Recently, I was sitting around a fire drinking a beer with my best friend and the topic of early retirement fueled by a frugal lifestyle came up.
He doesn’t know this blog exists, and he doesn’t know that my wife and I are on this bad-ass journey. I was testing the waters and began to talk about the awesome community of people trying to retire early by living frugal lifestyles.
His response of, “Oh God that sounds terrible! Who wants to live like that forever?” got me thinking. It wasn’t too long ago that my buddy and I had similar mindsets, what changed?
Why is a being frugal viewed with such disgust?
To most people outside of the FI community, living a frugal lifestyle looks like a life of deprivation and suffering.
Eating beans and rice every day, going outside to use the outhouse, and wearing the same underwear for a week at time. Hell, a few short years ago, I would have agreed.
The stigma that surrounds frugality needs to be questioned. It needs to be dissected.
Frugal living is incorrectly correlated to a life of misery and deprivation. When in fact, frugality opens up so many doors and dramatically increases your appreciation of everything!
The crappy part is that it took me 30 years to figure that out. Thankfully a single crazy year of budgeting opened my eyes for good!
The “We Work Hard” Mentality
My wife and I never really lived an extravagant lifestyle, but we certainly spent a lot of money on random shi…stuff over the years.
If there was something we wanted, we bought or financed it.
It didn’t matter what it was, and for the most part… it didn’t matter how much it cost. If a want popped into our heads, we would drop some “we work hard” rationalization on each other and go satisfy that want.
Rationalization works in a funny way … 0% interest for 72 months? Honey, quick get the car keys! I HAVE to spend that $22,000 now!
That irrational spending accounted for +/- $2,900 a month!! It’s embarrassing to even share that but, do you wanna know what the worst part is?
Aside from our debt, I don’t even know what we spent that money on! It was mindless spending fueled by childish wants.
Deprivation isn’t Frugality
First off, what is deprivation? In order to say being frugal isn’t deprivation, we should probably look that definition up…
Here it is (drum roll) Deprivation is defined as the damaging lack of material benefits considered to be basic necessities in a society. The DAMAGING lack of material benefits…
A damaging lack of material benefits around the basic necessities of life is a hell of a lot different than financing $2000 at Cabelas because my childish brain thinks I deserve it.
We live in a world where I can spend money I don’t actually have. Think about that for a minute… I can actually spend large amounts of money…that I don’t have.
Not only is it possible, it’s normal and encouraged! Maybe this is why I had such a distorted view on frugality.
The thought of controlling my impulses and being responsible with my money is now considered to super weird.
If you don’t believe me, go shopping with a friend or family member and tell them you don’t want to buy that random $10 thing because it’s not in your budget.
See how that conversation goes… They’re going to look at you like you have 10 heads.
What is Being Frugal… Really?
Frugal, in my opinion, means a couple different things. For starters, it’s being mindful of my spending, it’s appreciating what I already have, and separating wants from needs.
Can I still have things I “want”? YES! I absolutely can have the things that I want. Actually, I can have anything I want! It just requires budgeting and planning.
An amazing side-effect of being frugal is that I realized that most of things I “wanted” weren’t really that important to me.
When I wanted to spend money I found that I was typically being impulsive or compensating for some other emotion I was dealing with.
Once I stopped impulse spending, I started to appreciate the things I had, and if I did buy something… you better believe I appreciated the hell out of it
How You Can Enjoy a Frugal Lifestyle
Living a frugal lifestyle isn’t actually that hard. You don’t have to give up everything you love, and you certainly don’t have to embrace boredom.
A frugal lifestyle can actually be a lot of fun.
Listen, I love food. I mean… cupcakes are literally in our name. But food is expensive… especially if you’re buying it without any type of plan.
Before we decided to live a frugal lifestyle, we spent way too much money on food. We’d shop at the big box stores, spend hundreds of dollars on random items and then most of our groceries would spoil because we went out to eat too much!
It was incredibly wasteful and now, it’s embarrassing to talk about.
Once we decided to embarrass a fabulous frugal lifestyle. We embarked on our first no spend challenge, started shopping at Aldis, eating out less, buying less expensive beer (I still love a good IPA), and cooking more at home.
Learning to cook these with my wife was a lot fun.
These changes helped us save hundreds of dollar a month. Besides saving money, we stopped wasting so much food.
Having fun while living a frugal lifestyle is not only possible… it’s really easy!
There are countless frugal activities you can do:
- Enjoy an afternoon at the park
- Visit a local play ground with your kids
- Visit a hotel pool
- Throw a frugal party
- Enjoy a bonfire with friends
- Host a movie marathon
- Throw a make your own pizza party
- Go to a local museum or zoo
- Go for an evening walk with your spouse
- Play board games with friends
Hosting a party, or entertaining friends doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Before you break out your debit card, explore some of the free, or inexpensive activities in your area.
Wait… you’re telling me I can take a vacation AND be considered frugal? Sign me up!
Being frugal and traveling do go together! Travel hacking is an amazing way to travel and save a ton of money. We’ll talk about that in a minute…
So, Tell Me More about Travel Hacking
Travel hacking is when you use credit cards and credit card rewards to travel for free or nearly free.
Many credit cards often have lucrative sign-up bonuses for spending a certain amount of money in the first several months.
These sign-up bonuses are typically much higher than the 1-2% you usually get back from a typical credit card.
The process goes like this:
- You sign-up for a credit card with a lucrative sign-up bonus
- You put all of your daily expenses on this credit card to meet the minimum spending limit to receive the sign-up bonus
- After you receive the bonus, you stop using that card and move on to the next card.
If you plan ahead and choose travel reward credit cards that line up with your planned future travel, you can significantly reduce your travel costs and still take amazing trips.
Note: You should only pursue a travel hacking strategy if you’re extremely responsible with credit cards and pay them off in full every month. It is not worth going into debt for “free” travel
Our Frugal Disney Vacation
After my wife and I paid off the last of our $109,000 in debt, we decided to take our first vacation in 4 years. We were Disney bound!
As you know, Disney is super expensive… BUT, we were determined to complete the trip and spend as little as possible. (At this point we get an odd satisfaction out of saving money and still having fun. It’s almost a game for us).
Here is how we broke down our Disney Reservations:
- I had enough Hertz points from renting work-related vehicles to get a free 10 day rental. We booked a compact car (good on gas).
- I booked a promotional hotel rate. $200 for the week. Although, we did have to sit through a 2 hour timeshare presentation… I still think it was worth the rate, and we didn’t buy a timeshare.
- I had enough Hilton Points to get a free room in Savannah, Georgia and we made a pit stop there for a night to explore the town.
- Disney offered a promotional rate in 2018 through my company and we each bought a 3 day hopper pass for around $600. The tickets typically cost $169/pp/day. This pass should have cost over $1,000!
At this point, we had a night in Savannah, 6 days in Orlando and a Disney 3 day hopper pass. Our total was $800 + tax. Not too shabby, right?
Eating at Disney isn’t frugal… AT ALL
It was our mission to save even more money while we were in Disney and food was the easiest way to save.
If we were planning on being frugal, we had to avoid eating in the parks.
Unless you’re into $12 beers, $15 chicken fingers, and $10 water… eating inside a Disney park will steal your joy faster than a child melting down in line while waiting to meet Mickey.
We bought some snacks, bottled water and sodas to bring into the park in our backpacks. Disney 100% allows you to bring food and beverages in… not doing so felt like a frugal sin.
We bought some general lunch type foods for the hotel and also did a cheap pizza night after our first day at the park.
We were exhausted anyway and it felt amazing to sit around eating pizza with our feet up!
When we did go out to eat, we went to local Orlando restaurants. They were reasonably priced and most meals totaled less than $40 altogether.
Additional Frugal Living Tips
After a lot of trial and error I found that most frugal living tips were actually rooted in common sense and not finding a way to trick the system.
Learning how to embrace a frugal lifestyle is half the battle, the other half is littered with frugal living tips and tricks.
We all have bills and there isn’t anything we can do besides pay them every month… right?
Wrong! (Donald Trump Voice)
You can get frugal with your monthly bills, and I’ll show you how we enjoy a frugal lifestyle every month.
You can get frugal with your car insurance. We saved almost $800 a year on our insurance simply by shopping around providers.
Sadly, most insurance providers will offer you better deals to become a new customer than to keep you as a happy existing customer.
Switching providers felt amazing because I value my money, and I’m not here to be taken advantage of!
How we saved on car insurance:
- Spent a few hours getting quotes from numerous insurance providers
- Increased our deductible to $2,000
- Dropped the rental coverage
- Dropped roadside assistance (we have AAA)
- Signed up for autopay
- Paid for 6 months up front (monthly payments will typically cost more)
Canceling cable is one of those common sense frugal living tips, but it’s not always easy…
Our Dish Network bill slowly rose from $65/month to $111/month. Finally, I called and decided I wanted to cancel.
I had every intention of canceling when I called, but I’m human and I let the salesman talk me into a lower rate for 12 months.
The nice salesman lowered my rate to $53/month for 12 months. For some reason, I said “great” and hung up the phone.
Frugal Living Fail…
The 12 month promotional rate expired just this week, and we finally canceled cable 100%! We finally cut the cord!!
After canceling cable we discovered all of the free or packaged programming we were missing out on. Ok, fine… all of the free programming we were ignoring.
- Amazon Prime Video (included with your Prime membership)
- Netflix (paid for by T-Mobile)
- CBS Sports app (free)
- Channel Plus (free app included with our LG Smart TV)
- ESPN + ($4.99/month)
All of the apps/programs listed above cost us less than $10/month!! That’s a frugal living win!
Again, being a loyal customer won’t grant you any discounts from your cell phone provider! We lowered our cell phone bill $69/month by switching from ATT to T-Mobile.
Not only did T-Mobile offer a better plan, they also cover the cost of a basic Netflix subscription every month!
Double frugal win! (POW POW)
Saving money on electricity is more about habits than changing providers. As a matter of fact, we only have 1 utility provider in our area.
How we’re being frugal with our electricity:
- Turning lights off in rooms as we leave
- Turning the TV off if we aren’t watching it
- Unplugging the computer if it’s not being used
- Taking shorter showers
- Keeping the thermostat at 66 (we’re ok with 64 most of the time)
- Keeping the house cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer
- Using energy efficient bulbs
These small changes can save you some cash every month, but they require constant attention…
Saving money on your gas bill is similar to saving money on your electrical bill. Change. Your. Habits!
Fun fact… Your hot water heater can account for 15% or more of your gas bill! Holy moly!
To save money on your gas bill make a few of these changes:
- Take shorter showers
- Don’t do the dishes by hand (it actually uses more hot water than using your dish washer)
- Wait until you have a full load of dishes to run the dish washer
- Only do laundry when you have a full load
- Get a programmable thermostat (set it to automatically change the temp at certain times of the day)
- Keep the house cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer
The ultimate test of frugality is presented to you when you need to purchase a vehicle. Are you going to purchase a late model used car, or a flashy new vehicle?
Sure, the 0% interest sounds like a great deal, but the average new car payment is over $520/month!! Is that really the most frugal decision? No… probably not!
Fun fact: A vehicle loses roughly 37% of its value in 5 years.
We currently own an F150 with over 120,000 miles and a Jeep Patriot with over 154,000 miles.
Update: The Jeep Patriot died on us… RIP Jeep, you were a terrible vehicle and I regret ever purchasing you! (flips the Jeep off)
We are currently shopping around for a “new” to us car. Our goal is to keep the purchase price under $10,000 (preferably under $8,000).
As a fun, frugal test… we are going to see how long we can go as a single car family. As of April 13th, it’s only been 2 weeks and we’re doing great! Maybe we can go a full year?! (wife rolls eyes)
You can completely eliminate a vehicle monthly expense by using these rules to purchase your next vehicle:
- Pay with cash only
- Purchase price should be equal or less than 10% of your gross annual income
- Hardcore frugal car buyers will keep it at or less than 5% of your gross annual income
Buy a safe and reliable car. All of those bells and whistles run the price up, and honestly… they’re just more things to break as the vehicle ages. Why risk it?
Being Frugal Final Word
Once we paid off the last of that $109,000 debt we swore we’d never go back to living that way. We actually like this lifestyle now (Gasp).
Now, we enjoy what we already own and look forward to just sitting together on the porch swing talking as the sunsets…The frugal lifestyle has helped us appreciate those small beautiful moments.
Being frugal taught me that every purchase is actually paid for twice. Once with money and once with my time.
I’m working toward spending the best parts of the best years of my life with my wife and best friend, not in corporate America waiting for the weekend.
After paying off the last of our debt, we had big plans of loosening up the budget and adding in “fun money”…It’s been over 9 months, and we still haven’t done it!
Like I said before, if we really want something, we budget for it and make it happen.
We just don’t seem to want as much now, and that’s a wonderful thing! What are your thoughts on being Frugal? Has it helped or hurt you? Comment below!