I don’t give much thought to frugality anymore. That’s because frugality has been so ingrained into my DNA I don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s automatic. I know inside my head what I can afford and what I can not afford. For example, I currently know that food prices are rising and my $500 grocery budget can no longer afford purchasing porterhouse steaks. In it’s place I have been substituting cheaper cuts of beef, such as pot roast or flat iron steaks. But now, even those have become cost prohibitive. I have drawn the line however, at chopped hamburger beef. I don’t think I could live my life without an occasional hamburger.

I know how much guaranteed income comes in every month and subconsciously I try to match my outgo. Each month, I have a certain set of expenses that are constant (such as my internet bill, cell phone, electricity etc). And then I have the variables (such as groceries, medical, pet costs, gas etc.) that I must keep a vigilant eye over them. I set up a spreadsheet covering just the variables with a pre-set amount I should (could) spend on each category.

Here’s a snapshot of what I paid in variables for the month of December 2020. I highlight my overages in red. I try to keep my groceries at $500 but most often can’t. Yet it’s good incentive to keep the goal at $500. The most I can spend in variables per month is $1225. I usually go over by around $600. Problems that arose this month were my energy supply company would no longer accept monthly budget payments, so I had to pay the $581 in full. Also, we’ve taken on the care of an additional family pet which has caused hubby and I to overspend enormously. This will settle back down to $100 a month once all the vaccinations and vet visits subside for the little puppy.

Try as I might, I very rarely fall inside my own guidelines. I almost always spend above the allotted amount. As of this writing, I’m currently running a $180 a month deficit off of my passive income, so I make up the difference from either my investments, savings or dividends. I don’t like living this way but I have no choice. Try as I might, despite all the cuts and adjustments I make to my budget, it is what it is. I need the magical number of $500 to feed hubby and I the way we want to be fed. Dubling up on beans, plant-based items and cheap, low-cost processed foods (ramen) just isn’t going to work for us. We cook from scratch three times a day. We need good ingredients to do so. We like fresh fruit and vegetables all year long. We can substitute and go generic as much as possible but eventually you come to the end of the line. You pay the price.

I’m often amazed that most people, when faced with financial challenges, almost always cut their food bill. We need food to live so why is it the first to go? Shouldn’t you be cutting more frivolous expenditures such as restaurant meals out, take-away fast food, pizza deliveries, gourmet items, designer clothes, expensive vacations, luxury car payments and the like?

Here are just some of the things we comfortably cut from our budget without feeling too deprived:

  1. No cable or satellite services. This is most common but offers a lot of bang for the buck. We do most of our online shopping through Amazon Prime, which in turn gives us access to free movies and streaming services, as well as free music, free photo storage and free ebooks and free monthly magazines. By choosing longer delivery dates we earn Prime Rewards which we can use to either rent movies or ‘buy’ books.
  2. We no longer have our hair professionally cut. Hubby buzz cuts his hair, my hair and now the puppy. ($78 per full dog grooming. Ouch!).
  3. No manicures or annual pedicures. I do everything myself.
  4. No more bank fees or late library fees since 2001. I pay my bills on time and I return my library items on time also. I note return dates on my computer calendar.
  5. I no longer buy prepared salad dressings. I saved the glass bottles and make my own.
  6. We make our own pizzas almost every week. Our cost per pie is barely $3.
  7. I started a fruit and veggie garden and either can or freeze the produce for use all year long.
  8. Absolutely no more restaurant meals out, no take out or fast food drive-thrus. We also pack our own drinks, coffee and snacks when we know we’ll be out of the house for a while.
  9. More DIY projects around the home and less hiring (expensive) professionals.(i.e snow removal, lawn cutting, tree trimming, house cleaning, home maintenance, car repair)
  10. I do our own taxes. I took a tax course at H&R Block in 1994 and I have been doing our taxes ever since. BTW: that course was the hardest course I ever took in my life!
  11. We very rarely buy clothes. We have everything we need. Only underwear is purchased when absolutely necessary.
  12. No more Christmas gifts (except for the grandchildren with a $25 cap), birthday presents or anniversary/special event presents. No Xmas card mail-outs either.
  13. Very rarely entertainment fees. No movie theaters, no more Broadway shows, sparse live entertainment venues. Most towns and communities offer a plethora of free events.
  14. We replaced all exterior and interior lights with extremely low-cost LED bulbs.
  15. We lowered both our heating and air conditioning costs by adjusting the thermostat.
  16. I don’t buy cans or cartons of chicken broth anymore. I use the backbone of a cut up chicken (that I have stored in the freezer) and make my own delicious, low-salt broth.
  17. I don’t buy breadcrumbs or panko anymore. I save my bread ends in the freezer and whirl them in the blender when I need breadcrumbs for a recipe.

A good example of how I save money on our groceries would be my love of coffee creamers. They cost around $3.99 in a regular supermarket but are only $2.09 at Aldi. I cut the costs of my favorite coffee creamer (hazelnut right now) even more by taking a clean, empty creamer container and pouring half of the full container in to it. I then level off both containers with skim milk. Not only have I doubled my hazelnut coffee creamers (the taste and the consistency are the same!) but I have also cut my calorie intake. Lord knows those real coffee creamers are fattening! (and NO! I will not substitute powdered coffee creamers or almond milk-based coffee creamers. I like the real thing!)

I enjoy a great cup of coffee in the morning! I found a way to keep enjoying my coffee, the way I like it, without breaking the budget.
This has got to be my greatest cost-saving technique on the planet. Just a few teaspoons of the real Dawn dishwashing liquid, combined in a recycled Aldi Radiance bottle with water has proven to be the best cleaning product on the planet. For only pennies! I use the concoction to clean my entire kitchen and bathroom, as well as my whole house bamboo wood flooring. Hubby has started using it to clean his car, inside and out! The only other cleaning product I buy is a glass cleaner for my windows and glass surfaces and lemon oil to polish my wood furniture. That’s it!!!
I make my own hot chocolate mix. One part cocoa, three parts non-fat dry milk (one part sugar if cocoa is unsweetened). The savings is minimal BUT the nutrition is high! Enjoy!

Now that some streaming services are teaming up with releasing blockbuster movies online (rather than venture out of your house to go to a movie theater) hubby and I can get in on the action without breaking our budget either. As I said, Amazon Prime, if you agree to delayed deliveries on select items, you can rack up Prime Reward Points and apply them to movie rentals, including films currently playing in most theaters. I had my heart set on seeing the new Tom Hanks movie, News Of The World (as well as Wonder Woman). The rental price, however, of a block buster movie is $19.99 (ouch!). Since we do most of our shopping online I was able to rack up $15 in Prime Reward Points and hubby and I saw the movie this past Saturday night (date night) for only $4.99! It was a great movie, highly enjoyable and hubs and I had a nice, quiet evening at home. Without breaking our budget!

Once the pandemic hit us on March 2020, we’ve done a lot of online ordering (139) at Amazon! We also do WalMart and I compare the prices. Whomever is the lowest, gets the order. But Amazon’s free shipping is a powerful lure. WalMart ships free on orders $35 and above. And NO! I will NOT join WalMart’s new free shipping program. Amazon offers way too much additional features at less cost.