Frugal Living Comprehensive Guide: 37 Ways to Find Serious Savings

The frugal living lifestyle begins with coupons, creativity and a little elbow grease.
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Written by Kelsey Sheehy
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Co-written by Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
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Frugal living isn’t about being cheap or feeling deprived; it’s about being resourceful.

It’s finding ways to save where you can — whether via coupons, freebies or DIY hacks — so you can focus your money and attention on the things you value, whether that’s saving for a comfortable retirement, traveling or living a debt-free life.

In this article

Frugal food tips

Cooking, and even growing, your own food can help you stretch your budget. And simple tricks like splitting entrees or hitting happy-hour specials can help you dine out on a dime.

  • Plan your meals in advance. Last-minute eating decisions often lead to more expensive "I'm hungry now" splurges.

  • Opt for less expensive cuts of meat. Make economical substitutions and search online for "meatless recipes" or "ways to use less meat."

  • Buy store brands and generic labels. Generics can be comparable in quality to brand names and cost much less.

  • Compare unit prices, such as the price per ounce or pound. These are often shown on the price labels on grocery store shelves, or you can use a mobile app to calculate. Then you can determine the true savings and not fall for a "discount" pricing tactic that might be misleading.

  • Eat out less. Trim home meal deliveries, too. For inspiration, check last month's spending on restaurants and food delivery services. They can add up quickly.

  • Keep an eye on your pantry and use up stockpiled supplies before they expire.

  • Buy a water filter or filtered pitcher rather than bottled water. That means fewer plastic bottles in the environment and more money in your savings account.

  • Grow your own herbs and vegetables. It gets you outside and active, and is as close as "farm to table" as it gets.

Frugal shopping tips

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Coupons, deals and freebies are your friends. You can use them to save money on things you were going to buy anyway — a tenet of frugal living. But use them mindfully, rather than as an excuse to spend on something you don’t actually need.

  • Stick to a list and take other steps to avoid impulse buying. Spur-of-the-moment purchases can be expensive and are often regretted later.

  • Hit up thrift and consignment stores. It's often surprising the quality — and the name brands — you'll find on sale for pennies on the dollar.

  • Browse in-person and online garage and rummage sales.

  • Join a local clothing swap or monitor buy-sell-trade groups in your area on social media.

  • Download a free coupon app. The days of clipping paper discounts are long gone. Now your phone will use your location to identify deals near you.

  • Similarly, use a browser extension to find deals when shopping online.

  • Stock up on nonperishable items when they're on sale — or snag bulk discounts at a wholesale club.

  • Consider a once-a-month no-spend weekend. Hunting down free-entry festivals and not-far-from-your-neighborhood events is half the fun.

  • Take the Amazon app as well as any other shopping apps you use often off your phone. Eliminating browse-and-buy habits that you might slip into during your spare time will encourage more intentional spending.

  • Know the best month to buy what you're looking for. Favorable product pricing really can follow seasonal trends.

  • Buy clothes at the end of — or out of — the season.

  • Find more shopping and couponing tips.

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Frugal entertainment tips

Free, fun things to do are all around. Date night? See a free concert or pack a picnic and head to the park. Family outing? Go for a bike ride, volunteer together or check out a museum that offers free admission.

  • Take advantage of free days at museums and national parks. Some state parks also feature times when visitor fees are waived.

  • Have a family game night. Some libraries offer board games and video games you can check out, so you can try something new without buying it outright.

  • Check out books, movies, magazines and DVDs from your local library.

  • Consider creating a parents-night-out swap with trusted friends, where you take turns babysitting each other's kids.

  • Use credit card rewards to score free flights, car rentals and hotel stays.

Frugal DIY project tips

You typically have two options when you need a product: buy it or make it yourself. Although heading to the store (or a shopping app) is convenient, DIY is often cheaper. But that does require another type of investment — time.

A little craftiness can also make the items you own last longer. Free online tutorials and community classes can teach you to mend everything from clothing to small appliances.

  • Create your own beauty products, like deodorant, face masks and dry shampoo. You can find many recipes online that use simple pantry staples, such as honey and raw sugar for a lip scrub or baking soda and cornstarch for dry shampoo.

  • Look for a local tool "lending library" or a place to rent tools and equipment, rather than buying something you need only rarely.

  • Make household cleaning products, such as stain remover, window cleaner and laundry detergent, at home. Use your judgment, though, and follow common rules like never mixing bleach with other cleaners such as ammonia.

  • Pull out a needle and thread to repair and tailor your clothing.

  • Barter services with neighbors and friends. For example, you mow their lawn and they fix your plumbing.

Frugal home expenses tips

Before you call the handyman, consult YouTube. There, you can learn how to do tasks as varied as fixing a leaky faucet or remodeling your bathroom. Getting frugal at home can also mean examining your monthly bills for ways to save on electricity, water, cable and even your cell phone.

The more you save on those expenses, the more you can spend on (or save for) what's important to you.

  • Save on your cell phone bill by asking your carrier for a better deal on a regular basis. Then shop the competition before recommitting to be sure your new renegotiated package is still your best choice.

  • Review the streaming services you pay for to see if you could cut some or choose more economical plans. Look for any discounts you may qualify for, such as a student rate, AAA or senior discount, etc.

  • Get free TV with a digital antenna.

  • Adjust your thermostat and layer up or dress down.

  • Wash your own car.

  • Use gas apps to save on fuel.

  • Try economical updates to your house, such as refreshing your cabinets with new paint and hardware, rather than committing to costly remodeling.

  • Avoid lifestyle creep. That's when your income gradually increases — but so does your spending. If you get a raise, divert it to savings with direct deposit or a scheduled automatic transfer. Think about using windfalls like a tax refund for savings or debt paydown.

If you want to start getting a handle on your spending, NerdWallet has compiled the best expense tracking apps based on ratings and popularity among users.

If your situation is even more serious, use our "how to get help paying bills" tool, for go-to resources in various categories. Choose the type of bill you're struggling to pay and find available options for immediate assistance.

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