Investing in a frugal lifestyle

The term frugal can be defined in so many ways. Some people define it as only saving money and never spend a dime, some compare it to being cheap, some say that they live frugal even when they barely save money … Everyone has his own interpretation.

For me, being frugal is a lifestyle. It’s a way of living where you make your own individual choices of how you want to live your life, how you save your money, and most importantly how you want to spend it. It’s creating the possibilities for yourself to spend your money on the things that you want and are important to you, by saving money on other things. You can for example choose to live a very thrifty or frugal life in all aspects of life and place all the money that you have on a bank account, or you can save a lot of money on certain things, in order to be able to spend more money on other things that matter the most for you. There are so many possible ways of living frugal. Everyone is free to live the way he or she likes (that’s the beauty of life). I just think it’s wonderful that by means of small money saving changes, and by being careful with your money, you can stretch your budget and be able to do do so much more with it 🙂 … As I already mentioned in a previous post for my fiancé and I it’s not about having the biggest or most expensive car in the neighbourhood, or what other people may think about our car, house or even our lawnmower 😉 … for us it’s about saving some money on these things so we are able to take a leave of absence for two years, or retire several years earlier or do something we like. So we apply a frugal lifestyle with that thought in the back of our minds, but of course still live the way we want (yup we don’t save money on vacation and bubbles).

This blog really helped me (and my boyfriend) to live a more frugal life … (I’m only blogging for a year now). A frugal lifestyle is really an investment. You have to change habits and sometimes change your perspective on things, in order to become frugal in all aspects of your life and for example not only spending less money on one shopping trip. It’s not possible to completely change your life from one day to another and become frugal in all aspects. It’s a journey that takes time, one where you discover new things everyday.

I noticed that in the beginning of my frugal journey I only wondered what the best ways were to save money in the short term (which was good since step 1 is cutting all big expenses) … Now I’m starting to think more and more in the long run and start changing small things in my household that seem trivial but in the end help to waste less money. I really notice that I start questioning a lot of habits/things … (most of the time things that just became habits in the past). I’m also changing things and even buying things, in order to save more.

A few months ago I for example bought some pyrex dishes with a lid on. They were in promotion, I got 6 dishes for 20€. I really really like them, they are super convenient (I don’t know why I didn’t buy them sooner). It’s maybe silly that I’m so enthusiastic about it but now I can make lasagne in the dish, put the leftovers in the fridge with the lid on (no more changing dishes or wrapping paper needed) and the day after I can put it in the oven or microwave to heat it again. Or I just can put it in the freezer… I don’t know why I only discovered it a month ago :). It’s a nice investment. Another example are handkerchiefs. Until three months ago I used paper handkerchiefs all the time. I sneeze a lot and I didn’t like cloth ones as a child. However, three months ago I gave it a try to use a cloth one since paper ones actually cost a lot of money, and it’s also a lot of waste. I went to a very cheap store (Wibra) and found some incredibly cute kerchiefs from Daisy Duck, Plains and Minnie Mouse (I don’t like boring) … Ever since then I only used them (okey not when I was sick and had a running noise). I don’t know how much money I would save by using cloth handkerchiefs, but I think It’s better than paper ones and there is less waste. My boyfriend already used cloth handkerchiefs so I didn’t have to convince him :). I also bought a sandwich wrap (you had a glimpse of it in my blog) and try to use it all the time when taking my lunch to work. It’s much better then wrapping them in tinfoil. Another example is my cycle bag that I received as a birthday present of my parents… It’s so easy when I go to the store with my bike :).

So living a frugal lifestyle, or trying to live a frugal lifestyle is not just about spending less money or putting some extra money on your bank account and be done with it. You really have to invest in it! Every now and then you have to take a moment and wonder why you are doing what you are doing. Are you doing it because you really want to or because everyone else does it, are you doing it in a cost efficient way, or did you just create a habit without thinking about other possibilities (for example using dishes without lid, using paper handkerchiefs) etc… So in order to live a frugal lifestyle you really have to invest behaviourally, emotionally and sometimes even financially. All kind of small changes add up to big changes. It’s a journey that keeps on going. My boyfriend and I are going in the right direction and save a lot of money. We however still have a lot to learn. Hopefully we are able to in the end achieve our goal of retiring early! Without denying ourselves everything of course!

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It’s the small things that matter!

When people reflect on their expenses and wonder what the best ways to save money might be, they often think that they should cut their big expenses. These big expenses are of course very important and when you want to save (more) money it is useful to see whether these big expenses can be lowered. However, it’s often all the small expenses taken together that make a difference. Most of the time they have a bigger impact than we think!

A very nice example is people’s lunch to work. I don’t know if this is a relevant example for all of you, but for most people in Belgium it is. In Belgium, from what I ‘ve seen, most people buy their lunch at work day after day. I for example work in the city centre of Leuven. During lunch, most of my colleagues go in the city and buy a sandwich, salad … instead of bringing something from home. However, having to buy a sandwich every day costs a lot of money. So when going to work I always try to bring my own lunch. At the end of the month it is so much cheaper (or you spend less money). Also my boyfriend takes his lunch with him (most of the time I make it for him. I like to make his sandwiches and they are tastier when made with love :)).

At my boyfriend’s work, some people even made a remark about him taking his sandwiches with him everyday (he and his boring sandwiches). So he made a quick calculation to show them the difference. Here’s the calculation based on Belgium prices in euro. Feel free to share your calculation with the prices in your own country or to tell more about the lunch habits in your country.

  • A normal workweek is 5 days
  • Imagine buying a sandwich every day for 3-4 euro
    • 3,5€ x 5 days
    • 17,5€ a week for just a sandwich
    • 70€ a month
  • often people also buy something to drink, a soda or a coffee (not all companies offer employees free drinks or coffee at work)
    • 1,5€ x 5 days
    • 7,5€ a week
    • 30€ a month
  • And of course you can’t get through the day without a cookie (I can’t anyway)
    • 1€ x 5 days
    • 5€ a week
    • 20€ a month
  • Everything taken together you get
    • 70€ + 30€ + 20€
    • 120€ a month
    • 1440€ a year for one person!

So in one year you spend around 1440€ for buying your lunch everyday. Maybe less, maybe more, depending in you eating habbits. This is a lot of money. Certainly when you are with two people who buy lunch every day, that’s 2880€ (it’s a nice citytrip or vacation). And yes it’s true, most employees receive a meal voucher of 5-7 euros per day for buying lunch, but isn’t it nicer to spend that money on other things than spending it every day on buying lunch?

Now how much does it cost to bring your own lunch, drinks and cookies (this is of course not for free and also has a price). You can for example take leftovers with you or your own sandwiches. My calculation is for bringing your own sandwiches.

  • It takes one or two breads a week
    • 2,4€ x 2 breads
    • 4,8€ a week
    • 19,2€ a month
  • Stuff to put on your bread/sandwich
    • around 6€ I think
    • 24€ a month
  • Drinks
    • 0,55€ (if you buy for example if you buy a pack of 6 soda cans in the store) x 5 days
    • 2,75€ a week
    • 11€ a month
  • Cookies
    • 0,40€ (Also if you buy a big cookie box in the store) x 5 days
    • 2€ a week
    • 8€ a month
  • Everything taken together you get
    • 19,2€ + 24€ + 11€ + 8€
    • 62,2€ a month
    • 746,4€ a year

This is almost half! It’s a rough calculation, but I think it really shows what a difference it can make. The prices are estimates because sometimes you buy something cheaper or more expenive, nothing at all, a lot, or leftovers from last nights dinner …. I just wanted to show what a difference it makes. I have to admit that I sometimes also buy lunch at work, or buy a cookie when I didn’t take one from home. But I try to limit it, because before you know it you’ve spend a lot of money on food. This is also why it helps to keep track of all your expenses, big and small  (see post https://fionasfrugallifestyle.com/2015/05/15/what-are-your-spending-habits/).

lunch

Here you see my lunch :). I ‘m also very proud of my reusable bread wrap. I never use aliminium foil anymore, and it’s so much more convenient than a lunch box.

Another example that small things matter is buying your daily cup of coffee on the go. Here in Belgium you see more and more people arrive at work with their take away cup (a habit flown over from the states?). I admit that I also do it once in a while but I try to limit this as well (because I can’t handle that much caffeine 🙂 and of course because it costs a lot). There again, if you do the math you see that buying a cup of coffee every day can cost a lot on a yearly basis. That’s why it’s often a good idea to get up a bit Koffieearlier and take the time to brew your own coffee at home :), or just kick the caffeïne habit altogether.

So what are your lunch habits at work? Or do any of you have other examples of small costs that at the end of the year really sum up, and that you can easily lower in order to save more money? Please let me know!

What are your spending habits?

What are your spending habits? Do you know how much money you spend on electricity, groceries, clothes … each month? And do you have an idea when some yearly/quarterly costs such as for example insurance, or the electricity bill appear?

Until two months ago, my boyfriend and I had a general idea of how much money we spent each month on groceries, clothes, stuff for in and around the house … but we had no exact idea. We also didn’t have the habit to each month reflect back on how much we had spent. So, two months age we started tracking our expenses to get an overview of where exactly our money goes and what our spending habits are.

In the beginning it was a bit of a search to find a good tracking system that worked for us. I started with testing some apps on my Smartphone since I thought it would be easier than on a spreadsheet on the computer or than writing everything down in a notebook. I tried the apps Dollarbird and Accounts 2 Checkbook.

I was immediately quite fond of Accounts 2. It is a very simple and nice app where you can insert your spending day by day, link it to your different bank accounts, and divide your spending in different categories of your choice. I think I liked the app because it is very handy to have an overview of the balance of your bank account (or accounts) on your phone. This overview also helped when I had forgotten to include a purchase and had to check the bank account (which happened a lot in the beginning). The app also allows you to each month retrieve a graph with your spending per category, or you can export a file with all transactions.

I also tried Dollarbird, which is an app that works with a calendar interface. Instead of getting an overview of your bank account, you get an overview of the month and how much money you have spent each day. You can also divide your spending in different categories. It’s a really nice app but I quickly stopped using it since I preferred to use Accounts 2 because of the overview of your accounts.

For the past two months I inserted all our expenses in Accounts 2. In the beginning I often forgot it but after a few weeks it started to become a habit to keep the receipts and include all expenses. Because of this, I can each month retrieve an overview of our spending per category which is super handy and a great way to start spending money in a smart way and budgeting expenses.

In addition to a monthly overview, I also wanted to have an overview of our yearly/quarterly costs. So I decided to include all our expenses in a spreadsheet on the computer to get a more detailed overview than on the app. I made the same categories as in the app, and inserted every expense per month. I also checked my bank account for some big yearly costs such as insurance, the electricity bill… . Then I used a colour scheme to indicate the yearly costs and the costs that return every three months. Here you can find the spreadsheet I made (Expenses).

I’m really excited because with this overview we can exactly predict what our fixed costs are going to be in the coming months. Now we also know which months are going to be more expensive than others due to the addition of several (yearly) costs. A nice consequence is also that now I will know when I have to make my yearly dentist or eye specialist appointment. (Before I never knew how long it had been since my last check up).

With the combination of the app and the spreadsheet I have found a tracking system that works for my boyfriend and I. I don’t know if this system would work for some of you… But if you don’t track your money yet, I would suggest to start with it! It’s really nice to have an overview and to know how much money you actually pay each month on different kind of things. It really helps you to get a sense of your spending and can help you to better regulate how much money you spend on things (for example the things you need and the things you want but not need). In the end it will also help you to save more money …

If you already are tracking you expenses, feel free to share how you do it (with an app, a spreadsheet …). All tips and tricks are welcome.

For now my boyfriend and I will keep tracking our expenses and in a few weeks we will start budgeting.

Regards,
Fiona

Changing your mindset

Trying to live a more sustainable and frugal life is more than spending your money the best way possible and knowing how to manage your money. It’s about changing your mindset and creating frugal habits. It’s for example nice if you replace all your lights with LED lights that have a lower energy consumption, but it doesn’t really help if you then always leave your lights on and don’t really adopt the habit of switching off your lights when you leave the room. Or if you go to the store it’s nice if you look at the price of the things you buy, and try to spend your money in a smart way, but it’s even better to wonder whether you really need the thing you want to buy, whether it’s an addition to your household, or whether it just will gather dust in the closet. So, trying to live more frugal is about changing your habits and mindset.

I sometimes have the feeling that for example having things with a low energy consumption such as LED lights are being used as an excuse to excessive waste “I have LED lights so now it’s okay if I leave my lights on all the time …” It’s the same as eating healthy. A common thought is that if you have eaten a piece of fruit you can eat something unhealthy as if the piece of fruit abolishes the unhealthy thing. Even I sometimes fall into that trap. Therefore I think that it would be a nice exercise to get to know your own habits, the frugal ones and the non-frugal ones and try to create a frugal mindset.

So the last couple of weeks I tried to discover what my habits are, in order to try and replace the less frugal habits into more frugal ones. I noticed that some of my habits are already quite thrifty and frugal, but others can be improved …

First of all I want to start with my good/frugal habits. Some of these habits I learned when I was a child, others I developed when getting older, and some habits can be more defined as healthy or even lazy habits, but at the same time they are frugal.

  • Turning off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Turning off the heating at night and when you leave the house.
  • Sorting waste.
  • Taking the staircase instead of the lift. This is more a healthy habit. I tend to take the staircase to have some exercise and walk a bit. They say you should walk 10000 steps a day.
  • If possible, walk instead of taking the car for short distances.
  • Only Iron the things that really need to be ironed such as shirts and jumpers. I for example almost never iron T-shirts. I dry these on clothes hangers so they don’t need ironing. It’s a (little) lazy yet frugal habit (I really don’t like ironing).
  • Cleaning with a mix of vinegar and water instead of with commercial cleaning products (see the power of vinegar and soda crystals).
  • Freezing left over food or trying to do something with leftovers.

Then there are some habits that I have from time to time. So they are not yet really habits, but I’m doing my best to make them into habits.

  • As mentioned in my blog post where to start I’m trying to keep track of my spending to get an exact idea where my money goes to. It’s starting to become a habit to write all my expenses down, but I often still forget it.
  • When going grocery shopping I’m trying to stick to my list, never go while hungry (apparently people buy a lot more food when shopping hungry), try to look for things that are on discount … I don’t always succeed, but it’s becoming more and more a habit.
  • When going shopping for clothes or other things I try to always ask myself whether I really need it, whether it’s worth the money … It’s starting to become a habit. I also reduced my shopping to a minimum.

Then there are some new habits that I want to adopt. There are many, but at the moment the most important one for me is that:

  • I want to bike more… I have to admit that I hate biking. I don’t mind biking in a quiet street, but I really don’t like biking to the city centre where there are busses and cars driving close to you. But maybe I don’t like it because I rarely bike … So, last month, I went back to my parents house to get my old bike from when I was younger. At the moment I’m repairing that bike and I have the intention to bike more (to go to the store, to the city … ). It’s not only healthy, but it also saves you money on gas, and it’s better for the environment …

These were some examples of my frugal habits or habits I want to adopt. What are your thrifty/frugal habits? Or do you have some habits that you want to change or adopt?

Cheers,
Fiona