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The Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips For Frugal Living

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta

By Leo Babauta

Confession time: I’m a cheapskate. Some would say frugal, which
sounds much more positive, but in reality I can be a real cheapskate.

I am fairly frugal (though not always), but sometimes I take it too far:
I have T-shirts with holes in them, I never buy new clothes, we’re
shopping for a new couch because our current one has holes in it, and I
ran my current pair of running shoes until the soles fell off.

However, I have gradually learned to be frugal in many ways that I
would recommend to others. I don’t think you should have holes in your
couch, and you should definitely replace your running shoes more often
than I do, but there are many ways to cut back on spending and live a
more frugal lifestyle.

Why live frugally? First, because it allows you to
spend less than you earn, and use the difference to pay off debt, save
or invest. Or all three. Second, because the less you spend, the less
you need to earn. And that means you can choose to work less, or work
more but retire early. Or take mini retirements. You have more options
with a frugal lifestyle.

I know what I’m going to hear in the comments, because it’s been done
repeatedly with my other frugal articles: I have no life. This is
boring. I might as well live in a box. You have to enjoy life sometimes.

All of which you might believe, but I believe I do have a life. A
great one. One where I spend time with my family, where I have
conversations and read and get outside and do things that are fun and
exercise and focus on what’s important and spend my free time the way I
want. This is a good life. 

So, if you’d like some tips on frugal living, here are just a few,
from a cheapskate. I should note that I do most, but not all, of these

  1. Go with one car. Many families have two or more
    cars. Besides your house, your car is probably your most expensive
    item. If you can do with one, you should. My wife and I both work, and
    we have six kids, and yet we have learned to manage with one car.
  2. Go with a smaller house. Just because you can
    afford a larger house, doesn’t mean you should live in one. Live in as
    small a house as you can and still be comfortable. I don’t mean you
    should live in a one-room apartment with a family of four … you know
    what I mean. You can save thousands a year with a smaller house. Many
    times, if you get rid of a lot of clutter, you don’t need a large house.
  3. Go with a smaller car. Again, you can save
    thousands by going with a smaller car. A car instead of an SUV, for
    example, is a big savings. Be comfortable, but don’t overdo it. You’ll
    save a lot on gas this way too.
  4. Rent rather than own. This will probably spark a
    huge debate, as it always does. The thing is, just don’t assume that
    buying is the better investment. If you calculate the interest you pay
    on a mortgage, the cost of insurance and maintenance, buying is often
    much more costly than renting … and if you rent, save money, and then
    invest the difference, you can actually end up well ahead in the long
    run. Now, it’s not a given, so do a comparison, factoring in all
  5. Look for used first. If you need something — I
    mean really need it, not just want it — see if someone you know has one
    that they don’t use or need anymore. Send out an email to family or
    friends, or just ask around. You might be surprised. I was about to buy
    a printer, and then found out my mom just bought a laser printer and
    didn’t need her old inkjet … saving me close to 100 smackeroos. If no
    one you know owns one, try or Then look
    to buy used, at garage sales or thrift shops. You can find a bargain if
    you look around.
  6. Eat out less. One of the biggest expenses in our
    daily lives is eating out — the average person spends well over $2,000
    a year on eating out. Restaurants are expensive, including fast-food
    (not to mention the health hazards). It’s much cheaper to cook your own
    food. Our family creates a weekly menu, then we buy the groceries, and
    cook dinner (and lunch) each evening. Lately I’ve even been prepping it
    in the morning, so it’s a snap when we get home.
  7. Eat out frugally. If you do eat out, check out these money-saving tips.
  8. Brown bag it to work. Instead of eating out for lunch, bring your lunch.
  9. Adopt a minimalist wardrobe. This tip won’t be for
    everybody, but I try for a minimalist wardrobe. I generally wear jeans
    or casual pants, a T-shirt or Polo-type shirt, and sandals or shoes.
    Plain, solid colors are my favorite. Everything goes with everything
    else, and I don’t have too many clothes. This saves me the stress of
    picking out an outfit, and I don’t need as many clothes.
  10. Stop online impulse buys. This was a problem for
    me before I canceled my credit card. I used to buy online a couple of
    times a week. Now I buy maybe once every couple of months, using PayPal
    or someone else’s credit card. I’m not saying you have to go to this
    extreme, but realize that online buying can be way too easy (you don’t
    even have to go to a store) and therefore, we make too many impulse
    buys. Buy online if you really need something and it’ll save you money,
    but beware the impulse buy. See 30-day list tip below.
  11. Don’t shop. Don’t go to the mall or other shopping
    area or department store to look around and shop. Go to a store if you
    know what you need, and then get out. Many times people go shopping,
    with a vague idea of what they want, and get caught up buying much
    more. Or they go just for fun, as a form of entertainment. That ends up
    costing a lot. It can really add up. Instead, stay away from shopping
    areas and find other ways to have fun (more below).
  12. Use a 30-day list. To curb impulse buys, create a
    30-day list. When you want to buy something, other than a true
    necessity (medicine or food, for example), put it on this list, with
    the date you added it to the list. And make it a rule that you can’t
    buy anything for at least 30 days after you put it on the list. And
    stick to it. You’ll find that you buy a lot less with this system.
  13. Cut out cable.  It saves me money every month (in my area,
    about $60, or more than $700 a year), and also forces me to do things
    like read and have conversations and go outside. Win win.
  14. Use the library. Instead of buying books, check
    them out. The library often also has a great selection of DVDs
    (depending on your area), saving you even more. Now who needs cable?
  15. Find free entertainment. Find cheap ways to have
    fun. Entertainment often ends up costing a lot of money, if you go to
    the movies, buy concessions, or go out at night, go to the bar, etc.
    The average person spends about $1,800 a year on entertainment (not
    including eating out). Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun … but
    there are cheaper ways to do it. Here’s a frugal family’s fun and cheap weekend.
  16. Frugal exercise. Exercise is important, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are some tips.
  17. Stay healthy. Easier said than done, I know, but
    staying healthy can save you tons of money on doctor’s visits, hospital
    bills, and medicine over the long run. An ounce of prevention, and all
    that. Eat healthily, and exercise. Simple and effective.
  18. Commute by bike. Even if you own a car, commuting by bike will save you gas, and get you in shape at the same time. I highly recommend it.
  19. Carpool or ride the bus. OK, you don’t want to
    bike it. So find a friend or neighbor who works near you, and arrange a
    carpool. Or take public transportation. Simple advice, but something a
    lot of people ignore.
  20. Walk. Often we drive to the corner store, or to a
    school that’s less than a mile away. Leave a few minutes early, walk,
    burn some calories, and save gas.
  21. Sell your clutter. This is not so much saving
    money as making it, but the frugal, simplifying cheapskate, like
    myself, will want to declutter and make a few bucks doing it. Hold a
    garage sale or sell it on eBay. It’s amazing what some people will buy.
    See the Simple Dollar’s post on this.
  22. Frugal gifting. Gifts can cost a lot of money over
    the course of a year. Look for ways to do it cheaply. Make a gift, or
    give a consummable. My family enjoys getting and giving cookies, for
    example. Here are some ideas.
  23. Quit smoking. Not the easiest way to save, I know.
    It’s hard. But I did it, and so have many, many others. Not only will
    you save on cigarettes (which are expensive over the long run), but
    also associated costs (I used to buy a soda or beer to go with my
    cigarettes) … and of course the huge, long-term medical costs. In less
    than 2 years of not smoking, I’ve saved well more than $3,000. 
  24. Alcohol in moderation. If you drink one beer or a
    few beers a day, that adds up to big money each month. Some drink even
    more than that. It’s expensive. If you can cut your drinking to the
    occasional party, and once in awhile with friends (not all the time),
    you’ll save tons.
  25. Sweets in moderation. Desserts and sweet snacks
    give us lots of calories with no nutrition. And we pay a premium price
    for that, in dollars and in our deteriorating health. Cut back on
    sweets (don’t eliminate them entirely of course) to save money and cut
  26. Drink water. Often we drink lots of calories
    through sodas, coffee, alcohol, juices, tea, etc. And that costs a lot
    too. Drink water, save money, save calories. Here are some tips for forming the water habit.
  27. Batch your errands. Instead of running an errand
    or two every day, batch them into one errand day, and plan your most
    efficient route, to save gas and time. Also do as much bill-paying
    online as possible, to eliminate some errands.
  28. Stay home. Becoming a homebody might not sound
    like a lot of fun, but it really can be. I love staying home with my
    family. We can do all kinds of fun things at home. Or I can spend a day
    alone, if the family is at school, and really enjoy it. It’s quiet and
    peaceful, I can read or watch a good movie or respond to comments on my
    blog or write. Staying home can save tons, in eating out expenses,
    shopping expenses, gas, and incidentals.
  29. Stop using credit cards. Credit cards are not
    evil. And before you flame me, once again, I realize that they can be
    used to good purpose. If that’s how you use them, then that’s good,
    skip this tip. For others, credit cards make buying too easy, and end
    up making them buy too much.Not only that, but if you don’t pay your
    bill in full each month, they will cost you a lot in interest. The
    average American with at least 1 credit card has more than $8,500 in
    credit card debt. Don’t make that mistake. Here’s my story.
  30. Cancel subscriptions. With the wealth of
    information and entertainment online, do you really need magazine
    subscriptions? With all the news online, do you really need a newspaper
    subscription? If you can get DVDs for free or cheap,
    do you really need a Netflix subscription? Don’t flame me if you think
    you do need any of these — I’m just asking you to consider whether
    they’re really essential — the answer might be yes. Also consider other
    subscriptions you might be paying for — I’m not saying you should
    cancel everything, but seriously consider whether they can be canceled
    without much loss of value. 
  31. Make your own. I won’t go into all the
    possibilities here, but many times we buy things when really, we could
    make them ourselves for much cheaper if we get a little creative. Now,
    this might take a little more time and effort, but it can be fun,
    especially if you make it a family project. We recently made our own
    (very simple) bookshelves with only a couple of pieces of lumber,
    instead of buying them. If you don’t know how to make something, search
    for it online. You’ll most likely find some instructions.
  32. Do it yourself. Instead of hiring someone to do
    something, try doing it yourself. Sure, it takes some time and effort,
    but it’s satisfying, and of course cheaper. It’s also educational, if
    you don’t know how to do it — again, do an online search, read up on
    it, and give it a go. Frugality freaks are DIYers.
  33. Stop paying interest. I mentioned the interest of credit cards, and auto loans, and mortgages. I consider them a waste of money. I’ve talked about how to live without credit before,
    and I recommend it for a frugal lifestyle. Consider any other accounts
    or loans where you pay interest, and see if you can eventually
    eliminate as much of these as possible.
  34. Reduce convenience foods. Frozen foods,
    microwaveable stuff, junk food … anything that’s packaged and prepared
    for our convenience is not only more expensive than something you cook
    yourself, but also most likely less healthy. I’m not saying to
    eliminate these completely, but reduce consumption.
  35. Travel frugally. I actually don’t travel (or
    haven’t for years), but if you do have to travel, some advance planning
    can save you money. Airfare is most expensive, usually, so look to buy
    your ticket in advance, and look for deals. Also consider train travel.
    Shop around for car rental rates, as they can vary greatly (or use
    public transportation). Look for cheaper accommodations, or stay with a
    friend or relative. Just a note: I do plan to travel, but not until I
    finally eliminate all of my debt.
  36. Cut the cell phone. This will not be a popular
    suggestion either. If you don’t like it, move on to the next one. It’s
    not for everybody. But think about this: 20 years ago, most people
    didn’t have cell phones. And miraculously, they survived. A cell phone
    is not a necessity. It’s a convenience. When people needed to make a
    call, 20 years ago, they either waited until they got to a destination
    (wait to make a phone call?! omg!), or pulled over and used a pay phone
    or a phone in a business establishment.
  37. Cut your own hair. Again, this one isn’t for
    everybody. Personally, I use electric clippers to shave my head. It’s
    easy, it’s cheap, it’s minimalist, it’s care-free. I don’t worry about
    my hair getting messed up, or having to fix it in the morning. However,
    I’m not saying you should shave your head. Many people cut their own
    hair, in many simple but nice hairstyles, long or short. Saves money,
    and time.
  38. Maintain stuff. This is a no-brainer, but we don’t
    often think about it: if you take care of what you have, it will last
    longer. You’ll then spend less on buying new stuff. When you buy
    something worth maintaining, take a few minutes to read the maintenance
    manual, and create a maintenance checklist that you can attach to the
    item. For important things like your car’s oil changes or tune-ups, put
    them in your calendar.
  39. Save energy. There are little things we can do to
    lower our power bill. I don’t use a dryer or hot water heater, although
    those are a little extreme. Try these tips.
  40. Save gas. With the rising price of gas (and no end
    in sight), fuel has become a major monthly expense for many people.
    Small things can add up to big savings. Try these tips.
  41. Only buy bargain clothing (when you need clothes).
    OK, so you’re a cheapskate like me who only buys clothes when the old
    clothes have too many arm or leg holes. But now you need new clothing.
    I mean really need it. So instead of buying new, look for thrift shops
    with good clothes. Or buy new, but only buy the stuff that’s 50% off.
    Look for the bargains, and you’ll save a ton.
  42. Telecommute. Telecommuting doesn’t necessarily
    give you your dream job, but it’s definitely a step in the right
    direction. But in addition to allowing you to work in your underwear
    (and who doesn’t have that dream?), telecommuting saves money on gas,
    on eating out (if you eat lunch at a restaurant), and on buying
    expensive work clothes (all you need to buy is underwear, right? And
    no, don’t buy used underwear).
  43. Plan ahead. Sure, easy to say, hard to implement.
    But if you make it a habit to think ahead to things that are coming up
    in your life, you can save a lot of money. For example, if you think
    about where you’re going to get your meals when you go out to do
    errands, you can pack a lunch or dinner instead of eating out. If you
    pack a big container of iced water, you don’t need to buy expensive
    bottled water. If you know that a birthday is coming up, you can buy a
    gift on sale instead of spending more at the last minute.
  44. Cook ahead. If you have one free day a week (or
    even a month), cook food in big batches and freeze in dinner-sized
    portions. I don’t do this all the time, but I have done it and it saves
    money (buying big can often save) as well as time. You have to plan it
    out a bit, coming up with a menu and shopping, cooking enough meals for
    a week or a month. But once you’re done, your meals each night (and for
    lunch if you like) are quick and easy. This saves you from eating out
    or eating convenience food when you’re hungry but too tired to cook.
  45. Wash clothes less. Some people wear clothes and
    then wash them, but I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing my clothes
    more than once if they’re not really dirty. I use my nose as a test — I
    don’t want to wear clothes that smell, but most times the clothes are
    still perfectly clean. This saves on washing.
  46. Sun-dry clothes. When my parents were young,
    everyone used a clothesline to dry clothes. Now dryers are ubiquitous,
    because they’re fast. But if you don’t wash a ton of clothes, it’s not
    that hard to take a few minutes to hang them up. You’ll save a lot in
    electricity, plus your clothes last longer.
  47. Eat less meat. I’m not saying you have to become a vegetarian, but once in awhile, eat meatless dishes. Pasta, vegetarian chili,
    vegetarian Indian or Thai dishes, falafels with hummus and pitas and
    tomatoes and lettuce … there are plenty of tasty dishes without meat.
    And as meat is expensive (well, the fresh kind is … Spam is cheap),
    you’ll save money on meatless dishes. Again, I’m assuming you cook with
    fresh meat, not canned.
  48. Save on groceries. For my family of eight, groceries is a major expense. With some simple habits, we’ve been able to save a lot of money. See more here.
  49. Frugal Christmas. Christmas is expensive,
    especially in America (if you live in an area that doesn’t celebrate
    Christmas with a huge amount of buying, or doesn’t celebrate it at all,
    skip this tip). People go on crazy shopping gorges. It’s insane. While
    it makes the retailers and manufacturers happy, it doesn’t make our
    bank accounts happy. Break out of the cycle and find cheaper ways to
    celebrate Christmas. Here are some great ways to do that, and here are some more.
  50. Eat a cheap breakfast. Here are some great ones.

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