How to Live a Frugal Life Without Being Cheap

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How to Live a Frugal Life Without Being Cheap

The following is a guest post by Andrew Schrage. Andrew lives frugally in Chicago and runs Money Crashers Personal Finance, where he works to spread the message of financial fitness to readers. Enjoy! 

When people think of “frugality,” the word cheap automatically comes to mind. They envision uncomfortable households with no lights on, no TV, and barren of all creature comforts. In reality, that’s just not true. With the current state of the economy, being frugal is actually very much en vogue.

In fact, there are a variety of ways to save money every day that don’t involve a change in lifestyle, taking out payday loans, and won’t make you look cheap in front of your friends:

1. Electricity

There are plenty of ways to save on utilities without setting your thermostat at 80 degrees in the middle of summer. For example, whenever you leave a room, there’s often no good reason to leave the light on. And if no one is watching television, why is it still on?

Finally, if you have a guest bedroom that is only used sparingly, why are the alarm clock, television, and table lamp plugged in? Even turned off, but plugged in, these devices drain electricity and increase your bill. In a nutshell, you can cut costs just by changing simple everyday habits around the house.

2. Water

When you’re brushing your teeth or shaving, is the water wastefully running down the drain? Turn it off and rinse with a cup. Do you water your garden or flowers in the middle of the afternoon? If you switch to early morning or late at night, you won’t have to water as much. Do you drink lots of bottled water? Get a water filter instead. It’s more convenient and better for the environment.

3. Television

If you currently have a TV package that includes three movie channels and you consistently watch movies on each one, then by all means, don’t change a thing. However, if you can eliminate at least one, do it. Next, analyze your viewing habits. There are probably 10-15 channels you watch on a consistent basis. Look into all available channel packages and see if you can go down a notch or two. Better yet, take a look at these reasons to cancel cable and stop watching TV altogether, and see if they resonate with you.

4. Gas

Whenever I drive my usual routes, I pass close to six gas stations. A few years back, I surveyed these gas stations and found that the price differential in a gallon of gas was almost fifteen cents. So if I drive 15,000 miles per year and the car I drive gets 20 MPG, I can save more than $100 just by changing where I get gas. Of course, this approach only makes the most sense if you don’t have to go out of your way – thereby wasting time and gas money – to get cheaper gas.

5. Clothes

When it comes to clothing, I’m typically looking for two things: quality and price. You most definitely can save in this area, and you won’t look silly during your next night out. Consider discount clothing retailers, such as Ross or Kohl’s, pay attention to seasonal sales, and watch the savings roll in. These stores and others like them offer a variety of mid- to high-level clothing lines at rock bottom prices. And, if you time their coupons with their in-store sales, typical of extreme couponing, you can multiply the savings even further.

6. Groceries

If you don’t like the thought of having your friends and family see a fridge full of generic food items, don’t worry. There are lots of ways to save without going generic (although that is a great idea). The next time you’re entertaining, rather than pick up a pre-made cheese and veggie tray, do the work yourself. And find other low-cost recipes that you can serve as well.

I am always more impressed by freshly prepared food at a party than the pre-made variety – it tastes better and I can tell that my friends put more thought into their spread. Plus, switching to a fresher diet in general allows you to save more money on groceries, and you’ll live a healthier lifestyle as well.

Final Thoughts

With any monthly household expense, such as gas, cable TV, cell phone, or Internet, you should always do one thing: Investigate the competition. In most of these industries, competition is high, and there are often great teaser deals out there just waiting for you.

But in order to do this, you’ll need to stay free and clear of all contracts. I try to jump from one provider to the other regularly, and most transitions are seamless and have little to no effect on my daily life. But if that seems like too much effort, simply employ a few of the strategies above and save yourself hundreds of dollars annually. Chances are, you won’t notice a thing.

How about you all? What are some other strategies you employ to save money without sacrificing your lifestyle? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. Kurt @MoneyCounselor says:

      I like your final thought of using competition to your advantage. I've found that often merely politely 'threatening' to take your business elsewhere is sufficient to get your current provider to offer a better deal. You save money and the trouble of a changeover.
      My recent post How Much to Save?

    2. Another tip is to worry less about what other people think of your spending/saving habits. Since frugality is becoming more popular, don't worry about hiding it from friends. Tell them with pride how much you spent. If you're proud of your frugal lifestyle, you won't have to look at those decisions negatively and your friends will be that much more accepting. They may even take up some of those saving strategies themselves.
      My recent post Early April 2012 Modest Money Update

    3. I have another great tip to share: bartering! Ever since I've signed up at I've saved so much money! And it's fun because you still get new stuff but you don't spend a single cent.

    4. One of the best money savers is a programmable thermostat. When you are at work, there is no need to keep the house warm. I set mine to shut the heat off when I leave the house, and turn the heat back on an hour before I come home. I found that my natural gas bill went down by about 15% by doing this.
      My recent post Need a Predictable Income Stream? Use a Bond Ladder

      • That's a good idea James. I've thought about programming mine, but I seem to be able to remember to turn up or off the AC/heat when I leave the house, so I think I'm gonna hold off for now.

    5. These are some great tips to keep costs down. I'm always looking for ways to save money on electricity, water is something that we could probably pay closer attention to.

      There are several apps that you can get for your smartphone to find low cost gas. Give them a try!

    6. Azra, ReadyForZero says:

      Frugality is more about mindset and paying attention to detail than anything else. Putting in a little bit of time and money upfront such as getting a programable thermostat (as Shortroadto mentioned) or looking up the cheapest gas station on or gas buddy can really go a long way and some of my best purchaes have been made at the discount retailer TJ Maxx!
      My recent post How Does Debt Consolidation Work?

    7. Great tips! I like to buy clothes on clearance in the spring for the next winter. I do this with my kids too and just spend a fraction of the retail cost
      My recent post Save Hundreds of Dollars a Year by Making These Four Drinks at Home

    8. Great points! The ability to practice conservation without sacrificing quality or extreme comfort (and hey, what is the definition of comfort?). Thanks for pointing these out, and in some cases serving as a reminder! 😉
      My recent post Looking Back and Looking Forward… 2008 to 2012

    9. Good tips! I always buy Costco's brand photos and love the quality. I have no problem with family and friends seeing them. 🙂
      My recent post Tax Day Freebies, April 17, 2012

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