Favourite frugal tips and tricks?
September 1, 2016 10:35 AM   Subscribe

We are tackling Uber Frugal Month as of today. For those of you who are thrifty but still living awesomely, what are your tips and tricks for saving and heck, anything else?

We are in middle age and pretty stable. We are paying off our minimal consumer debt (~5K), our only other debt is our mortgage. We're pretty well ahead of curve in that we don't have kids, don't own a car (we bike/walk everywhere), and are vegetarian/vegan.

Still, we are not saving as much as we would like--our annual vacation always sends us into mild panic in terms of affordability, and we often buy a lot of stuff we don't need--so time to tackle our finances! We use YNAB for that, FYI.

But you, frugal MeFites, tell us some things that make the frugal living easy and lovely. Bonus if it applies to Canada as that is where we are.
posted by Kitteh to Grab Bag (50 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and yes: we do have a Costco membership we use every four months to stock up because we can spend too much there too.
posted by Kitteh at 10:35 AM on September 1, 2016

One-time costs aren't a big deal, recurring costs are. Figure out what you're paying, and especially auto-paying, and decide what can be cut. Never justify something for its low monthly cost. Multiply it by 12 and see if you can justify that as an annual cost.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:43 AM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Whenever you go to check out, check your cart. Put 1/3 to 1/2 back.

Or just make a list and stick to the list.

This will solve most of your Costco problem. Most of that stuff is not cheaper if you do the math. Few good deals there.
posted by jbenben at 10:46 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was going to advise stealing cheese from your neighbor when they leave the door unlocked but ... that never ends well. So instead, my non-incident tips are:

- No coffees out at several bucks a go each. One decent thermos flask (or two if you want one for tea and one for coffee) should repay you back many times over.

- Where I am, there is a push by washing detergent manufacturers to sell those boxes of floppy capsules of liquid that dissolve in the machine, rather than the old fashioned boxes of powder. I've worked out that, penny for penny on load, they are extortionate compared to powder (and you can alter how much powder you use per load). As there's just two of you, this may not save a lot, but in large households, it can.

...and the big one:

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY. Go there on a regular basis. Find ALL the things you can borrow, or use, and ALL the services that they offer (there may be some you don't know about). Make full use of these. Hey, you're paying for them in tax anyway, and the more you use them, the better the stats for the library so they are happy too. Always being a member of my local public library has saved me many thousands of UK pounds (and more than a few US dollars) over the years. Also, the serendipity of finding books and other media that you never heard of, but look interesting, and you can borrow them for free.
posted by Wordshore at 10:47 AM on September 1, 2016 [26 favorites]

Two things immediately pop into mind:

First: don't eat out, cook all your own food and prepare your own lunches to be brown-bagged.
Second: brew your own coffee (if you drink coffee) at home and take it with you in some kind of thermos container.
Saves a ton when you calculate how much *bux or other coffee bars charge per cup!
posted by Lynsey at 10:49 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not a very frugal person but a few years ago I switched to using a safety razor (not to be confused with a straight razor) mostly because I was sick of paying $30.00 for eight blades when I used the Gillette system. After the initial $20-$30 investment for a safety razor and brush I now pay about $10.00 for 100 blades. Each blade lasts me about a week. So $10.00 for two years worth of blades.

Just don't google "how to use a safety razor" because you'll get a million nerds telling you to draw a chart of your grain direction, to lather up for no less than three minutes or how to properly shave in under 14 minutes. All you do is dab your favorite soap/cream on in three and a half seconds and then shave like you always did before. Keep it wet, don't press down. If you don't get the hairs in one direction, go the other way. 30 seconds. Done. There's nothing to it. I will never, ever go back to those silly, unnecessary four blade systems.

Edited to say: I'm a dude who shaves his face. I don't know how well it works for women.
posted by bondcliff at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I found that a month of no spending (other than bills and food) really highlighted how often I thought about buying things. Many times a day I'd catch myself musing about purchasing this thing or that. It's as if I had a secret all-ads, 24/7 TV channel going on in my head that I'd never really thought about before.

I still have thoughts about buying but I notice them as they happen. I've never been a big shopper but that awareness has really helped me reduce my spending because it's much more conscious now.
posted by mcduff at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

- Def. use the library, not just for books but for movies and music.
- if you use disposable razors and you're a woman, skip the lady kinds of razors and just get the men kind. They are both better and cheaper.
- Never drink alcohol out at restaurants, especially wine with dinner. Such a colossal waste of money!!!
- Speaking of wine, if you drink a fair bit/regularly, consider making your own or at least having your own made. Where I live there is one place in particular that does a ridiculously good job making wine, the end result not only being drinkable but actually better than most store bought wines we have had. Rich, full bodied, complex red wines. And it breaks down to like 5$ a bottle. For REALLY GOOD wine.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:52 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Establish a week's waiting period on any non-emergency purchase over $X. Once the waiting period is over, the impulse to buy will often have subsided.

Disable one-click purchases on Amazon.

If you're taking a taxi or whatever when you go grocery shopping, go instead by foot or bike or public transit. (This really keeps my Costco purchases in check.)

When you say you often buy things you don't need--look at what those things are. There's probably a theme or two in there. Institute a temporary ban on purchases in that category, see how your life goes.

I don't look at frugality in itself as a virtue, though it may be a necessity. What is living well is getting true value for your discretionary buck--only spending on things that are actually worth it to you. That requires self-knowledge, which is harder than elaborate bean hacks.
posted by praemunire at 10:57 AM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I live within a 10 minute walk of about seven different grocery stores (national chains). No Frills is consistently significantly cheaper than anyone else for identical products. Sure, they have less selection than other chains, but as someone who eats a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables and not a lot of packaged food, I have never felt deprived.
posted by bibliotropic at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit:

* We already use our public library a lot; they've been great about ordering books that I would normally buy for myself

* We host a radio show on a local community/campus radio station, so we get access to an absurd amount of new music for free

* My husband makes his own wine; I am finally going to start brewing beer as I am a beer gal

* We brown bag lunches all the time and drink coffee/tea at home more often than not

* We have opted to stop eating out unless it's a birthday or an anniversary

(Full disclosure: my partner makes a salary in the mid-level range and my take home pay is less than $20k a year)
posted by Kitteh at 11:11 AM on September 1, 2016

Try getting more specific with your budget tracking. When you say you buy things you don't need, do you know what they are, how much they cost, and what else you would rather do with that money?

Buy things used. Thrift stores, Craigslist, friends who are upgrading.

If you don't enjoy the process, you may not come out ahead brewing your own beer, do the math. Realize that you'll probably make pretty mediocre beer at first and you'll have five gallons of it.

How much are you cooking from scratch? Do you buy bread, beans in a can, tortillas.... up to you how deep you want to go down that rabbit hole, but consider it.
posted by momus_window at 11:31 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

The most revolutionary thing I learned in the past year is that ONE TEASPOON of powdered dishwasher detergent (I was told Cascade, but I'm not sure it matters), coupled with some kind of rinsing aid, leaves your dishes really clean and film-free and seriously cuts down on the money you spend, since those stupid dishwasher pods are so expensive. I learned this from my mother, who identifies as a housewife and would not brook less than perfectly clean dishes, so you can believe me.

I guess this is only useful information if you have a dishwasher, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:34 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

> Establish a week's waiting period on any non-emergency purchase over $X. Once the waiting period is over, the impulse to buy will often have subsided.

Yes! This is the single most important impact a budget has had on my life. I save so much money just by waiting a week before buying things, because I don't actually care about 90% of the things I want to impulsively buy.
posted by so fucking future at 11:36 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I spent a while being puzzled by your question and follow-ups. Then I read more carefully and I finally caught the answer.

Stop buying stuff you don't need; you don't need it. It's not about the things.

Adjust your mindset so that you are measuring your wealth by what you give.
posted by aniola at 11:37 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anticonsumerist here: stop wanting. Or really ponder the line between needing and wanting. Clothing example: Do you really need new clothes or do you just want that cool shirt you saw in the shop window? Wear what you have until it literally falls apart or becomes irretrievably stained. Another clothing-frugal idea is to purchase clothes that aren't season-specific (within reason). Shoes, not those tall stylish boots that you won't want to wear when it's 85 out. And, like everyone says, when you do need new clothes, buy the best you can afford because they'll last longer.

In a similar vein, eschew fads and trends. How many people NEED a Fitbit, for instance? And do you NEED yoga pants or can you just wear $5 gym shorts to yoga?
posted by scratch at 11:49 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that money is math. So you can cut expenses and live frugally OR you can bring in more money in various ways. So when you are starting to chafe under the budget restrictions (I am frugal as hell but I still eat out at least once a week) you can think "Well, I could always sell extra stuff on ebay..." and, truly, maybe that solves a problem for you. And with your salary, I presume you're part time? If not, I'd consider whether tying up that amount of time for that amount of pay makes sense (and it may, these are just questions you have to ask yourself) and otherwise look at "paying" yourself and your relationship for some of the other work you do while your partner is working (if there's disparity between what you spend).

I basically look at the money I spend as something that starts, at a baseline with only what I need to stay alive and healthy (rent). Then I look at what I pretty much need to be a decent person (soap). Then I look at what I would like to make me happy (yoga class). Then I look at what I want sort of for no reason because I just like to have it, am bored, would rather pay money than the alternative (candy). And then I'm brutal about the top levels but do not give myself grief about the other ones except to say "Is that the best you can do?" as if I was negotiating with myself. So it may be that you need to buy less coffee out or it may be that you need to refinance your mortgage or live without air conditioning or something.

But how to make it not chafe? If you're someone who likes to shop, maybe try to redirect that sort of thing into appropriately cheap directions. Organize a clothing swap with your friends. Join a book club. Decide you'll learn how to cook. Find the local dented can place and explore. Collect pokemons. Just being vegan/veg doesn't mean you're saving money necessarily, think about ways of getting food more cheaply and doing more of the processing yourself.

And think about, as others have said, what's just a regular bill that you could look at. Common culprits are: phones, internet, apps and subscription sites. Three ten dollar a month sites are $360/year which would be helpful to have on a vacation.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

The biggest change I've made in mindset is from "Your Money Or Your Life" and it is to convert dollars to time, because time is all we have. So first, you calculate your net dollars per hour like this:

- take your net, post-tax income, i.e. the actual cash you get from your paycheque
- divide by all the number of hours you work in a pay period INCLUDING commuting time, time on email at night, etc.

That is your real hourly wage. Then when you are looking at purchases, think about them like this "is this worth 4 hours of work at my job?"

I haven't impulsively bought a magazine off the grocery store rack since I made that calculation.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:39 PM on September 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

Do you have cable? cut cable. Cable is the worst and also expensive.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:39 PM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I knew I wouldn't be the first one to suggest it, but: public libraries rule! They offer so much beyond the basic media (books, DVDs, movies, CDs, comics): remote access to magazine databases like Consumer Reports, ILL, and a ton of awesome services.

Consider paring back your cable TV subscription and streaming stuff through a Roku box or similar.

Learn to fix stuff instead of replacing it. The more things I know how to repair, the more likely that I can grab someone else's "junk" and make it work. I hear "Daddy will fix" a lot at my house. :7)

Another notion is being choosy about what you buy, but buying a few at a time. For example, if you find a pair of shoes that you love, buy another pair and stick them in the closet. When the current pair wears out, odds are that you can't get the same ones again, and you are as alike as not to end up settling for something that you don't like as much. I buy khaki pants for work this way, and then rotate through all the pairs.

If there's something you enjoy doing, can you turn that into a gig? I get advance readers copies of new books from the Library Thing web site quite often, and then just have to post a review somewhere. Could you review products in the category that matches a hobby, and so avoid having to buy them? (On review, your radio show is a perfect example of this. Carry on!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:43 PM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Check to see if there's a better deal on homeowner's insurance.
Use soap, not liquid soap.
You probably don't buy bottled water, but don't. If your local water isn't very good, buy water in big containers.
Thrift shops for all manner of good stuff.
Limit expensive food. I saved a ton of money making soups and stews that were bean + pasta or rice with veg and a small amount of meat. I make a big pot of something nutritious, cheap and tasty, then take it lunch all week. I make healthy muffins and have them for breakfast. Part of this is about getting out the door quickly, getting better nutrition, but it also saves money.
For many products, brands are only about marketing, so generic will do. For some products (coffee, beer, some foods), it's worthwhile to pay a little more. Your list and mine will be different.
Personal care products tend to have virtually identical ingredients, different packaging and fragrance, and wildly different prices.
Learn to read labels and pay very close attention to unit pricing; the big container is not always the best deal.

Learn what stuff costs. If you go to the bargain mart, you do better if you know how much canned tomato puree costs. If it's a huge bargain on something you know you'll use, buy extra on sale. Be willing to return products that are not good quality.

Schedule and budget discretionary spending. It's hard to never spend on fun stuff, so you end up spending on fun stuff out of frustration. But if you know you have x to spend on anything you like, it should help you limit discretionary spending to x.
posted by theora55 at 12:50 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Frontenac Park is a 40 minute drive north of Kingston and is, in my opinion, just as delightful as far away vacation destinations that cost thousands of dollars to get to. If you're ambitious and have the time you can bike there from Kingston. Or rent a car or coax a friend with a car into going. If you go to the main entrance you have to pay to park, but if you go to the northwest corner by Kingsford Lake you can park for free.
Alternatively, invite me over for wacky free board games like you said you were going to. : )
PS - For anyone within college radio broadcasting signal range, or with an internet connection, Kitteh's show is called WAFFLES and it's great! CFRC, Saturday mornings at 8 I believe. Great listening while you're going around to yard sales like every good frugal person should.
posted by crazylegs at 12:52 PM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Check around for a better car insurance rate. For the heck of it, I just did and was able to save over $800 yearly for the EXACT same coverage.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can extend the life of a razor blade by drying it after shaving and storing it in oil.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:29 PM on September 1, 2016

You also may be entitled to a library card from a nearby city you don't live in. For example, anyone who lives in New York State is entitled to NYC library cards, so I have both NYPL and Brooklyn library cards.

Also true of many colleges/universities. Just ask! And they often have other cool stuff you can use!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:32 PM on September 1, 2016

Edited to say: I'm a dude who shaves his face. I don't know how well it works for women.

I'm female and can vouch for the safety razor thing. In fact, of all the ways we try to save money, this is the most satisfying for me because I'm spending a fraction of what I used to spend. I'd probably spend about $20/month on blades alone if I didn't go the DE route. Now I spend about $30/year on everything - blades plus shave cream. DE blades are much cheaper, and they just work better. One package of 50 Shark double-edged blades lasted me two years, and cost $8.95. Including shipping. The pricier Feather blades are a little more expensive; the 100-count package will run about $25 on Amazon. I bought a Gilette Blue Star women's double-edged razor on eBay, used but in mint condition, for $30. I didn't have to spend this much, but I really liked the blue stars on the razor : D

While you don't need to spend a lot on shaving cream, some people do. Personally, I buy the most reasonably priced, all natural stuff I can find because 1.) I have more ground to cover than a man would shaving his face, and 2.) my skin is sensitive and can't handle chemical-y stuff. I use Kiss My Face shave gel and I'm really happy with it. I spend about $20/year on that - one 4-bottle package from Amazon lasts me a year. I use 1/2 a pump for each leg and a synthetic shaving brush that cost about $15. This was worth it, though - I use about half the shave cream I used to use, and it lathers up really nice.

This is my estimate of how the cost breaks down per year:

Blades - $10
Shave cream - $20
Synthetic brush - $15
DE razor - $25 average
= $70 total to start, $30/year maintenance

Badger and Blade has a great forum to get you started if you're interested.
Here's how to dispose of used blades safely.
posted by onecircleaday at 1:38 PM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, we have never had cable. We rely on Netflix for any tv-watching purposes. And we negotiated the cheapest house insurance we could get. I asked already. :)

Also, we do not own a car.
posted by Kitteh at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are already the kind of people who do your own cooking and use the library than you are probably already being quite careful with your variable costs. The only things I would look at under variable costs would be your hobbies, gifts, and fashion. One of you may have some kind of collection that eats money, or one of you may be dressing to fit in (proper runners gear, wool suits suitable for the proper office, this season's neckline) and those can add up to a lot, even if the outlay is rare, or small. (If it's rare and small don't worry about it.)

Do you have gift obligations that are eating up the available cash? Are you giving 500$ Bas Mitzvah gifts to every one of your thirteen nieces or blowing $350 each, at Christmas for airfare to get to the family gathering? Maybe you could change those habits. And of course, you can always ask for your own gifts to be extremely practical. My father's sister used to give us an enormous frozen turkey for Christmas. If you want to sound less like impoverished poor relations what you do is tell them you are saving up for something that your families and friends would think worthwhile, such as a cruise on the Rhine, or the the future baby Kitteh's university tuition, or the wherewithal to shoot your own definitive documentary on the rise and fall of D&D version 3.5.

After that you can look at fixed costs. Is the money going to the student loans? The mortgage? The rent? The heating and air conditioning bills?

You can cut those down, even though they are fairly fixed. For example if you have a gym membership, you can save on hot water bills by always showering there and washing all the clothing, always in cold water. If your home is multilevel, in the hot season you can go down to the lowest place in the house, use a fan, sit on a damp bath towel, keep your hair wet by dunking your head whenever it dries, and drinking lots of cool drinks. In the winter you can turn your heat down to just above freezing so the pipes don't burst and live in just one room that you heat with a single high efficiency heater. Modern high efficiency space heaters are usually much less expensive to run than your central heating, so hauling this heater between the kitchen, for when you are awake, to the bedroom for when you are not may cut your heating bill. For maximum efficiency dress in hooded jackets, use fingerless gloves and and put the heater under a table which is covered in blankets. You sit at the table and eat, or paint, or chat or play settlers of catan or whatever with the blankets drapped over your legs as a lap robe.

Another way you can be frugal is by sharing things. For example, if your stove were to up and quit, rather than replacing it, you might make a deal with friends or a family member that every Tuesday night you can go over to their house and use their kitchen and their stove. They could, in turn, borrow your bicycle during the week when you don't use it. Rather than having internet at home, you could use a public wifi and have a routine of stopping at the mall with your laptop for ten minutes at the end of every weekday to check your e-mail and the newsfeeds.

A good approach is to start by thinking of one of your expenses as having to be solved without money. If there is absolutely no money to get your hair cut, how can you work around it? Can you cut your own hair without losing an ear? Can you grow your hair out? If your partner can cut sort of your hair can they do it decently if you change your hairstyle?

If you have to eat and have no money.... there are churches that serve suppers for people who need help, but you would probably not feel okay about taking food from people who need it. But what about if you volunteer at the church and help out with the supper? they often factor in and plan to feed the volunteers. Or what about making a deal with a friend, that if they pay for the ingredients you will do the cooking and the clean up? Is there any free food going begging? There are "seminars" held at hotels where they provide free coffee and muffins in return for you listening to a sales pitch. You might be willing to listen to funeral pre-planning information in return for a blueberry muffin and coffee.

One of the rules I use for purchasing food is the that I try not to spend more than two dollars a pound. This is Canadian money, and in an area that is not an agricultural breadbasket. If you live in the states you might set your figure at $1 per pound. Then the trick becomes figuring out what you can make from the food currently available for that price. It isn't going to be little pouches of fruit wrinkles. They might be inexpensive, at less than $1 a box but they also come in boxes a lot lighter than one pound. Instead you are going to be working with ingredients like beets and squash and carrots and potatoes - good health ingredients, and frozen peas and perhaps chicken thighs. Instead of eating the dishes that you are used to, you end up eating according to the ups and downs of food pricing. You might go for seven months before cheese drops down to where you can justify and then spend three blissful months covering everything in melted cheese. You will spend a lot of time figuring out the weight of things. Luckily many supermarkets have fine print on the label that gives the price per ounce. All you need to memorize is one figure. If it is more than so many cents an ounce you don't buy it. If it is less you can buy as much as you are certain you will eat. You end up using your imagination instead of defaulting to mac'n'cheese again. Every week you plan your menu around what is available in your price range.

One place where people hemorrhage money is in paying for their phone/internet and for what they drink. So how could you survive if you went on an electronics fast? You both work. Do you have internet access at work? Phone access? Could you make do with only the access you have at work? Do you have access to a family members's house where you could drop by in the middle of the day when they are at work to walk the dog and catch your fix of electronics?

Most people don't drink tap water. Experiment with drinking tap water. What is the absolutely least expensive way you can make tap water safe and palatable to yourself?

It's a mindset, not a set of rules. Every time you wear out a shirt, you end up looking at it and considering if a plaid shirt out at the elbows can save you the cost of dishrags, or menstrual pads, or a draft blocking snake for the bottom of a door, or part of a home made doll to give as a birthday present to a young nephew. You can look at everything with a creative eye as to how you can use it to save money.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you have trouble spending on impulse, don't carry money. The most effective way for me to not buy anything and eat the lunch I packed is to carry cab fare in a sealed envelope, my ID and bus pass, my phone, and no other cash or credit cards. I have a lunch, snacks, and can make tea at work. There is no cash-requiring emergency that can't be fixed with opening up the cab fare ($25) or by going home and getting cash. If you get invited to dinner or something, ask for a rain check or build in travel home to get your wallet.

After a couple months of this, I get a lot better at just not spending money in the first place. It's the same concept as freezing your credit cards in ice.

Also, if you have a hobby already...one in, one out. Clothes: one in, one out. Basically everything: one in, one out. Use it up and replace it, or give something up for the new thing.

Not eating when you go out is an option. Have just coffee and enjoy your company. It's not that you can't go out to eat, but if you're not that hungry and nothing looks good, just have coffee, water, or maybe a soda and enjoy chatting. This assumes you aren't with people who split the bill evenly no matter what.

Don't play phone games. They are designed to get you to spend money.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:52 PM on September 1, 2016

Don't buy anything new. If you need something just once in a while (a clothes iron if you're like us and iron once a year) borrow it from a neighbor or friend. If it's something you need to own see if you can get it from Salvation Army, goodwill or craigslist. If it is a consumable (paper plates, razors) buy it at the dollar store. If you absolutely need to buy it new, wait for it to go on sale.

One snag is that sometimes dollar store quality is not great. You gotta decide whether the savings is worth it (yes for shampoo, no for tinfoil)
posted by pintapicasso at 2:30 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a copy of "The Complete Tightwad Gazette."

Avoid malls -- mall-grade stuff is junk in 2016. When you must have an X, either go to the thrift or dollar store, or order it direct from China -- or buy a very nice one (try to avoid the over-advertised; do your research, and not just from people who are dazzled by their $450 mixer because it came in a cool colour) that will be worth repairing/mending. Mid-grade goods are rarely a good deal. (There are exceptions, like the sturdier stuff at IKEA or the odd good t-shirt at Target, etc.)

Learn to barter (is the homemade wine good? That's very trade-able!). Entertain at home instead of going out. Make your own things. Learn to mend, polish, glue, alter, etc. Find good professionals for things you can't fix yourself -- I live near a clothing shop where prices start around $500. I buy well-made clothes at thrift stores, with thick natural fibres, and a woman who works at the expensive place cuts them down to my size/current styling for very reasonable prices.

When something goes wrong with your house or things in it, get beer and pizza and invite your DIY-knowledgeable friends over, or check YouTube videos. Learn from the knowledgeable friends, and volunteer your labour when they need to do a project. Do not throw out things from DIY projects -- try to reach hardware store equilibrium where when you need to fix something, you can rig something to fix it with leftovers from another project instead of needing to go to Home Depot.

There is a FB group called "The Non-Consumer Advocate" which is full of "I need an X but do not want to buy X. What to do?" that is stuffed with creative ideas for reuse/recycle/wear it out/make do/do without.

Mostly, just don't buy stuff. If you need to scratch a buying itch, hit a thrift store -- a cheap and dirty one, not a Value Village. Get rid of stuff in exchange for cash -- you can de-clutter with a phone or tablet in hand and upload what you are decluttering to your local FB for-sale group, and finish the day with $50 and less junk. Go for a walk on garbage night, see what you find. (If it's nice but you already have one, take it home and sell it.) Trade up instead of adding to your goods -- got ugly curtains? Bide your time until good ones pop up in a thrift, put the old ones in a garage sale pile. Be patient -- I spent two years using a rag to stop up a small leak underneath my dishwasher until I found another dishwasher for $30 in a thrift. We took friends to the fancy version of "The Nutcracker" here with us both of those leaky-dishwasher years, at a price that would've bought a cheap new dishwasher. Be frugal, but be generous; allocate resources thoughtfully. Discard bourgeois notions about how new your sofa needs to look (mine was terrible to look at, but a perfectly-sized quite nice cotton slipcover eventually popped up in a thrift for $20).

Make your own whatnot. Buy cheap booze, buy vanilla beans on eBay. If you want a cosmetic what-not that has salicylic acid or lactic acid or retinol or whatever in it, go to a cosmetic-making supply site, buy that ingredient in bulk, add it in to dollar store lotion. Advice from my doctor grandfather on drugstore items: "Never buy anything you have seen advertised." (Invariably when a dermatologist has recommended a product to me, it turns out to be an un-advertised quiet little product cheap on the bottom shelf. When I had expensive stuff done to my skin, the recommendations for balms for the healing process were Vaseline and/or olive oil...)

Whenever you happen to be near a supermarket, dash in and check their clearance section; if you see something you use being clearanced out dirt cheap, buy it all. Same with drugstores -- Shoppers always has a bin of clearance stuff and once they decide to stop carrying something, $40 whatnot turns into $5, or less. Same with Rexall; I made a purchase there recently for under $20 with a "You saved $92" on the receipt. Dash in to dollar stores to see if a brand name manufacturer has stopped making something in X scent and it is now sitting there for a dollar or two instead of $10. Same with thrifts -- if you're nearby, pop in. Try to anticipate your future needs and be doctrinaire about not paying full price. If you know you will need new sandals next summer and see nearly-new nice ones in your size at the thrift store, buy them, pop them in the wash (almost all shoes except formal ones, leather included, go through the wash surprisingly well) and set them aside until your old ones are garbage.

It is rare that one needs to spend money on things that are not basic foods. Pretend you simply don't have it. (And you have debt, so -- you don't. And don't overlook calling your card issuer{s} and asking for lower rates, certain fees waived, etc.)

I spend $20/mo on my phone through PC Mobile; this is unlimited texting, just enough data, and 25c/min calls. I tell people not to call me, to text only; this is great as I always hated using the phone, and I use wifi and Skype to make calls. I am too cheap for even Netflix; everything is streamed/torrent-able somewhere; your morals may vary on that...

The only thing I spend too much money on is a relatively non-beater car. But it is recreation, entertainment, stress relief, and something of a necessity living in a rural area with bad winters with a driver with bad hips. If you avoid frittering $ at the mall and mediocre restaurants, you can manage luxuries like a decent car, or, in your case, vacations, much more easily.
posted by kmennie at 2:32 PM on September 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

Exclusively Canadian advice: mobile phone data plans, credit card fees, banking fees can vary wildly and can suck up a good chunk of cash monthly.
For example I've found that credit unions offer lower banking fees than the big 5. YMMV.

Also, if you're the foodie and gardening type, you can save $$$ growing your own herbs in planters or indoor pots.
posted by bluebelle at 2:36 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

- Don't waste any food. I look through everything in my fridge and freezer once a week to make sure there's nothing I'll forget to eat until it's too late. If you find anything that's past eating as is, try to think of some other way to use it. Bread crusts can be turned into a bread pudding, elderly apples or bananas into apple crisp or banana muffins, sour milk can be used for baking, bones can make soup stock, etc. If you don't have time to use it immediately, stick it into the freezer for a few days or weeks until you do.

- When grocery shopping, look at the unit pricing on the store's shelf labels. The tiny print on those labels will tell you how much the different brands are per unit (i.e., per 100 grams, per 100 millilitres, per box of tissues or roll of toilet paper, etc.). This makes it easy to figure out which brand is the cheapest. This is how I realized men's blue razors were half the price of women's pink razors (they sell them in different-sized packs so the discrepancy isn't obvious). Perhaps the pink plastic costs twice as much as the blue?

- I just started using coconut oil as a moisturizer. It's far cheaper than Oil of Olay or even Pond's, and actually works better.

- Know what you need. Beside making a grocery list every week, in my planner I keep lists of what I need for my wardrobe and for the house as well as a gift list of all the birthday, Christmas and other special occasion gifts I need to buy in the current year. Since I sew and knit, I also have lists of the specific supplies I need in order to make the projects I plan to make in the current year. I keep relevant paint chips and fabric samples in the zipped pockets of my planner. If I'm carrying all this information with me and I see something I need on sale, I can decide on the spot whether it's right for my purposes and I know how much of it to buy. Generally I will systematically buy one thing off each of my gift, household, and wardrobe lists each month. This is easier on my budget than buying a lot of things at one time, allows me to comparison shop and carefully consider each item, and keeps me out of those horrifically crazy malls in December. I very seldom buy anything on impulse, but sometimes one does see the perfect thing that one never realized one needed.

- Thrift shopping works best if you go regularly. I have two within walking distance and I visit them once a week to look over their stock, which changes rapidly and is always different. I tend to look for the things on my various lists, of course. I find it's also a good idea to check out my local dollar stores fairly regularly.

- Think twice before you throw anything away and replace it. Can you fix or repurpose that item? I have perhaps six pieces of furniture in my house that I bought new. The rest was all bought at thrift shops or taken from a neighbour's curb. (Some things were in my house when I bought it and my father made some other items for me, but these are advantages not everyone has.) Those six new pieces of furniture are probably my least favourite things. I have an antique dressing table and chair that I got off a neighbour's curb. It was painted mustard yellow. Turned out it was made in 1915, and refinishing it, putting new mirrors, new hardware, and a new chair seat on it made it look fabulous. Even cheap furniture can be well worth fixing up because you can do all kinds of fun paint treatments to do them. I must also mend or alter an average of one item of clothing every week. When a pair of yoga pants got bleach stains on the legs while I was cleaning the bathtub, I made them into shorts. When a favourite dress became dated and too young for me, I turned it into a skirt. I regularly mend my socks, replace buttons (I'll replace all of them if I can't match the lost ones or think they look dated), put new underwires in my bras if they break, and replace elastic in waistbands, necklines or sleeves if it loses its elasticity.

- If you don't have a sewing machine, consider purchasing a good used model. Even if you're not interested in getting into sewing, doing your own basic clothing repairs and making or even altering your own curtains (they are just big rectangles) will save you a lot of money long term.

- A good cobbler can save you money on shoes by repairing them or altering a pair of shoes that hurt to make them wearable.

- Take advantage of online coupons. Whenever I'm planning to make a purchase from a chain store, I will look online to see if they offer any coupons. Michaels always seems to have a current "40% off one item" coupon on their site. I print it off and buy things there one item at a time.

- I usually buy shoes from Shoeme.ca. They have excellent selection and good service, free shipping and free returns. Their prices aren't what I'd call low, but I pick out what I need and wait for a 10% to 30% sale, which they have regularly -- I'm on their email list and receive notifications of them. I also do this when I buy sewing patterns online -- Vogue Patterns are very expensive but regularly go on sale for $5.99. Other web sites have email notifications of sales, so if you buy regularly from any one site, see if you can't get on such a list.

- Generally speaking, keep your eyes open and your wits about you, because if you're always looking for ways to save money, you will find them. I've been below the poverty line for several years now thanks to my chronic fatigue issues, and don't have enough to live on. My expenses are cut to the bone and I keep thinking there's nothing else to cut back on... but every once in awhile I find a new way to spend less on the things I need.
posted by orange swan at 3:06 PM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Talk to your friends & neighbors about what you have that you can share. For example, I lend a friend who lives nearby my waffle iron every now and then. We lend each other vegan cookbooks (it's a big plus if your friends are vegan!), specialty-sized knitting needles, and other random cooking/craft supplies that there's no need for both of us to own. Bonus - we get to talk about cooking and crafting, and we tend to give each other little treats or surprises (a couple of cookies, homegrown garlic, whatever we have on hand that the other person might like) when we return each other's stuff.

My office has a lending library where people drop off books they enjoyed but don't want to keep and everyone can borrow from it. It's a really nice thing to have for people running off to catch a flight or who just want something new to read. That could be a cool thing to start for your offices!

I'm sure you could do the same for other hobby supplies, tools, shoes and accessories for special events, all kinds of stuff.
posted by snaw at 3:19 PM on September 1, 2016

Make your own cleaning supplies. Vinegar and a box of borax can go a long way. This works best if you fully commit and make everything from laundry detergent to cleaning sprays.

Replace anything disposable. Get cloth napkins (thrift store will have tons), use old rags instead of paper towels (thrift stores will sometimes give you a bag for a $1 for this), use cloth pads or a diva cup. If you want to get truly hardcore, pee rags are a thing.

Take a really hard look at energy usage. Simple things: use blowdryers or clothes dryers minimally. Research your "vampire" devices (like cell phone chargers) and use surge supressors that are turned off when not in use. Turn down the hot water heater, and turn it way down when on vacation. If you are in a cold climate, turn the heat down and wear layers/get an electric mattress pad. Also, be sure to check out what programs your city has, from energy audits to water conservation (where I am, you can get a generous subsidy for rain barrels and converting concrete to greenspace).

Grow your own food--can be expensive at outset, but very thrifty once you get going. The biggest payoff is herbs. Hand in hand with this is composting your veggies (which can also save further if you pay for trash pickup).

And it sounds like you may do this anyway, but cultivate a culture of thrift and sharing in your community/social group: host potlucks, clothing swaps, bike-fixing parties.
posted by veery at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you want a cosmetic what-not that has salicylic acid or lactic acid or retinol or whatever in it, go to a cosmetic-making supply site, buy that ingredient in bulk, add it in to dollar store lotion.

OMG do not do this willy-nilly unless you really don't fancy having skin on your face! Most of these are acids! They burn! Their effectiveness is based not only on concentration but on pH! There's a reason the stronger concentrations are prescription-only!

The more I think about this particular post, the more puzzled I get. Your husband is earning a mid-range salary, you're earning $20K. You use the library, you don't drive a car...and yet you feel like you're struggling. (Many of the tips offered here, while perfectly valid and useful for those who need them, are getting into the realm of "awkward and inconvenient workarounds and substitutions that lower your quality of life, but the money simply isn't there, so what're you going to do?", the kinds of tips I wouldn't think a couple at your level of income would have to resort to.) It doesn't seem like the lifestyle you're describing should be straining your ability to save, unless you're one of those people who thinks they're going to save 50% of their salary forever and then retire at 37.

Which leads me to wonder: what is your DTI right now? Is your problem that you bought more house than you could afford while still saving as you need to? Because that problem is not going to go away, no matter how much homemade cleaning liquid you make.
posted by praemunire at 3:41 PM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

(I didn't think somebody would go to the trouble of purchasing something like a topical acid and do no reading at all and chuck a random amount in. I know the stronger Lac-Hydrin is Rx-only in the States for ??? reasons -- it isn't here -- but I've never heard of any other lactic acid/salicylic acid/retinol {diff. from the Rx Retin-A} product being Rx-only anywhere no matter what the strength. Ph strips are cheap. But, yes, read up a bit, but it is not terribly complicated; the same places that sell it tend to have instructions and appropriate warnings -- agreed that it is best not done willy-nilly, though; should have added a disclaimer; I suppose it's like telling somebody "To make cookies, just mix butter and sugar and add eggs and flour and bake, and you'll have cookies...")
posted by kmennie at 3:59 PM on September 1, 2016

Personal care products: Walmart is *always* cheaper than Shopper's for drugstore buys. 2nd things like olive oil for makeup remover instead of a product. Check in with beauty forums for reviews, info on dupes, etc.

Clothes: *never* pay full price. Wait for deals. (Winter coats and boots excepted, otherwise sizes will be out. Rarely any deals on those anyway.)

Don't wait until you run out of (detergent, toilet paper, whatever), if there's a *great* deal, get it when you see it. I shop very very locally but if you can get around a bit, try the Flipp app for price checking on coupons.

If you have no issues preventing you from walking, there's no reason to have a gym membership. Get some free weights and walk, way cheaper in the long run. (If you need a cable machine or the bike or a pool etc, that's a different story. Uni or community centre gym in that case. Or one of those $10/month gyms if there's one nearby.)

Food: chicken thighs, ground beef, frozen or canned fish, beans, and eggs for protein.( I m usually only like fresh caught fish, but you can do things like salmon cakes to hide the texture of frozen fish.) Get your eg filet mignon the day it's reduced and freeze it immediately.

Does Tek Savvy exist where you are? Beat deal I could find for Internet.

Oh, check out the red flag deals site for all kinds of ideas (and coupons for weird stuff you might conceivably need).
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:01 PM on September 1, 2016

This will solve most of your Costco problem. Most of that stuff is not cheaper if you do the math. Few good deals there.

This is completely wrong. Costco is drastically cheaper than my local supermarkets on vegetables, berries, fruit, olive oil, canola oil, popcorn, cereal, chips, rice, cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spices, lunchmeat and yogurt. And yeah, I can buy the worst eggs and meat the grocery store has for less than Costco prices, but I can buy organic eggs for like $3.50 per dozen at Costco, which almost unbeatable anywhere else. Same with organic chicken and choice beef and pork, where Costco is often cheaper by a third. Paper towels and toilet paper are higher quality for less money. Again, I can buy one ply toilet paper I can see through at a discount store, but stuff that's decent is MUCH cheaper at Costco. I can buy bar soap without animal products for 66 cents per bar at Costco. Not the cheapest soap I can buy, but certainly the best value.

I've also bought a UPS there (saved something like 20%) and a clad set of stainless steel pots and pans that likely saved me 25% over equivalent branded stuff at a department store.

A couple tips to actually answer the question:
* Cricket Wireless uses AT&T's network and is $35 per month if you don't use huge amounts of data. Google's Project Fi costs even less if you use less than 1GB of data.
* If you have competition for Internet service in your area, call your provider every year, threaten to leave and get a discount. I've been doing this for years with Comcast Internet.
* Buy clothes used. Thrift stores, Thredup and eBay are great sources for lightly used clothes.
* Cancel cable and use an OTA antenna, Netflix/Amazon/Hulu (not all three) and a sports subscription like NBA League Pass, for sports. You can also watch illegal sports streams for stuff that's not available anywhere else.
* Use reusable containers for lunch and leftovers, not plastic bags. Same with rags instead of paper towels.
* Go out to eat less often. Take your breakfast and lunch to work. We spend $6 per two person meal on food at home (and that includes detergents, cleaners, etc., so it's really less.) There's effectively nowhere we can go out and eat for less than $20 that's not fast food. And we don't eat crappy food at home, pretty much at all.
* Kick your coffee habit. $4 coffee * 20 work days, * 12 months is $1,000 per year on coffee.
* Stop upgrading your cell phone. Flagship phones are $600 and up, and people tend to buy them every two years. That's $25 per month on phones, not counting service. And the new one may literally not do a single thing the old one didn't do.
posted by cnc at 4:05 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dollar Tree dollar store
Packages of razors (usually 8-12 for a buck).
Reading glasses. I'm hell on reading glasses, fall asleep with them on and end up they're broken; I lose them; I shove them into my pocket and they break or scratch; etc and etc. I usually buy 15-20 pair at a time, varying strengths, and then scatter them about my condo and pickup and bike bag etc.
Toothpaste. Okay, so it's tacky, but I *love* Ultrabrite toothpaste, and it's a buck for a tube the size of a Bologna..
Super-glue. Buy it here for a buck or anywhere else for four bucks.
Batteries. If you don't use rechargeable batteries1 you can get off-brand (ie not Coppertop or whatever) alkaline batteries inexpensively.
1I use rechargeable batteries, I doubt that it's less expensive in the long run but it's The Right Thing To Do To Be A Good Citizen. Or so I think. Even rechargeable batteries wear out and die, over time. Plz, take any battery to your local battery recycle place, keep that stuff out of the landfill. Also, I've found that you (I) need not buy Eneloop, that there are other brands that consistently cost a lot less -- check ratings and prices on Amazon and/or eBay.


Dollar General dollar store
Spray paint for a buck a can.


Craiglist Free Section.
You just cannot imagine what people give away on CL Free section. It's unreal. My dishwasher died, some guy had just bought a house that had just been remodeled prior to his buying it, and he wanted stainless instead of white. He gave me the dishwasher AND an over the range microwave. These items were literally brand new. The microwave was big as a Buick, and I gave it away on the Free Section of CL -- it was like this $200 appliance but I like to give back, fair is fair, right? I got like 40 emails, I gave it to this young couple, obv sortof broke and in a new house -- they were so happy. The dishwasher? Oh, man -- this thing rocks the house, dishes come out not only clean, it's like they're blessed by some sort of Dish Deity or some shit, even pots and pans sparkle and shine.

I have seen almost new washer/dryer combos, amazingly expensive and almost new couches -- including leather couches -- and bedroom sets and art and anything else. For free. Sometimes it's fun just to look at it. It's made it *much* easier for me to not be the hoarder type that I am, I can and do let go of things because I know that all I need is an internet connection and a pickup truck and -- ZAM !!! -- I can get tons of great stuff, free.

Anyways, if you're looking for something, and are patient, it *will* come up on Craiglist Free section. It's really something else.


I haven't bought shaving cream in many years. I shave in the shower, then do any touch-up shaving after the shower in the mirror while my skin is still soft and wet. Most of the time I wear a beard so it's usually just my throat and a bit of my cheeks that I shave anyways, but beard or not shaving in the shower works great. I finish with a (inexpensive but great quality) battery powered shaver, and then my skin has no stubble. At all.


Brown rice, beans (pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, whatever) and also orange lentils. Buy organic -- yeah, it'll cost you more but you're worth it, and since you're eating those meals at home it's still less expensive by far.

Coffee and/or tea at home. I'll still buy sometimes when I'm out but mostly not.


Bicycle mechanic at REI. It's the Secret Weapon of keeping your bike tuned and running great at a very reasonable cost. Most ppl don't know it, most ppl figure that the bike wrenches at REI work only on bikes from REI but that's not the case. These ppl have great jobs, they're fairly compensated, they're constantly trained, and if you keep your eyes on their outlet site you can often get top of the line components for a great price. Patience again, it's a virtue here. I don't let anyone but Andy touch my bike and haven't for over a decade.

And I've seen people throw away bicycle tubes that've gotten a flat. For the sake of anything that's decent, don't throw away your bike tube when it gets a hole in it. Patch it. It's easy. It's annoying -- I've had two flats this week, one of them far from any light source except the flashlight held in my teeth -- but it's The Right Thing To Do. IMO; YMMV. (Two weeks ago a tube I'd had for years finally gave out -- dry rot around the valve stem and that you cannot fix. It had 11 patches on it, some large, some small. I probably should have had some sort of sacred ceremony when I tossed it into the dumpster.)


Amazon. Supposing you're buying a computer, or an air filter, or a kitchen faucet, or damn near anything else. Let's say this water heater, goes for $200. Let your eye down the page just a hair and see that it says "Used from XXX" and click on that link. Anything that says "Fulfillment By Amazon" is either brand new or almost brand new, costs a lot less because the box is dented or whatever. Right now they've got one for $144. Instead of $200. Same warranty. Same Amazon. Same everything. Different price.

I bought a really, really sweet Dell tablet/laptop this way, it was over $100 bucks less than their regular price (which beat everybody else) and I could not tell that it wasn't brand new; even the box was sealed. But here's the kicker -- it was way, way more computer than I needed. And I didn't like or need the tablet, not in that form factor. I got buyers remorse. I called Amazon, told them the story, they sent me a shipping label to sent it back to them, refunded every penny I paid.

I like Amazon. I still gotta shop of course, but I really like Amazon. They get a lot of my $$$.


I could go on, but it's time for A Bike Ride! Hurray! Laterz, gang....
posted by dancestoblue at 4:33 PM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Damnit, I didn't preview cnc's response. Cell phones. Cricket runs on ATT, MetroPCS runs on T-Mobile. Both have inexpensive monthly service, and even another five bucks off if it's an autodraft every month. And here's the kicker -- every year, they both tend to run specials where they'll give you a free phone and $100 to transfer your service to them. I've gone back and forth between them a number of times, using the same number -- what a kick!

And I do not need -- nor want -- some Bleeding Line Of The Cutting EdgeTM type cell phone, I'm perfectly content with a decent android -- I've got an LG Stylo that's got a 5.7 inch screen that I can actually see, and a camera that's plenty good enough for my needs. You have to play the rebate game when switching back/forth and getting a new phone, but after that I don't think I've paid more than fifty bucks for a phone in years. If even that.


Also. eBay for bike shoes -- I just bought a pair of really nice mountain bike shoes for 35 bucks. eBay used to be killer for cowboy boots but ppl have wised up, too bad for me.

More eBay -- I'm this really gorky guy -- you might call me a galoot, others have -- I'm 6'5" and 192 pounds; I turn sideways and stick out my tongue, people think I'm a zipper. So anyways, it's impossible to find clothing that fits, almost. But Eddie Bauer Medium Tall generally fits me, and while most of their clothing is East Coast Golfer Dork stuff, not all of it is, and I've a search set up on eBay that lets me know every day when any EB Medium Tall item shows up.


Bike ride!
posted by dancestoblue at 5:02 PM on September 1, 2016

Wow, sorry - I answered on my phone and missed the vegetarian bit - obviously ignore filet mignon etc advice. So sorry! Check out: Redflagdeals, Flipp, reddit's personal finance sub. (Also: I heard your show, from another question - you have a great voice. I know little about this world... it seems like it takes a bit of work to get into it, for sure (unless you can find a niche) but maybe it's worth a shot, for a few extra hundred here and there?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:04 PM on September 1, 2016

If I missed whether you own or rent, I'm sorry. If you own, there's a lot that is cost up front, but cheaper in the long run.

Xerescaping--no water, fertilizer, mower, time cost.

Solar installation.

On-demand hot water heater.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Figure out what you're spending a bunch of money on, by tracking your spending. Look for specific tips on cutting that expense.
posted by lazuli at 7:48 PM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

You're in a university town. End of April-Mayish you should be able to find anything you want abandoned by the side of the road. Figure out the day students typically move out and go on a wander through the student neighborhood. Wealthy but lazy students abandon some great stuff when they move out... Over the years I've collected lamps, chairs, a futon, a bbq, darkroom equipment, a television, so much stuff... and seen and left behind so many other things, like kitchen equipment in great shape, desks, bookcases...
posted by bibliotropic at 11:02 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I mean, what makes it easy and lovely is going for a spring walk, the sheer joy of finding something great, giving perfectly acceptable things new life, and NOT HAVING TO GO TO THE MALL.
posted by bibliotropic at 11:06 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I find that by not shopping as recreation and not watching TV, I don't have a lot of "wants". Wants are largely a product of marketing. Needs are, well, born of necessity.

But I would encourage you not to go overboard. I knew a girl in college who unscrewed the lightbulb in her fridge to save money. Don't be that girl. Travel, and experience as much as you can. I have never had a huge - even a mildly big - salary, and I'm okay financially (and I'm super old) because I put little bits of money aside in 401K and HSA accounts.
posted by tizzie at 12:17 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

One more thing about the library: most public libraries have "pass" programs in which you can sign out free or discount passes to museums, aquariums, amusement parks and other places. Little known, much loved program.
posted by Miko at 3:14 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi, I am in a similar boat. Canadian, no car, not a ton of debt.

I am finding YNAB really useful for this, and their forums are a treasure trove of other people's journeys through this exact question. They also do challenges like "Frugal September" and it can be helpful to have a community cheering each other on.

The best thing we've done in YNAB is bill ourselves every month for the vacation budget and for annual bills. Property taxes come out in July, we know around how much that will be, so we set up a goal with a target date and YNAB tells us how much to save every month for it. Likewise, vacation. Got a trip planned next spring? Tell YNAB how much you want to save and set up a goal with a target date and save the amount it tells you to each month.

Suddenly that money isn't sitting in your Costco-related categories. And that has helped me much more than any specific frugal tip.

The other thing we do that saves us money is to cultivate habits that are free or cheap. We read a lot, and use the library. Netflix is cheap. We have dinner with friends every week at their place, which costs us a transit token and a bottle of wine. We go on long walks. We get a blanket and hang out in the park. These things are as enjoyable for us as going out to restaurants, but so much cheaper.

I would also echo people above who say not to trim so much that it is constricting and difficult. We've started budgeting some money for "Entertainment" and this weekend we're checking out some Hot Docs. Without that kind of positive reinforcement, budgets are very hard to stick to. If it's all pain, it kinda sucks. Like us, you're not in an emergency, so it doesn't have to suck.
posted by sadmadglad at 5:14 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh this entire discussion is wonderful!! My only addition: along the same lines as people suggesting not going too hard into denying yourself pleasures that cost money, what I found really helpful was to look at monthly costs/payments in YNAB. Seeing the "average spent" in each category either made me feel good, neutral, or kind of horrified. I'm working on my "kind of horrified" categories - seeing what I can cut and how I can do it most easily and painlessly. Then I'll move onto the neutral categories if possible. It has definitely helped me to figure out my priorities when it comes to money and made it much easier to figure out what I can cut, change, or (sadly) have to simply accept.
posted by VioletU at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

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