5 Basic Rules of Frugality for the Newly Frugal

by Amy Burns

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Are you newly frugal? Don’t get overwhelmed trying to be too frugal too quickly. Use these five basic rules of frugality to gradually reform your free-spending ways and your lifestyle.

Frugality was not always a hot topic, at least not until hard times hit. Not that it wasn’t always cool to keep more of your money. It just wasn’t a topic that got a lot of press in more prosperous times.

The pandemic, a job loss, sudden illness or just a realization that you need to save may have caused you to rethink your finances. You’ve been re-evaluating some of your purchases and your lifestyle. Fortunately, there are many others on the same journey. Many of them can share what they’ve learned along the way. 

Super Frugal vs. Just Trying to Save a Buck

There are a lot of us using the internet to find ways to tighten budgets, save for houses, send kids to college, and simply get through the week. Like me, you’ve probably noticed that some folks have had incredible successes. Their names are mentioned often; many of them have published books or appeared on radio and television.

I was once a little intimidated by these Super Frugal people when I first started searching for frugal advice on the internet. I assumed that they had some sort of magic that I didn’t get. After all, I was just trying to save a buck here and there. A lot of the time, I was overwhelmed by how much there was to do. I searched in vain for a more simplified approach.

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5 Basic Rules of Frugality for the Newly Frugal

After a decade of frugal practice, I’m no longer intimidated, although I’m not yet Super Frugal, either. And I’ve had a long time to tease out some general themes from all the frugal living blogs, websites, and forums. If you’re just getting started with a thrifty lifestyle, here are my Basic Rules of Frugality for the Newly Frugal. Apply yourself to these golden rules, and you will gradually reform your free spending ways without spending hours on the internet sorting through tips.

1. Eat your own food.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Most of us will save a lot of money. Pack a lunch, make dinners ahead, etc., but don’t eat out very much at all. It’ll be more special when you do get around to it. For extra savings, cook mainly from scratch with items you’ve purchased on sale and cut out the packaged foods. Keep a garden.

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2. Don’t waste energy.

This covers a lot of areas. One timely example is gas. Do errands on the way to other errands or the way to work. Don’t make a lot of single trips. In the house, turn off lights, televisions, and computers when you aren’t using them. Use LED lightbulbs. Ensure your weather-stripping is good. Caulk leaks, tighten faucets, and don’t excessively water your plants. Turn down your thermostat two degrees in winter and up two in the summer. Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees.

3. Don’t waste time.

I suspect a lot of people, like me, dabble with the idea of being frugal a long time before they do something with all that acquired knowledge. Use some of it! Start doing something today and build on it, whether it’s making your own pizza or writing down what you spend.

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4. Don’t be afraid.

You will not end your days in a house crammed with stacks of newspapers because you start cutting coupons. Thrift has gotten a bad rap.

Remember, thriftiness and stinginess are two different mindsets in a mentally healthy individual. Thrift can provide a path to being extra generous to others in need by freeing up resources to lend a hand. If family members or friends needle you about your penny-pinching ways, steel yourself and have a sense of humor about it. Realize that you are “bucking the system” in your own way. Be proud of your independence. Without confidence, your progress will be slow.

5. Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

This is pure thrift poetry. Turn over the shampoo bottle for the last bit. Wear last year’s coat this year. Use a lip brush to get the last of the lipstick in the tube. Live without soda or cable. Live with the avocado refrigerator another year. The longer something can be used or its purchase deferred, the longer money is in our pocket. If we use less over time, we spend less.

By following these five basic rules of frugality, you can become frugal now, as in today. Switch off the computer (and turn off the power strip) and prepare your family some dinner to eat at home and you will be following the path blazed by all those Super Frugals before you. It’s up to each of us how long we want or need to make the journey to a more thrifty life.

Reviewed August 2023

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