Let’s face it – we can all agree that life isn’t cheap! From food and clothing to hobbies, transportation and healthcare, we all spend a fortune in our daily lives by just getting by. Sadly, for those of us on a small income, it can be even harder to do the normal things that we would love to do and provide for our loved ones. Frugal living, therefore, can seem all the more appealing!
As difficult as it may seem, it is not, in fact, that difficult to learn how to live on less money than you’re otherwise used to. It simply involves learning how to make more frugal decisions in our lives and committing to small changes that can make big differences later down the line.
If you’re thinking about tightening your belt and what to know how to live on less money (UK or elsewhere), it’s time to give frugal living a try. But where do you even start?
What does frugal living mean?
Frugal living means living within your means – or, at least, setting up a budget and making sure you stick to it.
Let’s get things clear – frugal living doesn’t necessarily mean cheap living, if you’re worried about having to go without. Cheap living usually means getting used to going without the things that you need and want for the sake of saving a few pennies. A pretty miserable existence, honestly!
However, frugal living is something completely different. Essentially, it is learning how to live on a budget. It does not mean abandoning all of the things you love and instead refers to learning how to live more responsibly.
Learning to prioritise what you need is a genuine life skill – as is getting rid of bits and pieces that serve little to no purpose. It is a great way of ensuring that you are living within your budget – while still being happy and fulfilled.
That old cliché ‘money doesn’t bring you happiness’ isn’t exactly true, but we challenge you to live a little more frugally to see if you really are worse off. If you’re up to the task, keep reading!
How to be frugal
When it comes to being frugal, many people assume that it involves huge changes – and getting rid of tons of creature comforts. Thankfully, that is not the case.
In fact, you can easily learn how to live a more frugal lifestyle in a few simple and efficient steps. However, it is important to understand that changing your lifestyle will not happen overnight. Do not think that making a few immediate changes will suddenly give you thousands of pounds more!
Frugal living means making small changes that can make a big difference in the long run. Therefore, it requires patience, commitment, and an open mind. Your budget will take careful consideration, too – and be prepared to strip things right back if you really intend to make a difference. However, once you have made these changes, even if there are just a few, you will hopefully realise just how easy they are – and wonder why you didn’t do them before.
Is living a more frugal lifestyle worth it?
Yes! Would we really be publishing a guide on frugal living if we didn’t believe in its benefits? Living frugally will mean that you’re perhaps able to save money for holidays, new cars, paying off the mortgage, buying presents for the family, or even saving for retirement.
What’s more, you don’t even have to live on a budget for long to make a genuine difference. Everyone’s income and outgoings are different – but patience is vital.
In this day and age, many of us have become so used to expecting immediate results that sometimes, when we cannot see them, we assume that what we are doing is not working.
However, think about your future self – and your family – wouldn’t they be proud of you taking time to save money in the here and now to provide for years to come? It only takes a little bit of scaling back.
Frugal living tips to try today
Enough chatter – let’s actually look at some frugal living tips you can put into practice.
1. Make a budget
This is the golden rule of frugal living – making a budget. Firstly, sit down with all of your bills and add up your regular expanse. From electric and gas to entertainment, food, travel, healthcare, cleaning products, etc – figure out how much you spend per month on all of your expenses, then break it down per week.
Once you have established how much you need to spend and factor in how much you make, you will be able to assess areas in which you can make improvements and set weekly goals on what you spend.
Remember, you will also need to count how much you can spend per week on yourself, be it on going out, new clothes, and anything considered ‘non-essential’. Essentially, you would be setting yourself an allowance! Once you have a clear oversight of where your money’s going, you can start to trim the fat – looking carefully at where you don’t have to spend so much, and where there may be financial leeway.
2. Split up your allowance into envelopes
A great way of separating your allowances and regular expenditures is taking out your money physically and putting it into dedicated envelopes.
Put the money that you will need to spend in each dedicated envelope, and include one for your spending money that you can keep on your person. This is a great way of physically seeing where your money goes, and it will help to prevent you from spending too much when you get your monthly income (or equivalent).
3. Avoid the cards
Tying in with the above, removing money physically will take away much of your reliance on credit or debit cards. It’s easy to spend on these as you don’t have the physical money to hand – and it’s all too easy to lose track!
Therefore, only ever take out the money you need, and leave the remainder on your cards. You will, with a bit of luck, be less tempted to spend what’s left.
4. Make meal plans
Cut back on waste and financial expense by actually planning your meals into a diary or a series of notes.
For items that you usually buy in bulk, try to make multiple meals during the same week to use them. For example, if you usually buy big bags of potatoes and onions, try using them in various meals to avoid having to throw away rotting vegetables at the end of the week.
5. Don’t rely on eating out
As you make your food and plan for the week, plan for your lunches at well for when you are at work or at school. This will help to prevent you from buying food while you are out of the house, and you will have something extra to look forward to during your day.
Eating out may be convenient, but as they say, it all adds up! That leads us neatly onto our next tip, too…
6. Use the food that you have available
Many of us stack our fridges and cupboards and still enjoy a daily Greggs or McDonald’s! All of that food you have forgotten about is likely still good, however, so just use what you have in before eating out. Being frugal isn’t just about saving money on your food shopping, but also about using everything you have in your home!
This can easily save you money in the long run and free up some space – and save on food waste, too. Ensure that the foods you plan to eat are still in date, then get to cooking!
You could store and freeze some concoctions to heat up and enjoy at a later date, too. A cornerstone of frugal living is relying on what you have first before buying up anything else.
7. Get rid of services you’re not using
Whether it is a gym membership, a Netflix or Spotify subscription or otherwise, if you never use it – or haven’t used it in months – then get rid of it.
Even if it is just a few pounds a month, every penny does count. Instead, put that money towards food, a holiday, clothes, or a long-term savings goal.
8. Learn new skills and fix home problems yourself
You can save a pile of money by doing some easy DIY jobs yourself. Decorating, for one, is something that you can easily do yourself. Get a paintbrush, some gloss, and some old clothes and newspapers, and you can easily change the style of your home without paying out hundreds for professional decorating.
9. Ask for help around the house
Another great way to cut back on paying for service people is to simply call in a favour or two. Can your friends pop by and help you put up some shelves? Do you have siblings who can help you paint your garden fence? Trade favours in return – providing you’re not paying dearly.
10. Only call in the experts if you have to
There will always be some home problems that need expert attention, but keep an open mind. Clogged drains do not always need a plumber, especially if you know what products to use to unclog them.
Your car does not need to go to a carwash, and your hair may not even need to be professionally styled (as tough a pill as that may be to swallow!).
The only things that you should absolutely call a professional for are anything to do with electricity, serious plumbing issues, gas supplies, structural worries, or the functionality of your car. Beyond those things, it’s easy to tackle everyday concerns on your own and save a ton of cash. Take a look at online tutorials and YouTube guides, too.
11. Make your clothes travel that bit further
We’ve all thrown old clothes away in favour of adding new items to the wardrobe. However, in most cases, all that needs doing to our older togs is a little adjusting, some sewing, or even iron-on patching, to fix up.
Try to take better care of your clothes, in order to make them last longer and avoid you having to constantly refill your wardrobe. Not only is fast fashion costly, it is also bad for the environment.
12. Have a serious clear-out
Kitchen appliances, old games, clothes, sentimental items that you might have forgotten all about – do you really need to keep hold of them? If not, get ruthless and sell them on.
They may not bring you a fortune – however, depending on the quality, the brand, and the demand, you can make a bit of money off of them. Look online at websites such as eBay and Vinted, and see what your items are being listed at price-wise.
Car boot sales are great, too. Ultimately, the point here is that you’ll be creating more space and getting a bit of extra money to save, too.
13. Take the bus, bike, or walk more
Having a car can be endlessly beneficial – however, they also cost a fortune to run, from the insurance and the fuel to the maintenance and the repairs. If you happen to live in an area with adequate public transport or an easy means of getting to most of your appointments by walking, then it may be time to sell your car outright.
Walking and cycling are cheap, healthy, and won’t harm the environment. However, if you have to go far, risk endangering yourself by going on foot or on a bike, or it is bad weather, then look at public transport. You can get some decent fares and save yourself some money by subscribing to monthly or even yearly-use cards.
Take a look at the journeys you make regularly and the money you spend on fuel. Could you save money switching to public transport instead?
14. Get realistic on energy usage
2022 was the year energy rates really started to spike in the UK – and we’re all looking more carefully at what we’re using. If you really want to live frugally, it’s time to scale back the power you consume.
As daft as it sounds, simply remembering to turn off lights when you are not in the room, turning off plugs, unplugging your phone, television, etc, all make a big difference to the prices you pay on energy.
You should also optimise the use of your appliances. For example, do not run the washing machine or dishwasher unless they are full. Try sweeping and dusting more than using the vacuum cleaner. Reduce your television time and do not have it running in the background when you can avoid it.
15. Never turn down a coupon!
Be sure to check out voucher codes and promo codes online to save money on the web. It’s also worth installing apps such as Honey for your internet browser, which help to find useful coupons for specific sites and online stores.
Physical coupons are great, too – we all receive some in the post from time to time, and you may even get a few in your regular papers and magazines. Regardless of what they are for, cut them out and keep them – you never know when you might need that cash off at a later date.
16. Buy big items during the sale season
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, January sales – they all play host to some big bargains on homewares, entertainment and more. Why not wait and buy bigger items when these sales come around?
By planning ahead for these sales, you can save yourself a lot of money on things like appliances, clothes and Christmas presents. Plus, if you know that birthdays, holidays, or other events are coming up, or that it is soon time for you to update your appliances, phones, laptops, etc – then try to plan ahead for the sales.
17. Don’t upgrade at the last minute
In fact, it’s a great idea to plan out the life cycle of your essentials as best you can. Avoid waiting for your appliances and tools to break, as you will end up having to replace them instantly, which usually means shelling out at the worst possible time.
Instead, plan for their upcoming replacement and donate or sell your current appliances on before they break.
18. Get insured
As much as you may never need insurance, there’s always a risk that the perils of everyday life could leave your essentials seriously damaged. That means having to pay out all over again, or for pricey repairs.
Take a look at insurance quote comparison sites online and get yourself protected as much as possible. This way, you may only have to pay a small excess fee to get replaced or repaired. It’s a good money saving factor long-term.
19. Join a library
New books can cost a fortune, especially if you are an avid reader. Even reading up on things for work or school can be expensive. Instead, sign up to your local library – it’s free!
What’s more, libraries often still provide DVDs and CDs to borrow. Old-school, yes – but it’s free entertainment – what’s not to like?
20. Make everyday items go further
Most of us throw away a lot every day, but a lot of what we throw away can be reused – and might even save us a few pennies in the bargain.
For example, instead of throwing away your pasta sauce and jam jars, keep them to store knick-knacks in – there’s no need to buy mason jars or expensive storage. Even old ice cream cartons can work great as tupperware for your weekly meals, leftovers, etc! Then, instead of donating or throwing away your old, unfixable clothes, use them to make new things. You can easily make them into quilts, tea towels, cloths, bags, animal beds, or even new clothes.
21. Get creative on waste
Keep dog and cat food bags and reuse them as everyday bin bags to save on buying new ones more frequently. Save any fruit and vegetable bags, bread bags, and so on, and use them as poop bags for when you walk your dog, or when you clean out your cat’s litter tray, hamster’s cage, etc.
22. Load up on vinegar
Did you know that you can easily and cheaply make your own cleaning products? Simply buy cheap white vinegar in bulk, and keep an old spray bottle – wash it out, fill it up, and you have a natural go-to for cleaning up spills and adding sparkle to surfaces.
White vinegar works great for cleaning most things; it is completely natural and immensely cheaper than most cleaning products. You could even spruce it up a bit by using old citrus peels in the solution to make the spray smell fresh, clean (and a bit less like the local chippy).
White vinegar even works well as a cleaning detergent alongside your normal powder – keep your clothes fresh with the same stuff!
23. Relearn your laundry
Washing machines use huge amounts of energy, which will cost us all dearly in the long run. Clean your clothes on a shorter, colder setting wherever possible. For example it’s perfectly safe to wash clothes on a 30 instead of a 40.
In many cases, this can be even better for the fabrics, and it will definitely save you money on energy. Then, when the clothes are clean, hang them out to dry in your garden or use a clothes horse.
When it comes to steaming and ironing your clothes, keep them in your bathroom for a bit so that steam from your shower, for example, can do the job for you.
24. Dry clothes on radiators when they’re already needed
Many of us choose to dry clothes and linens across radiators during the autumn and winter – but you shouldn’t turn on your radiators for the sake of it. In fact, if you intend to dry your clothes with the help of the heating, make sure your radiators are already serving their primary purpose.
This, again, will help you to save money. You’re not having to power up your radiators twice – simple!
25. Check your energy tariff carefully
In line with energy tips listed above, make sure you ‘get to know’ your energy tariff. In most cases, you’ll be charged less per kilowatt hour to run appliances during the day than you will during ‘peak’ hours – i.e., after 6pm, and at weekends. Therefore, any intensive washing and other appliance running will be cheaper between traditional working hours – in general, anyway. Make sure to check what your supplier has to offer.
It’s also good to avoid your supplier switching you to their default tariffs. These tend to be more costly – look into switching your tariff online, or changing provider outright.
26. Take advantage of your local charity and second-hand shops
Charity shops and second-hand shops can be genuine treasure chests for just about everything. You can buy nearly anything second-hand from clothes and entertainment to appliances and even furniture and vehicles.
The great thing about charity shops is that they sell things at more than reasonable prices, and some will even help to deliver bigger appliances if you need them. If you do need something new, try to look for it second-hand first, as you could get it in great quality for a great price.
27. Buy your Christmas and seasonal goods off-season
It seems a little daft to buy Christmas cards in January, but the savings can be enormous. Do also consider other seasons, too – Halloween trinkets and items, for example, are often much cheaper online off-season.
Look for super-cheap chocolate eggs towards the end of April, cut-price flowers a day or two after Mother’s Day – the list goes on. Most supermarkets and shops overstock, so there will always be fantastic quality items up for clearance.
28. Don’t be afraid to plan for big expenses
Budgeting is great, but it takes more than just being careful every month when you know that a big expense is coming. Instead, plan ahead for it. Be it a new vehicle, a holiday, or a large winter energy bill, plan ahead for it. Give yourself as much time as possible to prepare for them, and plan out exactly how much you have to save per week before the money is due.
This way, you can better prepare for the payment, save yourself some stress, and consider all of your options before being left with a big bill and no way of paying it.
The same applies to taxes, too, if you run a business or are self-employed. File your returns at the start of the tax year in April, and start paying towards the figure across the year. Don’t leave it until the last minute.
29. Reach out for help with bills
Providing you normally pay your bills on time, there are no reasons why energy providers, telephone companies and the like won’t be willing to give you more time to pay certain bills.
Don’t take this generosity for granted – it’s best to try and pay on time wherever possible. However, if there’s a big bill one time out of three you’re struggling to scrimp and save for, then there’s no harm in calling your supplier directly.
Most suppliers will want to avoid sending debt collectors to your door as it can be a lengthy, costly process at their end – but that doesn’t mean they won’t try. So, buy yourself a little extra time if you have the karma available!
30. Start using your freezer more
Your freezer is about to become your new best friend. Buying frozen foods instead of fresh foods is a great way to save some money and ensure that you always have food in. In fact, there are plenty of foods that are not normally frozen that you can freeze easily. Did you know that you can freeze bread and milk, for example?
A great way to use your freezer to your advantage is to find food items that are reducing to clear with only a few days left ‘on date’. Freeze them, and defrost them later to enjoy them fresh.
Remember that most non-freezer items will normally last a month after putting them away, so make sure to mark the date on your calendar.
31. Learn how to read dates properly
A great way to cut back on food waste and to save money is to know the difference between common ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. ‘Use by’ dates need to be followed at all costs as they largely apply to fresh meat – which go rotten quickly thereafter.
‘Best before’ dates, however, simply tell you when they are likely to taste best. You’ll find these on loaves on bread, cans of soup – all kinds of things. It doesn’t mean that these foods are good to be thrown away after these dates – just take each case as it comes!
For example, carefully look at your bread – is it still soft and free from mould spots? Then it’s likely still safe to eat. Best before dates can trick millions of us into throwing food away before it goes bad. Don’t fall into this trap!
32. Store your food properly
It’s important to know how to store your foods properly so that you can actually get your money’s worth! For example, bananas should not be kept with other fruits as they naturally release a gas that will make the other fruits go bad quickly – strange but true!
Vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and garlic, need to be kept in a cool, dry place in order to avoid getting too moist and going bad quicker. Carrots, celery, and cucumber can be chopped up, put in some of your reused jars with a bit of water to keep them lasting for longer and tasting just as crunchy as they were when you first bought them.
33. Recreate the gym
Gym memberships can cost a fair amount of money over the course of a year – but if you need professional training and help, then they are definitely worth it. However, if you can manage working out on your own, then do so. If you don’t mind missing the atmosphere of your local fitness centre, there are no reasons why you can’t get fit at home.
You can get some great workout equipment from charity shops – and eBay – at fantastic prices. You can also easily follow online tutorials and exercise sessions for workout guidance.
There’s nothing to say you can’t get a partner, friend or family member to come and join in your home aerobics and strength training, too – so you don’t have to go it completely alone.
34. Get savvy on breaks away
Holidays can be big drains on our bank accounts, but you don’t have to put off taking one for the sake of saving money. The best thing to do is to plan well in advance in order to secure the best deals.
Try planning at least three or four months in advance, if not more. Then, look at online deals. You can easily find bundles for flights, hotels, and more online out of season. Look at sites such as Booking.com, Kaya and Expedia for the best deals – and where possible, consider travelling to your chosen destination out of the tourist season for even better deals.
35. There’s always Airbnb
Keeping on the holiday angle, you’ll likely be able to get access to some great deals via Airbnb. This is a massively popular app that lets you book rooms or whole spaces from private homeowners – and more often not, the rates are much less than what you’d pay for self-catering across the board.
Airbnb is also regulated and thoroughly vets their homeowners, so you know you’re always staying with a safe pair of hands.
36. Drop the bottle
If you’re the sort of person that frequently picks up plastic bottled water to drink on the go, it’s time to drop the habit. This is not only costly, it’s contributing to massive plastic waste that’s choking aquatic habitats the world over.
It’s much cheaper, instead, to fill up a sports bottle from the tap to go. It might not seem very convenient, but try tracking your savings! If you’re not keen on the taste of tap water, there are affordable filter sports bottles online which will still only cost a fraction of what you’d pay on single-use plastic over the year.
37. Avoid oven food in warmer months
It’s a little bit of a strange one, but when it gets to the warmer months, it makes sense to try and sway towards colder food, or that you can cook on a less energy-intensive appliance, such as a grill or a BBQ set.
As the weather gets warmer, many of us tend to drift towards sandwiches and salads anyway. Therefore, limiting how often you use the full oven in the warmer seasons will save a stack on your energy bills!
38. Be mindful of water on a meter
Water meters can seem like great ideas if you want to keep track of what you pay to water companies across the board. However, these actually estimate how much water you use – so think carefully about how much you’re letting slip down the drain.
For example, do you leave your water running while you brush your teeth? What about when you do the washing up? Do you shower more frequently than bathing outright? Consider changing up a few of these habits to save some serious cash.
39. Switch to LEDs
Remember those energy-saving bulbs that were all the rage a few years back? Turns out, they might not actually save you all that much energy at all. In fact, they often need replacing fairly quickly! That’s why you should invest in low-energy LEDs instead.
LED bulbs are extremely cost-effective. They run at much lower wattage compared to standard bulbs with the same level of illumination. What’s more, for an LED to expire outright, you’d normally need to leave it powered on for five or six years straight – which means you can safely expect a decade of power out of these bulbs.
40. Use bar soap in the shower
On the whole, simple bars of soap are much less expensive than bottles of fancy shower gel. If you’re not too fussy about how you smell (other than clean!) when you get out of your bath on a morning, be sure to start using bars of soap instead of shower gels when you bathe.
You can, for example, buy bars in bulk and reserve several to use purely in the shower – or use the same bars for the sink.
41. Online Shopping: Never Renew Automatically
When shopping online for services such as utilities and insurance, make use of comparison websites. If you are already paying for a service that you found the best deal on via a comparison website, don’t assume that the automatic renewal will also be the lowest.
Always perform a new search each year, around one month prior to your renewal date. You can save as much as 50% on your renewal price by simply switching providers, which is really easy and can usually be done online with little effort.
42. Online Shopping: Research Everything
Never buy anything without researching everything about the product or service (and any cheaper alternatives) online first. There’s a plethora of information available online from the UK Money Blogging community, and you can save a lot of money by doing proper research.
43. Online Shopping: Shop Sales
Shopping whilst an event or sale on can save you as much as 70% off the RRP.
Knowing when a sale is due to drop is key to saving cash, because sometimes we don’t want to wait to make a purchase, but timing your shopping around a sale is a great way to maximise your savings.
There are UK Sale Date Calendars you can check out to stay ahead of the game for all sorts of popular retailers and sale events.
44. Online Shopping: Earn Money Whilst Shopping
Cashback websites such as Topcashback and Quidco are a must of shopping online. Once signed up, you simply shop as you normally would but using the links through their websites.
There is no cost to you and you will earn a small percentage of the price you pay for your goods back in to your cashback account. Most retailers pay between 1% and 10% which can really add up throughout the year.
45. Online Shopping: Use Loyalty Cards & Reward Schemes
A lot of online retailers, particularly grocery retailers offer customer loyalty schemes.
The grocery reward cards are the best earners as UK shoppers can spend more than 25% of their income on food alone! The most popular are Sainsbury’s nectar card, Iceland Bonus card and Tesco Clubcard.
Although Sainsbury’s isn’t known for being a budget supermarket, you can also collect nectar points at many other retailers such as Esso petrol stations and eBay, so it’s well worth signing up.
With Sainsbury’s Nectar, you can also Double up all your collected points once a year with their Nectar Double Up Event.
46. Online Shopping: Find Deals and Vouchers
Once you have done your research, found a deal or sale and gone through a cashback site, now it’s time to try and find a voucher code. There are hundreds of discount code websites and cashback apps to check out before you go through the checkout.
Some retailers even offer a 10% discount on first orders for signing up to their newsletter, so check on that too.
Tip: Are you or anyone in your home a student? Sign up for Studentbeans and UniDays for extra special discounts only available to students.
As you can see, learning how to live in a more frugal way is not that difficult, and it can make a big difference to your finances. Sometimes, the smallest things in our lives make the biggest differences.
Remember to give yourself time to make changes such as those listed above, and do not be upset if you do not manage to make as many as you’d like. Everyone’s lifestyles are slightly different!
Take a look at some of the ‘top 40’ above, and let us know how you get on down in the comments – and inspire some of your fellow readers!
by Jon Craig
I am the creator of Project Financially Free and I started this journey to both educate myself and share my insights on personal finance. I’m passionate about financial literacy and I invite you to join me on this transformative path. See more.