As a finance blogger, I’ve been asked for frugal tips many a time. And I also love to see what other “experts” have to say on the topic. And my-oh-my did I ever come across some dumb advice this week.
Of course, I’ll be sharing my own rules on frugality at the end. But if you want a real deep dive into frugal tips here are some of my timeless classics:
Table of Contents
What Spurred This “Bad Frugal Tips” Article?
I came across “7 Frugal Habits That Aren’t Actually Good for Your Finances” on a popular finance site this week featuring several “experts” touting their own frugal tips.
While there were a few points that anyone can agree with, such as “don’t buy things you don’t need just because it’s on sale” (duh) there were a couple that I just felt the need to respond to.
By the way, I don’t disagree with some of the sentiment in this article – that sometimes it’s better to spend a little money to save a lot of time – but the “experts” totally miss the mark. Here we go.
BAD Frugal Tip #1: It costs less to get your oil changed by a mechanic.
The “expert” in the article claims that changing your own oil is really not worth it for your finances. “It takes almost an hour, you have to dispose of the old oil and you could ruin your clothes — all to save a few bucks.”
While I agree that we all have choices to make about when our time is worth more than our money, taking my car in for a simple oil change is a waste of both. Here’s why.
- It takes way more time to drive to a show, wait in line, wait for an oil change, wait for checkout at a shop than to do it yourself. I’ve timed it!
- Most modern cars require synthetic oil which comes at a huge premium for service for some unknown reason.
- Mechanics often skimp out on how much oil they actually use.
- They don’t put as much care into getting the job done as you would, which means you might come home to a loose plug, a big mess, and more work. Or just the extra little cleanings you do while you are in there can add up.
- An auto shop will often find something else you have to bring your car in for.
If you have a car, there are certain maintenance basics you’re better off doing yourself.
BAD Frugal Tip #2: DIY home improvements actually cost you more.
Another “expert” suggested that home improvement projects are best done by “professionals” who’ll get the job done right the first time. “Home improvement projects where families do it themselves to save money, if not done correctly, can end up costing much more than anticipated in fixing the mistakes that were made”
I guess that depends on the scope of the project and whether or not you have “a guy.” But I’m always flabbergasted by how much it costs to paint a room or install a vanity if you want to hire someone.
Also, the only home improvement “regrets” I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard many) involved a contractor.
On top of that, I’m the one still dealing with the mistakes made by contractors hired in the past. I have a lot more TLC in my work than a contractor does. Maybe if you are horrible with tools, fair, you don’t want a leak. But I always “make” $100s/hr in saved costs.
I do understand the virtue of skipping the mess and having it done quickly…but that’s not frugality, thats premium convenience, which might be worth it for you.
You can do a lot for your home than you may realize by enlisting the help of a neighbor (preferrably with a truck) with the promise of pizza and beer.
BAD Frugal Tip #3: Treat yourself, but only once a week.
I’m not here to chastise you about going out for coffee or lunches, but if you do it – you must know that it’s not doing your finances any favors. That’s why this “expert” frugal tip about still treating yourself, but only once a week made me laugh out loud.
“You will not get rich by not ever buying a $4 coffee and depriving yourself of something you enjoy from time to time… try buying coffee as a treat on Monday mornings to get you going for the workweek. Then you can look forward to it as a treat.”
If a $4 coffee / wk fulfills your other spendy urges, sure but the goal is to compare all the spending to your bigger goals and naturally the urges will fade away.
There’s a time and a place for restaurants, coffee shops, and “treating yourself” in general, but the whole point is to recognize you don’t need that stuff, and that you have better uses for your money. A $4 coffee every monday, will still add up to over $200 in a year. Put that money in your investment account and read Make Monday Your Best Day instead.
Frugal Tips That Will Actually Make A Difference
1. Premake your lunches for the week
I’ve started premaking my lunches for the week and it actually changed my life.
- It cut down on decision fatigue. Which used to be a huge problem for me.
- I actually eat healthy lunches.
- I’m never tempted to “just go out” because I’m lazy and hungry.
It actually only takes 15 minutes (for me) to pack 5 salads or other quick meals (like rice, veggies, and meat) on a weekend and grab it for lunch every morning. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be food.
2. Batch cook on weekends
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the frugal tip above, but you can spend a few hours making something delicious that you’ll span over a few dinners the following week. Think chili, roasts, or lasagnas.
The secret – make A LOT, and you won’t have to worry about feeding yourself or your family for the rest of the week, and won’t be tempted to just order a pizza on Friday.
3. Borrow movies from the library for your kids
We don’t have Netflix, cable, or anything in between.
For our kids, we go to the library at least once a week and they get to pick out a show or a movie on DVD watch it to their heart’s content, and then we give it back. Kids want everything ever. The library has a big choice that will satisfy them.
Kid spending (not including holidays and birthdays) in this way stays nice and low.
4. Cancel subscriptions
Challenge yourself to cancel your entertainment subscriptions. If you truly miss something, you can always sign up again.
I’ve actually signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime for Wheel of Time and Rings of Power only to cancel it once I was done watching. It took some planning but we got it done.
To much access to TV wastes my time anyways, which is like negative cashflow in my books.
5. See if you can get rid of a car
I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but a lot of people pay through the nose for their car and they’d be much happier without one. Between gas, insurance, and maybe even lease payments, it’s not crazy to ask yourself if you really need the hassle.
- Is it possible to bike, carpool, or take the transit enough to reduce a car from your life?
- Or maybe just live with one car if you have two?
- Or take your car off insurance for a season if you know you won’t use it that much?
Think about it.
6. Make coffee at home
If you’re always running out for coffee, make the habit of making it at home.
You could buy a pretty snazzy travel mug for the amount you’d save in two weeks (minimum $20,) and 3 fancy-schmancy coffee makers for the amount you’d save in a year (minimum $500.)
7. Program your thermostat
If you’re not adjusting your thermostat settings automatically, you’re crazy.
8. Always check if you can buy second-hand
Whenever I need to buy something – be it furniture, electronics, or something for the kids – I check Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace first.
Most people are just happy to give their old stuff a new home so I always get an awesome deal.
9. Avoid impulse purchases
If your bank statement (and your living room) is full of weird stuff you didn’t expect to buy, you have an impulse purchase problem. Just don’t go past places – or websites – where you’re tempted to spend money or try a no-spend challenge.
10. Borrow books from the library
This goes with some of the fugal tips above. I NEVER spend money on books and only get them from the library. In fact, there are a few that I get over and over and over again. And I don’t care, it keeps less clutter in my house.
Actually, I even like going to browse at bookstores, (they’re organized better) only to take notes on what I’ll be getting from the library later for both me and my kids.
My “to read” list is suuuuuper long, so its not like the hassle of waiting for the library hold is concequential.
11. Avoid fees
Agh. Fees are the antithesis of frugal living and should be avoided at all costs. That means switching to no-fee accounts for banking and investing, avoiding ATM charges, late fees, everything! Nothing drives me more crazy than extra fees.
12. Host potlucks
You already know I think going out to eat is a huge waste of money.
Instead, we started hosting our friends at our place for epic meals at a fraction of what we’d spend on just ourselves at a restaurant.
BUT we also realized that everyone wants to bring something when they come over.
Perfect! Organize who’ll bring what – make it a potluck, and take the pressure off yourself.
Cheap food + cheap drinks + massive invite list = Lots of fun with no financial pain.
Final Word On Frugal Tips
What other frugal tips do you swear by, and which ones do you think are just dumb? Let me know!