Living on a tight budget can be no fun at all, but during tough times we all want to stretch our cash a little bit further. It can feel a little bit overwhelming when you're trying to run a household and make ends meet at the same time, but with some planning and organization, there are lots of places where you can trim your budget without feeling the pinch.
The key to living a frugal lifestyle is just that: Think of it as a lifestyle change. Cutting back can be hard, so it's important to keep in mind why you're budgeting, especially when you're tempted to blow a wad on something new and shiny. At the same time, you don't want to overwhelm yourself with frugality. People only have so much energy to devote towards willpower, which we'll touch on more later in the article.
Of course, if your budget is tight, you probably already do some of the more obvious things like using coupons and cooking at home rather than ordering out, but what else can you do to cut back a bit? From cooking and cleaning to recreation, you can get a little bit creative and save some cash. We'll look at a few ways to save money at home, starting with cheap, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies
Baking soda and vinegar are cheap to buy, and you can use them to clean almost everything in your house.
For abrasive cleaning jobs, cutting grease, or fighting odors baking soda is your friend. Mixed with just enough water to form a paste, you've got a scrub that's perfect for the tub, stove or sink. Before you do any scrubbing with baking soda, however, make sure you do a small test area, as it can scratch some surfaces. Depending on your task, choose from our excellent list of baking soda recipes to clean your kitchen.
You can also clean your kitchen and any other room of the house with vinegar. Vinegar is perfect for cleaning countertops and can even fight stains on surfaces. Just mix a solution that's one part vinegar and one part water in a spray bottle, and you're ready to spritz and wipe.
For tough cleaning jobs, like clogged drains, you can combine these two powerhouses. To unclog a drain, pour a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar. When the baking soda and vinegar volcano erupts, chase it with plenty of boiling water to finish clearing the clog. In the toilet, you can use 1/2 cup each of baking soda and vinegar. Close the lid, and a few minutes later stains should wipe away easily.
Now that the kitchen is all cleaned up, you're ready to get cooking. See how devoting some weekend kitchen time can save you hours during the work week.
To make cooking dried beans faster and easier, soak them overnight. They'll cook in a fraction of the time, and your budget will thank you.
Rather than prepare meals from scratch every day, spend some time on the weekends cooking up big batches of food that your family can eat in different ways all week long. It saves money and helps you resist the temptation to order take-out or go out to eat. Americans on average blow over $2,600 per year dining out, so anything that makes eating at home easier and more delicious is great for your budget [source: McIntyre].
Some versatile big batch foods include:
- Roasted vegetables -- make sandwiches, salads or cook into quick soups
- Pasta -- toss some with sauce, make a pasta salad or bake into a casserole
- Baked tofu or chicken -- top a salad, heat up with pre-made sauce for a main dish or dice up for tacos
You can also cook more than one thing at the same time, so you're not spending the whole weekend over the stove. The veggies can roast at the same temperature that you're baking your tofu or chicken if you leave them in a bit longer. Meanwhile, the pasta can be boiling on the stove while everything else bakes.
And here's another idea for saving money in the kitchen: How about giving up meat sometimes?
Eat Less Meat
Not only can eating less meat save you money in the checkout lane, it can help reduce your healthcare costs as well by lessening the chance of health concerns associated with a meat-based diet such as heart disease [source: McCredie].
Going vegetarian or vegan isn't for everyone, but adding even a few meatless meals a week can help you save money. No matter what your feelings are about animal rights, there's no question that meat can be a very expensive ingredient. While meat starts at around $2 to $3 per pound, plant proteins like beans weigh in at less than $1 a pound [source: McCredie]. What can get pricey when it comes to a vegetarian or vegan diet are things like meat and cheese substitutes. If you're trying to be budget-minded, sticking to whole foods like beans, fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts is best.
Making meatless meals is easier than you might think! Sure, a dinner salad is nice from time to time, but you can cook up much heartier plant-based meals on a budget. Try making a veggie chili that's packed with beans, grilling up portobello mushrooms alongside vegetable skewers with a side of mashed potatoes, or a hearty spinach lasagna.
Our next tip is for baby. When there's a newborn in the house, sometimes it feels like budgeting is impossible. We'll look at how cloth diapers can help parents save money.
Try Cloth Diapers
When you picture cloth diapers, you might imagine a leaky mess pulled together with a giant safety pin, but cloth diapers have come a long way since the old days.
While buying a set of cloth diapers can be pricey on the front end, they work out to be much less expensive than buying disposable diapers week after week. One case study showed that a family with a newborn spent around $600 total on cloth diapers, compared to $1,500 to $2,500 that families tend to spend on disposables over three years [source: Jackson]. If you have more than one child the cost is even lower, since you can use those same cloth diapers for baby number two (and three!) And you aren't contributing to the landfill.
The crafty set can save even more money! If you've got a sewing machine, try whipping up a set of cloth diapers right at home. You can sew up a simple diaper and pair it with a plastic diaper cover to prevent leaks or sew an all-in-one diaper that has a built in leak liner [source: Vanderlinden].
There is an ick factor with cloth diapers that some parents have to get past, but at $900 or more in savings it's worth working through. If you need help, you can purchase paper-thin liners that go inside the diaper, pick up the poo, and can be flushed away along with the waste.
You don't want your frugal lifestyle to be the death of your social life! On the next page,we have some ideas to help you save money and still have fun with friends and family.
You've heard about the staycation, but what about a "stay date" with friends to save some money? American households spend more than $600 per year on entertainment like movie and concert tickets [source: McIntyre]. Rather than heading out to dinner and a movie, invite your friends over for a low-key dinner or even an old-fashioned night of board games. You can make the evening a bit more special by asking people to bring snacks and drinks.
One way to turn an evening at home into a memorable occasion is to come up with a theme and have themed snacks and a signature cocktail. For example, if you're getting together to watch "Breakfast at Tiffany's," name whatever cocktail you decide to make a "Holly Golightly" after the film's main character, and serve finger foods that are takes on breakfast fare, like miniature quiches, toast points with butter and jam, and chocolate croissants.
We touched on one way that crafting can save money on the previous page. Next, we've got some more crafty ideas to make budgeting a bit more fun.
Kids love a craft project, and you can save some money and keep them entertained by setting them up with crafts that use materials from your recycle bins and from nature.
Getting bills in the mail is never fun, but the security envelopes they come in are perfect for making collages, paper flowers, re-usable stickers and all sorts of other paper crafts. Next time the mail comes, peek inside of those envelopes with a crafty eye. They're printed on the inside, so that you can't read the documents through the envelope, and they come in an array of patterns and colors.
Spend some outdoor time with the kids on a nature walk, and gather up pretty twigs, leaves, flowers, and stones that you can use in all sorts of crafty projects. Just make sure you're not disturbing fragile habitats â€“ it's fine to collect a few things, but you don't want to damage a nature preserve in the name of crafting! Afterwards, you can press the leaves and flowers that you collected from your yard or at the park. Even the rocks that you find have great crafting potential [source: Stewart].
When the crafting's done, amuse the kids with colorful play dough that you made yourself on the cheap!
Make Your Own Play Dough
Store-bought play dough can get pretty pricey. On top of the materials, you're paying for the packaging, marketing, and shipping when you buy play dough at the store. Next time your kids want to sculpt something, try making a batch of play dough on the stove. If your kids are old enough, they can even help with the stirring, and they'll love mixing up custom colors. Pamela Levine, a pre-school teacher at the Mailman Segal Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., kindly shared her play dough recipe with us:
Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Stir until the play dough thickens.
Once the dough is cool, you can knead in your coloring by hand.
Store it in a plastic bag or Tupperware container in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator.
You can save lots of money around the house, but if your home isn't energy efficient, chances are you're spending much more on your utility bills than you need to. See how a home energy audit can empower you to lower your bills!
Get an Energy Audit
Many utility companies will do an energy audit for free, and they'll send you a list of both major and minor repairs, breaking down how much you can save on your energy bill by doing each one.
For example, most homeowners can save between 5 and 30 percent on their energy bills just by sealing air leaks, a fix that you can often do yourself with a caulk gun [source: Energy Savers]. If your utility company doesn't offer an auditing service, you can find professional auditors or even perform one yourself. The U.S. Department of Energy has a very useful checklist for performing your own energy audit.
No matter who does the audit, if you have a professional coming in, make sure that he or she uses a blower door test, which uses a high-powered fan to detect air leaks [source: Energy Savers]. The auditor will either provide you with a list of repairs you can do on the spot or send you one a few days later.
Ready to seal up those air leaks? Before buying a ladder to caulk any hard-to-reach places in your home, read up on saving through swapping on the next page.
Swap and Share
Do you really need your own step ladder? What about brand-new clothes for your child who just had yet another growth spurt? Before heading out to the store, see if your friends have items lying around that they're not using. Since you don't want to be the friend that's only asking to borrow things, see if you can coordinate with a few folks to form a swap group. You might need to borrow a friend's ladder this week, and next week she might need to borrow your electric sander.
Make it fun by organizing a swap party to trade baby clothes, housewares, and other unwanteds. The host can donate anything that's left over to the thrift store. Not only do you come away with some things that you need, you can de-clutter your space at the same time.
If you don't think your friends would be into swapping or sharing, you can look into some online swap sites instead. Websites like ThredUp, which focuses on swapping children's clothing, make it easy to list what you have up for grabs and trade with fellow swappers with just a few clicks.
Even on a tight budget, it's important to treat yourself once in a while. Learn why on the next page.
Enjoy the Occasional Splurge
People only have so much willpower, and while it might seem counter-intuitive, the occasional splurge will help you stick to your budget in the long run [source: Tierny]. Sometimes you need a break from all the decision-making that goes into frugal grocery shopping.
Just remember to think of those indulgences as an occasional thing. Maybe you can afford to eat take-out once a month or to treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine for a special occasion. Indulging yourself from time to time can help you stay focused on your budgetary goals.
If you're worried about opening the spending floodgates, you can even work those little splurges right into your budget and set aside actual cash to spend on them. Say you have $50 a month set aside for yourself, get $50 in cash at the bank or ATM to ensure you're not swiping that credit card for something that's even slightly over your budgeted amount [source: Siddons].
Running a frugal household may mean giving some things up, but it doesn't have to mean feeling deprived all of the time. For more tips on living well and on budget, go to our next page.
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
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- Emily. "Cooking Dried Beans vs. Buying Canned Beans." Frugal Living NW. January 13, 2011. (October 7, 2011) http://www.frugallivingnw.com/frugal-homemaking/cooking-dried-beans-vs-buying-canned-beans/
- Energy Savers. "Blower Door Tests." U.S. Department of Energy. (October 14, 2011) http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/energy_audits/index.cfm/mytopic=11190
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- Jackson, Sarah. "Recent innovations make cloth diapers a cheaper, easier alternative to disposables." HeraldNet. April 19, 2011. (October 7, 2011) http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20110419/LIVING/704199975
- Levine, Pamela. Personal correspondence. October 7, 2011
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- McIntyre, Douglas; Sauter, Michael; and Stockdale, Charles. "Top 10 Things Americans Waste the Most Money On." Top Stock Analysts. February 28, 2011. (October 7, 2011) http://www.topstockanalysts.com/index.php/2011/02/28/top-10-things-americans-waste-the-most-money-on/
- Roth, J.D. "Don't Confuse Frugality With Depriving Yourself." Get Rich Slowly. June 23, 2006. (October 14, 2011) http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2006/06/23/dont-confuse-frugality-with-depriving-yourself/
- Stewart, Martha. "Rock Crafts" Martha's Crafts for Kids. (October 14, 2011) http://www.marthastewart.com/274462/rock-crafts/@center/276975/marthas-crafts-kids
- Tierny, John. "Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?" New York Times. August 17, 2011. (October 7, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all
- Vanderlinden, Colleen. "Make Your Own Cloth Diapers and Baby Wipes." Planet Green. August 20, 2010. (October 14, 2011) http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/make-cloth-diapers-and-baby-wipes.html