Living Frugal: How to Get the Most From What You Have

Frugal living is something I’ve gone over before in this blog. Hailing from New England, being frugal is one of our defining characteristics. I’m not sure where we picked up this trait, the thrifty Yankee, but it’s true of most of the people I know. So in todays post, I’d like to go over some of the ways I practice being frugal and the benefits it’s had in my life. But first, why be frugal?

The Goal for Living Frugally

Why am I choosing to live the frugal life? The main reason is, because I had poor money management skills when I was in early adulthood. Without any guidance in handling my budget, I was constantly broke and living paycheck to paycheck. I had no plan for retirement and I didn’t have any career goals. I hadn’t really given my future any thought, asides from working to make a pay check. This was an unsustainable way of living. And one that got me in just about 130K in debt.

Without a plan on how I was going to support myself in retirement, I was banking on social security to pay for all of my expenses. And on top of that, I didn’t have any idea on what my expenses were going to look like. I was clueless when it came to planning for my future. But things started to change around the time I decided to pay off my debt. Both credit cards and student loans and start living on a budget.

Planning for My Future

When I started looking at my future with more serious intent, I also found Dave Ramsey, and his baby steps to getting out of debt and saving for retirement. This was a God send, because I had absolutely no idea, or direction on what I needed and where to go for help.

Through Dave, I learned how to pay off my debt, how to plan for emergencies by having an emergency fund and also how to start paying into retirement. So I’ll be ready and able to pay the bills when I stop working. All things that weren’t on my radar not to long ago.

Currently, I’m in the middle of switching jobs. This is a little scary. Starting out somewhere completely new. But I’m also excited for the change. Partially because the place I’m planning to work for has a 401k option, with a match. This is the first time I’ll be working for a place that matches, but I wouldn’t have even known to take advantage of this benefit, if I hadn’t put the work into understanding my financial goals for my future. Getting a match on a 401k is equivalent to getting a raise for paying into your future. So along with other lifestyle changes, paying into retirement is a fundamental part of my planning : )

Living the Good Life

I know it seems counterintuitive, to live under my means in order to live my best life. Usually when you think about living the good life, images of pouring bubbly all over naked women while flying in a private jet comes to mind. But for me, living the good life means something different. Living debt free is one of it’s key elements. As is finding a loving, caring and beautiful wife. Both of which don’t cost any money. After those, everything else is just gravy.

I’d love to own my own house someday. Here’s a link to what I imagine my future bedroom might look like : ) Somewhere in the greener part of the state. Near hiking trails and a place to have a firepit with outdoor space. A place where family and friends can gather and celebrate, eat and cook or just relax. We can enjoy each other’s company, conversation and pursue what we find most interesting. This is what being frugal means for me. And this is what living a frugal life can yield. A well lived life.

So if you’re looking to cut back on your spending, but you don’t want to compromise on the quality of your life, then you’re going to want to find out what your priorities are. What brings you joy? What are the elements of your life that won’t cost much, but bring you a sense of ease, joy and peace? What are the emotional states you want to be cultivating? These are the questions that will lead you to why you want to live your best, frugal life.

Cultivating a Frugal Life

Once you’ve found your why, your dream, then it’s easy to start pairing down expenses. The best place to do this is in a budget. A lot of people will tell you that you need to start saving by cutting things out of your budget. This is true. However first, I found it helpful to track my spending. This way, I know exactly what to cut and why. I use Mint, Everydollar and a written budget for this task.

Once I began tracking my spending, I saw where my money was going. This had the added bonus of also allowing me to see what I valued. For me, I was spending up to $750 on groceries a month. And it’s no secret that I enjoy eating. But in knowing that food and eating was where the bulk of my money was going each month, I could come up with a plan to adjust without sacrificing what I loved. Let me show you how I use these tools to cultivate frugality.

Mint

Mint is a great tool for getting a handle on your spending. With Mint, you can put your banks, along with the cards that you use to make purchases, all in one place. It will automatically generate your transactions and corelate them by date. This way, you can get a view of your spending all in one place. As well as account balances and loan balances you have.

There are some small adjustments I make. For example, when I go over my transactions, to make sure I don’t miss my spending that’s auto-drafted from my accounts, I change the title of the transaction. I also categorize each transaction into the appropriate section of my budget. This way I can see each category and how much I’ve spent.

Everydollar

I use Everydollar in a similar way to Mint. The difference is, that I enter each transaction manually. This is handy for helping me catch transactions that are paid for in cash. Also I’m able to see how much I’ve spent in each category before I make the purchase. This helps to keep me on budget when I’m out. Though I could be better about this aspect. Of not going over budget.

Here is also where I make each category for my budget. It has a tally that adds up your projected income and let’s you know when you’re over budget in categories. Or how much you have left to throw at your goals. This is how I calculate how much money I can pay towards my student loans each month.

Written Budget

My written budget is something that I’ve come to enjoy making. This is where I get a chance to create my goals and track them, for sure. But it also gives my process my own personal touch. I create my categories, decide how much I’ll be spending for the month and all in a layout that is visually appealing. This may seem like an unnecessary step when you’re dealing with something as cold as numbers, but to me, it’s so much more.

For example, my food budget, the one I was struggling with for so long. By taking my time on deciding how much I’m spending, $250 now, I made the choice to set aside a small amount for my self care meals, now that I’m at a more reasonable monthly allotment. I also plan my meals more diligently. With my budget in mind, while I’m choosing my meals for the up coming month, I’m not cutting back on the variety of dishes I’m making for myself. Only the amount I’m spending. I know exactly how many potatoes I need when I go shopping. So no more extra produce waiting to get tossed into the compost when they don’t get used.

Prioritize

So not only am I spending less in my budget, I’ve also found which items bring me the most joy. Cooking being my number one. I’m now planning my meals more intentionally, while also setting aside some funds specifically so I can enjoy some of what I value the most. This is how I’m able to reign in my budget and also set my priorities on what’s important. Here’s a link to Minimalist Baker’s suggestions for budget friendly meals if you also value food and you’re looking for some inspo.

Other Areas for the Frugal Minded

Once you find what you want to spend your money on and focus on what brings you the most joy, it’s not so difficult in finding other areas to save. One that I’ll be tackling soon is how I run my household. Mostly when it comes to cleaning supplies and the elements that really make my house feel like a home. You can save a bunch of money in these areas. But it all depends on how much time you’re willing to spend to do so. Let’s take a look at some of what I’m planning to get into.

DIY Cleaning Supplies

I’ve wanted to make my own cleaners for a while. I can’t remember where I heard this, so don’t quote me, but I remember that a majority of the cleaners we use, we’re mostly paying for the water content in the cleaner. For example, most liquid laundry detergents are something like 80% water. Again, I’m not 100% on this so don’t quote me. But it seems like we can do better than buying a jug of mostly water to clean our belongings. Here is a list of a few of the detergents/cleaners I plan on making.

Laundry Detergent

Speaking of laundry detergent, this is the first cleaner I want to start making. The ingredient are basic, washing soda, Borax and 100% castile soap. I believe the measurements are 2 cups each soda and borax to one cup grated castile bar soap. You can get roughly 6 cups from a box each of soda and Borax, 12 cups total, which costs roughly 12$. And three bars of castile soap costs about 9$. The recipe I’m using suggests to use between one and two tablespoons per load. So if we split the difference and use 1.5 tablespoons for a moderate sized load, that’s 180 loads for 15$. A comparable name brand gets 64 loads for close to 16$ and a less expensive brand gets about 150 loads for just under 15$.

It may not seem like much, but if you add up the amount of laundry you do over a life’s time, you can save a bunch. You’re saving about three dollars a bottle on the cheap stuff, and ten dollars on the name brand detergent. Also, you can customize your detergent too. By adding essential oils to make your laundry, feel more cozy. More you. Here’s the recipe to the detergent I’m using for my calculations.

All-Purpose Cleaner

This one is especially cheap and easy to make. All you need is an opaque spray bottle, some hydrogen peroxide and a few essential oils. The recipe, also from DIY Natural, contains four ingredients and costs just around two dollars to make.

First, you’ll need an opaque spray bottle. This is because hydrogen peroxide loses its cleaning and sterilizing powers when exposed to sunlight. Once you have the spray bottle at the ready, you’ll need 3% hydrogen peroxide, 16 ounces, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon essential oil, 1/2 teaspoon of lavender essential oil and 1/8 teaspoon of peppermint essential oil. Pour all the ingredients into the spray bottle and shake to combine. That’s it. Easy peasy.

There’s research that suggests that some essential oils act as antimicrobial and as disinfectants. All the more reason to add these guys into the mix. And you can change the scent of your cleaner to correspond with the seasons. Or maybe you have a fave scent. A few of my favorites are, geranium, rose and jasmine and balsam fir. This is a chance for you to do you. Because after all, it’s your world, we’re just living in it ; )

Frugal Round Up

I’ve written other posts on saving money on this blog. But this is the first time I’ve attempted to adapt saving money and being frugal as a lifestyle. Also while emphasizing that just because you’re saving money, doesn’t mean you’re giving up what’s important to you. Something that’s helped me to find what really matters to me is, I don’t listen to advertisements anymore.

My family is in the habit of muting the TV when commercials come on. I didn’t realize how much of an effect this had on me until one day while I was watching a show, no one was around to mute the commercials and I found myself glued to the screen. Sucked in by the lights and ridiculous ploys for attention that have been researched and weaponized to make you want to spend your money. It makes me feel a bit uneasy to think of the experience now. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re probably desensitized to the phenomenon. So try muting the commercials for a month, install an ad blocker on your devises and see how you feel. The worst thing that could happen is you spend less money and feel better about what you already have. Win, win.

I’ll be posting more on frugal living as I cultivate more frugal habits. Also, another great source for living the frugal life is another blog, The Frugalwoods. So check them out if you have the chance. I hope I’ve helped some of you on your frugal journey a bit and if you have any tips about living the good, frugal life, let me know in the comments section below. And, as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Good Life” by dollen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

No Buy August: Using What’s In Your Cabinets to Save Money

I’ve been struggling to save money on my grocery bill for a long time. Actually, probably my entire adult life. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first” you’ll know that I’ve written about this before and that I use to spend upwards to $700 a month on my grocery bill. This is crazy to me now, especially considering I am still in student loan debt. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve pared my grocery bill down to a mere $265 a month, but I still have a stock pile of food in my pantry.

So with the intent to save money on my grocery bill, while also utilizing the groceries I already have in my pantry, I’m starting a “No Buy August”. This effort is mostly to help reign in my overspending, while also addressing my food hording problem. Hopefully when I’m done, I will have an empty pantry just waiting to be filled with fresh, new foods.

I’m starting this journey in August, but this post will probably be published sometime in mid-late August. You can start this challenge anytime you like. It just so happens that I was $125 over my grocery budget in July and wanted to do something about it next month. Hope you’ll Join me : )

The Goals, Save Money, Use Up Old Food Items

In recent months, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been much better about my grocery buying habits. That being said, I still have a jar of potato starch that has been in my pantry for a few years. I most likely bought it for one recipe and used it ONLY for that recipe. Then the rest has been sitting in my pantry, waiting for the day it will be put back in the game.

So the first step for me was, to go through my cabinets and find what needs to be used. I started with some easy ingredients. I have two jars of shitake mushrooms that need using. So it looks as though vegetable ramen and risotto with caramelized shitake mushrooms will be on the menu. Risotto is another ingredient that made the list as well which means I’m finishing off two ingredients with that recipe.

So ingredient by ingredient, I’m going through my pantry, finding what needs to be used. Then I take those items, go to my favorite recipe sites and search their site by ingredient. A pretty straight forward plan. Full disclosure, I did go a little over my food budget this month knowing that I wouldn’t be going to the grocery store next month at all if things go as planned. I made a Costco run and got a few extra items at Market Basket in preparation. But it’ll be worth it to save almost 2/3 of my grocery bill next month. Money that will go straight to paying off my student loans : )

Search for Recipes, AKA Plan Ahead

The next step for me was, to look up recipes I had with the limited amount of ingredients I had on hand. I use Minimalist Baker’s site for most of my recipes. But Love & Lemons is also a great site and one my boss swears by. But cooking is as unique as the individual. So find a site you like. Or maybe you have a favorite cookbook or some family recipes. The point is to find what makes you happy. Cook from a book, site or recipe that you know you’ll enjoy the food you make.

Yeah, we want to save money, but we also want to enjoy what we’re eating. So searching for recipes by finding your favorite recipe sites and cookbooks is essential to making cooking for yourself an enjoyable experience that you want to keep coming back to. For example, I have my grandmother’s baked beans recipe that I’ve been making for years. I had to make them vegetarian, but they’re something I keep coming back to.

Also, I have a few staples from the restaurants I’ve worked at in the past. Recently I’ve been making a black bean soup recipe that I picked up in a Mexican place I’ve worked. I got the idea from Dave Ramsey when he says to eat, “beans and rice, rice and beans”. The recipe is fantastic and the price of rice and beans are super cheap. So if I eat black bean soup with rice every other meal, it only costs me around $10 a month. That’s half of my months grocery cost and is kind of incredible.

But Where’s the Varity?

People have gone to some extremes, all in the name of saving some money. And I suppose that eating half of your meals in the form of beans and rice is up there. But it’s not something I plan on doing forever. As soon as I pay off my student loans, I plan on cooking more of the foods I enjoy. Eating well will come with being debt free. After all, I got into debt by spending money at restaurants in the first place. It only makes sense that I now reign in my spending on what I used to have poor boundaries around.

But there are also other places in my meal plan where I work in some variety. For example, my self-care dinner is usually a new to me recipe. Something I find during the week that looks appealing. Also, family dinner Fridays are usually a pleasant surprise. We take turns choosing recipes for the week to keep the meals fresh and new. As I’m writing this, we are currently preparing a lentil curry dish that I found scrolling through my bookmarked recipes.

But even while I’m picking new recipes, my goal still is to save some money. So I’m choosing ingredients from my pantry first, while also seeking out recipes with cheap components. You’ll notice that the above lentil recipe has frozen peas and lentils as their staple ingredients. Both are cheap buys at the grocery store, making this meal budget friendly. So just because you’re looking for variety, doesn’t mean you need to spend loads of cash.

What am I Eating

Maybe you’re looking at your cabinets or eating habits and came to the same conclusion I have. That something needs to change. Also, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from dating site profiles, it’s that people spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ll be eating next. Which raises the question, what will I be eating throughout the day? Below I’ll go over a short list of the meals I usually prepare for myself. Or what a usual week looks like for me. Let’s start in the morning.

Brekkie

Coffee

A sure way to save money while deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast is, stop eating out. Yes, even the coffee you grab on the way to the office. If you were like I was, I was drinking upwards to 7 lattes a day. That’s a lot of coffee! I did work at a bakery where coffee was free at the time. So I wasn’t paying for all of my coffee consumption. But even if you’re only getting one coffee a day, the money still adds up.

Let’s say you buy one latte a day at $6. Even if you only get one a day for five days a week, making coffee on the weekends, the total for the year would add up to $1,560! That’s a lot of money for coffee. But if you make your own espresso, it’s about 45 cents for a double shot. using that math, the same amount of coffee would cost you $117 annually, not including the cost of milk.

If you add a gallon of milk a week to your shopping list at $3.19 a gallon, you’d still only be spending a grand total of $282.88 a year. Coffee and milk. That’s 1/5 the cost you would be spending if you bought out every day. And if you drink tea, it gets even cheaper. So stop buying coffee out! Buy a quality coffee thermos, I like this one by Yeti, and make your own. You’ll be saving loads of money in the long run. Also while cutting back on your plastic or cardboard waste consumption.

Breakfast Foods

If you’re not on a liquid diet, (and I definitely recommend that you not only drink coffee for breakfast) then you’ll be needing some solid foods to compliment your coffee. Processed cereals cost a lot of money. And we’ve already covered eating out. So for the price, you can’t beat oatmeal for the most cost effective meal.

I usually make overnight oats. I mix a large batch of the dry ingredients in a container and make them each night before work the next day. They usually consist of oatmeal, flax meal or chai seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt, maple syrup and then I top it off a plant based milk (I add the flax or chai seed after so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the container). I shake it all together in a pint sized mason jar and refrigerate overnight. I could use water and save some more money, but I like the creamier texture it gives. Also, you can add whatever you’re craving or what’s in season to the oats. Giving you some variety to your first meal of the day.

Lunch & Dinner

I group lunch and dinner together because I usually end up eating the same dishes for both meals. Whatever I’m eating for dinner, I usually eat as left overs for lunch. This way I don’t have to buy meal specific ingredients other than for brekkie. So what am I making for dinner?

As I said above, I’ve been making black beans and rice for half of my meals. But I find that I usually have a jar of lentils in the cupboard. Or like this month, for some reason I have two jars of cornmeal. So to save money in No Buy August, I’m making polenta.

This meal hits all the right notes for me. It’s cheap, simple, I almost always have cornmeal on hand and it pairs well with roasted vegies. And with the variety of veg you can roast, there are loads of possibilities to try. While we’re on the subject, simple, for me is usually best when it comes to preparing meals.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

One of the reasons I like Minimalist Baker so much is, Dana doesn’t use a lot of ingredients. And to make great tasting food, you don’t need a lot of expensive ingredients. Simple is usually better. Lately, my favorite combo of flavors is ginger, garlic and onion. If a dish has these three, I’m more than likely going to enjoy it. Throw in some coconut milk and in my opinion, there’s nothing better.

That was one of the reason the above lentil dish was so appealing to me. Curry, mixed with the magic three and lentils, that’s a win in my book. Plus I save money because all the items on my shopping list are super cheap. Or I already have them on hand, helping me to clean out my pantry. Win win.

And this is something I plan on making a new habit. I want to do a No Buy month maybe twice or three times a year. This way I can make sure I’m rotating through my food stores, but also save money while doing it. This way nothing goes to waste and I’m also finding new recipes and enjoying the food I’m making.

I’ll leave you with a burrito recipe that has the black beans I’m making in them. The burrito is great if you’re a meat eater. The beans are even better : ) Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: Adam Sergott

Heading Image Credits: “Colorful veggies for sale in Daley Plaza” by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

%d bloggers like this: