Creating a Habit of Frugal Living

The following is a guest post from Miranda Marquit. Miranda edits information about debt consolidation for

There is a lot written about the benefits of frugal living, and even tips on how to save money and live frugally. But one of the things I had trouble with as I began to live more frugally was getting started. Just ending the bad habits wasn’t good enough — and it was overwhelming to go “cold turkey.” Here are some things that helped me start living frugally:

Know the difference between needs and wants.

This is one of the most important aspects of living frugally. My husband and I tracked our spending for two months, just to see where all the money was going. Then we analyzed our spending habits. Were we buying things we didn’t need? Of course we were! We also discovered that some of our “needs” — things like the most expensive juice or eating out twice a week — weren’t really needs at all.

One way we learned to distinguish between needs and wants was to have a “waiting period.” Could we do without it for the waiting period? If we bought it, how long did we think we would actually need the item? If it turns out that we can get by easily without the item, we don’t buy it.

Pay for wants with money you already have in hand.

Life without a few wants would be a little grim. A few well-chosen, unnecessary, pleasures can make life more enjoyable. But when one lives frugally, one doesn’t spend a lot of money on extravagant wants. And one certainly doesn’t pay for wants with borrowed money. Part of our journey to get started living frugally was to institute a rule that all wants had to be paid for with ready cash — and only after our needs (and this includes setting aside money for an emergency fund and for retirement) had been taken care of. This meant that when we wanted a new video game system, we had to save up our ready cash for a couple of months.

Another thing that can help is to have an “allowance.” If you can count on regular income, and if you have enough extra after your needs, you can give yourself an allowance. But once that money is gone, you have to realize that it is gone. My husband and I have an “allowance” for an annual summer art fair with vendors from all over the country. We take cash, and leave the cards at home. Once our “allowance” is gone, it is gone. This helps us carefully consider our purchases, so that we only get what we really like, rather than coming home with a bunch of “stuff” that does little more than clutter the house.

Use a list

Every week before we do the shopping, my husband and I go through the house and make a list of things that we need. When we go to the store, we buy only what is on the list. If we have some “want money” available, we can use that for things not on the list. Shopping with a list can help you cut down on impulse buys. Another thing that helps? Look at the items in your cart before heading to the check-out line. Did some unplanned wants find their way into the cart?

Replace more expensive habits with less expensive habits

One of the best ways to develop new habits is to replace the old ones with better. Think of the expensive things that you do, and replace them with less expensive options. Instead of eating out, plan a special dinner that you make at home. Buy slightly more expensive ingredients, or ingredients for a more exotic meal than you normally eat. It makes the dinner special, but doesn’t cost near as much as eating out. My son loves “movie night” at home more than going to a theater. We make popcorn and sit on a blanket in the living room. It’s a little bit different, and doesn’t cost near what going to the theater does.

There are many less expensive activities that have the bonus of creating quality time with the family. Walks, bike rides, camping, trips to the park, sledding and other activities are inexpensive and promote family togetherness. Also, look for free and inexpensive activities locally.

Frugal living is a lifestyle. It can be hard to get started, but if you take the time to plan your moves and take a hard look at your needs and wants, you can change your habits so that you are living in a way that not only saves you money, but also provides you life satisfaction as a family.

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