How To Start Living Thrifty: 12 Ways To Live Frugally

Want to get more out of life? Try these 12 thrifty living tips for a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.


Frugality and thriftiness are words that sometimes get a negative connotation attached to them. Namely, people often associate them with being cheap, and people who practice a frugal lifestyle are sometimes called cheapskates. In reality, they are very different things. Thrifty living does not mean being a cheapskate.


Someone who is cheap basically doesn’t want to spend money. When they do have to spend money, they’ll often get the cheapest brand possible, even if the quality is inferior.

Also, contrary to popular opinion, a lot of cheapskates aren’t destitute people scraping away in a shack somewhere. Rather, many cheap people earn a good paycheck. In fact, perhaps the most infamous cheapskate of all time is Ebenezer Scrooge, the wealthy miser from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.


Someone pursuing a frugal life, on the other hand, is careful about spending habits and monthly expenses, striving not to avoid spending money but to avoid spending it unwisely. They distinguish between a want and a necessity, for example. When they have extra money, they put it into a savings account or stash it away as an emergency fund instead of spending it.


Those are just some of the many things frugal people do. While there are literally dozens of ways to live frugally, we’re going to share a dozen that we find to be among the best frugal living tips out there. As you learn about them, hopefully, you’ll see what the benefits of frugal living are and that people who live frugally have happy, fun-filled lives while achieving financial freedom over the long term.


Make a Budget and Track Expenses


Your frugal living journey should begin with carefully keeping track of your money. Create a monthly budget that tracks how much money is coming in and going out. Although you can’t always predict variable expenses such as utility bills, gas costs, and groceries, you should be able to use past trends and current prices to come up with reasonable estimates.


Keep your receipts so that when you get home after making purchases, you can update your records and keep track of your spending. Getting into the habit of making a budget and tracking your expenses doesn’t just help keep your wallet happy and enjoy thrifty living; it also helps you establish and work toward financial goals.


Avoid Impulse Buying


Impulse buying is what happens when we see something that wasn’t on our list and we buy it on a whim. Often, impulse buying is for things that satisfy a short-term craving or that we don’t really need. It can also blow a hole in your budget because it accumulates, and we often don’t even think about the budgetary impact as we’re doing it.


Since this behavior is, as the name says, impulsive, it can be challenging to control. The best thing to do is to step back, so to speak, and evaluate whether you really need this item. Much of the time, you’ll realize you don’t and will save money by not purchasing it. If you do decide to go ahead and buy it, make sure you account for it as you track your spending so that it doesn’t add up and leave you short when bills come due.


Avoid Building up Credit Card Debt


Credit card debt is a burden that millions of Americans carry, and for many of them, it can be crippling. Often, it leads to low credit scores and thousands of extra dollars spent on interest and fees.


The best way to avoid building up credit card debt, of course, is to not use credit cards. However, that’s often not an option in this day and age. Plus, some people understandably are reluctant to carry around large amounts of cash out of worries that it could be lost or stolen. So what are some other ways to avoid accumulating high amounts of credit card debt?


One is to always pay your monthly balance in full. This keeps you from having to pay interest on balances you carry over.


Another is to make sure you can really afford what you’re about to buy with your credit card? Do you have the funds and are you just using the card for convenience? If you really want this item and can’t pay it off all at once, can you pay it off reasonably quickly to minimize interest costs?


Of course, all of this is related to good budgeting and planning.


Cut the Unnecessary Comfort Stops


Countless Americans make a morning stop at Starbucks, a convenience store, or some other business for coffee, soda, or snacks. Many also stop for take-out food on the way to or from work to save time, clean up, etc.


It might not be a lot of money to stop for a hot dog and a fountain drink, but if you do that 3 or 4 times a week (or more), it really starts to add up. Cutting down on this is an easy way to save a buck or two or more.


No one’s saying you have to skip your morning caffeine fix or go hungry. Here’s where that difference between thrifty living and being cheap comes back: the cheap person might decide not to spend money on these things at all, whereas thrifty people brew their own coffee at home, make a to-go breakfast before they leave, etc. They still get to enjoy these things, just at less cost.


Shop Smart


When you go to the grocery store or shop at retail stores, there are many ways to save money without sacrificing quality. One thing is to keep an eye out for items on sale. Another way to avoid paying full price is to use coupons. You can also buy store brands instead of buying a name brand; the former are usually much cheaper and the same in quality.


Gift cards are another way to shop smart. They’re popular as gifts, but many of them sit in a drawer or on a counter, forgotten and unused. If you receive a gift card for a place where you’ll use it, keep it somewhere that you’re not likely to forget about.


When grocery shopping or purchasing household items like laundry detergent, buy in bulk when you can, as you’re likely to see significant discounts when doing so. If your local grocery store doesn’t have bulk options, try places like Costco or look on Amazon. Some of them, and Amazon is among them, allow you to sign up for recurring delivery, and they offer good savings for people who use that option.


Also, check other places for good deals. Craigslist and eBay sometimes have great prices on items you need.


Other ways to spend wisely include stocking your fridge, pantry, and freezer when there’s a good sale on things you need, taking a DIY approach to projects instead of hiring contractors (provided you have the tools and the know-how, of course, and if you don’t, you may be able to find some useful videos on YouTube or Facebook), and getting the most out of your wardrobe instead of buying new clothes on a regular basis just to have new stuff.


Finally, if you do use credit cards for a lot of purchases, get credit cards that have rewards programs that deliver benefits such as cashback, travel deals, etc.


Cook Your Own Meals


Restaurant meals are expensive; even fast food is no longer the bargain it once was. It’s great to eat out once in a while or on special occasions, but if you eat out frequently, you’re spending a lot more money on meals than you need to.


Instead, prepare your own meals as much as possible. Sure, it’s more work, but it saves a lot of money. Plus, you might enjoy getting out your favorite recipe, taking some fresh vegetables, herbs, and other ingredients, and turning them into a great meal.


Making a weekly meal plan, especially if you cook everything in advance, will save you time and make your busy schedule a little easier to manage.


Preparing your own dishes doesn’t just apply to dinner. For example, it’ll save you a lot of money vs. always going out on your lunch break.


Make Fewer Trips


This aspect of thrifty living also makes your life easier. Instead of making separate trips for gas, groceries, ATM withdrawals, and so on, consolidate as much as possible. One benefit of this is that you’ll spend less on gas; another is that you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle. Running errands on the way home from work may make a long day longer, but you’ll appreciate not having to go back out, especially on a day off when you’d rather relax and enjoy yourself.


Buy an Affordable Car


Cars have become a lot more reliable in recent years, and they also last longer than they used to. As a result, lenders have become more willing to offer longer loan periods than they used to. This means that due to lower monthly payments, it’s sometimes possible to afford a car you couldn’t have 10 years ago. However, you’re going to pay a lot more in interest over the term of the loan.


Even if the payments and the interest are affordable, could you get by just as well with a less expensive car? Do you really need that gas guzzler, or would it make much more sense for your driving needs to have a less expensive car that gets much better gas mileage?


If you can get a reliable, affordable car for much less than that fancier version, think about the better uses you could be getting out of that money that won’t be going to a car payment.


Walk or Bike When You Can


If you live or work in a bike- and pedestrian-friendly area, you can save a lot on gas and maintenance costs by walking or riding a bike to do errands or commute to and from work when conditions permit. There are even trailers you can attach to bikes to turn them into grocery-getters.


In addition to saving money and time wasted in traffic, you’ll get to enjoy some fresh air and exercise.


Camp for Vacation


Camping isn’t for everyone, but if you’re among the millions of Americans who enjoy going to national parks, state parks, and other natural areas on vacation, you can save a lot of money by camping. Hotels and lodges in parks and nearby communities can run you hundreds of dollars a night, whereas camping usually runs $15-30 a night and, in many places, is free. Plus, you’ll go to sleep and wake up with Mother Nature all around you.


Keep Entertainment Fun and Simple


Concerts, movie theaters, nightclubs, and the like are great and have their place, but they’re also expensive. For some more frugal fun at home, try doing a game night with family and friends once in a while. If board games aren’t everyone’s thing, stream movies instead of paying top dollar for tickets and concessions when they’re new in theaters. While you’re at it, are you getting your money’s worth out of your cable subscription? If internet-only is an option, would that be better for you?


If you like to read, don’t forget that you can rent books from a local library for free. They may also have DVDs that you can borrow instead of renting or buying movies on your own.


Cancel Subscriptions You Don’t Want or Use


Speaking of subscriptions, do you have subscriptions to magazines or services you don’t use or no longer have an interest in? Cancel them. They’re costing you money you’re not getting much value out of, especially if they’re on an auto-renew basis.


Put These Thrifty Living Ideas to Work for You


Now that you know what frugal living means and how to implement it, put these ideas into action. With these frugal tips, your bank account will look better, but you’ll also enjoy your lifestyle more as you experience everything life has to offer while getting the most value for your dollars. Happy thrifty living!




Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.