The ABCs of Frugality: 26 Key Frugal Concepts

by Kelly · 19 comments

in Concepts in Frugality,Living Frugally,Series

an Apple a Day It keeps the doctor away, we all know that. But fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most frugal foods you can find in terms of the nutrition:cost ratio. Sure, a bag of oreos might cost less than five pounds of apples (but probably not), but by choosing a piece of fruit as a snack you save calories and get vitamins. So in the end, it really does keep the doctor away, and with the exorbitant cost of health care in the United States, that’s not a bad thing.

Budgets Being frugal means being on top of your money. What better way to keep on top of your money than by using a budget? In fact, for me it’s the only way, as the ‘spend until we have nothing left’ plan doesn’t really seem to work. Pear Budget, excel sheets, pen and paper, the envelope system… they will all work, if you use them.

Catnip Looking for a frugal toy for your cat? I’ve found that my three furry snobs reject out of paw the fancy balls and stuffed mice found at the pet store. What they go for most is some home grown weed… catnip of course! For the price of one small toy, get a kit that keeps on giving. And you’ll be decorating your home as well, two for the price of one. Think outside the box when it comes to pet toys; paper bags, cardboard boxes, marbles are all big fun for our three beasts.

Diapers I’m a big fan of cloth diapers, both for frugal and for economic reasons. But the diapers I’m referring to here aren’t for covering your baby’s butt… they’re for cleaning your toilets and floors. I’ve found that the really thick prefold diapers (the kind you have to fold and pin into shape on a baby) are perfect for cleaning and the more you use them, the more absorbent they are. They almost make cleaning toilets enjoyable. Almost. So, no more chemically impregnated throwaway wipes, use and reuse a diaper instead.

the Environment Have you noticed how green and frugal decisions tend to go hand in hand? Consume less? Frugal and green. Buy local food? Frugal and green. Drive shorter distances and less frequently? Frugal and green. Whether you make your decisions out of an ecological motive or an economic one, the end result is often the same.

Freecycle can be an excellent way to practice frugality. Looking for something in particular? Post a request on your local group’s site. Trying to get rid of something without paying to take it to the dump. Offer it to others. I’ve gotten pots and pans, laundry detergent, a baby crib and gotten rid of too many things to mention here.

Goodwill Thrift stores should also be known as treasure troves, as long as you only buy what you have use for. I find that if I go on a regular basis with a shopping list in mind of what I really need (not what I really want, and there is a difference) then I don’t buy too much. Clothes, books, household supplies: why buy new? Remember, as soon as you buy a ‘new’ item it becomes used. And by buying used you are often able to afford better quality than if it were new. A final added bonus is that often times proceeds from thrift stores support local charities either directly or indirectly.

Handy work Know how much plumbers charge? A lot, especially on Sunday evenings. Or how much does it cost to repaint a dog-chewed door… more than you want to know. Are your pants too long? The local going rate is €15 to have them hemmed, about fifteen minutes worth of work. Wouldn’t you like to save yourself €60 an hour? Handy work can come in very handy; if you know how to do it yourself you can save yourself a lot of money. Don’t know how to do it yourself? Check out Back to Basics.

ING or any other online savings and checking account are great ways to manage your money. I like mine because it’s not linked to my checking account, meaning that my savings are out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes, unfortunately, they’re a little too out of mind, when I forget to add to them, but automated transfers can solve that problem. Many online accounts allow you to create various sub accounts, meaning that you can see your emergency fund, new car fund, vacation account and down payment stash progress nicely.

the Joneses (and not keeping up with them) If there’s one way to shoot yourself in the foot, no matter what, it’s comparing yourselves to others. Sure, maybe your neighbors have a nice car and take a ton of long weekend trips, but how are they paying for it? You don’t know. If you really want to live a frugal life than you can only compare yourself to your goals and ambitions. Measure the progress you make against them, not the neighbors. Which leads me to…

Know your goals… and your limits Why are you frugal? What do you have or hope to gain? Is it paying off past debt, avoiding new debt, saving for a specific goal or for ethical and philosophical reasons? Knowing your goals will better help you to achieve them. On the other hand, you have to know your limits as well. As much as I hate the idea of spending money on eating out, I also know that I go crazy if I have to cook too many meals in a row.

Leftovers When planning and preparing a meal, make enough for leftovers. You’ve then cooked once, something that can be eaten two, three or more times as the case may be. You don’t have to eat it immediately either, that’s what freezers are for! Leftovers can be taken to work as the next day’s lunch, saving your spouse the need to buy a sandwich or starve.

Menu planning Whether you plan your menus before you go shopping or after, menu planning can be a valuable tool in your frugal toolkit. it helps you to use your food the most efficiently, with the least waste possible (I’ve heard that Americans throw away up to one third of the food they buy). And by knowing what you are going to make and eat for dinner you are better prepared to resist the siren’s call of the Golden Arches.

Networking I am a huge believer in the power of networking. It can help you in many ways, not the least of which is being frugal. If you know someone, or know someone who knows someone, then you have a personal relationship with that person. That relationship can help you get the things you need as long as you remember that networking is a two way street and a three step process: first you give, then you receive then you give back again.

Online checking Part of doing a budget and making it work is keeping up with your money. An online checking account can help immensely. Just log on every morning while sipping your morning coffee and log in the previous days’ expenses into your budget sheet. That’s what I do… theoretically at least!

My Points can be a great rewards program… a program that helps you earn gift cards in exchange for just a little bit of time. They send you emails and you earn points for reading them. I’ve earned enough points to be able to give away $30 in gift cards and I’m more than halfway towards another $10 Target card. How does this help you be frugal? Well you wouldn’t turn down $40 cash, would you?

Questions Unless you’re a born expert (and I know very few people who are) asking questions is the best way to get ahead in life. Want to learn how to cook so you don’t have to eat out as often? Ask someone who’s good in the kitchen. Looking for the best haircut at a decent price? Ask someone whose hairdo you love. Want to learn how to be frugal? Start leaving comments and asking lots of questions on your favorite blogs. Remember, you’ll never get anything if you don’t ask, and the worst someone can do is say no.

the second R Reduce Reuse Recycle are environmental keywords. But Reuse should be a frugal keyword as well. Reusing something in a way different from its intended purpose is a great way to save money and express your creativity.

Soap As I was cleaning my kitchen the other day, I realized that I didn’t have any ‘typical’ cleaning products on hand- nothing to scour, scrub or shine with, and what’s more, I hadn’t had any of those products for years. It’s not that I don’t clean my kitchen, of course I do, it’s that I use the basics: clean rags, a sponge, soap and water. (And of course vinegar, but there’s more on that below.) I don’t spend money on expensive cleaning products and I don’t have to either. I read an interesting tip a while back: when you finish washing the dishes and your sponge is still soapy, give a quick going over of the appliances or counters. Then toss the sponge in the dishwasher for cleaning.

TV Don’t go to the movies, or spend a lot of money in a club. Have a family movie night. Tivo a favorite film, make a bowl of popcorn and settle in for a frugal night together. Just don’t get sucked into the commercials. One of the things that most struck me when I first read The Tightwad Gazette was a pop quiz: when a new movie comes out you a) run out to see it right away, b) wait six months to rent it on video or c) wait ten years to see it on network TV. I bet you can guess the correct (frugal) answer.

Unplug And when you’re finished watching the movie, turn the TV off- at the source. Unplugging appliances instead of merely turning them off can save a considerable amount of power and therefore money. The same thing goes for things like phone recharger or the computer. There are fancy plugs that allow you to disconnect all the accessories when you turn off one main object (the printer, scanner and stereo when you turn off the computer for example) but I go the low tech route and unplug it from the wall.

Vinegar Is there a better all purpose substance? You can use it to condition your hair, refresh the washing machine, dress a salad, unclog the sink (with a little baking soda), get the gunk out of the coffee pot, shine your floors, bake a cake… the list goes on and on. Good stuff that vinegar, and cheap too!

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. I remember as a child being able to drink my fill out of a public drinking fountain just about anywhere. And now they seem to be disappearing faster than you can say ‘Thirsty, thirsty’! Carrying a refillable bottle with you, be it made of glass or aluminum, is still cheaper than buying a drink on the go. It’s better for you too, and kinder to the environment. Not to mention that people tend to be more irrational when they’re hungry or thirsty; swigging water in the aisles at Target may just help those impulse buys from landing in the cart.

eXpensive It’s not necessarily a bad thing when something costs a lot of money, as long as you can afford it, buying it fits in with your goals and it is a good value for the money.

whY are you on this frugal journey? You know your goals and you know your limits, but do you know your motives? Why are you saving to buy a house? Is it because you’ve always dreamed of having a home of your own, or is it because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re thirty and married?

Zzzzs Getting your sleep can help keep you sane. Anyone with a colicky or teething baby can attest to that. And just as people can avoid making irrational decisions by staying hydrated, staying well-rested helps as well. Plus, is there a more frugal activity than catching some ZZZs between your sheets?

Now you know my ABCs. Won’t you try and sing with me? What can you add to the list?


1 Michelle July 23, 2008

What a great post Kelly -one of your best! It’s good information and cutely presented 🙂

Michelle’s last blog post..A Great Kid Giveaway

2 Kelly July 23, 2008

Thanks Michelle! I'm really proud of this post- I worked quite hard on it.

3 Shanti @ Antishay July 23, 2008

What a great, well through-out post! Thanks for linking to my quality/cheap article 😀 It feels like I wrote that AGES ago but it’s still as relevant as ever.

Thanks 🙂

Shanti @ Antishay’s last blog post..Festival of Frugality #135 – The Frugal All Over Edition

4 Kelly July 23, 2008

You’re welcome Shanti. And I’m so glad you’re back up and running!

5 My Daily Dollars July 24, 2008

Great post! I especially agree with the tip about vinegar. We’ve gone from having over a dozen different cleaning products to vinegar and bleach.

My Daily Dollars’s last blog post..Back to Reality

6 Laura July 24, 2008

Excellent post Kelly 🙂

7 Karen R July 24, 2008

I liked your article. Can you tell me more about vinegar as a hair conditioner? I never heard that one.

8 Kelly July 25, 2008

I have actually never tried this, so take what I say with a grain of salt! But I have heard that you can wash your hair with baking soda (you wet your hair, then make sort of a thin past, rub in then rinse well) and then you condition with apple cider vinegar. The vinegar smell does go away.
I remember reading on one of the bigger blogger’s blogs that she does this with her family, but now I can’t remember who. And when I was involved in the 90% reduction project, a lot of people tried it too.
I’m personally addicted to the smell of Pantene. When they make vinegar with that smell, then I’ll try it!

9 Karen R July 25, 2008

Thanks for the response, Kelly. I like the Pantene Ice myself.

10 Toblerone @ Simple Mom July 27, 2008

Fun list, Kelly! I really enjoyed this one. Stumbled.

Toblerone @ Simple Mom’s last blog post..Link Love :: the cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze edition

11 Kelly July 27, 2008

Thanks to everyone who has stumbled it, I appreciate it! And FYI, I just read another tip for vinegar usage; use white vinegar instead of rinse liquid in your dishwasher. Again, I can’t vouch for this personally, but it sounds interesting!

12 Jeana July 28, 2008

Ha! Love the title of your blog!

Jeana's last blog post..Extreme Frugality: The Uncooperative Spouse

13 Shanti @ Antishay July 30, 2008

Thanks for the link! I totally missed it before 😀

Shanti @ Antishay's last blog post..In Defence of Expensive Shoes, or “My Way of Thinking Frugally”

14 Andy, Washington DC August 5, 2008

Great post…I am about to do a similar one on the A-Z of personal finance. Maybe this becomes a trend…

Andy, Washington DC's last blog post..Paying off your mortgage – what would you do with the spare cash?

15 Victoria Hokulani August 10, 2008

Frugality is a genetic trait, it must be. I can tell you are the real deal.

Victoria Hokulani’s last blog post..The All-You-Can-Eat Cheap Oil Buffet

16 OneAdvice January 6, 2009

I think this is such a great article, the A-Z format makes dealing with your finances seem like such a breeze.

<abbr>OneAdvice´s last blog post..5 Tips to Beat the Credit Crunch Online</abbr>

17 Coupon Artist January 14, 2009

Great post, and great tips. I too love the cleaning tips, and prefer to use all natural (old fashioned?) cleaners… not only cheaper and easier but healthier too!

Thanks for visiting my list too… 🙂

<abbr>Coupon Artist´s last blog post..New Part Time Gigs for Me!</abbr>

18 marilyn March 22, 2009

Do you really want to unplug the TV, the VCR, the DVR, the computer?? The coffeepot? The microwave? Your computerized sewing and embroidery machines?
I gotta tell you, the work involved every time you have to start up from no-power is a real pain.
I think one needs to decide if all that thrash and hassle is a good idea….

19 the green gal August 11, 2009

I appreciate I’m a bit late to this post but it’s so useful I’m glad I found it! I’m starting out in the world of learning new crafts so I can make and mend, cutting down on waste (don’t worry I already recycle and compost!) and this week we’re having a go at Mrs Green’s challenge to only eat what you’ve already got in the cupboards (bar fresh veg) from
There is something very satisfying about achieving something new like making jam or reducing waste or seeing the money you save by changing purchasing habits.
Thanks for the inspiration!
.-= the green gal´s last blog ..In a jam =-.

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