How To Live Frugally in Suburbia

by Debra Karplus

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

Suburban life has many wonderful things to offer, but don’t ever get caught up in ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ You can live differently, and more frugally, than your neighbors.

According to Time magazine, “US cities are slowing but suburbs are growing.” This was certainly the case in the 1950s and 1960s, but it is still happening today. The enticement of life in suburbia is often related to the expectation of better schools for those with children and bigger sized property lots. For older folks, it’s the search for a slower and quieter pace that often comes with suburban life.

You think of yourself as a minimalist. defines minimalism as “freedom from the passion to possess.” Yep, that’s you. In Barry Schwartz’s popular 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz describes in depth “why more is less.” People waste much time dealing with choice overload. He feels there’s just “too much of a good thing.”

So how do you, the self-proclaimed minimalist, keep your focus and stay true to your values amidst the peer pressure you often find living in the suburbs? If you live in a subdivision that has its own name, look out!

Is the Grass Always Greener?

Get to know your new suburban neighborhood and you may notice some perfect-looking landscaping, both in its design and its maintenance. Live there awhile and you will see that the perfect lawns and shrubbery are taken care of by a paid service. Perhaps your new neighbors are even encouraging you to “use their guy” to save you from having to do lawn mowing and yard work. You may be that one neighbor who prefers to grow more functional and practical things like vegetables. You certainly can nicely let your neighbors know this and even offer them some of the tomatoes or kale out of your harvested fall garden. After a while, they may learn to understand you and even appreciate your quirkiness.

And don’t be surprised the first time your neighbors spot you staining the deck, power washing your own siding, spraying for insectscleaning gutters, or hanging Christmas lights. The cost of paying professionals can really add up, and if you are able to perform these tasks and enjoy it, then keep on keeping on! If you have always been a do-it-yourselfer, don’t let yourself get swept up in the idea that you might need to give it all up just to conform.

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Rules Rule!

If you live in an area that is governed by a homeowner’s association (HOA), be sure to find out all the rules before you do anything that could get you in trouble. But once the coast is clear, don’t be secretive about putting up a clothesline to dry your laundry. It is okay if you are the only one in the subdivision who dries laundry this way.

And if a fire pit is okay where you live and you enjoy it for burning twigs that have fallen off your tree or just for ambiance, then, by all means, get a fire pit. Some of them are under $40 and can be very useful. If having some type of composter or compost pile is acceptable, then go for it. You may be that one neighbor who does not have to pay the skyrocketing cost of having garbage service.

If your neighborhood allows you to put up a privacy fence, you might consider that. Poet Robert Frost may have lived in your neighborhood when he wrote the saying “good fences make good neighbors.” It might even make it easier to furnish your yard with garage sale lawn furniture hidden behind your new privacy fence.

What Lurks Inside Your House in the Suburbs?

Many of your neighbors may have a cleaning lady come in weekly to pick up after them. If you have never had one of these helpers before, there’s no reason to start now that you live in suburbia. Simply pay your kids to do household chores, such as dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing the bathrooms and kitchen. This is a win-win situation.

Your new suburban neighbors may get their hair and nails done. You probably look fabulous already, so don’t change your ways on this. And don’t give up shopping at garage sales or resale shops either. No one ever needs to know where you buy your clothing and household goods.

Suburban life has many wonderful things to offer, but don’t ever get caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Reviewed August 2023

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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