They’re Used to Living on Less. Here’s Their Advice for a Frugal Life

This image shows three different people who live frugally in different ways.
From left, Jaime Gibbs and her husband, Pierre, maintain a thrifty life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by shopping at Aldi and jumping on low-cost cell phone carrier plans. Fo Alexander of Greenville, S.C., paid off over $78,000 in student debt by living a frugal lifestyle. Jenn Collins, of Columbus, Ga., saves money by growing food on the farm and property she and her husband own. Photos courtesy of Jaime Gibbs, Fo Alexander and Brad Barnes.

Farm to table is a concept Jenn Collins and Brad Barnes know very well.

The married couple from Columbus, Georgia, grow an abundance of produce on their property and maintain The Dew Abides blog where they write about their experiences.

Their homesteading lifestyle allowed them to retire in their 40s — though Collins has since picked up a part-time gig working at a nearby farm.

Over in Greenville, South Carolina, Fo Alexander enjoys a frugal lifestyle — one that helped her pay off over $78,000 of student loan debt in three years.

“During my debt-free journey, I cut cable, eating out, my gym membership and getting my hair and nails done professionally,” she said.

Jaime Gibbs maintains a thrifty life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with her husband Pierre and their two kids. Their family took a big financial hit during the 2008 recession, which forced them to adjust to living with less.

“We had to close our small business,” said Gibbs, who writes about frugal living on her blog Bubbling Brook Budgets. “Suddenly the money just was not there like it had been. We found ourselves unemployed.”

Millions across the country — and around the globe — have found themselves in similar situations, having lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Adopting budget-conscious habits and being prudent about spending can help stretch the money you do have.

But it’s not necessarily easy to change your mindset and habits overnight. These thrifty individuals share their advice on practicing frugality as a lifestyle.

1. Analyze Your Monthly Expenses

To help you identify spending to cut, create a list of your regular expenses separated into needs and wants.

“Make a list of food and shelter and the things that you have to have in your life,” said Collins, who enjoys making spreadsheets to visualize things. “Then… it comes into clear focus what you can do without.”

That doesn’t mean you have to accept your fixed costs as they are. Gibbs, for example, said she has jumped from several different low-cost cell phone carriers, always on the hunt for the next best deal. 

“So many people just have an expensive cell phone plan and don’t really give it another thought, but there are so many low-cost carriers out there that still have good coverage in most metro areas,” she said.

While buying groceries is an essential need, Gibbs keeps costs low by shopping at Aldi, a discount supermarket chain. When she isn’t getting food from Aldi, Gibbs schedules a delivery order from a local grocer that doesn’t charge a delivery fee when you spend over $100.

“Grocery delivery really isn’t a bad option because it saves you from impulse buying at the store,” she said.

2. Be Mindful of Your Spending with Daily Check-Ins

Regularly reviewing your financial transactions will help you avoid slipping into old habits of overspending.

A few months ago, Gibbs made a move to become more aware of her family’s cash flow. She started setting a daily calendar alert for a 15-minute check-in with her husband to review their spending from the previous day.

“That really helped us be mindful about the money that was coming in and going out,” Gibbs said. “I think if you find yourself in a tight spot during this season, it is really helpful to every day set a timer and you spend just a few minutes looking at the money you spent the day before.”

3. Find Enjoyment for Less Money

Just because you’re cutting costs doesn’t mean you have to suck all the enjoyment out of life. 

When Alexander started her debt payoff journey, she was hyper-focused on her goal but she also knew she didn’t want to live a boring, unfulfilled life. So she leaned on alternatives that didn’t cost money.

“I started watching YouTube instead of cable,” she said. “I did at-home workouts instead of paying for a gym membership that I hardly used.”

Alexander, a financial educator and founder of Mama and Money, recommends finding cheaper ways to continue doing what you enjoy.

Even with social distancing, there are ways to keep up with your social life.

“We’re still having our coffee dates Saturday mornings with our friends,” Barnes said. “We’re just doing them via Zoom.”

4. Take the Opportunity to Learn Something New

Eating at home instead of going to restaurants was a challenge when Alexander started living frugally. However, she learned how to be a better cook in the process. She also learned how to do her own hair and nails since she stopped going to the salon.

“Getting to the bare necessities isn’t as bad as you think,” Alexander said. “It forces you to become creative and resourceful — skills that we all need.”

If you’ve got some free time these days and a few gardening supplies, Barnes suggests learning how to grow your own food.

“Growing something in the ground is incredibly therapeutic,” he said. “Then you reap the benefits of it in a couple months.”

“There are days when we look at every single thing on our plate and it came from either our hands or from people who we know and love,” said Collins, his wife.

Now might also be a good time to brush up on your financial literacy. Gibbs recommends listening to podcasts and reading personal finance books to increase your knowledge about managing your money.

5. Focus on the Positive

Shifting to a lifestyle of having less isn’t always easy, but it helps to think about the positive aspects of your new normal instead of the things you’ve lost.

Gibbs said when she and her husband were out of work and trying to survive off unemployment benefits, money was so tight that they’d only have about $5 left over at the end of the week. But instead of seeing that as a negative thing, they were grateful.

“We considered that five bucks our entertainment fund,” Gibbs said. “We would use it to rent a movie.”

Her advice to others going through a tough time right now is to try to reflect on the good each day. 

“Even if it’s the most basic of things like you woke up, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping out the window,” Gibbs said. “Those are things that are so important to keep in the front of our mind when everything negative is around us.”

You may even find pride in discovering you can still live a satisfying life while spending less money.

“A self-sustaining lifestyle is really empowering,” Barnes said. “If you’re used to eating out five times a week and suddenly you can’t afford to do that and you realize how cheaply you can make a delicious meal that is better than something you eat at a restaurant — that, to me, is empowering.”

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.