How to live frugally, from the creator of @myfrugalyear

What ‘frugal’ means to me

The official definition of the word ‘frugal’ sits somewhere between ‘simple and ‘sparing’, but until quite recently, it’s a word that many have associated with meanness, deprivation or just plain dreariness. I was one of those people, until last year. It wasn’t that I was living particularly extravagantly – no designer handbags or sports cars or trips to far-flung locations – just that I didn’t really understand why people would deprive themselves of all of the everyday luxuries that make life fun.

Only through the pursuit of a more pared-back existence – necessitated by a difficult financial situation - have I realised that knowing how to live frugally is not just about counting pennies, no-spend days and shopping at Aldi. It’s about learning what makes you happy and committing to prioritising that over everything else.

It’s about cutting out the purchases that feel good for a moment, but soon end up cluttering up both your home and your brain. It’s about acknowledging that you have limited resources in terms of time, energy and, of course, money, and deciding where you want to channel those things. 

Here are my tips for how to become more frugal without it feeling like a chore:

1. Use and enjoy what you have.

This is the cornerstone of my brand of frugality. I know all too well the lure of something new – the way that things whisper to you from their place on the shelf or your screen, promising you much better life will be once you possess them. But there is so much joy to be found in things that you already own, and have either neglected or forgotten about. Since swearing off unnecessary purchases, I have rediscovered clothes and shoes that have been easy to clean and repair – and wearing them feels even better than sporting something new.

2. Slowly introduce new habits.

I am not a naturally well-organised person. I’ve lost count of how many diaries I have tried to keep, and of how many strict ‘regimes’ I have laid down for myself before failing miserably to keep up. I have found, though, that new, better habits are possible to work into your life if you don’t try to do them all at once. For example, if you want to start taking a packed lunch to work, why not start by doing it a couple of days a week?

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Hello to everyone who’s joined me in 2020 so far (which is almost 10,000 of you 😱) I really hope we can have some great discussions. I’m not going to introduce myself - in a lot of ways my name really isn’t important - but I thought I’d just reiterate probably one of the most important messages I want people to take from this account. Having debt, struggling to save, living month-to-month or just generally not feeling in control of your money can make you feel incredibly isolated, ashamed and small. As a society, we are terrible at talking about money in general, and even worse at talking about a lack of it, or the emotional toll that that takes on a person. Also, often when we DO talk about it, we’re not completely honest, which perpetuates the problem - when we all feel like everyone else is doing better, how do we stick our head above the parapet and say, “actually, I’m struggling”? I cannot emphasise enough the importance of knowing that there are hundreds of thousands, millions even, of people out there who are wearing the same heavy, squelchy shoes as you. According to Martin Lewis (whose dedication to providing transparency and great money advice to people in the UK should be applauded), we are teetering in the edge of a personal debt crisis. Where mortgages and loans are now much harder to get, things like high-limit credit cards, store accounts and pay-later options like Klarna still make it easy to accumulate enormous debt in a very short space of time, the legacy of which can really threaten your future and your peace of mind. I really hope that the conversations we have here will help you to start to heal your own relationship with money, to let go of the shame and to start taking some positive action, however small. This is a matter that runs so much deeper than just ‘stop buying things’ or ‘start saving more’ - it’s profound, and it takes time and work to resolve. It’s a path that I’ve been on for around 10 months, and I still have days where everything feels overwhelming, but on the whole I feel positive about the future, and confident in my ability to achieve my goals - financial and otherwise.

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3. Plan your meals.

And not just dinner. Meal-planning is essential in order to waste as little as possible – again, one of the tenets of frugal living – but I found it really difficult to begin with. I found that I was needing to ‘pop to the shop’ all the time, because I hadn’t allowed for things like snacks, so you might like to keep a log of what you/your family normally eat in a day, and base your meal plan on that.

4. Look to others for inspiration.

In the last year or so, there has definitely been a swing towards a more frugal or minimal way of life for many people, and one of the happy consequences of this is that there is lots of useful content out there. Frugal blogs like The Frugality and The Money Fox have money saving tips mixed in with other content, and will help you to feel like you’re part of something. This can be useful when faced with all of the excess and consumerism on social media. 

We could all probably stand to be a little more frugal, but the good news is that there are plenty of small changes that you can start making today.

About the author:

This article was written by the creator of the @myfrugalyear Instagram account which is described as "a place to have honest conversations about finance and wellbeing". The author's book "Real Life Money: How to find financial freedom when you've got other sh*t to worry about" will be released in May 2020 and is now available for pre-order.

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