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!

10 Ways to save money on grocery shopping!

A good way to lower your monthly spending is by trying to cut your grocery bill because buying food and other groceries can take a large chunk of your budget. Luckily it is a variable cost that can be reduced. For the last few months my boyfriend and I are trying to reduce the amount we spend on food, care products and household products. We used to spend around 400€ a month and we are trying to get it to 300€ a month, and so far it seems to be working.

I collected several tips for spending less money in the supermarket:

  1. Never go shopping while hungry. When you are hungry you tend to buy more food and greasy unhealthy snacks. It sometimes happens that I’m in the store with an empty stomach, and then I really notice the snacks stacking up in the shopping cart (which is bad for both my wallet and my weight).
  2. Make a list of the things you need and stick to it. This will help to avoid impulse purchases.
  3. Also try to make the list in order of the organisation of the store (for example, vegetables and fruit are aisle 1, cheese aisle 2, drinks aisle 3 … ). This way you can walk through the store without going back and forth between the different aisles. It will save you time and you will be less tempted to take some extra chips or snacks when you pass that aisle for the third or fourth time.
  4. Before going to the store, make a week menu and look what you already have and what you need to buy and put in on your list. It’s really handy because then you have food for a week, you don’t have to ask yourself every evening what to cook, and you avoid going last minute to (maybe more expensive) stores to buy the ingredients you need to cook a meal. This also eliminates freewheeling at the store and will keep your weekly menu healthier, cheaper and more diverse then if you have to decide what to eat all week when you are in the store.
  5. Check the weekly promotions, however don’t be blinded by them. Only buy the things that you know you eat or use.
  6. Try to buy season fruit and vegetables. Out of season vegetables or fruit tend to be more expensive.
  7. See if you can replace brand products in cheaper brands. Most of the time (however not all the time, it depends on the products), the cheaper version tastes as good or is as healthy as the expensive brand. Also know that stores always put ‘expensive’ brands on eye level, and the cheaper brands at the lower levels of the shelves.
  8. Sometimes it can be profitable to buy different things in different stores. However you must see for yourself whether the costs of driving to the different stores doesn’t become higher than the amount of money you win by buying cheaper things in the different stores. (Don’t forget you waste a lot of time as well).
  9. Size matters. Take the size and quantity of products into accounts and buy Groceriesaccordingly to your needs. My boyfriend and I eat a lot of minced meat in spaghetti and other dishes. So we always buy a large amount of minced meat and freeze different portions. The maxi pack of minced meat is a lot cheaper (10% reduction). I also buy a huge bottle of provincial herbs. We use these herbs in a lot of dishes so its cheaper to buy a big bottle with which we can refill a smaller bottle. Another example is soda. We rarely drink it so we buy it in cans. Cans are maybe more expense than a bottle, but we drink it so rarely that its cheaper (since we can never finish a bottle before it’s lost all the bubbles), so we also don’t have to throw any away.
  10. Compare prices of different products/brands. If you compare the price, look at the price per kilo. So look at the relative price, not the absolute price.

And for good measure 2 extra tips:

  1. Keep your receipt. By keeping you receipts you can keep track your monthly spending on groceries, and you can also compare prices. For example, if you see that a certain product that you normally buy is in promotion, you can check how much you paid last time. Maybe the store says it’s in promotion, but it’s possible that they first raised the price. If you really want to create a system you can enter these things in an excel file, making them easier to track.
  2. Bring your own (re-usable) bag to the store. In Belgium (and I think in a lot of countries in Europe) most of the stores ask some money for a plastic bag so it’s better for your wallet (and also the environment) to take your own bag.

These are some general tips that my boyfriend and I know and try to follow. I have the feeling that they really help use to lower our grocery bill. What do you think of these tips? Do any of you have any other tips? Feel free to share!

Cheers,
Fiona

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