The premise of the bookThe millionaire next dooris that rich people tend to look like everyone else. They drive 10-year-old cars, go to neighborhood yard sales, and mow their own lawn, even though they can afford to spend on whatever they want.
This article is about the thrifty neighbors. If they are frugal, they end up looking like everyone else. Contrary to all the stereotypes you may have heard, frugal people are not a thin, gloomy miser with threadbare clothes and an air of permanent sadness.
No. They are well fed, neatly dressed and have as much fun as anyone else. They just get their needs met without spending too much money.
Their frugal habits are easy to implement and can have a big impact on your budget.
1. They are patient
If a thrifty person needs something, they don’t just rush to buy it. Instead, they apply what I call “the frugal filter”:
- Do I absolutely need it, or just want the?
- Do I already have something that would work just as well?
- If I really need it, can I borrow or rent it, or maybe even find it for free on a group like Freecycle or a Buy Nothing Facebook group?
- If I have to pay, what are the best options to get the best price?
This is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Once you’ve made it a habit, it’s actually second nature to filter everything sparingly.
By the way, it’s okay to get something you want, even if you don’t technically have it need the. Just don’t pay too much for it!
2. They are resourceful
Just frugal people love a challenge. We fix things around the house and outside, sometimes because we know how and sometimes because we watch YouTube videos on the subject. Parts usually come from the odd bits of hardware and scrap and metal we have saved for just such an occasion.
For example, we didn’t have a handy place to store the electric knife we use to cut our homemade rustic bread. So my partner built a small double sided shelf out of scrap wood and attached it to a wall near the butcher block work table where we prepare our food.
Speaking of which, Partner longed for big flour and sugar bins like those from his childhood. So he took more scrap wood and built those bins under the butcher’s table. Now every time we bake (and we bake a lot), we simply tilt the containers out and measure the ingredients.
There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes with fixing what is broken or building what is needed. And of course there is the money you save. Shine away!
3. They look for discounts
Once you are about 55 years old, you will be offered discounts. Use them!
Not old enough yet? You may be eligible for a student discount or a military discount. Or maybe your profession (teacher, social worker, first responder) gives you a reduction in costs.
Or create your own discount when you shop, such as “This floor-standing device has a few scratches – would you drop the price?” or “I would buy this sofa right now, for cash, if you could offer me a price reduction.”
Pro tip: You can join the AARP at any age for just $12 a year, and reap deals on travel, dining, entertainment, financial services, and other goodies.
4. They look for the best deals
Getting a one-off discount on that new sofa is great. But thrift people seriously know that annual savings can be made on things like cell service and auto insurance. They also look for the lowest interest rates and the best rewards on their credit cards.
Get help with these and other money-making topics in our Solutions Center.
5. They eat very well
Frugal people don’t rely on takeout, convenience food or meal delivery services, so they need to think carefully about what they eat. And no, it’s not a joyless round of rice-and-bean meals, even though both of those things are cheap, delicious, and super easy to make in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. With so many recipes available online, it’s never been easier to eat well for less.
They find simple ways to make household items such as soups, pasta sauces, breads, yogurts, spice mixes and baking mixes for little money. Some even tackle trendy foodie stuff like kombucha, oat milk, and pea protein powder. (For more, see “7 Healthy Foods You Can Make for a Fraction of the Cost.”)
Frugal people garden when possible and then preserve what they grow by canning, freezing and drying. They visit the bakery to buy Dave’s Killer Bread and other sandwich surrounds for much, much less. Some even find ways to get free food.
Of course, they always check the “manager’s special” section for items with a close date that they can use that day or freeze for a money-saving future. Here’s an example: My partner and I recently got lucky on 1½ pound boxes of link sausages for 49 cents. That’s not a typo. He likes meat for breakfast, and now we’ve frozen enough for next year.
And this brings me to the next thing about frugal people…
6. They have freezers
That’s where we put all that link sausage plus other special meats and veggies from the manager. It’s also where we post:
- Things we grow: peas, chopped celery, rhubarb, pumpkin, apples and liters of raspberries
- Things given to us: salmon, halibut, game meat and various items from our Buy Nothing Facebook group
- Things we make for pennies: soup broth, applesauce, pie fillings
- Things we get from the bakery shop: bread, English muffins, tortillas
With a freezer, you can buy in bulk at a department store or even just stock up during a good sale. This allows you to say “yes, please!” when a friend offers you some of the captured flounder. If you’re really organized, that means you can spend one Saturday a month making and freezing entrees, then skip the takeout costs when you’re tired.
Modern freezers are also very energy efficient. An Energy Star-certified freezer costs as little as $30 a year to run. So while you’ll notice a slight increase in your electricity bill, you’ll also be spending a lot less on food. Just ask a frugal person.
7. They buy generic
Sometimes generic nutrition doesn’t work. Once I bought the most generic mayonnaise I could find. And I still wake up screaming from nightmares about the awfulness of that product.
But many other generic foods, as well as OTC medications, do the job perfectly. Read more at “32 products you should always buy in general.”
8. They look good for less
Not all thrift stores are created equal, but you can find name brands and even designer duds at a significant discount in many places. Frugal shoppers look for well-designed clothes made from quality elements (for example, wool versus acrylic sweaters).
The same goes for garage sales, which can yield great clothing and outerwear for pennies on the dollar. And some of those Buy Nothing Facebook groups have wonderful items available for free.
Remember: only amateurs pay retail.
9. They save money at the dinner party
At the typical potluck, many dishes are clearly store bought: a deli tray, a plastic container of potato salad, a bakery cake, a Costco rotisserie chicken. It’s a safe bet that these things were brought by people who feel they’re too busy to be thrifty.
Frugal people bring things like:
- A loaf of that rustic bread, which is way better than anything you can buy and incredibly easy to make
- A savory cold salad made with chickpeas, lentils or beans (and you can bet they used dried beans, not canned)
- A few quarts of iced tea made with generic tea bags, or lemonade made with a mix from the dollar store and a thinly sliced lemon added for extra flavor and visual appeal
And they always bring food home from the potluck, if the host insists. Bonus thrifty points for getting what’s left of that Costco chicken, which makes a great soup.
10. They keep it clean for pennies
Judging by commercials and print ads, you can’t possibly have a sanitary home without expensive laundry soap, all-purpose cleaners, dish detergent, paper towels, foaming bathroom cleaner, fabric fresheners, specialty toilet cleaners, or cat litter fresheners.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Frugal folks know that basic ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, borax, washing soda, and Dawn dish soap can be used (or combined) to clean just about anything around the house. Learn how with “20 Household Items You Can Easily Make (and Don’t Buy).”
Not only are these things cheap to buy, but they cut way on your waste bill because you refill containers instead of throwing them away.
Bonus: You feel smug about reducing your environmental impact somewhat. (Just don’t do it out loud.)