For my entire life I have been a fairly thrifty person. I’ve never felt the need to drive a fancy car, wear the most popular, name brand clothing or have a huge, perfect home. As I have had children, I have gradually shifted our lives to a lifestyle that embraces more natural living and environmentally friendly practices. The past four years or so have required that we tighten our financial belt as much as possible. Luckily, frugal living is also quite often sustainable living. Following is a list of twenty things that my family and I do to live frugally (and sustainably). They aren’t in any particular order. Some of these things we have done for many years and some are newer additions.
- Eating out rarely. By rarely, I mean averaging about once per month.
- Cook meals from scratch and buy few packaged convenience foods. Not only does this save money, but it is far more healthy to cook whole foods into meals.
- Buy meats in bulk directly from the farmer. Typically, a half or whole beef and a large number of chickens (more than 20) to decrease the price per pound.
- Save all bones from the high quality meat we purchase and I make stock when I have accumulated enough bones. I just keep a bag of each type of bone (beef, chicken, etc.) in the freezer, add to it and then when I have two full bags, I make a pot of stock. This maximizes the nutrients I can get out of food that we have already purchased
- Don’t have trash service. Our local landfill allows a customer to dump a 32 gallon can of garbage once per week for free if you are also bringing recyclables. We dump our 32 gallon trash can about every 5-6 weeks. This saves not only on trash service fees, but gas to drive to the landfill every month and a half or so. We have a large recycling area in our basement and most of our refuse gets sorted and recycled.
- Don’t have smart phones. We just recently upgraded to unlimited texting, which is an expense that I resisted for a long time. We replace our phones only as necessary. We don’t need new, fancy phones every year or two. When they start to malfunction, they get replaced.
- Rarely go to the movie theater. For this instance, my definition is about once per year or less. We watch movies at home when they get to DVD.
- Use reusable cloth products in place of paper whenever possible: napkins, hand towels (both for the bathroom and kitchen), handkerchiefs, menstrual pads, diapers, family cloth (instead of toilet paper), and shopping bags.
- Buy few books but use our local public library a lot.
- Keep our house cool in the winter and warm in the summer. During the winter, I keep our thermostat set to 65° during the day and 61° at night. My oldest daughter has referred to it as the “stupid freezer house” in a moment of frustration, but I am a harsh mistress when it comes to home heating and if somebody comes to gripe to me that they are cold and they don’t have socks/shoes or long sleeves on, then they know they aren’t going to get very far. We have an older home with single-pane windows and heating bills can get astronomical. During the summer, we turn on a window AC unit in the living areas during really hot spells.
- With rare exception, we only buy second-hand clothing. The rare exception is usually for a gift or special occasion.
- Save all usable clothing to pass down to younger siblings and turn old t-shirts and diapers into rags, cloth napkins or family cloth.
- Own older vehicles. They do require maintenance and sometimes repairs, but they don’t require a monthly car payment.
- Have a vegetable garden that provides us with food during the summer and early fall, vegetables to can and a smaller amount of hardy vegetables in the winter.
- Don’t use shampoo or conditioner. Some of us in the family use baking soda and vinegar and the others use natural bar soap.
- Make coffee at home and only get prepared coffee as an occasional treat.
- Purchase electronics as they break and not just to upgrade. Our TV’s are over 10 years old, our DVD player is more than five years old.
- I have breastfed all my babies, some longer than others; most well into toddlerhood. This has greatly decreased feeding costs, especially formula, and made them very healthy children, I believe, thus decreasing costs associated with illness (herbal and homeopathic remedies and allopathic medical care).
- I cut everyone’s hair.
- Do many repairs ourselves and only call in a professional if it’s something we absolutely can’t handle. We do all of our appliance repairs, most of our home repairs and many of our auto repairs. This always requires a little instruction, which is widely available online or through books. (We have purchased repair manuals for our vehicles, but we check out other repair books from the library.) It sometimes requires purchasing or renting special tools and typically involves buying new parts, but it is always less expensive than hiring a professional.
This list is an example of many of the things that we do on a regular basis. Many of these changes have been gradual or incremental and we always have room for improvement. For instance, I drive a lot more than I should. We live close to many of the places we frequent and are perfectly capable of walking and/or biking, but usually because I am poor at time management and we have many months of wet weather, we end up driving, which, of course, increases gas consumption and emissions.
It may seem like we deprive ourselves in some areas and add a lot of unnecessary work to our lives. It’s true that some things do require more work on our part, but we don’t do things that are so difficult that the trade-off is not worth it. We don’t feel deprived for the most part. Sometimes it would be nice to have a little more spending money and go to a movie or out to eat more often, but frequently, when we eat out, we are disappointed with the quality or taste of food since we are accustomed to eating very well at home. We still do fun things; we bicycle together as a family, we watch movies at home and have recently instituted a weekly family movie night. We play video and board games. We eat very well and sit down together as a family every night at dinner. We spend a lot of time together. My husband and I feel more content than at any other point in our lives in many ways. Deprivation is never a word that I would use to describe our life.
What are some of your favorite frugal/sustainable tips and do you feel deprived when you are practicing frugality?