For this generation, frugality might be here to stay! But many people throughout history have needed or chosen to live frugal.
Back in the early 2000’s, I spent nearly three years working as a legal secretary in Silicon Valley.
At that time, tech companies were luring clerical workers as employees and what they couldn’t pay in wages and benefits, they paid with plenty of stock options. Consequently, thousands of regular people became millionaires when their tech company employers went public. It was the new Gold Rush for many otherwise middle-class wage earners.
During this same time, law firms had trouble finding and keeping quality secretaries. They were willing to pay much higher wages than usual. The competition between employers was brutal and they recruited secretaries all the time. Becoming a legal secretary wasn’t the job I went looking for, but I was hired at a great salary because I could type fairly fast with accuracy. In less than three years, I increased my income an additional $48,000 a year because I was recruited by two other law firms, each paying more than the other.
I mention this only in passing because it wasn’t too long before I left Silicon Valley for the Pacific Northwest, where wages by comparison were much less and I soon learned that I had not really saved enough money as I should have from those salad days. Hence, lesson learned.
After this experience, I made it my goal to live frugal and become a better steward of my income. I studied the principles of good stewardship from the Bible and began to find other like-minded experts in ways to save on spending and investing. Since then, I have distilled into 10 principles my own take on living a frugal life.
The Ten Commandments of Frugality
1. Always Tithe With a Cheerful Heart
Of all these ten principles, this was the most difficult to learn to do on a consistent basis every payday. I had been living paycheck to paycheck for most of my life and the fear that goes with that practice kept me from sharing with others from my abundance with a cheerful heart, if ever. But it is important to Pay God First. In fact, the Lord says in His Word that He will bless you if you give on a regular basis and test Him on this! (SEE Malachi 3:10-12). Because I believe in God’s Word, I did take a leap of faith that I could find the money to share and not be in fear anymore. So first I had to take inventory to find out just how much I really had and learn to manage that amount in frugal ways. When I learned to budget, I discovered I had more than I thought I did, which made it easy to share with a cheerful heart because I was no longer afraid, I would run out of money before paying all my bills each month.
Another benefit of learning to budget is, you can figure out more ways to save money, thus freeing up enough to give on a regular basis and keep increasing the amount you can cheerfully give. Through learning how to budget, I saw how I could live on 90% of my income without too much trouble, including saving some of my income each month. And if you discover you can live on less than 90% of your income, then you can reach your goals sooner.
After seeing how I could live well on just 90% of my spendable income, and once I had saved a “rainy day fund” of about $3000, I began to expand my knowledge and increase in ways that saved me even more money. This is why I started to invest in consumer product tangibles and store up years’ worth of those commonly used household items. The investment I made years ago in storing up several years’ worth of all the products I use all the time is really paying off right now! When I think back to where I was financially, and how the Lord has blessed me since I began to tithe regularly, I can clearly see how He made sure to position me to be best prepared for today’s inflation crisis. Today, my trips to the grocery store is for food and food alone. I rarely purchase any non-food items. What I used to spend on non-food items, now helps to pay the inflated prices for the food I buy today.
Far be it for me to tell you how much you should give and how often, but I do urge you to take inventory of what you earn, learn to make a budget and live within your means. Then figure out ways to save when you spend, and you will be able to tithe and to always do so with a cheerful heart, without fear of lack! The Bible teaches us to count the cost before taking action, so learn to budget or take a fresh look at your budget and see if you can find ways to have a consistent amount of money for tithing. And choose the amount you know you can give without triggering any fear, so you can be diligent in giving it with a cheerful heart.
2. Get Completely Out Of Debt And Keep It That Way
Another way to live frugal is to stay out of debt! The best way to keep out of debt is to not get into debt in the first place. Too many people live on credit cards and pay only the minimum amount on their payment each month, not realizing it will add literally thousands of dollars more to their debt burden. So sit down with your budget and “find” money you already have and earmark it to pay down debt.
Next, sell everything you don’t really need. Everything. Apply what you earn to your debts.
Some folks use the “Debt Snowball” technique to pay off debt. This plan is to take all your debts and start paying off the smallest ones first, then work your way up to the largest amount and pay that off last. Keep paying the minimum on all the other debts but use the extra you find or earn to pay off all the debts, from the smallest amount to the largest amount. This will go fast and is a real encouragement to see all your debts be eliminated one by one and go away once and for all.
When I started to live on a budget, I could see how much of my total monthly income was being used for paying on my debts, and I had to figure out a way to get out from under each debt as fast as possible, yet also be able to tithe and save a little each month. It wasn’t easy, but through budgeting and studying my spending habits, I was able to “find” more money which had previously been spent on wants rather than needs. “Needs” are things one must pay every month such as rent/mortgage payment, food, transportation to work (gas, insurance and upkeep for car/public transportation), utility bills, and debt payments of all kinds. “Wants” are things you don’t necessarily need but are really “treats” you give yourself, such as that Starbucks coffee every morning. Take a good look at all the unnecessary spending you do and eliminate it. Stop going out to eat all the time. Cut back to only eating out once or twice a month and stop buying the Starbucks coffee. Bring your own coffee and lunch to work instead. Be ruthless and eliminate all the spending you do for treats, and you will be surprised how much you can re-allocate within your budget to paying off debts faster.
Next, figure out how to reduce the cost of paying for “Needs.” Can you move to a cheaper apartment or get a roommate or several roommates and share rent? Can you move to the country and find a nice place far cheaper than in the city? If you are locked into a rental, ask the property management company if there is anything you can do for them in exchange for cheaper rent? Would you be willing to clean and paint empty units and prepare them to be occupied again by new tenants? Perhaps you could do the lawn care and snow removal around your apartment grounds for free rent or greatly reduced rent. Get on the averaged plan each month for utilities. This is where you pay the same amount every month and settle up the difference in one payment annually or roll it forward to the new average, should your usage go up.
Reduce your cost of getting to work. Ask yourself, “Do I really need a car?” Eliminating a vehicle certainly would save you money on gasoline, insurance and car upkeep. Move to within walking or bicycling distance of your job. If you can’t do that, see about carpooling with others from work so that all can pay less. Perhaps a monthly bus or train pass can help you save more.
Look for creative ways to reduce your costs for entertainment. Stop paying for cable or satellite TV and instead get high-speed Internet and watch free programs on YouTube, or services like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix. Read books again or listen to audio books. All it costs you is a trip to your local library and the price of a library card.
Shop around for better Smart Phone service plans. I personally use Tracfone and haven’t paid more than $17 a month for years, with an insane amount of minutes and text messages I barely use a fraction of each month. All my unused minutes and texts roll over each month and accumulate. It’s good to shop around.
Buy food on sale. Buy items in bulk amounts with others and share the cost. Use coupons for national brands or switch to the generic brands.
Is there a day-old bread store in your area? Are there bakeries that sell day-old bread(s) at discounted prices? Better yet, learn to bake your own bread. This is getting trickier because the world is running out of wheat. Take advantage of this now by buying other grains in bulk while there is still time. If you live near Amish, Mennonite or Plain communities of people, check out their bulk food stores and buy grains in bulk amounts. If you have a grain grinder, get a 25 lb. bag of popcorn and grind your own corn meal. You can make plenty of tacos and corn bread! Make sure to store the grains properly to not waste your hard-earned money.
Once you have reduced the cost of your “Needs” and eliminated your “Wants,” figure out how to do other things for free. Can you scavenge free furniture from things you find for free on Craigslist? Some folks cruise rich neighborhoods on trash day just to rescue unwanted furniture left by the roadside. Check out the trash bins behind strip malls and office buildings. Always ask permission first to take things from these places. Most of the time they are happy to allow you to take items they would otherwise have to pay extra to have removed. I have picked up shelving this way which saved me hundreds of dollars.
Finally, figure out if you have the time and the stamina to work a second job, or side gig to earn extra money and use the earnings to pay off debt.
Do whatever it takes to get out of debt as soon as you can.
3. Save For A Rainy Day, Then Save Up To A Year’s Wages
The best advice I ever received when I was first researching investments, was from a church-related financial advisor. He told me that before he would recommend any investment opportunities, I need to save a year’s worth of wages. Most Americans don’t even have $2000 in an account for a “rainy day” emergency, let alone a year’s wages. But this is very good advice. You need to fully get control of your spending and have enough money to handle any long-term emergency before you should consider any major investments. Start with saving a $2000 rainy day emergency fund. Once you reach that goal, then continue to save until you have enough to live on for a full year, should you become unemployed for any reason. Go for $2000, then for 3 months’ worth of income, then 6 months, then 9 months, until you reach a full years’ income.
Don’t think this is impossible even on a modest salary or hourly wage. If you can control your spending, get out of debt, reduce your cost of living to the point where you can be comfortable on nearly any income however small (in other words live frugal), then you have the discipline to save a year’s wages and handle investing your money. Use what you have now to live below your means, pay off all your debts, tithe every month, while increasing your savings and income through a second job, or side gig(s), and periodic raises at work. If you are married and your spouse also works, you both can reach this goal faster.
4. Buy Quality
This is one of those principles that isn’t talked about much anymore. I suspect that’s because most of the world’s manufacturing has been moved out of the United States. Our country used to make everything, and it was the best-made stuff in the world. Now, manufacturing is but a small part of our economy as we have transitioned into a service economy which promised so much and as we now see, delivers so little and is a strong reason why our economy is under so much stress. But that’s a subject for another day.
When I say “Buy Quality” I mean buy the best quality you can afford for those items you use the most. If you can afford wool sweaters from top producers, get them. They will last for decades, and you will get the most wear and use from them.
Research which brand(s) are the best quality in any purchase and strive to buy those brands. I’m not suggesting you never buy cheaper things. I’m saying that to get the most bang for your buck, look for top quality gear first at the most affordable price. If the most affordable price is too high for you, then your research should tell you which of the lesser brands are still better than the worst ones. The better the quality, the longer it should last, which saves you money.
In the last few years, I have lost some money on cheap Chinese-made goods which in the long run has cost me more to replace when they break or don’t work as advertised. Now, rather than waste my money, I research the best brands and if I can, I buy American.
5. Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do
This principle relates to “Buy Quality.” If you buy clothes of the highest quality, you can wear them till they fall apart. You can also mend them, pass them down to others and they might end up as squares in a home-made quilt. This is how to use it up, wear it out and make do. This is another characteristic of people who live frugal!
During the Great Depression, people had to make do with what they had because they could not afford to buy it new. For example, people routinely put cardboard inside their shoes when holes were worn through in the soles, rather than buy news shoes. They “made do” with what they had. Folks knew how to sew and repair clothing. That’s how they extended the life of their clothes. They made walking sticks from tree branches. They made Hobo stoves from discarded tin cans. They recycled before “recycling” was a big thing. My Mother’s high school prom dress was borrowed from a neighbor, fitted to her and decorated with lace from another dress. It was a quality dress to begin with. She was grateful for it because they could not afford to buy her a prom dress. Still, she wore her everyday saddle shoes with the prom dress because they could not afford dress shoes. That’s “making do.”
With runaway inflation just beginning in our country, we need to revive the attitude to make do with what we have without spending any money. Fix it first and buy the best quality you can afford when the fix fails.
6. Look For It First At A Thrift Store
This is another principle that’s related to “Buy Quality.” If you need to buy certain items, do research as to which brands are the best quality. Then look for it in thrift stores to see if you can find one in good condition and a much lower price. You can score high quality goods at low cost at garage sales and online auctions as well. Before rushing out to buy retail, take a little time to look for it first at a thrift store. If you consistently do this, you will save a ton of money while buying quality items, which will last longer. Now that’s a real bargain!
7. Plant A Garden
The last time America had double digit inflation was in the late 1970’s when Jimmy Carter was president. I know this because that’s when I bought my first new car, and I paid 10% interest on the car loan (yikes!). Today’s economic crisis is different because we are facing more than just inflationary prices. A very real food shortage is in the making, due to a series of events that have slowed down food distribution between countries that export grains and other foodstuffs, mass animal deaths due to disease, severe weather and tainted animal feed. In recent weeks there’s been a rash of mysterious fires destroying food processing plants all over the country as well. Ongoing drought in the West and too much rain in the Midwest has reduced crop yields to record lows, and the war between Russia and Ukraine has all but stopped grain production. Not enough nitrate fertilizer is being imported and what little there is, is so costly that many farmers cannot afford to treat their fields and had to choose whether or not to even sow crops this Spring. I live in corn and soybean country in the Upper Midwest and I can tell you that not as many fields are planted this Spring compared to last Spring. I’ve taken to praying over those fields that have been planted asking God to give the farmer a bountiful crop so that we all can have that food. I worry that famine will become all too real in many places around the world in the coming years, including the United States, in a way that will be unprecedented. So given the situation, planting a garden and learning to produce food is now the most important skill you can ever have. There is a learning curve to this, so the sooner you learn the better.
If you are unable to garden, I urge you to search out those local vegetable farmers who grow market gardens and perhaps sell at a local Farmer’s Market. I have identified several local growers, many of them who grow organic produce, and I’m a regular customer and making new friends. There could be a time when the demand for food exceeds the amount available for sale, so being a good, steady customer may help keep you on their “preferred customer” list.
One of my organic produce sources uses heirloom seeds, so I have started to save as many seeds as I can from the produce, I purchase from them. This is a less expensive way to have heirloom seeds for your garden and can save a few bucks. A small packet of heirloom Roma tomatoes cost me $8 this year, so you can bet I am seed saving in earnest from now on!
I am also researching local produce auctions and will attend some in the near future. I hope to be able to purchase bulk amounts of vegetables and can them for future use. Once I learn the ropes at produce auctions, I hope to also share what I don’t use with my local food bank and my neighbors. Sharing food is a great way to build a community of like-minded people.
8. Preserve The Harvest
Those that live frugal know how to preserve food. This.is another very important skill to learn. There are several ways to preserve food including dry canning, water bath canning, pressure cooker canning, smoking meats, pickling vegetables, and dehydrating foods. Having a freezer full of food is great, so long as you have electric power or enough propane to run your propane refrigerator- freezer. The easiest way to can I’ve found is dry canning, and I usually dry can beans, rice, and grains. This extends their shelf life for many more years. It’s also a great way to save money if you purchase these items at a store that specializes in older “Best Use By” date products. I’ve dry canned buckwheat pancake and cake mixes that were just past their “Use By” dates and stored them for up to 2 years before using them up and I never tasted any difference. The money I saved by purchasing at these kinds of stores allow me to buy much more food at a lower cost.
Featured Article: Frugal Food, Soup and Eating Well
9. Buy In Bulk
Whenever you can afford to, buy food in bulk. Buying in bulk is one the best ways to save money and have plenty of food on hand when you need it later. Just make sure you have room to properly store all the canned goods and staples you purchase, and that you practice proper canning of your bulk foods. Keeping food stored in vermin-proof jars, tins, or hard plastic buckets along with oxygen absorbers, or vacuum-packed, will keep the food safe and edible. Make sure to store stored foods in a cool, dark place away from standing water or potential water.
10. Live Below Your Means
Finally, frugal is living below your means. Never spend more than you earn. But with diligence and ingenuity, you can live well on practically any income, no matter how small. All it takes is the will to master your money and learn frugal spending habits that can enable you to be prepared for any kind of financial crises, from losing a job to runaway inflation. Being frugal is a lifestyle that will help you and your loved ones survive and thrive. Be a good steward of the income God has given you!
You can get a free PDF copy of these 10 Commandments of Frugal Living , suitable for framing at PJ’s online store – Golden Page Media.
About the Author: This is a guest post by PJ Graves. PJ is a retired award-winning radio broadcaster, news reporter and writer, whose reporting has been featured on national radio networks and whose articles have been on Survivalblog, Prepper Website, Rapture Ready and various online news magazines. In addition to writing, PJ runs Golden Page Media*, a digital publishing business with free email newsletter featuring innovative ways to save money, side-gigs, prepping tips and little-known ways to change careers without going into debt or paying for training. She enjoys home church, living in Amish Country, exploring historic sites, classic films, cooking, volunteering at a local food bank, and small town living.
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