Dust Off Your Magnifying Glass to Be Frugal and Still Enjoy Life

This is a guest post by MoneyNing, a personal finance blog that everyone (at least when forced to) agrees is one of the best out there at helping people save and increase wealth.  You can subscribe to his RSS feed or get email updates of his posts, where articles such as 50 Ways to Budget Travel and Save Money on Vacations will be delivered to you.

The details of our decisions can have a significant impact on our finances and wealth.  It is how individuals managed to save while still living a comfortable lifestyle.  It is a major reason why living below our means doesn’t mean depriving ourselves of what we want.  It is also how I can tell you that giving up coffee is not an option when we are discussing about being frugal.

Let’s be honest.  The “$4 coffee per day adding up” example has been thrown around so often that it’s improved my reading speed as I start skipping paragraphs.  While the math is pretty clear, it fails to address that people like me actually like coffee and would give up many material things before I would stop drinking.

It was frustrating at first because I wondered: Is there really no way to be frugal without giving up coffee?

Then one day, I got lucky and let a salesperson sell me on a coffee machine.  That day should be marked “my frugal tipping point” because that was the day I discovered the power of alternatives.

From then on, I found tons of other ways to save my family money without ever giving up anything.  Here are a few highlights:

  • TV – Our cable bill used to be $50 a month when we decided save money by cutting it. No TV? Oh we still get TV. Many shows are on the Internet nowadays, and we can order Netflix if we really wanted to. We just found $50 hard to justify when renting a movie is only $1 at Redbox, especially when we can still get TV by buying an HDTV antenna.
  • Groceries – Trying out different brands is actually quite fun. I also learned that while I love ice-cream, the mental desire is for ice-cream and not just Hagen Daaz ice-cream. Another habit we developed is to let the coupons and specials decide what our meal would be. Most of the time, we are undecided anyway so why not let those flyers help us? If chicken was on special, let’s have Parmesan chicken tonight. If eggs were for sale, omelet for breakfast sounds great.
  • Clothes – My wife still shops, but she likes to go to places like TJ Maxx or Nordstorm Rack where brand name items are sold at significant discounts. Cost of a pair of running pants retailing at $50 she bought recently? $7.99.
  • Eating Out – We still ate out on occasion, but we started skipping the deserts and drinks. If we really wanted something sweet, we went to a different place like an ice-cream parlor instead. It actually turned out more enjoyable since we increased variety.
  • Vacations – Most people are talking about not going to vacation at all this year, but instead of that overseas trip, why not go to somewhere domestic instead? If Las Vegas is too expensive, is driving somewhere close going to suck? If anything, it’s probably some place you’ve never been to which should be even more exciting!

Don’t let anyone tell you that a frugal life has to be about doing without.  You can still enjoy everything you want to do, if only you look into the details.


  1. Great post! I agree that being frugal isn’t about giving things up. It’s about finding alternatives to what “they” tell you that you “need”. We have a PS3, and you can browse the Internet from the device. We sometimes go to Hulu.com, and then watch our TV shows on the screen, through the browser in the PS3. It works really well. $50 a month for satellite? In 7 months the PS3 pays for itself.

  2. I agree with pokeberry mary on coffee. I have made my own coffee for many years and it taste just as good as the $4 stuff.

    $20 coffee pot, $6 can of coffee(lasts 3 months) = $30 or
    $4 coffee 5 times/week = $20

    To each their own I guess!

    But, to me saving the extra money from buy $4 coffee is well justified.

  3. Let me correct my addition error above, I got a little too excited about the comment and didn’t proof read my comment.

    Its $26 for coffee pot and coffee not $30. Or just add $4 for taxes.

  4. I’ve been making coffee myself all my adult life–but I’m trying to figure out why my $10 drugstore sale coffee maker wouldn’t be just as good as a fancy schmancy cofee maker. 😉 $4 a cup?

  5. Well, I think your post fits in well with the definition posted on Wikipedia.

    Frugality is the practice of

    1. acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and
    2. resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to
    3. achieve a longer term goal.[1]

    I take the things I need and WANT in my life and make adjustments to get the most bang for my buck.

    I’m a coffee person also. I like to set up casual meetings at my local coffee shop. Even at $4 a pop, I find that to be a frugal meeting place, considering lunch or even dessert someplace would be double and triple that. The pressure to get in and out isn’t there either. I’m sold.

    I think of most of my frugal endeavors to be part of the adventure of my life. Whether I’m at the grocery store, driving down some road to places I’ve never been to just plain living. It all can be done frugally, you just have to look for it. Fun can be anywhere. 🙂

  6. Great post! I just had to comment when I saw the section about vacations!

    I am the Community Manager at Viscape and you wouldn’t believe the savings you can have if you not only rent a vacation home but also cook your own food! Really, it makes me look back on past hotel stays and cringe at all the wasted money!

    Best of all — it’s really nice for my little family (with a 3 year old and one on the way) it means that we aren’t cooped up in a tiny hotel room when the kid has to nap.

    Instead, we choose places that have their own private pool whenever possible! So we not only have all the comforts of home but we don’t have to fight crowds! *nice* And as I get ginormously pregnant, the chances of me wearing a suit in public go way, waaaay down! 😉

    Thanks for sharing your tips. Good stuff.
    Jessica Nunemaker

  7. Nice to hear from all you coffee lovers. Making it at home also saved me waking up early to drive to the coffee shop and then waiting at those huge lineups in the morning!

    I bet my car is happy that I’m making less short drives and frequent “start and stops” as well.

  8. It’s all about the details and balance between activities that allow you to do it all. Look for alternatives, deals, etc where ever you can. Don’t just cut out completely, because you probably don’t have to. For example if you enjoy going out to eat, find a more whole in the wall restaurant that serves good food but for less of the costs.

  9. I used to be one of those people who paid $4 for coffee every day. I weaned myself off of this practice very slowly by getting a Starbucks gift card. Every month, I’d put $20 on the card and tell myself I couldn’t spend more than that. After a few months, I began to realize that 1) I didn’t miss my lattes as much as I thought I would; and 2) wow, sometimes Starbucks makes really bad drinks.

    Now we purchase coffee at Target (usually Dunkin’ Donuts or something similar). Every now and then we’ll treat ourselves to a great bag of Peet’s coffee. In the long run, we’re saving money but not suffering for lack of joe.

  10. I agree with finding alternatives whenever possible.

    I like to always have my toenails manicured, but I don’t like paying for a pedicure. I discovered that I could buy the professional polish used by the nail shops at a place in the mall.

    At $7 per bottle it costs more than drugstore nail polish, but it does a professional job and I get many compliments on my pedicure and people asking where I get my nails done!

    I buy a couple of colors and the polish lasts for a long time and I’m happy with my pretty, painted nails.

    I’m sure this can be applied to many situations beyond nail polish & coffee…

  11. Our idea of frugal:

    Dinner out = Subway where we split a 5.00 sub and a fountain drink. Total dinner out cost $6.98. Valentine’s Day, here we come!!

    Our “drink”, since we are not coffee drinkers, is a spurge for a 6 pack of Coke once a month. On sale, it can be found for 2/$5.00 plus deposit.

    Clothes shopping is a trip to the Salvation Army, with a $5.00 off coupon from a local grocery store. Just today I bought my daughter a pair of Columbia pants, 3 Lands End shirts, 1 LLBean dress and several other pairs of pants and shirts for a whopping $26.50. Since today is Wednesday, everything is 50% off today!!

    The part that really irks me though, is having to do all of that so I can pay my $250 electic bill, my $90 internet access (only have satellite available here), and all the other outrageous impossible to reduce monthly bills. GRRRRRRRRRR!

  12. “Vacations – Most people are talking about not going to vacation at all this year, but instead of that overseas trip, why not go to somewhere domestic instead?”

    Because traveling overseas in a large number of cases is substantially cheaper than staying at home after you consider all of the costs. Try countries like Thailand, Ethiopia, or Guatemala (three of my favorites on as many continents out of dozens); where a decent hotel costs less than $8/night, and you can fill your tummy for $1. Or eat a four course dinner at a nice restaurant fit for a king for $1.50. Can you do that in your hometown?

    Sorry, but the idea of “staycation” because of high fuel prices is so Summer 2008, and went out with $147/barrel crude. Also, particularly if you live in Southwestern or Southeastern USA, there are large selection of international destinations which are closer and quicker and cheaper to get to than staying domestic, regardless of where fuel prices are.

  13. Being frugal means free to do what I want when I want and not worry about where/what other folks think I should be doing…. ie, their idea of fancy destination resort type vacations holds absolutely no appeal to me. I just can’t stand crowds to start with.

  14. Alternatives are key – you can keep your cozy comforts with slight modifications. In addition, I think you can keep some “spendy” (relative, term) things if you look at your whole financial picture and see where you can drop some other things that you don’t really need/want/use. It’s all a balancing act. And with conscious evaluation and modifications of one’s financial situation, one can really start living the way they desire without going into debt.

  15. I would add to re-examine Vegas. They are so desperate for people to fill the rooms there are smokin’ deals to be had-to the tune of over 50% (or more) savings on rooms over a year ago! Plus, there are lots of low/no cost activities there to entertain the whole family, if you are so inclined.