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Serina is the author of The Joyful Frugalista and interviews a wide range of talented people about frugality, investing, wellbeing and living sustainability.
I confess to feeling a bit of a fraud!
In comparison with most of the finance bloggers, I am certainly not frugal. These guys routinely live on less than $50,000 per year.
When I sat down and worked it out, that would actually be survivable for our family too.
But I spend significantly more.
Yet besides my medical colleagues, I do look pretty frugal.
I have a nice house in a just-OK suburb, and an old car I brought with cash.
I guess frugality can be relative. They say you are the product of the 5 people you spend your time with.
Spending time reading and listening to finance blogs and podcasts like Serina’s has certainly helped me become more financially efficient over time.
Define Frugality –
“The quality of being frugal, or prudent in saving; the lack of wastefulness”Online Dictionary.
The absence of wastefulness is the essence of frugality.
“Frugality” was long practised by necessity by our parents and grandparents. During wartime, extreme measures were needed to stretch food rations and other finite resources.
Our lives have become more luxurious. With two working adults in most families, a two-car household is often considered a basic necessity. Societal expectations have swollen to include large homes, luxury vehicles, regular meals out and annual overseas holidays.
We are also busier, with two working adults, and little spare time, it’s easy to become wasteful. A fridge full of fresh fruit and vegetables purchased with optimistic good intentions, has to be thrown out a week later after several takeaway dinners.
Rushing out to work, you rarely have time to make a meal to take with you, so pay for an unhealthy (and in my experience, generally disappointing) canteen lunch and drink.
A few decades ago, the lifestyles most professionals lead today would astound (and perhaps horrify) our great grandparents. Such wasteful excess would likely be considered with as much disdain as frugality is often treated today.
The Problems with Wastefulness
I most certainly do not claim to be immune to bloated expectations and waste as a result of busyness (and sometimes laziness). But I do reflect on how different my life is from my grandparent’s lives, and the majority of the world population today. Ideas from these podcasts and blogs on frugality often inspire me with new ways to save time and money, by making small changes to reduce wastefulness.
Around 25% of the water used in agriculture grows food that is eventually wasted. According to Environment.gov.au, throwing away 1 burger is equivalent in water wastage as a 90-minute shower.
It makes no sense to spend money, utilise water and other resources to buy food that you will eventually throw away. But most of us do, including me.
Wasting food is just one example, but demonstrates perfectly the nonsensical use of our resources for no benefit. It squanders not only our money but the world’s environmental resources too.
Benefits of Frugality
Being frugal with your financial, environmental and time resources brings many benefits. For one, you won’t have to empty the fridge of mouldy food, an unpleasant task. Can’t you think of a better way to spend that time?
Reducing our carbon footprint provides long-term benefit for the planet and our children and grandkids, Reducing waste and excessive consumption is a fairly low effort way to improve our environmental impact.
Consumption can be reduced by buying less and only what we need. Resisting the powerful marketing messages we are bombarded with all day is difficult, but begins with understanding what is going on. Marketing psychology is an entire science-based around tapping into your fears of not being “enough” and leveraging them for profit.
It doesn’t have to be extreme. Frugality is relative. A frugal lifestyle to me would still be an extravagant, bloated lifestyle to most in the world.
Frugality does not Mean Deprivation
Frugality seems to have become misunderstood as deprivation.
A frugal person would whip up an easy bread and butter pudding with the past-it’s-best sour dough bread, rather than throw it in the bin. Ok, probably not good for the waistline, but a perfect treat for a winter’s night! You may just find yourself warmed by fond memories of your grandmother’s cooking.
Saving your money by not spending unnecessarily means it can be spent when it will really make a difference. Being frugal can be the difference when an amazing opportunity comes up between dropping everything to take part, or making excuses. Complaining you can’t because you’re broke (as always) is pretty lame. You need savings.
You’ve heard all the cheesy platitudes, but research backs them up. Spending money on things doesn’t actually make you happy. Using that money to provide choices and opportunities on the other hand, gives you freedom over your life.
It’s fun going out to a restaurant for a lovely meal. Why would you want to miss out on that? Hardcore frugalistas cut eating out almost completely out of their budget. But it doesn’t have to be this extreme. How often have you paid for food at a cafe you didn’t even like, just because you were too disorganised to bring your own? How many rubbish restaurant meals with bad service have you tolerated? Do you even really appreciate the luxury of someone else cooking (and washing up) for you when you do it all the time? Do it a little less often, plan it properly so you choose a really good place and have plenty of time to enjoy the experience.
How to Become More Frugal
1. Stop Throwing Away Groceries
There are several ways you can improve your grocery wastage, depending on your preferences.
- Meal Planning – Planning what you will eat for the next 3-7 days and purchasing accordingly means you have a plan for every purchase. It does involve a little time in planning upfront, but will save time in extra trips to the shops! Some top performers plan the meals around weekly specials (particularly meat, which tends to be the most expensive). I’m not there yet! Leave “Leftover days” in your meals, to get creative and make a pie, omelette or quiche from those leftover bits and bobs.
- For the super busy, making a regular meal roster (perhaps 3 or 4 weeks that you rotate) will save planning time. These can be saved with a shopping list of ingredients (plus usual weekly essentials) in word documents that can then be “copy and pasted” into grocery website online orders. Click and collect or grocery delivery means you save a lot of time and avoid impulse purchases in the store.
- Cooking in bulk saves time and money. You are less likely to have to throw away unused ingredients and can cook 3-4 meals in one go and freeze. On busy nights, instead of the rubbish pizza you always order, you have a ready-made and nutritious meal you just have to reheat. It is also more efficient on power to cook multiple meals at once.
- Growing vegetables. Again, a little time investment upfront can pay dividends for a long time. Your climate will dictate what will grow easily. We have found growing lettuce easy and means we no longer have to throw out half a bag of limp leaves every week. You can harvest leaves straight from the plant without removing it from the ground, taking only what you intend to eat that day! It’s also extremely convenient to be able to get fresh lettuce within 30 seconds of deciding you need it. The bottom 3cm of spring onion with the roots can be chopped off your next bunch of spring onions and planted and watered. They will regrow, and you can keep snipping the stalks as they grow and you want them. Far more satisfying than throwing 1/2 the bunch away each time! Herbs are expensive and can be grown in a pot on a balcony or kitchen window. Again, highly convenient to be able to pick them when you need them. Many other vegetables and fruit grow in abundance and need to be distributed to colleagues, neighbours and friends to avoid wastage. We usually find our neighbours, friends and colleagues bring in their own excessive produce to share too.
- Utilise your freezer. Reducing the number of trips to the supermarket will generally save you money. It will definitely save you time. Does anyone really like going to the supermarket? Milk and bread freeze really well. A good supply in the freezer will mean you will never have to interrupt your plans to pop to the shop for these basics. Grated cheese also freezes well, as well as vegetables, meat, and most prepared meals. Keeping your freezer full is more efficient for power costs, so filling empty soft drink bottles with water will reduce costs and be an easy way to carry more water for a long day in the sun. Organising your freezer so you can actually identify and find the food you need reduces frustration and frostbite. I love my 5 drawer freezer, each compartment has its own category.
2. Minimize Driving
Most of us should be getting more exercise anyway. When driving, bunching errands by area can get things done quicker, using less fuel. Get that discount fuel card… it all adds up. Don’t leave filling up until your coasting into the station on fumes… take advantage and top up your tank when prices are reasonable.
Set a day a year to beat the insurance agents at their own game. Shop around. Don’t be lazy. Invest the money saved or use it to buy something fun. But don’t pay more than you have to on insurance.
4. Separate Discretionary from Essential Spending
Work out what you spend your money on. Separate your essential spending (mortgage, food….) and your discretionary spending (meals out, coffee, holidays….). Work out how much you want to budget from now on for your discretionary spending and use this budget to help you decide which spending really brings you value. Work out your money management system. Spend your discretionary budget on what brings you joy, and don’t waste it on rubbish you regret.
5. Sleep on it before Purchasing
Impulse purchasing is so easy now. You don’t even have to go find your credit card. One minute your spying on your ex’s Facebook page, the next thing you are seduced by an ad, and have brought yet another gadget you won’t use.
Make a rule of introducing a delay between wanting to buy and actually buying. It could be 24 hours, 72 hours or a week (or more). Many of those purchases will simply be forgotten, you can then go ahead and purchase the ones you still want guilt free.
6. Use your Local Library
Use it or lose it. This is a fantastic community resource, although by my observation sadly underutilized by those that need it the most. Borrow books instead of buying when possible can save you quite a bit if you are a total book worm, or have kids.
7. Use Power Efficiently
Work out when it is most efficient to use the washing machine and dishwasher, and make it your usual daily routine to put them on (with a timer if desired) at that time. Turn lights and power sockets off. Use grey water to water the garden (on timed sprinkler, unless you love to water).
8. Mend, Make Do and Borrow
Don’t buy something new at every time. I promise you, at some point in your life you will likely be overwhelmed with belongings you don’t have room to store. Borrow, mend or make do when possible.
9. Don’t tip the tax man!
10. Build in balance
Don’t forget to spend joyfully along your journey. Ensure you set, and use your fun budget. Life shouldn’t be all about saving money. Like many things, it is easy to get a little obsessed. If you find yourself really uncomfortable about spending a little money, you may have gone too far.
With big purchases and scary decisions, I like to consider whether I would regret not doing this on my deathbed. It helps me take that leap when I really want to do the thing.
What are your frugal tips for readers? Comment and share the ones you use below.
Aussie Doc Freedom is not a financial adviser and does need offer any advice. Information on this website is purely a description of my experiences and learning. Please check with your independent financial adviser or accountant before making any changes.