How To Be Frugal: One Month At A Time
Thinking of making money-related New Year’s resolutions for 2016? Well, I’ll save you the hassle: don’t do it. I’m delighted to poke my head up from parental leave to issue a challenge for the new year, written with a Babywoods snuggled to my chest in her sling (which seems to be her preferred mode for writing blog posts).
If your internet is anything like my internet, there are approximately 595,890 articles out right now about how to successfully save money this year. But here’s the thing: the timeframe of a year is entirely too broad when thinking about money (or most things, really)–it feels like a freaking eternity. Anytime I goal set on an annual basis, I am doomed to fail. Just ask Mr. Frugalwoods about my epic “teach myself to play piano in a year” goal. Uhm, yeah. Put that down as something I’ll master
never in early retirement….
The key to optimizing your finances is to think about them on a monthly basis. We typically account for our finances in monthly, as opposed to yearly, increments anyway–as in, how much our mortgage is each month or the amount we spend on groceries every month. So why not goal set with this more reasonable, truncated timeline? Instead of trying to slog through an entire year, I challenge you to make a dramatic change in your financial habits for one month. An uber frugal month–as I’m wont to call it–rather than a year, is a much more attainable proposition.
And since it’s only one measly month, don’t hold back. Throw yourself in with the wild abandon of a greyhound who smells bacon cooking (in case you’re wondering, that’s pretty darn wild). And at the end of said month, assess to see if your actions are sustainable. I’ll admit there are some New Year’s resolutions where jumping in with both feet would be unadvisable–alligator taming and tightrope walking spring immediately to mind–but an all-in attitude for frugality is how you’ll derive the greatest rewards.
One Month At A Time: The Frugalwoods Plan
This is exactly how Mr. FW and I began our journey: one month at a time. We set out in April 2014 to live the most frugally we’d ever lived and to see how we felt about it. Spoiler alert: we felt awesome because we then started writing Frugalwoods to
spam the internet with greyhound photos spread the frugal gospel!
Committing to anything for a month is a very tenable proposition–just ask Frugal Hound, who is currently committed to not having her teeth brushed for a month (really we’ve just become derelict dog parents now that we have a human child too… ). A month is long enough to provide a true sense of the change in your life, but short enough that you’re not tempted to cheat.
Turns out, at the end of our first uber frugal month, we barely even missed all of the spending we eliminated. We’d been living in a virtual financial fog: spending money on things that weren’t adding appreciable value to our lives.
Plus, we discovered that beyond the monetary benefits of frugality, the non-financial pros of living a simpler life more focused on relationships and our passions–and less on spending money–made us happier, more peaceful people. Frugality is what liberated us from our discontent and showed us that we have the power to create the lives we want. We don’t have to spend money on all the things society says we should–far from it. Be your own person and spend only on what truly matters to you.
Frugality Is A Skill, Not Magic
Successful frugality is a skill and, like any skill, it can be learned, honed, and perfected. I promise you. Mr. FW and I don’t use a magic, secret formula to arrive at our 71% savings rate (other than dressing Frugal Hound up as the Magical Compound Interest Unicorn). Nope.
If there was an elixir I could sell you to maximize your frugality, I totally would (although would anyone actually buy a frugality elixir?). Newsflash: it doesn’t exist. Rather, Mr. FW and I perform a relatively simple set of things that combine to yield our peak frugality status.
While what we practice is a form of extreme frugality–albeit luxurious extreme frugality–there are benefits to reap from all points along the frugality continuum. You don’t have to have a goal of reaching financial independence, or a goal to save over half your income, or a goal to retire early. Frugality can bring powerful awesomeness into your life at any level.
Apply what works for you from my uber frugal month missive. While Mr. FW and I do all of these things, you might find that adopting just a few elements is beneficial for your own personal aspirations. There’s no one right way to manage your finances, but if you find yourself hoping to ramp up your savings rate, or in need of extra cash each month, or wishing to travel more, or perhaps just interested in living a less consumption-focused lifestyle, then frugality can be your answer. So, what are you waiting for? Embark on your most frugalest month ever right now!
The Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month How To
1) Track your spending.
This is the absolute, no questions asked, incontrovertible first step. Ok I realize I just said you should pick and choose the items that work for you, but this one is kind of non-negotiable (I can contradict myself, right?! Cut me some proverbial slack, I’m human and I’m writing this with a Babywoods strapped to my chest).
But seriously, don’t bother doing anything else on this list if you don’t know where your money is going every month. I’m telling it like it is, folks. In order to make plans for your money, you’ve got to know what your money is doing. Mr. FW and I recommend Personal Capital for this particular task as it allows you to seamlessly view all of your accounts in one place. It’s free to use and you can sign up here. If you’re curious how we use Personal Capital for our own finances, check out: Why We Don’t Micromanage Our Money.
But whether you use Personal Capital or a notebook or a spreadsheet or an envelope, find a system that works for you to track and review every dollar you spend. This is your first clue as to whether or not your spending is in alignment with your goals. During this uber frugal month, sit down weekly to comb through each line item and ask yourself if you’re happy with everything you spent money on. It’s a fairly simple way of identifying where you can make cuts. And if you have a partner, this is a fabulous joint activity–in fact, Mr. FW and I call these check-ins our finance dates. Oh yes, romance and money come together in this wonderfully frugal activity.
2) Stop going out to eat.
This is a pretty easy one to execute–all’s you need to do is cease and don’t look back. Despite the simplicity of the execution, however, this was probably the toughest thing for Mr. FW and I to give up. We used to dine out about once a week and it had become our default way to treat ourselves (and reward ourselves and celebrate little victories and enjoy time together and eat food… ).
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional meal out, but our weekly habit was draining our dough. And as compared with cooking at home, eating out is an astronomically bad deal. Thus, it had to go. For more on how we managed this total transformation in our eating habits, check out: How We Broke Our Eating Out Habit in 9 Steps (wow was I clever with that title… ).
3) Cancel yo’ cable.
There’s no excuse for paying a cable bill in these halcyon days of free viewing opportunities. Clinging to cable is an epic frugal fail in light of the myriad alternatives. We’ve actually never had cable, but we do watch TV. Impossible you say? Nay, we say! Read all about it: How We Avoid Cable And Watch Free TV Online.
4) No clothes for you.
While my currently two-year long (and counting) ban on buying clothes might be a tad too intense for some folks, try not buying clothes for a shorter period of time (like say, a month. See what I did there?). Clothes are sneaky little things that add up over time and usually aren’t really all that integral to one’s true goals and purpose.
I found that I was buying clothes more as a hobby than a necessity. Definitely a wise thing for me to give up. This one has the auxiliary bonus of reducing clutter and saving time too! Want to read about my clothes buying ban in all its frugal glory? Start with the origin post: Why I’m Not Buying Any Clothes in 2014.
5) Insource all the things.
If you’re paying someone to do stuff for you: cease and desist. Whatever it may be, see if you can do it yourself instead. Mr. FW and I discovered that we could do everything from cut each other’s hair to bathe Frugal Hound to perform our own home repairs. Unsurprisingly, we save a ton by insourcing and, we also accrue the benefits of learning new skills and spending quality time together. With each activity we perform ourselves, we become proficient (or at least passable) in a new trade. We’re not the world’s greatest seamstresses, chefs, hairdressers, or house cleaners, but we do well enough. Insourcing is a way of life, see why here: How Insourcing Strengthened Our Marriage.
6) Let go of perfection; embrace whimsy.
Pursuant to #5, the frugal life is the imperfect–albeit entertaining–life. Nothing about our home, appearance, car (ahem, to put it mildly), or lives is perfect. Our DIY home repairs aren’t going into Better Homes And Gardens (does that even still exist?) and our used baby clothes aren’t all stain-free. But you know what? None of it matters. We live the good life for a fraction of the cost and perfection is a sacrifice I’m willing to make for the reward of retiring early and pursuing my passions. More on the bliss of abandoning the futile quest for perfect: Perfection Is The Enemy Of Frugality
7) Stop paying for beauty.
Per #6, I realized last year that embracing my natural look (which includes acne, frizz hair, and now a post-pregnancy belly), is 1) vastly cheaper, 2) quite liberating, and 3) consumes much less of my precious time each day. The expectations that society levies on women in particular to look a certain way is both annoying and damn expensive. I’m a much happier person now that I just do what I do with regard to my appearance. I don’t pay for haircuts, beauty treatments, make-up, face masks, rare minerals that cure wrinkles, or fancy bathing products. I look the way I look and, for the most part, I think that’s dead sexy (especially right now as I sport pajamas I’ve been wearing for several days and more than a few iterations of baby spit-up). I had a lot to say on this subject a few months back in Less Makeup, More Confidence: My Frugal Beauty Manifesto.
8) If you need it, get it used.
Aside from food and underwear (which some people will surely out-frugal me on), you’re best off getting just about everything used. There’s no discount like the used discount and, there’s usually no shortage of people trying to offload perfectly fabulous items on the cheap.
The used market is rife with the purchasing mistakes of others. Peruse Craigslist, garage sales, Buy Nothing groups, the side of the road, and thrift stores–I can almost guarantee you’ll find what you seek. From furniture to clothes to baby gear to our car, Mr. FW and I live the used life. Even Frugal Hound is second-hand! There are precious few things you truly need to acquire brand new.
Now, to be honest, you shouldn’t actually need to buy anything (other than groceries) during this month of extreme thriftiness, but let’s say that on day 4 of the month, you rip your one and only pair of pants. In this incredibly unusual and unlikely scenario in which you would otherwise be walking around sans pants, buy them used. But short of being pantsless, consider this month a no-shopping zone.
9) Confront your groceries.
Groceries are a mandatory expense, but the amount we spend is most certainly not. Since you’re always going to need them, it’s worth investing the time to investigate and devise a frugal grocery regime. Mr. FW and I scaled our monthly food spending down to $300-$350 total for the two of us by eliminating food waste, embracing leftovers, simplifying our meal plan, buying in bulk, and focusing on fresh, non-packaged products. We didn’t sacrifice taste or health in the process, we just trimmed the proverbial fat. Curious what we eat? Here are the answers you seek: Our Frugal Grocery List Revealed.
10) Find a new hobby.
Shopping is not a hobby. Or at least, it’s not a good one. If you find yourself turning to spending when you’re stressed, bored, upset, or in need of a lift, devote energy this month to developing a hobby that doesn’t revolve around the outlay of cash. Find something that fulfills you and that you can rely on when you’re in a funk. For us, yoga, hiking, reading, writing, cooking, and sundry other pursuits round out our retinue of hobbies. Discover what you love and pursue it with élan.
11) Drive less; bike/walk/snowshoe more.
Reducing your dependency on vehicular transport is a stellar way to save in the arenas of gasoline and perhaps even a car bill. Could you do with one less car? Or possibly no car at all? Mr. FW and I prefer to keep Frugalwoods-mobile around, but we aim to drive as infrequently as possible. Plus, no car payment on our 19-year-old beast makes driving a pretty frugal enterprise. And, Mr. FW makes biking a year-round endeavor; see how in The Ultimate Bike Commuter’s Guide to Winter Cycling.
12) Seek out free entertainment.
Stop paying for entertainment. Full stop. I’m not proposing you give up all forms of amusement, merely those that charge. A $0 entertainment budget is more feasible than one might initially assume. Innovation and a willingness to try new things go a long way towards eliminating this line item. Mr. FW and I have discovered a few hacks for getting our kicks on the cheap.
13) Do something fun-n-frugal with friends, family, or greyhounds.
Part of enjoying frugality and making it a lifelong habit is realizing that you can socialize with your friends while maintaining your boss thrift status. During your uber frugal month, commit to hosting a potluck and board game night, or finding a free outdoor festival, or going on a hike, or hitting up a museum on free day.
Frugality (at least my version of it) is not about eating beans from a can in the dark to save electricity. It’s about living a delightfully creative existence that shuns the notion that spending money is the only way to bring excitement into your life. For ideas, check this out: Maintaining Friendships And Frugality.
Go Forth And Frugal!
Any one of these decisions has the power and ability to save you money. But beyond just the financial considerations, this is the roadmap to a different sort of life–one that isn’t reliant on spending money in order to achieve happiness and your own version of the good life.
See what happens when you step outside of your spending comfort zone and confront your money in a novel way. Abandon the notion that frugality is deprivation and instead embrace the concept that frugality can transform your life in positive and uplifting ways.