My Best Frugal Tactics For Stress-Free Budget Living

November 4, 2013

My best frugal tactics for stress-free budget living!

I’m a veteran of frugality- when I started this blog in 2011, I was a broke graduate student in a new part of the country and my financial situation changed dramatically overnight. To survive my first year in Chicago, I had to live off of $800 of income a month and sometimes, it wasn’t pretty.

I learned a lot about living frugally, but more importantly, I learned to live frugally in a more sustainable way, without burning the candles at both ends. It’s easy to go gung-ho about frugality when you’re on a tight budget, but like any new routine, you can’t overdo it, or you’ll end up miserable.

1. Frugality Isn’t About Deprivation

Many of us turn to frugality as a way to reign in our spending to combat debt, overcome a job loss, or to finally save up for that emergency fund. Frugality is a lifestyle, not an austerity program- if you make too many changes too quickly or completely suck the friendly out of “budget friendly” you’re going to burn out and rebound- hard.

I’m all about short term challenges or “spending fasts” (as And Then We Saved coined the term), that give you serve as a short term “spending diet,” but like all things, you must spend and save, in balance. Have a goal, an end game and always schedule in rewards along the way.

2.  Good Planning Trumps All Else

Poor planning will be your frugal undoing. This applies to meals, travel, gifts and unanticipated expenses. Many folks focus on the budget itself, but creating good meal plans at the beginning of the month will be key to saving the most time and money. Stock up on your essentials- meat, pasta, canned goods and snacks while they’re on sale and filter them into the plan to capitalize on sales and avoid any weeknight hunger pains that could coax you into ordering takeout when you’re tired and out of food.

Having an emergency fund is also key. You can’t always plan every trip or a new set of tires- life happens and you may not be able to get the best deal in a pinch. The key to living frugally is being prepared, if you can’t get something on sale, at least pay for it in cash!

3.  Schedule In Guilty Pleasures

If all you can afford to treat yourself with is one dinner out a month or hiring a cleaning lady once in awhile, but it will make you feel jubilant- do it. Make room in your budget for something worth saving for that’s a wee bit smaller than your biggest goal. If your giant goal is to pay off $20,000 of debt or save $5,000 for an emergency fund- it could take you months or years to pay off.

While you work towards the big goal, schedule in perks for each major milestone and make sure it’s NOT frugal. This means that while you clip coupons and kick tush with your grocery bill and cut your transportation costs like a ruthless penny pincher- your reward should make you feel, well, guilty! A guilty pleasure could be a mani/pedi, a new pair of shoes, a budget-busting trip to Target or a fancy dinner. Whatever makes you feel a wee bit guilty, that’s what you should treat yourself with!

4.  Get Your Saboteurs On Board

Saboteurs aren’t backstabbing frienemies, they’re actually the ones we love who might not understand that you’re cutting costs and trying to live more authentically with your frugality. Saboteurs can be anyone from a coworker who wants to go shoe shopping during lunch, or your honey who likes to throw extra items in the cart when he knows you’re on budget.

A simple conversation can suffice some unintentional saboteurs, but usually the worst ones are the ones who “see no harm” in carrying on as if it were business as usual. Just like a partner or parent might buy someone junk food who is trying to lose weight, some show they care by spending money or wanting you to “just have fun this one time” while batting their eyelashes and putting another DVD in the shopping cart. If you have to, don’t take them shopping with you or do your best to distance their influence on your behavior without having to distance them from your life entirely.

5.  Find Resources & Barter For Help

When I was a graduate student in Chicago, I realized that having a car was a big expense that wasn’t paying off- I took the train downtown to work (since parking downtown was $16 a day even in our building) and could walk to class. I got rid of my car to save money, but I made a mistake- I didn’t have a backup plan for what I would do if I were ever in need of a car.

Some cutbacks will feel great- if you weren’t using that TV in another bedroom, selling it will feel freeing. Other times, cutbacks might cause a problem- but being prepared by pooling resources will reduce hassle and prevent burnout. For instance, selling my car saved me thousands of dollars in maintenance, parking fees, city and state registration and gas- but if my pug, Ralph needed a vet visit and it was snowing outside- a car would have been a blessing. In those instances, I had to call a cab or rent a car, but being able to reach out to someone who could swap favors for free would have been so much better.

Get creative on what you can do without, and who you could rely on if you needed those services. Perhaps it’s time to sell your DVD collection that’s collecting dust- but if you ever do want to watch movies, could you borrow from a friend, a library or rent? If you’re planning on cutting out fast food or takeout, would a friend of family member be willing to do a potluck with you once a week so you’re not boring yourself to death with the meals you always make at home? Be sure though to give as much as you get, and make it fun!

How To Live Frugally Wihtout Losing Your Mind - Frugal Tactics For Stress Free Budget Living from


If you had one piece of frugal advice, what would it be?

18 comments so far.

18 responses to “My Best Frugal Tactics For Stress-Free Budget Living”

  1. Jessica says:

    If I had one piece of frugal advice it would be that you need to remember why you’re trying to save money. If you’re doing it just to do it, you’ll get sick of it. If you are working to pay off debt, watch your progress and measure it regularly so you can see you’re making changes for the better.

  2. Jessica says:

    If I had one piece of frugal advice it would be that you need to remember why you’re trying to save money. If you’re doing it just to do it, you’ll get sick of it. If you are working to pay off debt, watch your progress and measure it regularly so you can see you’re making changes for the better.

  3. Great tips! My one piece of advice would be to remember you personal goals and not be influenced by those around you. They may not have they situation that they appear to. Accepting and being “ok” with taking a different path is a great way of getting caught up in the “keeping up with Joneses”

  4. em says:

    Some great tips I am working on saving a deposit for my first house at the moment I accept that I will be renting rather than buying but I still need to make sure I am saving to be able to afford any emergencies after I do find somewhere.

  5. Ashley says:

    I am all about visual reminders but getting your significant other on track with you is crutial!

  6. Jenny McDonald says:

    My best advice for doing the frugal grad student thing would be to plan out your partying. Having a few drinks at home before heading out for an all-night celebration definitely helps cut down on cost, and that way you don’t have to sacrifice your social life to live on a budget. Not the classiest of money-saving tips, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

  7. You hit the nail on the head with this post, girl! I think Dave Ramsey said it best- “live like no one else, so you can LIVE like no one else.” My husband and I just went on a 2 1/2 week vacation to Europe and paid cash. It was so worth all the budgeting!

  8. It’s all about the attitude you approach frugality with. Too many people think of frugality as limiting their options, rather than thinking about frugality as giving you the freedom to achieve your goals.

  9. Amy says:

    The 2 biggest ones for me are planning – meal planning so that you eat healthy, low cost meals all week are essential, and scheduling in treats. If you have lived frugally all week you can treat yourself to a nice meal once every now and then.

  10. Laura says:

    I always advise my friends to hide their credit cards if they’re tempted. Putting it away even for a day or two when you’re going out and have to use cash really helps!

  11. Tina says:

    I love your frugality posts! Keeps me on track-

  12. Neti* says:

    Great tips and advice. I have been unemployed for three years now and Thank God for my family’s support. I had paid off my car loan and stocked away enough funds to tie me over for 1 year but not 3. I have been a savvy shopper for a long time and never pay full price for anything including my car, but I have learned that being Frugal does not mean looking for a handout. I work with what I have and depend on my son for the bare necessities. . .that investment has really paid off! LOL.

  13. Isis Nagle says:

    One other thing I would like to express is that in lieu
    of trying to match all your online degree courses on
    days that you complete work (because most people are
    exhausted when they return), try to find most of your instructional classes on the week-ends and only a few courses in weekdays, even if it means a little time off your saturday and
    sunday. This pays off because on the weekends, you will be
    far more rested as well as concentrated for school work.
    Thanks a lot for the different suggestions I have mastered from your weblog.

    Also visit my web site Isis Nagle

  14. Thomas says:

    Making money on the side will really help. 🙂

  15. Vanda M. Orsini says:

    Great posts and advice on Living Frugal. I have been living frugal for a long time (single parent) and then lost my job 3 years ago.

    Here’s some tips which might be helpful.
    * Make your healthy dinners stretch, bring the leftovers for lunch.
    * Buy in bulk, for example toilet paper at Costco, share the membership with a family member. I share mine with my brother.
    * Sign up for e flyers, check for the deals, loyalty cards like Shoppers Drug Mart (Canada) are great. You keep saving, and accumulate points, and then wait until its worth spending when the store has the promo to redeem points and earn more points. I have purchase a lot of cosmetics for about $12, when it would have costed over $100.00.
    *Have a part time job where you get a great discount. I work for a US furniture/housewares store and get a 30% off but once a year I get 45% off. That’s when I purchase my sofa! Awesome.
    I have so many ideas and useful points, but I am running out of room.
    Cheers, Vanda


Get Updates Via Email

Join The Frugal Beautiful Update List!
Get Posts Sent To Your Inbox...subscribe below!