Working in the non-profit sector on a really small salary has forced me to learn how to live on less. But because I lived in a pretty expensive city like Seattle, I had to learn quick how to be a savvy steward of my resources and take advantage of all the bounty my city has to offer. For people who equate living frugally with living poorly, think again. Below are some of the most important ways you can pull a frugal lifestyle off with grace and class.
1. Learn to cook gourmet food at home. Eating out perhaps is one of the biggest expense you can quickly eliminate by simply investing in a few good cookbooks and of course, time. For those who consider themselves the culinary-challenged type, the key is to find cookbooks that teach you how to cook, like Joy of Cooking. If you are used to eating out with friends, invite them over to cook together, share ingredients and of course, the home-made meal. There is nothing quite like learning how to prepare good food with loved ones while keeping more money in your pocket.
2. Go car-less. Even in a city like Seattle, there are many ways to ditch the car. You can take the bus, ride your bike or simply walk. Group your errands and appointments together and do them all at once if you must use the car or use a car sharing service like Zipcar. You can also opt to carpool with your neighbors and co-workers. You might even want to participate in Seattle’s One Car Less Challenge and get a bunch of fun incentives! You not only save on gas money, but ditch the monthly payments and auto repairs.
3. Live communally. If you own a house, consider renting one of your rooms out to friends. Host an exchange student like we do through a program like Abode Homestay. If you are renting an apartment, think about possibly living in a house with others to form a more intentional community of sort. Consider co-housing, where you can share resources with other like-minded folks.
4. Make nature your weekend destination. Some people spend a lot of money on weekend activities. But a weekly outdoor adventure can be just as awesome and free at the same time. Go for a hike or a really long walk. Enjoy a simple day at the park. Do picnic with friends at the beach. Enjoy the sunset. Truly, the best things in life are both free and priceless.
5. Enjoy the arts for free. Many museums offer free days for the public, and although it can be quite a zoo for the more popular ones, you can save anywhere from $10-$20 per admission fee. You can also look for coffeeshops that host new bands or poetry reading by local artists.
6. Read books without buying them. If you are like me and you read about 4-5 books a month, simply borrowing them at your local library can save you about $100. You can also swap books with friends, or participate online with programs like Paperback Swap.
7. Watch movies for free. Your local library is more than just a collection of good books, but also of good movies. Granted, you’d have to wait a long time for more popular movies, but if you watch about 4-5 movies per month, that’s about a savings of $20 of movie rental.
8. Buy used. Thrift shops and consignment stores are your best bet for many of your shopping needs. Clothes? Household items? It may take a longer time than your usual shopping spree at the mall, but often you can get a mighty good deal, especially if you are willing to mend a little something here and there. Not a thrift store fan? Do a clothes/furniture swap with friends. You can also join Freecycle where you can give or get stuff, for free.
9. Grow your own food. Want to eat organic for less money? Organic produce can be really expensive especially if you are trying to eat your servings of vegetables and fruits for the day. Try to grow them yourself and save $20-$30 a week. If you don’t have any experience, you can sign up for Organic Gardening Classes in your area or purchase good books that can help you get started. Join a local P-Patch and learn how to grow your food with others.
10. Travel cheap. Want to go see the world but low on funds? Work abroad and get free airfare. Sometimes, they even throw in board and lodging. Couch surfing is also a good alternative if you want to save on fancy hotels and dingy hostels.
I hope these ideas convince you that living frugally doesn’t mean doing without. It’s a matter of thinking outside the box, and being willing to think of resources as something we share and not necessarily own. Do you have other ideas of your own to add to the list?