Frugal Living Lessons From the Pandemic for Surviving Tough Times

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

Frugal Living Lessons for Surviving Tough Times photo

Are you having trouble making ends meet? Just consider these frugal lessons learned during the pandemic that can help you get by now.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

You’ve probably heard some version of this quote. I believe this to be true not only of greatness but of frugality as well.

Some of us are natural-born penny pinchers, others choose to transform our free-spending ways, and for some, frugality is thrust upon us.

Perhaps it’s inflation, job loss or some other financially tough time that has you scrambling to trim your budget and wondering if you can cut enough to get by.

During the 2008 recession, many were forced into frugality. And a few carried their newly honed frugal habits with them into better economic times, but many folks abandoned frugality at the first glimpse of an economic upturn. Then the pandemic hit and left of us thinking, “If only I had stayed on the road less costly.”

During tough financial times, just revisit the frugal habits we had to rely on during the pandemic and other economic downturns. A commitment to sticking with them will not only help you get through these current tough times but also help you stay prepared for any future financial crisis you may face.

We Made Things Last Longer

During the pandemic, with the need to limit trips to the store, plan around product shortages and wait two weeks rather than two days for shipments of online purchases, we had to make many things last longer.

Whether teaching kids to be aware of the amount of toilet paper they were using or feeding the family simpler meals using up whatever food we had in the pantry, we learned that we could get by on less and cut costs without feeling too deprived.

We saw the money-saving advantage of making fewer trips to the store, and subsequently the gas station. And quicker trips at the store, too. Our need to quickly get in and out had us being more strategic with our planning and shopping and left us little time to fill our baskets with impulse buys and non-essentials.

Start incorporating these penny-pinching habits once again. You can then pinch a little less hard as your finances improve.

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We Made Do Without While Still Having Fun

The list is long of services and entertainment options we had to forgo during the pandemic. We went without movie theaters, gyms, restaurants, libraries and theme parks for a stretch. Sure, our travel plans, date nights, and family outings were squashed, but not our ability to create less costly at-home alternatives.

Parents shared the joy of family game nights, sans electronics, with children who had never felt the thrill of putting a hotel on Park Place or being the first to yell Uno! or Yahtzee! After being shut indoors for so long, we were ecstatic to revisit local outdoor destinations that brought us almost as much joy as a visit to a far-off locale. We found a new appreciation for the simple pleasures that we tended to overlook when we had the luxury of going out and about every single day.

The money-saving lesson? Fun does not always have to come with a price tag.

We Became More Self-Sufficient

Millions of us had to start making coffee at home and lost no time learning to concoct our favorite specialty drinks at a fraction of the coffeehouse prices. We missed our hair stylists dearly, but when the going got tough and looking rough, we learned to tame our own out-of-control manes.

Unable to invite a handyman into our homes, we went online and taught ourselves how to do home repairs and improvements. And while we might have been stuck eagerly awaiting someone to come fix the oven we couldn’t fix ourselves, we learned we could replace torn porch screens or a hot water heater element without paying a professional.

Get back to your self-sufficiency. Save money on those things you can successfully do on our own so you can better afford to pay for those services you simply cannot do without.

We Created Additional Income Streams

During the pandemic, many of us saw firsthand why we shouldn’t depend on just one income source. Whether we lost a job or just lost hours, or were simply fearful our job was no longer secure, a lot of us were in need of and creating additional sources of income.

We learned new job skills so we’d have more opportunities available to us. We took steps to increase our income any way that we could, steps many of us wish we had been taking all along.

Consider any income streams you could add. And don’t allow your new income streams need to dry up as your financial situation improves. (See Side Gigs That Can Make You Extra Cash.)

We Got a Very Real Lesson on the Importance of Putting Money Away for a Rainy Day…or a Pandemic

Whether relieved by the fact that you have an emergency fund to fall back on right now or regretful that you never started one, you can’t dispute the importance of building savings and the sense of security an emergency fund can provide.

A well-known Chinese proverb states “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Are you wishing you had started your emergency fund 20 years ago? Even a few years ago?

Don’t let the next financial crisis find you without one.

Build an Emergency Fund

With these simple tips and tools, you can build an emergency fund, even while living paycheck to paycheck.

Let’s Retain These Frugal Lessons Learned During Tough Times

At some point, you’ll get your finances back on track. Hopefully, though, you’ll continue practicing your new habits learned during this time of forced frugality so you’re better prepared for the next financial hurdle that you face.

Maybe the next time a pandemic changes our world overnight or the economy takes a turn for the worse, more of us will be in a better financial position to not only weather the financial storm, but to help others who need it.

Reviewed February 2024

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