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Frugality and deprivation are not synonymous. It’s plenty possible to be frugal without depriving yourself. In my personal life, I have found the perfect balance between spending and happiness.
From the outside, it looks like I’m living just the same as everyone else, but instead of spending every penny I earn, I save 85% of my income. I’m not staying in every weekend, I’m not eating a ramen noodle diet, and I’m certainly not skipping out on vacations.
In this post, I’ll showcase real examples of how I am able to remain frugal without sacrificing my happiness. Frugality is not about deprivation.
How to be Frugal with Food
Baking frugality into your eating habits (pun intended) doesn’t mean eating ramen noodles every meal. There are plenty of cost-cutting techniques that won’t move the needle on your happiness meter.
How to be Frugal at Restaurants
I don’t eat at restaurants too often, but probably around 2-3 times per month. Most of the time it’s a social event where I’m eating out with friends or going on a date with my girlfriend, Lauren.
We typically order an appetizer to share for $10-15 and stick with just water. Once we get home, we’ll make some food if we’re hungry and drink a cocktail (or several). On a night like this, we still enjoy the social aspect of going out to a restaurant but at a fraction of the cost.
Our cost: $15 appetizer + $4 tip = $19
Typical cost: $15 meal + $15 meal + $10 drink + $10 drink + $12 tip = $62
Monthly Savings: ($62-$19) x 3 times per month = $123
Annual Savings: $123 x 12 = $1476
I am certainly not saying that you can NEVER go out to eat and order some nice meals with some drinks, but it’s important to understand the financial consequences. If you’re going out with friends just for the social aspect, share an appetizer and order water!
How to be Frugal with Groceries
As a general rule of thumb, I like to aim for $30 per person per week for my grocery budget. If you have a family of 4, then you should spend no more than $120 per week on groceries. For a couple, you’re looking at a $60 weekly grocery budget.
In order to hit this target, I use several cost-cutting techniques.
- Buy meat in bulk (while it’s on sale). If there’s a crazy deal on chicken this week (I look for $0.99 to $1.49 per pound), then stock up and freeze what you can’t cook!
- Stick to a list. I use the AnyList app and share it with my girlfriend. That way, we can keep a consistent shopping list and always have a general idea of how much we plan to spend in a given week.
- Use apps like iBotta to get money back on select purchases. You may only earn $5 to $10 back each trip, but this savings adds up over time.
Targeted Weekly Grocery Spend for Couples: $60
Average Weekly Grocery Spend for Couples: $100
Monthly Savings: ($100-$60) x 4 weeks per month = $160
Annual Savings: $160 x 12 = $1,920
*Pro Tip: Serve your meals on smaller plates. Studies have shown that this helps to prevent overeating.
Additionally, try preparing your meals in bulk. This will save you time later in the week and ultimately reduce the number of times you have to cook.
How to be Frugal with Alcohol
As a guy in my early 20s, the bars are a frequent destination for social interaction. With that being said, I typically go to the bars 4-6 times per month.
If you’re only going out for purely social interaction, then you probably don’t spend too much on drinks anyway. However, if your aim is to get drunk, the bar is most definitely NOT your most cost-effective option.
Before you head out to the bar, drink a couple of mixed drinks, beers, or even a handful of shots if you prefer! Alcohol served at bars is typically marked up more than 500% over the equivalent at-home price. (Note: Do NOT drink and drive. I typically always have a designated driver and if not, I’ll call and Uber or Lyft)
Let’s assume a person typically spends $50 out at the bar and goes out twice per month. What happens when this same individual pre-games and reduces his or her cost down to $10 per bar visit?
With Pre-gaming: $10
Without Pre-gaming: $50
Monthly Savings: ($50-$10) x 2 times per month = $80
Annual Savings: $80 x 12 = $960
*Pro Tip: Pitchers of beer are one of the most cost-effective drinks to order at a bar.
I have definitely saved myself thousands of dollars by pre-gaming instead of buying all of my drinks out. These frugal habits may seem insignificant, but they can have huge impacts on your financial life over the long run. I love going out to the bars with my friends and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Frugality and fun can co-exist!
How to be Frugal on Vacation
I love to travel. This past year, I spent 5 months in Australia, several weeks in Florida, a couple days in Washington DC, and went on a bunch of little weekend trips scattered throughout the year.
I don’t think that you should cut out the things that you enjoy just to save a few bucks. Instead, you should figure out how to do those same activities for way less money.
Airline Travel Rewards
A little over two years ago, I stumbled into the world of travel rewards. At first, I thought it was a scam. Why would airlines practically give away free flights just for strategically using credit cards?
Two years later and I don’t remember the last time I paid full price for a flight. Once you realize how you can take advantage of travel rewards, you’ll be kicking yourself for not figuring it out sooner.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stay at The Four Seasons and spend $300+ per night while you’re on vacation. There are so many more cost-effective options!
One of my favorite ways to save money on accommodation is to book a place on a home-sharing site. On these platforms, you can book a house, entire apartment, or maybe just a room (depending on your needs and comfort level). These options are sometimes 80% cheaper than their hotel counterparts. Plus, there are ways to couple them with travel rewards for even more cost savings.
Airbnb: I typically recommend Airbnb since it is the most commonly used home-sharing platform in the world. The platform is incredibly easy to use and there are Airbnb locations within driving distance of any settled location. If you want to earn $40 in Airbnb credit you can sign up by clicking here.
Homestay: Although there are certainly fewer listings here than on Airbnb, you can find some great deals here for hosted accommodation. Unlike Airbnb, the host is always home, so if you’re in a new area or country this might be a great option to learn more about the culture and things to do in the area. If you want to check out Homestay you can sign up here.
People who travel frequently or who have multiple homes are often looking for people to maintain those homes. This could include taking care of pets, watering plants, and other general household chores. My friends Brittnay and Jayden actually do this full-time; if you want to get started house sitting now, check out their trusted house sitters review!
You can literally find places all around the world to stay for free! Neither party is paid, but there is a diligent vetting process to make sure that the owner and the house sitter are both well protected. Although I personally haven’t used any of these platforms, I have many friends who use them regularly.
The most popular sites are Trusted House Sitters and House Sitters America. So, if you’re a frequent traveler looking to cut down accommodation costs, this could be a fantastic option.
Family and Friends
You know when you see Uncle Steve every year during the holidays and he tells you that you can stay at his place in Alaska whenever you want, but you just can’t ever seem to find the time? Take him up on it!
I have cashed in countless “come stay with me whenever you want”s which probably add up to several thousand dollars. I’m actually writing this post on the plane ride back from Florida where my girlfriend Lauren and I stayed with Jimmy and Jenny from Living Life Loving Us for free all week (thanks again, guys)!
As long as you’re not incredibly high maintenance and needy, your family and friends would probably be happy to host you for several days. Before you go booking an expensive hotel, think about who you know that might live around the area.
Accommodation Cost Savings
Let’s assume the average family spends $2,000 per year in vacation accommodation.
If you cut this figure in half using Airbnb or Homestay, that’s an extra $1,000 in your pocket.
If you land a house sitting job or a free stay with Uncle Steve, this could completely eliminate your vacation accommodation cost and save you $2,000!
Annual Cost Savings: $1,000 – $2,000+
Frugality Can Be Fun!
I don’t feel deprived in any way, shape or form. From the outside, it hardly looks like I’m doing anything differently than everybody else!
It’s the small, intentional choices that really do make all the difference. As I’ve highlighted throughout this post, these seemingly marginal cost-saving techniques can help to save you thousands of dollars every year.
If you’re like me and want to drastically increase your savings rate without diminishing your quality of life, try out some of these strategies for yourself.
I certainly didn’t cover every single frugal tip in this post, but I wanted to highlight the “frugality without deprivation” philosophy through my own personal anecdotes.
If you have any fun, frugal tips that I missed, please share in the comments below!
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