Frugal Living Basics – Feeling Thrifty!

Before we delve into the engrossing details of some more obscure frugal tips, we may as well lay out the basics.  Much of what results in keeping $$ in your pocket as well as saving the planet can be boiled down to the 4 R’s you learned in school:

  • Reduce – the amout of stuff you consume or buy
  • Reuse – what you already have, or other people’s stuff
  • Recycle – one man’s junk is another man’s treasure
  • Refuse – excess stuff, excess packaging

It really is that simple.  Let’s look into each a little further, analyzing by the most common and basic of costs (food, water, clothing, shelter):


As you go about your day, consciously pay attention to what resources you are using:


We all need to eat.  But most of us can reduce the amount of food that gets thrown out, spoiled, or wasted!

  • Meal plan – devise a meal plan week-by-week or month-by-month, and purchase your groceries accordingly.
    • incorporate meatless meals
  • only buy how much you can eat
    • buy in bulk…but only what you will reasonably consume by the best-before-date
  • buy local and in-season to reduce your global footprint (these are usually more nutrient dense as well)
  • clip or print coupons for things you already buy anyways
  • freeze items that you can’t use up before they go bad:
    • freeze leftovers in meal-sized freezer safe containers to take for lunches or to eat on rushed days
    • shred and freeze cheese
    • puree vegetables to use up in chili or pasta sauces
    • freeze veggies for stirfrys
    • cut up fruit or berries and freeze for smoothies
  • puree herbs, garlic, onion and freeze in ice cube trays for future use – just pop them out of the tray and keep in the freezer in zip-lock bags
  • if you enjoy leftovers or have to pack lunches, making extra large meals can save time and money
    • but if you’re not going to eat it, then only make how much you can eat!
    • NOTE: potatoes don’t freeze and reheat well – they go mushy.
  • some items are fine to use well after the best-before-date:
    • dry goods (flours, rice, pastas) – as long as they don’t smell strange
    • stale crackers can be crushed up and used in meatballs
    • yogurt and sour cream, being fermentation products anyways, are good for a long time as long as there isn’t mold (blue & fuzzy)
  • make your own snacks instead of buying processed, packaged snacks; these can also be healthier:
    • popcorn
    • muffins – can be homemade for about 20c each
    • cookies – can be homemade for about 20c each
    • trail mix – make a mix of nuts, seeds, chocolate chips, and breakfast cereals (cheerios, chex, shreddies, etc)


Personal Care:

  • turn off the tap when you are not actively using the water (i.e. brushing your teeth)
  • don’t run the shower full-blast; try to use 1/2 to 2/3 the pressure and you may not even notice the difference!
  • invest in a low-flow showerhead
  • take shorter showers
  • take less frequent baths (which use even more water than showers)
  • is it possible to shower every second day instead of daily?
  • invest in a low-flow toilet
  • consider eco modes for washing machine and dishwashers – faster time, lower water usage


  • use a smaller amount of water to do dishes (think camping)
  • don’t boil more water than you need (i.e. pasta, boiled eggs)


  • consider timed sprinklers
  • water gardens, lawn, etc in the evening or the morning to reduce evaporation
  • avoid watering outside when it is windy to reduce evaporation/moisture loss
  • water the lawn and plants 1-2x a week deeply instead of small amounts daily; this also encourages deeper root growth
  • consider soaker-hoses for flowerbeds and gardens
  • mulch around plants and gardens to reduce evaporation (rubber shavings, bark chunks, straw, grass clippings)
  • consider xeriscaping (landscaping that reduces or eliminates need for watering)


  • purchase only what you need for about 7-9 days use (to get you through a week of laundry)
  • think outfits, not pieces – the more your wardrobe can mix and match, the less articles of clothing you need
    • think of some good basics:
      • 1 pair jeans
      • 1-2 pair black pants
      • 1-2 pair grey or brown / khaki pants
      • 1 pair comfy pants
      • several tank tops / t-shirts
      • several long-sleeved shirts
      • several short-sleeved shirts
      • 1 sweater / cardigan
      • 1 dress / dressy-ish outfit (if needed)
      • 1 belt (black)
      • 1-2 pr pj’s
    • wool is higher maintenance (cold wash gentle, no dryer), but it can be reworn as it doesn’t hold stink – i.e. Icebreaker Merino
    • polyester lasts forever, but holds in smell more than natural fabrics
  • decorating our bodies with clothing is kind of like decorating a living room – buy the functional ($) basics first in a timeless neutral (black, browns, grey, cream/white), then punch it up seasonally or trendily using affordable accessories
  • you really, really don’t need a closet full of clothes, and you really don’t need to be on top of the latest clothing trends.  Even if you work in a clothing store!  This is a really hard one…I know…unsubscribe from mailing lists, ban yourself from websites and shopping trips if you must.
  • don’t keep what you won’t reasonably fit into within a year…or two
  • when properly taken care of, clothing can last years
    • wash only when dirty/stinky – spot wash if possible (this will keep it looking newer longer)
    • launder according to manufacturer’s directions, or:
      • wash in cold/cold unless quite soiled
      • hang or lay flat to dry, or tumble dry low and gentle
      • air dry polyesters, rayon, and other synthetics as well as wool


There’s a reason Tiny Houses are slowly becoming more popular – we really don’t need 1000 square feet of living space per person.

On they state:

A smaller home requires less embodied energy to build, has lower heating and cooling needs, needs fewer furnishings, takes less time to maintain and requires less work to fund.


Apart from buying, or building, a smaller house, we can shrink down our bills:


  • Turn lights, appliances, and electrical devices off when not in use
  • Unplug electrical devices that won’t be used for a long time
  • Turn down the temperature on hot water heater
  • Invest in hot-water-on-demand if replacing a hot water heater
  • Invest in energy efficient appliances; balance the cost of energy with the cost of the appliance over its projected lifespan (i.e. it may not be worth an extra $400 to shell out for a refrigerator that costs $4 less a year to run than a similar cheaper model).
  • Set thermostat lower in winter and higher in summer to reduce furnace / air conditioning usage; reduce furnace / AC use when no one home; reduce furnace / AC use at night by adjusting bedding and clothing
  • Make use of fans to reduce AC usage
  • Consider space heaters to reduce furnace usage (if usage confined to a single or small room)
  • Use cold water for wash loads (darks, clothing that is not overly soiled), and warm water for heavily soiled clothing (warm wash, cold rinse)
  • Air dry clothing where possible – consider clothing lines/racks
  • Consider eco modes for washer, dryer, dishwasher for clothes/dishes that are only lightly soiled
  • Seal air-leaks, door and window frames, etc.


  • Start with some classic, timeless basics (color and style) in as good of quality as you can reasonably afford:
    • buy what fits you (size-wise)
    • buy what you need and will use (not an extra bed for Aunt Betty who might visit once a year)
    • leather is easier to clean than fabric and is more durable; some qualities of leather hold up better to pets and kids than others – think if you could potentially have either of those in the next 10-15 years and plan accordingly
      • my best friend went through 3 fabric couches in the time of our one tough-leather couch, which is still holding up strong (2 kids and 3 dogs later) EXCEPT that we cheaped out and did vinyl on the sides and back, which is now cracking.  Mental note: spend the extra $300 and get all-leather.
      • think of the cow.  Plan to treat your leather gently and carefully, and appreciate that an animal gave its’ life for your couch.
      • white/cream is not a good choice for most people.  Beautiful yes.  Practical no.  Think of the cow.
    • hard woods (maple, oak) hold up MUCH better than soft woods (pine)
    • simple is better.  You can always dress it up with accessories.
  • Think multi-purpose.  It might be a good idea to get that couch with a hideabed.
  • Instead of buying a huge table for company, what about the size of table you would normally use, and then using TV tables and folding chairs for company?
  • Purchase second-hand when possible (lots of people downsize or upsize bedroom suites, dining tables, and sectionals).
    • Furniture refinishing is pretty easy if there is a good quality wood backbone to it:  strip, sand, stain, seal.  I’ve done a triple wooden dresser (which was wood veneer and too thin once sanded down – look for SOLID wood) and a desk; each took about a weekend of work.  Painting with chalk paint is even easier (no prep, just paint, antique if desired by a bit of sanding, and seal).
    • Reupholstering is a little tougher, but not impossible.  Definitely a great option if you just want something to last a while, while you save up for something better.
  • Accessorize with color and trendy items – these can often also be found second-hand as people change tastes and colors.


  • carpool
  • take public transit
  • walk or cycle
  • consolidate down to 1 vehicle per family
    • buy second-hand, ideally 2-4 years old as most of the depreciating in a vehicle occurs in the first 3 years; but then an older vehicle starts to cost more in maintenance/repair.
    • only buy the size you need.  Most city-folk do not need gas-guzzling trucks or SUVs.
  • consolidate trips and figure out the most efficient route between stops


Borrow seldom-used things (ie. tools) from a friend, family member, or neighbor; and be willing to lend as well!

Reuse what you can:


  • use up leftovers to create new dishes, such as stirfrys


  • collect rainwater to use for plants


  • save children’s clothing to use with multiple children
  • consider gender-neutral clothing for young children/babies so it can be used for more children
  • buy second-hand as much as possible – there are numerous consignment shops and thrift stores that sell quality clothing second-hand, and many of these shops run sales regularly as well!   Many garage sales have children’s clothing.
  • swap groups/sites – there are clothing swap sites on social media for both adults & children.  Also try sites such as eBay and kijiji.
  • consider clothing swaps with friends of similar size
  • pass children’s clothing around for increased re-use
  • donate or sell clothing you are finished with that is still in wearable condition
  • clothing that is stained or torn can be used for other purposes:
    • Cotton – torn into strips for rags (great for cleaning grease or paint spills so you can just throw them away); repurpose into other clothing articles; cut into pieces for craft purposes (i.e. Parachutes for Bibles, Bravery Buddies)
    • Denim – make shoes for Sole Hope; cut into squares for quilting
    • Mixed fabrics – consider making into quilts or using for craft supplies; repurpose into other clothing articles

Household Goods

  • reuse what you can:
    • wash ziplock bags and dry inside out on the counter
      • if you reuse your bags about 5x each, assuming you would normally use one box of bags (50) every 2-4 weeks, at $5 a box, this will save you $50-100 per year, or $3000 – $6000 over your adult life.
      • Lori-Valesko-plastic-bag-drying-Jan-2011
    • use grocery bags for non-kitchen garbage
      • I used to use grocery bags for kitchen garbage as well, but they frequently have holes, so I would end up with a stinky, rotting mess in my garbage can.
  • bring your own cloth shopping bags and refuse the plastic ones


A ton of money can be saved (which will also reduce your footprint on the Earth) by buying and selling used.  There are many avenues which facilitate this, including local swap and buy sites (kijiji, craigslist), national/international (eBay), and garage sales / thrift shops.  You will make much more money selling things on swap sites (where people have actively sought out your item) than at garage sales (opportunistic people looking for great deals).  I have hosted dozens of garage sales in my life, and unless you are on a very busy street, traffic is light and shoppers aren’t willing to pay much.  The inverse is also true, you will get better deals if you shop at garage sales than on swap sites.  However, time is money (and gas is money), and shopping costs money – as you will always find “great deals” 🙂

Find out what recycling facilities are in your area, but these items can commonly be recycled:

  • paper
  • cardboard
  • some plastics
  • aluminum cans ($)
  • glass bottles ($)
  • glass jars
  • tin cans
  • electronics

As well, once you are done with clothing or household items that are still functional, please donate them to a charity thrift store.  (If possible, avoid Value Village and Goodwill, which operate for-profit.  Look up some smaller charity fundraising thrift shops in your area! Also sometimes people hold charity fundraising garage/yard sales – these can be great to donate to!)





It is difficult to stop buying things we don’t need.  Incredibly, indescribably difficult.  And it’s almost impossible to refuse to buy something based on its’ packaging – really, that’s not a great purchasing decision unless all other factors are equal.  So…I just have one suggestion here.

Refuse to go shopping.

Unsubscribe from catalogues and mailing lists.

Instead of shopping:

  • find a new hobby (that isn’t too expensive!)
    • perhaps you could make baby blankets for the NICU or local women’s shelter
    • or sew shoes for Sole Hope
    • or sew Bravery Buddies for children facing serious health challenges
  • get out in nature, go for a walk or a hike, ride your bike, go camping
  • volunteer – as a cashier or help in the back at a charity thrift store, at the local animal shelter, at a senior citizen’s center, at a women’s shelter
  • read the news
  • write a blog!
  • read a book
  • go to the library
  • draw, color or paint
  • learn about something new, like geography, history, or scientific discoveries
    • there are so many great documentaries on Netflix!
  • make your own personal care products or cosmetics
  • take a cooking class

You can feel better that you are doing your part to help take care of the planet, while keeping $ in your wallet!  I know, I know, so much of it seems to make such little difference, but over time (average lifespan is over 80) it really adds up!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s