8 Simple Steps to Frugality: Spend Less and Enjoy Life More

Do you feel like your finances are out of your control? Follow these simple rules to start spending less so you can ultimately enjoy more.

by Garen Daly
Simple Steps To Frugality photo

Ok, let’s be honest. Rising costs and lowered incomes are putting pressure on our budgets. The traditional virtue of thrift is essential. All of us are attempting to design a financial regimen that protects our families and homes.

This isn’t new. We do it. And we have a few pointers to help you. The first step is relatively easy. But in its simplicity lies the core of smart planning. Here, then, are eight simple rules to spending less and enjoying life.

1. Get the data.

Make a list of monthly expenses. It’s pretty easy to know your mortgage payment, utility bills or auto insurance premiums. Yet most people don’t include groceries, gas, dry cleaning, etc.

Grab a small notebook or get an app for your phone and start tracking everything. Know where your money goes. If you know where it goes, it is easier to stop unnecessary outflow. It’ll be easier to keep necessary expenditures reined in.

Here’s what you do.

Track every penny you spend, including credit card expenditures. Then, add it up. Once it is down in black and white, understanding is self-evident. Many times, the big surprise is the cost of restaurants.

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2. Annualize everything.

Knowing what you spend on a monthly or even a weekly basis is just the start. Multiply that number into a yearly cost.

If you spend $5 daily on a cup of coffee, that’s $1,825 a year. A couple who eats dinner out twice a week could spend $5,000 a year. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s important to you. But too many of us have gotten into habits and don’t realize the cost. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth, say, the $5,000? Or could that money be used differently?

3. Use credit cards wisely.

The most abused area of personal finance is the credit card. Time delays and indecipherable bills obscure spending. Studies have suggested that people will spend less money when cash is used.

Remember that when using your card, you should ask yourself if it’s really a good deal. Being honest is the first awareness. We do use credit cards. They’re very convenient. But carrying a balance is throwing away money. Therefore, the first financial priority is paying off cards.

Cut all spending to the bone. Although it may seem daunting, start by paying off the lowest balance first. It’ll give positive feedback. Then, pay the balance each month before the due date.

Credit card companies are constantly looking for new and exciting ways to get more money out of your pocket. Some folks recommend dropping all your cards except one or two. Others suggest keeping the cards but not using them. The unused balance will augment your credit rating. Everyone’s situation is slightly different. Use the one that enhances your financial picture.

Action is required if you have significant balances and your interest rate is unattractive. Start by paying more than the minimum and on time. After a period, call the company and negotiate the fees and the interest. If there is a negative response, start planning to change card issuers.

When you begin your search for a new credit card, look for one with no annual fee. They’re easy to find. Rewards programs sound great, but if the rewards don’t cover the annual fee, no fee is better. Rewards plus an annual fee serve the credit card company, not you.

4. Get control of debt.

Our culture has fostered debt. It was the engine driving the economy. A particular politician once invoked mall spending with patriotism. It makes sense for the national economy, but not individually. Not drowning in a sea of red ink is a healthy way to live, but it requires being savvy to keep afloat.

For example, check interest rates on mortgages, auto loans, school loans, or other debt you have. Develop a plan for extra payments on those loans with the highest rates. As debts are whittled down, monthly living expenses will drop.

Use debit cards with care. Items bought with them may not be protected. Loss of a card and use by someone nefarious may not be protected. And several studies have shown people spend more with a card, any card, than if they use cash. That is something to keep in the forefront of your mind.

There is an excellent quote from the father of our country, George Washington: “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.” Knowing debt will drag you down is a significant step toward frugality.

5. Align your values.

Have you ever defined the family’s financial goals? Is a college fund part of it? Or perhaps a new house for an expanding family is needed.

Whatever it is, stepping back with clear goals makes it easier to match philosophy to actions. Actions like moving to a smaller, less expensive house may make sense. Upgrades on housing services like heat may make sense. That second car may be impractical. The course of action becomes evident when the numbers are presented, and the goals are defined. Be courageous in your examination, and don’t rationalize.

6. Waste not.

Knowing where money is going is a start. Understanding areas to spend less is another step. Some typical issues:

Cable/Streaming Services

Pricier cable or streaming services often provide far more programming than you can reasonably watch. Consider dropping cable and high dollar services that provide live television and switch to the many available cheap and free streaming services.


With landlines, cell phones, and even email, we have so many ways to communicate with each other. Take a step back and analyze your needs. If you have a cell phone, do you need a landline’s long-distance service? If you have a cell phone, are you paying for a more expensive plan than you need?

Look into some of the cheaper providers, such as Mint Mobile, or consider a prepaid plan if you don’t make a lot of calls or use much data.


Dining out is not cost-effective. It may be enjoyable, but it is not cost-effective. Restaurant eating has become a culture that costs more than making your own food; in many ways, it’s unhealthy. Cutting down on the restaurant meals will save money.

Other Sources of Savings

Other areas to consider examining are insurance rates (raising deductibles) or less expensive vacations. Any place money is spent is always a place to re-examine how that money is spent.

7. Stuff the stuff.

Many Americans simply have too much stuff. The attic, the cellar, the back of closets and even those ubiquitous self-storage centers are crammed with stuff not used in years. Assess what is in storage. Recycle what is not used. Before shopping for new things, look around. Maybe it is already there. Put the creative hat on and reuse what is already on hand.

8. Delay the gratification.

When the urge to buy swells, wait. The moment will subside. Then, determine if the purchase is an intelligent choice. Before buying it, talk it out with your spouse. Here’s a good rule of thumb. If you’re not willing to talk about it, you probably don’t need it.

Another way of delaying gratification is to keep your car longer, or buy an appliance only when it is on its last leg and you’ve researched a replacement. However it is reached, stalling the impulse to buy is a solid, frugal decision.

Frugality starts with the realization that our money is ours. Using it wisely is a tradition that goes further back than Ben Franklin. As a culture, we have strayed from that principle. Remember that being frugal is not being cheap. It is about getting value. It’s spending our money where it matters and never wasting money. This is the basic frugal tenet.

Reviewed May 2024

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