Ten Purchases to Help With Frugality

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?

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10 Responses to Ten Purchases to Help With Frugality

  1. Annie Jones says:

    Some kind of effective budgeting program for the computer.

    I use Budget made by Snowmint Creative Solutions, but there are a lot of good programs available. The one I use features a virtual “envelope system” and has made all the difference in how my husband and I allocate, spend and save our money.

    The Budget program comes with free lifetime upgrades, a free trial version and a money-back guarantee. The company provides excellent customer service, too.

  2. Craig Ford says:

    Could we add an Entertainment book? That thing is packed full of great money saving coupons you can actually use.

  3. Snowy Heron says:

    Wow, I’ve done everything on the list except the coffeemaker – but I don’t drink coffee! I actually used to subscribe to the Tightwad Gazette, when it was still just a newsletter. One other class that I can recommend is one that our local water company offered so that people could learn to make minor plumbing repairs. My husband took it not long after we bought our first house and it has paid huge dividends over the years. And he doesn’t even consider himself to be very handy!

  4. Frugaltexan75 says:

    I would love to take a car care class. I’ve been looking for one pretty much ever since I moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area with no luck. However, I never thought about just asking someone who knows cars well to teach me – that is something I’ll have to look into.

    Another class that would be good is a computer building and maintanece class – it costs a lot less for you to do it yourself (building a computer) and if you know how to maintain it ( clean viruses, etc.) it will last much longer.

  5. fern says:

    1. A programmable timer for electric hot water heater. Works similar to timer on thermostat. I don’t know why more people don’t know about these. Mine is only on 3 hours a day and i have plenty of hot water. Why heat the water 8-10 hours daily when you’re away at work?

    2. Borrow a Kill-O-Watt Meter. My public library actually loans them out. Plug any appliance into it to get an idea how much energy different household appliances use up.

    3. If you can’t string up a clothesline, you can still buy drying racks; I use mine all the time.

    You may want to revisit the possibility of using computer-generated coupons. It took a while for some grocers to catch on, but more are accepting them now.

    I once signed up for a minor repairs for the homeowner class with continuing education, but they canceled the class due to lack of interest, which was disappointing.

    Buying a coupon organizer seems like overkill, especially the 3-ring binder. I keep mine in an envelope.

    Buying cookbooks is really unnecessary since you can find all the recipes you want, plus reviews of them by other readers, on many online recipe sites like http://www.recipezaar.com.

    I think a slow cooker saves you some money becus you can buy cheap cuts of meat that take hours to tenderize, but the main advantage of the slow cooker is that it saves time.

  6. Gail says:

    Absolutely. Those cookbooks and others like them can be found many times at Friends of the Library book sales. I’ve picked up cookbooks anywhere from 10 cents to up to $2.

    I have found that a simple spiral notebook, 15 cents during back to school sales, is all I need for keeping track of when bills are due and looking ahead to future payments, especially those yearly things that always surprise people. The system I follow, set up by me for me, has helped me through out the last 10+ years.

  7. Hilary says:

    Thanks for the list! I just bought The Complete Tightwad Gazette for my friend (and myself) for Christmas!

  8. Mike Harris says:

    A coin counter. Dump your change, bring the rolls to your bank.

  9. Annie Jones says:

    A coin counter is a good idea for some people, but a bad idea for others; our bank won’t take rolled coins. You must bring them loose and run them through their counting machine.

  10. Gail says:

    Our bank takes rolled coins but the thought of BUYING a coin counter as a frugal thing is kind of a weird thought for me. I’ve always had a kid in the house (or now he comes over) that has been happy to count the coins for me if I didn’t want to. What is so hard about counting coins that you would need to buy something to help you with it?

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