who look at you funny when you mention you’re trying to save, it’s going to be hard not to second guess yourself.

But if you get to know people who are content and even excited about their frugal lifestyle, it’s much easier to get excited about your own journey into frugal living!

If you want to know more about how to start being frugal, be sure to listen to Frugal Coast2Coast tonight as Jenn and I discuss that very subject. And if you have a question, feel free to call in. And as usual, if you can’t make it tonight at 8:30 EST/ 5:30 PST, I’ll post the archived show in my sidebar, so you can listen later.

Do you have any tips for people who don’t know where to begin becoming more frugal?

Photo by stopnlook.



Author

By , on Jan 12, 2009
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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{16 Comments}

  1. Kate:

    I completely agree about the baby steps and gradual change. The day-to-day habits must be integrated gradually so that they become the new normal, as you say. But then there are also the once-and-done frugal steps, like installing CF light bulbs, or putting a brick in your toilet tank to save on water, or comparison shopping to make sure you’re paying competitive rates on all insurance policies. Those steps are pretty exciting because a one time effort continues to save money over a very long period. Some of those once-and-done things can be taken on in a big pile, without affecting daily life. So that’s a good area to look at when you’re new to frugality.

  2. rosemarie:

    I also think that you have to do what’s important for you. Some things you may feel it’s wise to spend more money on, other things not so much. If you take it at “your speed” you’re more apt to succeed.

  3. Kate in NY:

    To be honest, my frugal “revelation” came when I read the book “Home Comforts,” by Cheryl Mendelsohn. In it, she advises the primary “home keeper” to come up with some kind of schedule – a list of each day and the primary task to be accomplished on that day, with one day built in for “organizing tasks,” and specific days for laundry and shopping (one big, one mini), cleaning, bill-paying, etc. I used to wake up each day thinking, “what do I need to get done today?” and I’d end up feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume. I’d also spend way, way too much in the process, because I was so disorganized and going to the store all the time, paying bills late because I had no system, etc. I think that organization and frugality go hand in hand. Now I don’t go to the store (barring an emergency) unless it is a designated shopping day. It is really helping me!

    Kate

  4. Great post, I agree with the baby steps and mastering one thing at a time! I have found it really helpful to focus on the little things I enjoy, like cooking, and though I do not have time to do it every night I will multi-task and make dinner and breakfast at the same time (because I have more time in the morning) and then just reheat it for dinner when I roll in at 8 or 9pm. Then I know I have a yummy meal to look forward to, or my friend and I make our laundry soap together, its a fun little project and we chit chat and catch up while doing it. Things like that help keep me focused on my money saving goals and keep me enjoying the tasks!

  5. The thing I enjoy about living frugal is the varying degrees of frugality you can strive for. It can be as simple as only drinking water or switching to cloth napkins, or as deep as raising chickens and commuting by bicycle.

    Each person has a level they are comfortable with, and each of us can always find room for improvement–I know I can!

  6. I found it best to start with something small and easy to attain. That way you’re encouraged and move on to something bigger and harder next time.

    The best thing we ever did was decide to go one full year without buying one piece of clothing or anything we didn’t absolutely need. It was a huge eye-opener. I was pretty frugal before, but I realized after that we had a lot of things we could do better at!

  7. trek:

    Very much about baby steps and making the small changes become habit before working on another area.

    Happy Delurking Day.

  8. A very timely and helpful post. Thanks!

  9. I would begin with my grocery budget, because that is what we did when my husband was out of work for a year. I would pay attention to what I was buying and determine what was a luxury and what was a need. I would make up a pricebook so that I could determine what was the lowest, rock-bottom price for an item, and then I would buy several and begin stockpiling (buying as much as you need to last you until it goes on sale again) my pantry. I would look at the store flyers, buy in bulk, and use cash to pay for my purchases so that I don’t impulse buy.

  10. Kaye:

    Small steps and small changes really make for long-term changes and success. It has been 18 months now since I’ve taken to making changes and being frugal! Blogs like this one were the main source of inspiration for me. There are many blogs and forums I enjoy now for both information and inspiration. It is great to connect with people of like mind. I still feel there is room for more improvement in my own situation but when I think back, I realise just how far I’ve come. You adapt to the changes until they become as commonplace as breathing – it sounds cliche’ but is actually true!

    Kaye (Australia)

  11. Jason:

    Add in another supporter for baby steps! For me the biggest overspend has always been the grocery budget, so that’s the area I try to work on the most, making changes here and there. Trying more “no-brand” items. Shopping in other places to find better deals than the supermarket. Finding cheaper meals to cook. Trying to cut down on take-aways (and working out the triggers for take-away, like not having any food in the house). At least I was already taking my lunch to work every day :-)

    The savings all add up. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll keep to the grocery budget :-)

  12. marci:

    Read up on tips.
    Take the tips that make the most sense to you and seem like something you could do, and write them down. Post them where you will see them everyday – like the bathroom mirror. Pick one – only one. Work on that one only for a couple weeks. Then add another one. Wait a couple weeks, then add another one. As you become comfortable with each step, then add another. Don’t try it all at once or you will feel like the leash is tightening around your neck! Do it a little at a time and you will soon have it under control!

    And remember – each day is a new day. Do not bemoan how you slipped up the day before – just start the new day fresh and try again. Two steps forward and one step backwards is fine – it means you ARE making progress! Look for the positive – and ignore the negatives!

    GOod luck!

  13. What a great approach–everyone has to start somewhere, and there’s a real need for this topic!

    Like Merchant Ships evolved more into a day-to-day moneysaving journal than a how-to guide. It’s a different kind of frugal inspiration than the same old tips over and over.

    Look forward to tuning in tonight so I can learn from both of you!

  14. Lynnae:

    Organization definitely helps. I’m still working on that after our move, and I can tell that not having the office organized is a huge detriment to my frugal lifestyle.

  15. Amy:

    I so agree that it is all about baby steps. Everyone is at such different stages in their frugal journey and what might be for some might not be for you. The good thing is that whatever stage you are at, you can always find a way to grow in that stage, and you can cheer on your fellow frugal friends as they reach their own milestones.

    Good luck to you & Jenn this evening! I will be tuning in :)

  16. AngelSong:

    When we decided to start our frugal lifestyle, we started where we were standing, in a manner of speaking. The idea of frugality can truly be overwhelming (kind of like thinking about how to clean and organize a really cluttered, messy house. So, you start where you’re standing. You are correct about baby steps and support being essential to success. For me, two activities (separated by a few months) were the beginning of being organized (and thus the beginning of frugality). One was to get our household documents together in a notebook. Just knowing where all of our appliance manuals and warranty information is kept is a huge help. And, getting our filing cabinet in order was huge. Those are both things that can be easily maintained, and both fueled the next steps we took. Being frugal is not a destination as much as it is a process. Being able to see (and build on) concrete results is a huge incentive to maintain a frugal lifestyle.

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