Back to the Frugal Basics: Reducing Your Expenses

by Kelly · 18 comments

in Concepts in Frugality

I often hear that there are two ways to stick to a budget: earning more money and reducing your expenses. While neither of these are what I would call easy to accomplish, it’s often easier than not to boost your income by a bit. For example, you could try to make more money from a hobby, work more hours, get a second job, ask for a raise, and so on.

But many people, myself included, have a really hard time reducing their expenses. Whether it’s from a lack of willpower (waving hand wildly in the air), lack of cooperation from your family, or losing motivation over time, it’s difficult to reduce and reduce and then reduce your expenses some more.

But I’ve noticed that there are some things that I can do that don’t seem to make that much of a difference psychologically but do have a big impact financially.

For example: while picking up some dry cat food at the grocery store the other day, I noticed that the chicken flavor of brand X (a top of the range grocery store brand) was €13, while the fish flavor was €10.50. Now I don’t think that my cats really care if they eat fish or chicken flavor (especially since it’s not the real deal), but I do care about the extra €2.50 in savings. That adds up to about €80 a year. I started looking at other products, such as pasta or shampoo, and found many examples of times that you can save significantly just by buying a different product within the same brand.

Another way that I reduce my expenses is by trying to go longer between replacements. For example, I try now to wash the sheets on the beds once every 2 weeks (although this gets hard to do in the summer). It’s one of the major reasons that I only go to the grocery store every two weeks on average.

The best way to reduce your expenses, although the most difficult to do without feeling deprived, is to reduce your consumption levels. Whether it’s the amount of food you eat, the amount of electricity or telephone time consumed, or the amount of shopping you do, if you do it less, you won’t spend as much. I find this to be a long and gradual process however, and it’s still a work in progress for me. For example, while I spend much less money on books and magazines, we still (collectively as a family) have a hard time reducing our eating out expenses, and I know that this is a battle that is yet to be won!

How do you reduce your expenses?


1 Emma @ June 22, 2009

Great tips, Kelly, awesome – thanks! I can add to your list one more tip and it is to do the leg work before any major expense because that’s an opportunity for you to save more money than you can on smaller expenses. Find out what the big cost consists of and think how you can reduce it.

So for example I had to fix my laptop because it’s LCD died. I took it to the lab and the tech guys quoted me $900. I asked, what if I get you my own LCD as a part, can you install it and how much. They said $150. I sourced a brand new LCD for $350 and as a result had my laptop fixed for $500 instead of $1050. I understand that this is a bit of an extreme example but good enough to show what I mean.

2 Jane June 22, 2009

Hi Kelly:
I think your most important point here is “shop less often”! It’s amazing how we can get along with the food that sits at the back of the cupboards & frig that we usually don’t see & forget about. The same with clothing & almost everything else.
Something else that some may frown on: shower or have baths less often (especially in colder weather). I don’t have a shower in my old house, so I have a bath usually only once a week. I wash my hair under the kitchen tap once between baths. This wouldn’t do for someone who does hard physical (sweat-producing) work, but it’s fine for most of us. I think it’s shampoo & soap commercials on tv that have made us think we need to shower every day.

3 Kelly June 22, 2009

Good point Jane!
Since living in France I have started to wash my hair less often- I can get away with every other day, especially in the wintertime. I was amazed when I first moved here how everyone said that Americans (and Canadians) are *too* clean!

4 Kristy @ Master Your Card June 23, 2009

I shower twice a day, though the second is really more of a rinse off then using any actual products. My hair is too oily to let go to every other day of washing, though I do on the weekends when I know I’m not going anywhere. However, to not shower makes me feel disgusting. I understand the point you’re making, but that is something I am willing to spend the extra money on!
.-= Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog ..It’s The Climb =-.

5 Craig June 22, 2009

It’s easier said than done to reduce consumption levels. I am a big eater and especially during the summer when I love to bbq. Makes sense though, and reducing what you buy can help save a bit here and there.
.-= Craig´s last blog ..BudgetPulse Site Down for Migration to New Site 6/22-6/23 =-.

6 Kika June 22, 2009

As I’ve made the switch to less toxic products or organic foods, for instance, I’ve reduced my consumption in certain areas to offset the increase in price. I shower each day but only shampoo/condition every second day; I do buy organic/fair trade, dark chocolate but buy it by the case and eat small amounts as a treat rather than buying other junk foods. Likewise, my husband and I prefer higher quality, fresh fish but this means we’ll eat fish less often than before. These trade-offs make us happy and we feel we have a better quality of life even though we also make sacrifices along the way. Choosing to cut back is a better choice for us as opposed to trying to make more money. Whenever we become busier our temptation to spend also increases (ex. more fast-food, more gas…) but as we slow down and are at home more, we are in a better position to make purposeful, healthy choices for our bodies and finances. Having said that, there are seasons during which my husband makes extra money by reffing soccer/basketball and we use this money to pay down debt (ex. mortgage) or save for something.

7 Kika June 23, 2009

I wanted to add that we also unplug electronics, line dry (part of the time), use cloth napkins/rags, buy second-hand vehicles (we use only one)/ clothing/ dishes/ furniture, piano, etc. Even my much-loved laptop is second-hand (virtually free, actually).I don’t find these things difficult except when I’m attacked with an occasional bout of covetousness:) We don’t turn lights on much in the day – furniture is placed by windows. We read tons but use inter-library loans for this. We certainly spend money on things (like great-fitting pants, the occasional local pottery dish, healthy food and we have a “fun money” budget). My goal is to really think about the things that make us happy and at peace with our lives and this helps us figure out what to spend money on and what to do without or save on.

8 Meg from FruWiki June 22, 2009

My husband and I have a spreadsheet of our regular bills/expenses
It’s not a budget per se, but it doesn’t leave much unaccounted for as we have separate checking accounts with automatic, regular deposits for our “fun money”. That’s been a big help in figuring out what we can cut since we know what we’re spending on and can see how much this or that change would save us.

Since implementing it, we’ve managed to change most of our insurances to save money while still covering our needs (even more so, in some cases). We also cut cable, termite control (really don’t need it), and talk the regular pest control guy down $40+ a month (were otherwise going to cancel it). We even got our utilities bill down by watching our usage. It’s easier when we can see how a few bucks here and there REALLY add up! And we’ve also tinkered with it for motivation, showing us what our monthly expenses would be if we didn’t have any debt.

When it comes to irregular expenses, we do much as you do. We try to force ourselves to eat what we have before going to the grocery store. We shop around online for the best prices and value on things we intend to buy. We use the library, especially before buying a book (which is much rarer these days). And you might cringe if you knew how often we washed our sheets often even in Florida, lol. We still do splurge a bit too much here or there, but then we know we haven’t cut back more afterward for a while. Over all, though, we’re living well and making good progress.
.-= Meg from FruWiki´s last blog ..FruWiki talk:Copyright information =-.

9 [email protected] June 22, 2009

Hey Kell,

Really great tips. I really like your tip about going grocery shopping less often. By extending the time between supermarket trips you tend to use the items in the back of your fridge or cupboard that you might have overlooked or let go to waste. This is what I call dorm room cooking – using what’s ever in the kitchen to make a meal.

Many recipe websites allow you to type in what ingredients you have on hand and then they provide you with a recipe you can use for those ingredients.

I’ve found that going grocery shopping makes me use all of my left-overs instead of throwing them out.

10 apieceofwood June 22, 2009

We have made cut backs in lots of areas… from sourcing the cheapest utility suppliers to using the library instead of buying books.. Meal planning is our biggest saving though from approx £70 per week to £40 per week, less waste and proper meals instead of looking at full cupboards and wondering what to cook!

Great tips!

11 Kristy @ Master Your Card June 23, 2009

It’s funny you should post this piece as I’ve been seriously considering the best way to reduce my expenses. I’ve recently paid off the car, which was a huge expense, so that has helped. But, I’ve found that I don’t have major expenses per se. My biggest is my apartment. So, that’s the next expense to trim. I always seem to overpay when it comes to housing because I never take the time to look thoroughly, or I simply start too late. In either case, I tend to spend too much money on rent.

I’m currently in the process of examining the costs of square-foot gardening to see if this is a viable option to save me some money on produce and herbs. I like vegetables and I have an entire spice cabinet dedicated to my favorite herbs – which are all rather expensive. So, I’ll be doing a cost analysis on this to see if it is a good way to reduce expenses in the grocery section, but we’ll see.

Nice post!
.-= Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog ..It’s The Climb =-.

12 Nancy June 23, 2009

Great post. I find that the easiest place to trim expenses is in the food category. I limit myself to 2 grocery trips/mo. with the exception of filling in with the basics (milk and fruit). I’ve also learned to ‘make my own’ of most things from sauces, spice blends, etc. This eliminates both an expense and wasted packaging.
In our home we try to keep our thermostat set at a reasonable setting (it’s hard when it’s 80 degrees by 7a.m. in the summer) and we don’t turn on lights until we really need them.

For entertainment, we take advantages of free concerts and community events as well as go to a matinee movie rather than an evening showing. Also, we are big fans of the local library for books, movies, etc. rather than purchasing. If we do purchase books we always look for gently used copies first rather than new.
.-= Nancy´s last blog ..My Kind of Weekend =-.

13 JP June 23, 2009

Something that might be good to mention is that saved money is tax free money. Increased earnings are usually (okay, I know it does depend!) taxed.

Has anyone used either of Phil Lenahan’s or Dave Ramsey’s financial management programs? I”m investigating them partly because of personal need and partly because as a Catholic bookseller, I should know more about them!

Among other things, I’d like to know if they would be of use to someone who does not live in the US. IN other words, are the principals universal?

14 Kika June 24, 2009

I’ve read a couple of Dave Ramsey’s books and, as a Canadian, found them helpful. While I’m not following his recommended “program” 100%, his books encouraged me in many ways and I would recommend them to others.

15 Meg from FruWiki June 23, 2009


I’ve looked into Dave Ramsey’s plan, but disagree with some of it.

First off, he wants people to pay their smallest debts of first, even though they might lose a lot of money on interest doing that if their larger debts have higher interest. I understand the psychology of it — since you feel like you’re making more progress — but I’d still recommend that everyone try to tackle higher interest debts first. If they can’t stay motivated enough, then they can try paying off a smaller debt here and there.

Also, while I’m glad he does recommend starting with an emergency fund, even the first one should be larger than $1000, imho. A bare minimum emergency fund should be enough to fund: repairing major problems with your car like replacing the engine (or buying a cheap used one if need be), paying the deductible on insurances (health, home, car, etc.), and/or paying your largest bill (even just in case you get double billed for your mortgage one month like happened to us!).

Also, the larger emergency fund should be larger for most people. A 3-6 month emergency fund is nothing these days when it’s taking many people much longer to find a job. Even 6-8 isn’t always cutting it — and remember, your expenses may be higher if you lose your job because you’ll have Cobra and perhaps other expenses your job covered. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is to take the unemployment rate in your area and convert it to months. 12% unemployment = 12 month emergency fund. Of course, it’ll also depend on the availability of your job in the area, your flexibility in taking other jobs, the minimum salary you could settle for, etc.

Also, I would not wait to pay off all debt before building the larger emergency fund if you’re more than a few months away from off all your debt. What if you lose your job? You miss a payment on one thing and all your interest rates will go through the roof! Plus, you cannot depend on credit cards in an emergency because they’ve been cutting limits and closing accounts — even if your credit scores are fabulous and you’ve never missed a payment on anything, ever! Trust me, I know! And you can’t depend on unemployment, either. Not only is it a pitiful amount, but more companies are fighting it by saying people were fired instead of laid off. And even without companies causing trouble, the unemployment offices are backed up! It took a friend of mine months to see her first check!

On the other hand, I don’t want to see anyone paying tons of interest. So, try to get those interest rates down any way you can, pay off the highest interest rate cards first, but also keep throwing some money into the EF. And the lower your interest rates get, the more you throw in the EF.

And finally, in some cases it might make more sense to pay off your home before saving for your kids’ college (if you even have or plan on kids!). If you have time to save later, if your interest rate isn’t super low, if you can pay your home off years before you have college age kids, go ahead and pay off the home. You’ll be able to save easier when you don’t have a mortgage, imho. And I wouldn’t ever put money into anything that is strictly for college and can’t be taken back out without huge penalties because you never know if kids will even go to college.
.-= Meg from FruWiki´s last blog ..Main Page =-.

16 Jon June 24, 2009

Limiting your grocery store visits is a good start at controlling your food budget.Also you can purchase a grocery store gift card in the amount of your weekly budget.This way you keep tabs on the remaining balance after each store visit.


17 Jennifer July 2, 2009

I completely agree with the "less trips to the store". Making a list helps a lot too- stick to the list! I stock up on diapers and TP when they're on sale. I'm now using a dishcloth instead of paper towel. We switched to cloth napkins, but have some paper on hand when we have a lot of people over. I'm THINKING about handkerchiefs… 🙂 We buy most of our kids clothes at garage sales, but fill in the gaps at the store. I'm trying out some homemade cleaners, with recipes on line- the 1/2c vinegar, 2c water, 1/2tsp dishsoap, few drops of favorite oil (lemon for me!) seems to work well.

As painful as it is, a planned menu for the week can save a ton. There is so often left-over ingredients from one dinner. Well planned, they can all be used throughout the week. When you're more ambitious, I've read (, I think?) that you can have a 5 week menu for each season that just gets repeated. You can switch the weeks around to coincide with the current grocery sales. One of these days, I'll have to sit down and make that up! If these 3 kids left me with some energy at the end of the day… 🙂

18 JP July 3, 2009

Meal plans are such a good idea and SUCH a lot of work to implement. I was doing really well for a while, then I got sick again and everything just fell apart and I have not yet been able to reclaim it! Any hints for doing this? I'm pretty sure once the plan was done, it would be fairly self-maintaining. It's just getting it done!

We have been using rags instead of paper towel, and cloth napkins nearly forever. I used cloth diapers (not the flat-fold ones) until I discovered that our new, super efficient washer just wouldn't get them clean. Fortunately, that was with our last child!

I wouldn't do handkerchiefs, unless you are one who hands on to a tissue until it's well used (like I am!). I don't think carrying a used handkerchief around is sanitary. Of course neither is carrying a used tissue.

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