11 Ways to be Frugal and Functional
Being frugal seems to have a bad reputation. It might be easy to think of someone frugal as being uptight, picky, stingy, and stuck up with their money.
That’s a terrible myth.
The truth is, it’s easy to be frugal and functional with your money, all you have to do is make some adjustments.
Frugal living doesn’t mean you can’t spend any money. All it means is that you spend money in ways that end up saving you money.
People like to live frugal for all sorts of reasons including saving money, paying off debt, and ensuring that they’re spending their money in places of value.
I decided to pursue a frugal lifestyle after I graduated from college. I felt like I was doing myself a disservice by carelessly spending money even though I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt to pay off.
To live a life of financial freedom, I knew that I had to make changes in my spending habits. That’s when I decided to become frugal.
I ended up cutting out things like Starbucks, manicures and pedicures, shopping, buying knickknacks for around the house, drinks at restaurants, and expensive food items. I thought it would be way more difficult to do but it was actually quite easy!
Through my frugal living and the strict budget I set for myself I was able to become financially free within two years.
The thing about being frugal is that you start to realize the things that matter and the things that don’t. According to a recent study done in 2019, the average American spends over $160 every single day. That’s a ton of money!
There is no way all of these purchases are for important things aiding in your well-being. A frugal lifestyle will help you realize the patterns of your spending as well as the areas where you tend to spend too much money.
There is no need to continue wasting money just because of the stigma surrounding the term frugal. I promise that there are only positive experiences to be had by living a frugal lifestyle.
Here are 11 ways to be frugal and functional.
Grocery shop once a month
This idea might not work for everyone because it really depends on your family size, but for some families, it will work amazingly.
Instead of going out once a week or every other week to get food try shopping once a month for all your grocery needs. If you commit to grocery shopping once a month it focuses you to think ahead about your meals.
By thinking ahead you can get a realistic number about how much food you need and how much that will cost you. In your efforts to find ways to be frugal and functional you can cut back on some of the more expensive food items and instead stock up on the more filling and affordable items.
Grocery shopping once a month also helps you develop a sense of commitment. There may be instances of repetition with your meals, but eating the food will help ensure that you are getting your money’s worth in groceries.
During the end of the month when food ingredients start to run out you also have the opportunity to get creative with your food. This helps change up recipes and forces you to eat out of your comfort zone.
My husband and I have been grocery shopping once a month for over six months. We decided to do this in our efforts to save money on our grocery bill. We found that we were shopping almost every week and spending way more money when we need to.
When we decided to give grocery shopping once a month a shot we cut our grocery bill almost in half.
While this might be difficult to adapt to at first, there are some tricks that can help make this once a month transition possible:
- Always make a grocery list
- Set up a budget for yourself
- Add to your grocery list the entire month Rather than making it a few minutes before shopping
- Be prepared to meal prep
- Get organized with storing food in your freezer
- Get in the habit of freezing things like meat, bananas, spinach, and bread
Grocery shopping once a month is an awesome way to be frugal and functional. Not only will it save you money but it will save you plenty of time.
Once you get the hang of this it will be a huge game-changer for you and your family.
Recommended: How to Save Money as a College Student
Meal prepping is the best way to make sure you get the most out of your grocery shopping.
The average American wastes approximately 1 pound of food every single day. Meal prepping helps ensure that food does not go to waste and instead gets eaten. This option also allows you to buy in bulk which is one of the ways to be more practical and functional.
The benefits of meal prepping are extremely helpful for any family. Aside from the fact that it saves you money, meal prepping also sharpens your cooking skills, gives you the option to eat healthier, and less food is wasted.
I like to meal prep once a week on Sunday nights with my husband. Based off of the food that we bought for the entire month we plan out our week based on what we have left in the refrigerator and what we previously ate the week before.
Some of the options that we meal prep include chicken with rice and broccoli, salmon with rice and carrots, salads with chicken and avocado, breakfast sandwiches, and smoothies.
Meal prepping gives us the accessibility to eat healthy lunches and dinners every single day of the week.
Return things you don’t want or need
Do you ever get buyer’s remorse? Do you ever feel like you made a purchase but it didn’t live up to your standards? What do you usually do with those products?
It’s perfectly acceptable to return purchases that you don’t like or you end up not wanting or needing. For almost all stores, online and in-person, the return policy is excellent. We live in a society where customer service is extremely valuable which is why returns are so easy to do these days.
I know that a lot of people feel weird about returning something after they’ve purchased it. You might feel like it’s unfair to return a used or worn product. Many people have the mindset that unless there is some sort of malfunction with the product it’s rude to return it.
But the truth is it’s totally fine.
Part of being frugal and functional means that you’re not spending unnecessary money on things you don’t want or need which is why it’s perfectly fine to take it advantage of making returns.
Shop twice a year
Shopping is a favorite past time. But when examined closely, shopping is a huge factor in overspending.
According to the Daily News, the average American woman spends over $400 on shopping per year and Psychology Today reports that the average American, in general, spends more money on shopping for clothes and jewelry than on education.
Not only are the statistics staggering, but they show that shopping is a huge issue when it comes to spending money.
If you want to be frugal it doesn’t mean that you have to cut out shopping altogether. There are easy ways to be frugal and functional while still shopping and keeping up with modern trends.
The difference between your average shopping and shopping to be frugal is that you go into the process more mindful of your finances.
One of the best ways to be frugal with shopping is to only shop twice a year. A good time to shop is typically at the start of a season and then six months later at the start of next season.
I live in a place where we only really get two seasons out of the year so it’s perfect for me to only shop twice. However, you may want to change this number to four times a year so that you can shop at the beginning of each new season.
By doing this you ensure that you have the appropriate clothes you need while staying on trend with what’s in style. This also helps you to avoid running to the store every weekend to look through the clothing racks.
In the long run, by cutting down the amount of time to go shopping, it is helping you to be frugal with your money and it ensures that you are not overspending. The last thing I want is for you to become one of those shocking statistics.
Utilize credit card rewards
Credit cards, if used correctly, can be an amazing and powerful tool for frugality. There are many different credit card options on the market so it’s important that you pick the right one.
Nowadays, credit cards come with their own points and rewards systems. When used wisely these points and rewards not only give you cashback, but they help you save money in the long run.
My husband and I have the travel rewards credit card and have been able to save hundreds of dollars on travel. Because of the perks of our travel credit card, we plan our vacation specifically around our points.
This is amazing for us because we know that the flights and hotels that we book will be paid off from our points before our vacation is over. It also helps ensure that we actually take the time to go on vacation.
If you’re not into traveling, that’s totally fine. Banks offer credit cards that give you cash money or gift cards through their point system. If you aren’t sure what rewards come with your credit card talk to a bank professional. And, if you have a credit card that doesn’t have the best reward system, apply for a new one and cut the old one up once your new one gets approved.
If you’re going to use credit cards, you might as well use them as one of your ways to be frugal and functional.
Don’t drink at restaurants
Alcohol is really expensive. They never show in the movies and TV shows how expensive it really is because it is standard for people to bond over getting drinks.
But the truth is one drink of alcohol can cost you $10 or more. If you only get drinks on the weekend, and you get two drinks per restaurant visit, that adds up to over $2500 a year. That doesn’t even include drinking during the week. That is a lot of money to spend on drinks!
Part of being frugal is realizing where spending is a little outrageous. I learned early on that buying drinks at restaurants was one of those outrageous things.
I assumed that when I turn 21 I would hang out in bars with my friends and casually drink like the people do in the movies. But, after my first bill, I quickly realized that my money was better spent elsewhere.
Now, my husband and I have a general rule that we don’t buy alcohol at restaurants. It makes our bill so much cheaper and it has saved us a lot of money in the long run.
If you feel like you don’t want to cut out drinking at restaurants entirely, keep track of how much you spend on the alcohol. Make sure to subtract the food and appetizers from your bill so that you get an accurate count of what was spent specifically on the drinks.
At the end of each week, add up how much money you spent total on drink. By doing this you’ll be able to see where you’re spending is high and where you need to cut back.
You might even realize that drinking at restaurants is not worth it at all.
Cheap date nights
Date nights are so important! Whether you were just dating or you’re married, date night should be a regular routine. But, it could be a little difficult to have consistent date nights and live a frugal lifestyle.
That’s where the importance of cheap dates come in. Not every outing needs to be expensive. There are plenty of things to do that are affordable or even free.
Here is a list of cheap date nights to consider:
- $5 movie night deals at the theaters
- Watch movies at home
- Walkaround the farmer’s market
- Have a picnic in the park
- Go to the drive-in theater
- Walk through a museum
- Go to the beach
- Go to the mountains
- Make dinner together at home
- Have a game night
- Binge watch your favorite TV show
- Bake together
Budget for the holidays
The holidays always seem to derail finances.
While it can be the most wonderful time of the year, a holiday like Christmas always seems to set people behind and even in debt with their finances. It’s time to get ahead of the holiday money fiasco and start budgeting appropriately.
When preparing for the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, never go shopping without a list. Specifically for Christmas, know exactly what you are going to buy and who you are buying it for.
When you’re in the store and you get distracted with all the other things, just refer back to your list and stick to it. A list helps ensure that you know exactly how much you are going to spend so that there are no surprise fees.
The same goes with shopping for food for the holidays. Make your list and stick to it.
Another option regarding food is to make your holiday get together’s potluck style. Instead of taking on the responsibility entirely of making the food for the whole family, instead, assign meals for everyone to bring.
This not only saves you money but it saves you some time.
And finally, birthdays. We tend to go all out for someone’s birthday especially if it’s a loved one. The list option works really well for a birthday too. Making a list and budgeting for exactly what you’re going to get someone is a great way to be frugal and functional. You still get to buy your loved one a gift that they like while being mindful of the amount you spend.
The goal is to not go into debt over the holidays. Besides, what’s the point of giving a bunch of gifts if you just feel depressed after the season is over because of the bills you’ve racked up.
It’s not worth it!
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Avoid new tech
Technology is constantly changing.
Every few months companies seem to come out with some new or improved technology.
It really is a great era to live in because of all the amazing things technology has to offer. With that said, technology is expensive. It especially doesn’t help that we constantly see ads telling us that we need to get the latest this or the latest that.
The pressure to have the newest and best technology is constant. The downside of this is that overspending on technology is a serious issue. Back in the day, phones were affordable and the options were limited. Nowadays, phones cost upwards of $1000 and there are so many options and upgrades to pick from.
It might seem difficult to find a way to be frugal and functional when it comes to technology because our society relies so heavily on the quality of our tech. However, it is absolutely possible. Here are a few ways to be frugal with technology.
- Don’t upgrade every time a new phone comes out
- Avoid expensive phone plans just because of a carrier’s reputation
- Don’t fall into the trap of needing a bunch of pieces of technology that all virtually do the same thing
- Get as much use out of your phone as you can before upgrading to a newer version
- Update your phone and laptop frequently in order to health of your tech in the best condition possible
- Invest in screen protectors and protective cases to keep your technology from getting damaged
- Appreciate the technology you have rather than always looking for something newer and better
Remember the basics
A big importance of living a frugal lifestyle is understanding the basic necessities of life. In order to survive it’s known that we need food, water, and shelter. We also like to have hygiene products, transportation, connectivity such as cell phones, childcare, and important things such as health insurance.
When all of your basic necessities are met, that’s when you can truly assess your spending habits. There are a lot of things that we think we need but we actually don’t.
Being frugal is understanding the difference between needing food to survive and wanting to eat out every night because it tastes better. While it may seem like a more stripped-down way to live, it’s important that you can first be happy with the basics.
It’s easy to forget to be thankful for our basic necessities because for many people those are a given. But, imagine not being able to afford a necessity such as food and shelter. It would make you change your view of your spending habits.
That’s why I encourage you to first be happy with your basics because without them it would be difficult to survive. From there try to understand that being frugal still means that all of your basic necessities are always met. Remember we are trying to find ways to be frugal and functional, with an emphasis on being functional.
However, you never want to become so frugal that you begin to lose your basic necessities. At the same time, you shouldn’t waste your money by living out of your means without realizing it.
A frugal lifestyle becomes a happy middle ground in this situation.
Save money from each and every paycheck
Saving money is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
It’s one thing to be frugal with your money but it’s another thing to be frugal with your money because you are saving it.
Having a healthy savings account is so important in our society. There have been many studies showing that the average person doesn’t have enough money in their savings account to cover one month of expenses. That’s definitely not good.
An easy fix for this would be to make sure you are saving money from each and every single paycheck you receive. I always quote Warren Buffett because his words sum up the importance of saving money:
“Do not save what is left after spending; instead spend what is left after saving.”
If you make saving money a top priority then being frugal will come naturally to you. An easy way to make sure you can save money from each paycheck is to come up with a number in your head of how much you want to save per month.
From there make sure that you are always able to save that amount of money.
Once that money is put away into your savings and all of your bills are paid you’ll be able to see how much money you have left for spending. Chances are you won’t want to spend all of the remaining money. You work hard for your money so there’s no point in spending at all.
It might take a few months to figure out what works for you but the key takeaway is to always save money, always make sure your bills are paid, and then be frugal with the money that you have leftover.
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