When I discuss frugality and money saving strategies with those who are just starting down the frugal road, one of the things they always want to know is, “What can I buy that will help me become more frugal?” I always have to swallow a chuckle because buying things to become frugal is oxymoronic. You don’t “buy” to “save.” However, in our culture we’re taught that there is always a way to buy your way into any lifestyle change. Many people approach frugality the same way. They think there are some magical objects that you can buy that will make you frugal. While I don’t agree with the mindset, I’ve come up with a list of things that I’ve bought over the years that have most helped me along my frugal journey. If you just have to buy your way into frugality, try these items:
The Complete Tightwad Gazette: This book, by Amy Dacyczyn, is the bible of frugality. It’s filled with every tip imaginable to save money and cut expenses. It’s even got some recipes and craft projects. Some of the tips might seem a little extreme, but most are very adaptable to your own level of frugality. Used copies abound: I bought mine for $1 at a library used book sale.
A clothesline: If they’re allowed where you live, a clothesline can chop a substantial sum off of your electric bill. We save about $70/month during the spring, summer, and early fall when I can make good use of the line.
High speed Internet: When it comes to saving money, I typically counsel those in dire straits to forego Internet altogether or get cheap/free dial up. However, if you’re not in terrible financial shape, I recommend high speed Internet. The Internet is a valuable resource for the frugal and you don’t have to pay for super speed; we have the “slowest” high speed available in our area. A fast connection makes everything so much easier and quicker (and your time is worth something). The Internet is great for shopping for deals, looking for and printing coupons, looking at sales flyers, making product comparisons, reading money saving/frugality forums, getting recipes, selling your unwanted things, finding free stuff on Craigslist, online bill payment, and many other money saving/making activities. High speed Internet usually pays for itself if you’re using it for money saving/making activities.
A Sunday newspaper subscription: I use it for coupons and the weekly sales flyers. In our area, very few stores take Internet printed coupons so if I want to coupon I have to have the original coupons from the circulars. I save more than enough with coupons to justify the subscription (the subscription is about $30 for three months and I save about $80 in coupons each month, or $240 in three months). Well worth it. I only pay for Sunday, though, and not the whole week since I’m never around to read each day’s paper.
A coupon organizer: If you’re going to coupon, a good organizer is very valuable. Otherwise your coupons will get lost, mixed up, and never used. I use a small accordion file with tabs labeled with categories that make sense to me. Some people use 3-ring binders with baseball-style card pockets. Use whatever works best for you.
Two great cookbooks: Many people find that a big part of being frugal is eating at home rather than eating out. However, it gets boring if you only know how to make three dishes. I recommend buying two great cookbooks. One should have fast, basic, easy to make recipes that are great for everyday use. If it has some instructional techniques, so much the better. I like the Betty Crocker cookbook for this (it’s a classic — your mom probably had one), but there are many more. The second cookbook should contain recipes that you’d want to make for special occasions or that satisfy your love for a certain ethnic cuisine. With these two books you’re always ready to make something great for dinner at home or to serve when company comes. They library has tons of books you can try for free. When you find a couple you love, buy them.
A slow cooker: Also known as a crock pot, this handy kitchen appliance saves me a ton of money and time. I put the ingredients in before I head out for the day and return home to a fully cooked meal. I can make almost any kind of dish in it and it’s easy to clean. (One of my two great cookbooks is a crock pot cook book, just for this appliance.)
A class in something that helps you be more frugal: I spent money on two classes at our local community college: A cooking class and a car care class. Both have saved me tons of money over the years. I now know how to cook and I can change my own oil and do my own routine car maintenance. If there’s something you want to know that will save you money over the long run, invest in a class or some good books on the subject and teach yourself. (Or pay a talented friend to teach you what you need to know.) You can learn a lot by trying things yourself, but sometimes it’s worth getting some professional instruction.
Programmable thermostat: You tell it what time you’ll be in and out of the house and it will raise/lower the temperature accordingly so you’re not paying to heat or cool a house with no one in it. It’s also handy for raising and lowering the temperature at night when people are snuggled under blankets or the hot sun has gone down and there’s less need for the AC.
A good coffee maker and a travel mug: If you have a coffee habit, a good coffee maker can save you hundreds of dollars a year over buying coffee away from home. Get one that makes the kind of coffee you like: espresso, cappuccino, regular coffee, single cups, etc. and use it regularly.
Bonus: Your Money or Your Life: Yes, it’s another book. Written by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, this book shows you the relationship between money and the time and effort you spend earning it. Every dollar you spend costs you some of your life to earn and the book gets you thinking about what is really worth spending money on when you’re trading your life energy for the purchase. It totally transformed how I think about spending and made me see that a lot of things aren’t worth the piece of my life that I have to give up to own them.
What would you add to this list? What have you purchased that has made you more frugal or made being frugal easier?