Seven Habits That Will Save You Money

Some parts of frugality are harder than others. Some of it is intentional decisions that I have to make every day, and others are more like “Frugal autopilot” – things I don’t even have to think about.

For instance, every time I go to the store, I have to keep my priorities straight. This takes discipline. Every. Single. Time.

In this post I’m going to highlight the frugal habits that we no longer even think about in my family. Sometimes we even forget that we’re doing them, they’re so ingrained.

Sometimes it’s the big things that save you money – a raise in salary, buying a used car instead of a new model, etc. I don’t mean to overlook these large things. But I want to talk about the small, daily habits that add up to big savings. Because once set in place, the result is a lifetime of savings.

The return is probably larger on a lifetime of changed habits than on simply waiting for the next “big thing” to come along.

These habits weren’t always no-brainers though. A lot of these habits took conscious effort to get started. Some required intentionally moving or changing a big part of our lifestyle. But once we did them, the savings kept adding up.

Daily habits are just as effective for saving money, and the cool thing is that we don’t even have to think about them anymore. Why wouldn’t we want more habits like that in our lives? In addition, many of the same habits that save us money, also save energy and the earth’s resources. You can definitely feel good about making these changes – for various reasons!

1. Getting Places on Foot

If you live in a city or town that has awesome public transportation, congrats! You hit the jackpot and you should definitely take advantage of this incredible option. We don’t have the greatest mass transit where we live, but we do have a ton of destinations within walking or biking distance. We don’t take this for granted.

My husband bikes to work year-round, meaning we are able to live quite comfortably as a one-car family. Even on the days that biking would be downright treacherous, he is able to: 1) work from home, 2) take the car, 3) I drop him at work if I need the car, or 4) take the bus. We have so many options, it hardly feels like a sacrifice. And since he works at a desk, it’s nice to have the heart-pumping exercise built into his workday.

I, myself, try not to drive anywhere if it is less than three miles from home. Even with two young kids, I can still double-stroller or wagon-ride that distance – and it’s actually nice that strollers and wagons have carrying capacity for snacks and belongings!

Within a three mile radius, we have many parks, two libraries, our church, our grocery store, plenty of other stores, and several friends’ houses! Sometimes the car will sit for days without being used. It’s wonderful.

I’m a big advocate that life is best lived outside, and even in the city I know fresh air and sunshine to be extremely beneficial to my health. This is the wonderful silver lining.

The money is saved in gas, wear and tear on the car, and the cost of maintaining and licensing one car instead of two – like we used to. We also save money on having to pay to workout – like a gym membership or pay-per-month app or workout guide –  and I’m sure there are unquantifiable savings in our medical bills by maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

As if that wasn’t enough, here are some more reasons that I love being a pedestrian.

2. Eating at Home

This is a huge one. Maybe this should have been #1 actually, because the savings are hugely huge. You may not think you’re spending a lot of money on eating food out, but unless you’re making making everything at home from scratch, I can almost guarantee that you’re spending more than you think.

One of the sneakiest culprits is actually drinks out. Coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages are so vastly overpriced that your daily (or weekend) habits are adding up. I did some digging and apparently the average American worker spends $1,100 annually on coffee  and nearly $2,000 a year on lunch out!

So it goes without saying that even if you don’t get coffee and lunch out daily, there are huge savings to be had if you started preparing your own lunches and making your own coffee. Heck, even if you buy a fancy thermos for your homemade beverages, you’re still coming out way ahead!

Frugal people mostly eat at home. That’s the key. It’s such a big part of being frugal that other blogs go into a lot more detail on it. Whole message boards have been devoted to the best way to prepare rice and beans at home. I won’t get into all that here.

What I will say is that it pays to take a good, honest look at your eating / drinking out habits. This one habit trumps all others. Even if you’re a busy person, crockpots are awesome. Homemade smoothies are awesome. And an egg takes approximately 5 minutes to whip up.

This one takes practice, but it is worth the effort. Here are my favorite frugal recipes.

3. Not Running Heat or AC Often

This one may take some getting used to. Where we live in the Midwest, we experience all four seasons in all of their glory – and drastic temperature swings. Right now it’s winter here and my house is a balmy 62 degrees F on the main floor (the upstairs and basement aren’t really temperature controlled.) In the summer, it gets very humid and temps rise to the upper 90’s F. On those days, we run a dehumidifier in the basement (it gets moldy if we don’t) and we mostly use fans throughout our home, and thermal curtains to keep out the heat midday. We also drink a lot of ice water and take cold showers to cool off.

So yeah, I know it’s a little crazy because there is no “normal” temperature where we live. But the cool thing about barely running the heat or air conditioner (besides the savings) is that we acclimate.

Acclimating to the seasons is my not-so-secret weapon for savings and for enjoying each of the seasons to it’s fullest. I dress warmly in my house because it’s easier to control my body’s temperature than the whole room’s temperature. (Thermal leggings are my friend!)

And don’t fret if you have small kids, because they are actually better at adapting to temperatures than adults are! In the winter, my kids sleep in fleece jammies, socks, house shoes, and 2-3 blankets each. But they reassure me that they aren’t cold, and I believe them when we go to someone else’s house and their cheeks get flushed. They have adapted so well that they get hot at “normal” house temperatures!

Aside from saving money, adapting to the seasons means that my family is better-equipped for outside adventures year-round. We love summer runs and winter hikes. With the right gear and the right attitude, there is no such thing as bad weather!

4. Phone Plan

My husband Josh and I both have iPhones – we buy old-ish versions on Craigslist when ours stop working, and we invest in good quality cases like Otterbox to protect them for many years.

Until fairly recently, we were still paying for a pricey ATT phone plan we didn’t need. No one really talks on the phone that much anymore, what with Skype, Facetime, etc. We never came close to using all our minutes or data.

After doing some research, Josh and I decided on Airvoice Wireless. We have a super simple plan, but it works for us. It’s $10 a month for each device. What we don’t use gets rolled over at the end of the month…and if we go over, we simply refill it for another $10. No biggie. The main thing I use data for is my Maps app when I’m out and about. Otherwise, I’m almost always on Wifi.

It’s definitely not unlimited, but it meets our needs. We’re thrilled that we went from paying $100+ a month to $20 for both of us. It’s a one-time switch that saves us money each month. (Also, we don’t have cable or a land line. I recommend everyone cancel these two outdated things to save money.)

I’ve also heard good things about Boom Mobile. I don’t have personal experience with them though. And you should know that this isn’t a promotional post. No one is paying me to say these things. I simply want to pass on the knowledge and savings.

5. Eating Vegetarian

I know, another food one. Once we started eating food made from scratch at home, we farther “frugalized” our food bills by cutting out meat.

We’re not strict vegetarians. We’ll eat meat if we’re at someone’s house, but we no longer buy meat ourselves. Not only did we notice a positive change in our grocery bills, but going meatless has also been recommended by various authors such as Michael Pollan, for its health and environmental benefits.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

The main challenge with this one was learning how to cook in a different way. I was used to having to thaw meat for every dinner. But once I learned how to center the meals around vegetables, grains, and legumes, there was no going back. Vegetarian meals from around the globe are, in fact, not just replacing meat with something else. They are their own, unique, flavorful creations.

Moosewood Cookbooks were my favorite resources as I learned to cook meatless at home. I have never tried a recipe and not loved it. Many of our weekly staples are from their collection. I also learned some good ones from living with international students. Many traditional recipes from Pakistan, India, and Venezuela are meatless, but still SO full of flavor. If that’s not enough resources, I’ll post my favorite meatless recipes on here soon!

6. LED Bulbs

If you’re still using incandescent bulbs, consider this your wake-up call. You’re spending too much on your electric bills! Josh has been into LEDs since before they were mainstream, so we spent $20 a bulb back in the day and slowly built our collection. But good news! LEDs are now super affordable and accessible for all of us. (Last I saw the small ones were $1 each at IKEA.)

I know that vintage lights are hip and cute and coming back into style. Those Edison-style bulbs are all over Pinterest and Apartment Therapy. But fret not, you who like the vintage aesthetic. Vintage-looking LEDs are also available and becoming cheaper and cheaper too. (IKEA also has vintage-looking bulbs starting at $2.99 each, which is the best price I’ve seen so far.)

Ultimately, changing out the bulbs in your house (and simply not using the lights during the day if you have adequate window light) will add up quickly on those bills. The cost of the new lightbulbs will pay for itself quickly and then some. (But don’t take my word for it, ask Josh about the details. He’s the numbers guy in our family.)

7. Using the Library

Remember how I mentioned the two libraries within walking / biking distance? Well we use those libraries a lot. Like, the librarians know us by name we’re there so much. It’s really a win / win for us. I like to run to the library for a quick workout – and those due dates keep me motivated. The kids love it for the toys and the iPads they have loaded with educational kids games. And, at the end of it all, we come home with books and resources to use for our homeschooling during the week. What’s not to love?!

Even if you don’t have a library that close to you, there are more and more resources available on library apps like Hoopla. Oftentimes, if my library doesn’t have a small or recently published book, Hoopla still has it as an e-book or an audiobook. These can be downloaded for free using my local library card, and there’s no late fines because they are automatically “returned” on their due date.

Personally, I still prefer finding books the old-fashioned way by going to the library and browsing the kid section and the new item shelf. But it’s so awesome that even those specific, once-hard-to-find books are now available – legally and for free! If this is the future, I’m pretty excited.

Yes, there are some books and movies that are so good we want to own them and lend them out to friends to enjoy. But using our library helps us find those great books and movies in the first place, without spending tons of money taking chances on things. When we do end up buying a book, it’s because we’ve probably already read it and loved it and want to add it to our collection.

In all, I think the idea that we must “own” everything in order to appreciate it needs to be retired. It’s kind of wasteful, if you think about it, to own something that you so rarely use – it’s just sitting there most of it’s life. On the other hand, in a library, that item is picked up and read and checked out many times. That one book leads a much more interesting life than the one that is purchased and just sits on your shelf. A single library book has the potential to impact hundreds, if not thousands of people in it’s life. Even if you’re an avid lender of books, I doubt your personal collection is able to do that. Libraries are frugal, simple, minimal, and I hope they never go out of style.

What are your top frugal habits? How long did it take to integrate them into your lifestyle and start saving money?

Photography by Carolyn V.

3 Comments

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  1. Great tips, Emily! 🙂 Yeah for the library, Ikea (and its lightbulbs!), walks outside, extra layers in the winter, lots of water in the summer, and The Moosewood Cookbook! 34 years ago, one of my mother’s friends gave me this cookbook as well as Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. We still use these books constantly! Another tip for those near local markets (such as Global Foods, Karsch’s, Richard’s Produce, and the like), always look for clearance items, even in the produce section. I have gotten ginger, tomatoes, peppers, bananas, limes, strawberries… all at huge discounts. Make salsa, freeze the fruit for smoothies, ferment or freeze the ginger, and so on. You talked of children being able to adapt to lower temperatures. Last year we kept our house temperature at 58 because the electric bills in this vaulted ceiling home are crazy! We closed off the dining room and kept a space heater going in the day time. At night the heat was kept at 55 for the sake of the plumbing, but we were cozy under our covers and sleeping bags. THIS year, we find that we can keep the house temperature at 55 in the daytime, too, so we have adapted to the cold since last year! If we had small children, that would probably not be the case…62 sounds very reasonable for little ones, but we are older and can all add layers of clothing, move around, do jumping jacks, or get some MORE hot tea! In the summer, we keep the A/C at 81, use our solar ovens for cooking (when we remember!), and grow some of our own food. Thanks for sharing and for the encouragement!

  2. A big YES to all of these! (Well… except air conditioning. I pack a window air conditioner into our room during the summer so I can edit papers without my brain frying.) Also, we do the converse of the phone/internet thing by having phones that have wi-fi spots that we use instead of having internet.
    Stopping eating out was one of the biggest things for us… even though we only ate fast food. A $10 meal once or twice a week (of food that doesn’t nourish you or fill you up) definitely starts adding up when you have a small income. Zach and I learned that we would much rather eat at home and pack tuna sandwiches when we need lunch on the go. I started packing his work lunches with more homemade snacks, too, (bread, waffles, olives, apples and peanut butter, etc.) to break our reliance on snack food. Cheaper, healthier, and (for the most part) tastier!

  3. All great tips and tricks that we use ourselves!

    I was wondering if you’d ever be willing to share a list of blogs/websites you follow for motivation/inspiration? I always love reading your content as well as the links you provide. 🙂

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