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To be truly frugal, you’re going to need some skills.
To live cheaply, it helps to know stuff like how to change the oil in your car.
And, grow vegetables that taste better and cost so much less than what you’d find in a store.
Repairing stuff in your house is a great skill to have, too.
Even if you don’t think you’re mechanically inclined, you can still fix some things.
By learning how to do for yourself instead of always paying others to help you, you save tons of money.
Saving money on everyday expenses frees up cash to spend on things that give you joy.
And, you become more self-reliant, which is a great feeling all by itself.
For me, being frugal isn’t only about having more cash in your piggy bank. It’s also taking steps to become supremely independent of people, circumstances, and events. When you’re frugal, you don’t have much debt. That makes you less a slave of the system.
Here are the 10 essential skills that you’ll need to make your adventures in frugality a resounding success:
1. Menu Planning
If you don’t do any menu planning, you’ll undermine all your frugal principles by spending too much on food.
Here’s a scenario that happens all too often: Five o’clock rolls around, and you’re dead tired, with nothing planned as far as meals go. So, for the umpteenth time, you take a hatchet to your budget by ordering out for pizza.
Or, you load up the kids and head out to McDonald’s.
Always eating out in restaurants, whether fast food, fast casual, or fine dining in an upscale restaurant, is a major budget buster. You don’t only have to eat in fancy establishments to undermine your efforts to be frugal. Going to McDonald’s too frequently can have the same effect.
Besides, eating in fast food restaurants all the time is terrible for your health.
The solution is to have a meal plan. Sticking to one is one of the best ways to eat well on a budget. It might take some getting used to. But once you do, it’s a piece of cake.
To make it easy on yourself, do menus for one week at a time. If you’d like, make a master list of 25-30 frugal meals that everyone in your family loves. Look at your week. See which nights you’ll need super quick meals, and which ones you can afford to spend a little more time in the kitchen.
Then, look in your freezer and cupboards to see if there’s anything that needs to be used up before it spoils. Look for pantry staples you can use as the basis for recipes that don’t require you to buy a lot of extra ingredients.
Scan grocery store ads for sales and try to incorporate these items into your menu plans. If something is a particularly good buy, you might want to stockpile it for future menus.
If you shop in season, you’re bound to find reasonably priced produce. That’s especially true if you frequent the farmers’ markets.
Once you’ve come up with a menu plan, you’re going to have to cook the meals. They don’t cook by themselves!
While learning to cook can seem daunting to a newbie, it doesn’t have to be. You’re not acquiring culinary skills to be the next Gordon Ramsey. You’re doing it to be frugal and save a few bucks.
To save time and effort, you can focus on one-pot meals. Or spend one day to cook all your meals for the week.
With the advent of the Internet, learning to cook has gotten super easy. Now, you can google budget-friendly recipes for your favorite dishes.
And, if you haven’t acquired a particular skill the recipe calls for, you can learn it by watching somebody practice it on YouTube. For example, Jan Charles has a video on the channel on how to deglaze a pan.
Practice a little bit every day, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to wow them with your cooking expertise on the next episode of Master Chef.
If you have a buddy who’s a culinary whiz, offer to buy the ingredients if he’ll make the meal. Then, watch him and learn as he does his kitchen wizardry. You’ll have a good time with a cherished friend. And, get a valuable cooking lesson to boot.
But it’s not only about learning how to cook that’s important when it comes to being frugal. You have to find cheap meals that aren’t budget killers too. There’s lots of information to be found on the Internet if you google “frugal meals.” Here’s some to get you started.
Gardening is an enjoyable activity made more so when you’re doing it to preserve your precious cash.
With food prices skyrocketing, everyone is looking for ways to cut down on their grocery bills. Gardening will cut down on your family ‘s grocery bill. You can save a lot by growing your own food.
To make sure you’ll save money, you have to eat the stuff you’re growing. So only grow veggies you love. If you can’t stand brussels sprouts, don’t waste time and energy planting them.
Select vegetables that have a long shelf life or can be preserved or canned (see below). If stored at the right temperature, onions, potatoes, and root veggies can last for several months.
Other vegetables can be preserved by canning or freezing. This includes produce like sweet corn, beets, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Acquiring a Green Thumb
Growing your own food can be an excellent way to get fresh, tasty food for minimal cost. But you’ve got to know what you’re doing, so your plants don’t die on you.
In other words, you’ve got to acquire a green thumb if you don’t already have one.
To learn the ropes, budding gardeners should start by growing fresh herbs in containers. You can grow them indoors or out. And since fresh herbs are a little pricey at the local Safeway, these plants offer maximum value for minimum work.
While every plant is different, having a couple of small containers of herbs will also help get you used to the needs of plants.
An herb garden, then, can be a trial run for bigger and better things.
On to Bigger and Better Things
If you want something bigger than an herb garden, make sure you do your research before diving in. You don’t want a plant that’ll soon wither under the beating sun of your unforgiving yard. This will happen if you plant something not suitable for your hardiness zone.
Otherwise, you’ll brand yourself a massive failure and never know the unparalleled joys of frugal gardening.
That would be a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. If you want more information about what’ll grow best in your region of the country, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.
Other Things to Think About
Another thing you should do is to cultivate vegetables that cost a lot in stores. These are things like asparagus and melons.
The things you do to ensure a good harvest should save you money, too. For example, to save money on your water bill, collect rainwater for irrigation. Add compost to the soil to save money on fertilizers. And, find ways to reuse containers, stakes, flats, and ties.
But start small. Like many things, gardening takes practice. And time. Plants require regular watering, maintenance, and harvesting, so give them lots of love.
But don’t go overboard. Growing too many vegetables all at once will overwhelm you and undermine your efforts. The first year, limit yourself to only a few types of plants.
When you grow more confident in your abilities, then you can add more things to your garden. Before you know it, you’ll have the greenest of thumbs!
4. Canning and Preserving
For penny pinchers worth their salt, buying, or growing, large amounts of produce when it’s cheap and in season is the way to go.
It makes sense because you’re able to can and preserve your bounty, so you can enjoy the fruits of your efforts all year long. It’s so satisfying to savor the tastes of summer on a cold winter’s day while remembering the fun you had picking the veggies.
Just like cooking, canning and preserving can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. You’ve got to sterilize jars with specialized equipment, among other things.
For some people, this seems like something that people who look like they just stepped out of a Currier and Ives lithograph would do. Not something that modern folk would ever consider doing.
But being able to preserve veggies at the peak of their summery goodness is so worth it. And it saves you tons of money!
Check out this USDA canning guide. It gives you all the basics.
Sewing is another essential skill every diehard fan of frugality should master. Being frugal is so much easier when you have the skill to make clothing and other household items made from fabric.
Instead of always heading to retail outlets to buy already-made stuff, you can maintain a fresh stash of supplies and make what you need. You should have a decent amount of materials on-hand, although you can build your stash gradually by picking up stuff as you need it.
But if you only want to do basic sewing, all you need is a needle and thread. Then, you can sew on a button, mend a tear, or even hem clothing.
For slightly more complicated projects, get yourself a sewing kit. And, you don’t even need a pre-made one.
You can repurpose a mint tin to hold spools of thread, packets of needles, detail scissors, and other necessary sewing components that are essential for mending clothing and doing fabric-based projects.
You’ll also need to how to do basic stitches, such as the straight basting stitch, running stitch, and backstitch. All these are great for hemming and making seams.
Of course, if you own a sewing machine, you can do so much more. There are many super-useful projects that you can tackle after you’ve learned how to use one. A few of these more advanced projects are crafting quilts, sewing curtains, and making aprons.
For more instruction on how to sew, learn from this Instructable.
6. Knitting and Crocheting
While sewing might be a valuable skill when it comes to mending things, knitting and crocheting allow you to make fantastic things to wear when it’s bitterly cold outside.
One of the best ways to acquire this skill is to ask a friend to teach you. Or, you can also take classes at Joann Fabrics.
By learning how to crochet or knit, you’ll have something that doesn’t require thinking to do while you watch television.
7. Household Repairs
If you have the confidence and the materials, you can repair nearly anything. And by doing so, avoid paying repairmen who charge outrageous fees.
It requires a steadfast commitment to keeping your home in tip-top shape. Making repairs is part of the deal you struck when you bought your house whether you know it or not.
You can either pay somebody big bucks to do repairs for you or save lots of money by doing your own work. Even if you’re not a dedicated DIYer, there are some household fixes you should know how to do.
A clogged toilet or sink will turn even the mildest manner guy into the Incredible Hulk. Roll up your sleeves and take some time to master some of these skills, and your effort will result in lots of money being saved.
You might think you don’t have the skills to do household repairs. But even the most clueless of DIYers can handle common fixes. It’s not so hard to replace a toilet. Or, refinish your own hardwood. All it takes is a little know-how you can get from web tutorials.
There are household jobs you need professionals to do. But for everything else, you can learn the necessary skills to repair them.
These are things like unclogging a drain, patching a hole in drywall, and installing shelves. By doing a little work, you can save hundreds of bucks.
8. Making Your Own Greeting Cards
Making your own greeting cards can save so much cash. And when you design your own cards, you have creative control, so your greeting delivers precisely the right message.
Anyone can drive to a store and grab a ready-made card from the shelf. But taking the time to craft your own card lets the recipient know how special they are to you.
These cards can be simple, or they can be elaborate. There are card-crafting projects for every skill level.
9. Handcrafted Gifts
Not only are handmade presents straight from the heart, but they can also be a whole lot cheaper than store-bought gifts. It’s a good feeling to give someone a gift, but isn’t this truer when you give a gift you made yourself?
You can make mug rugs, skillet handle covers, map magnets, or so many other fun yet frugal things.
There are so many reasons to give handmade gifts. But the main one is that they help you to stretch your budget, especially during the holiday season.
Gift-giving can get exorbitant when you have lots of people on your shopping list. Making presents, instead of buying them from the store, will cut down on your holiday expenses.
10. Haggling for Fun and for Profit
Negotiating your way to a deal can save you money on so many things. It’s one skill you definitely need if you want to get your doctorate in frugality. You can negotiate your way to a better price at most bargain-hunting hot spots, including garage sales, flea markets, junk shops, and thrift stores.
Secondhand sellers expect to be haggled, so don’t be shy about doing this. Think of it as a game. To get the best deals when you haggle, here’s a mini-course on the fine art of negotiating:
Don’t dress to the nines. Showing up in your most expensive frippery expecting a deep discount will only get you laughed out of wherever you went to do your haggling. Dress down for success.
Use the social niceties. You’re negotiating, not arguing. Rudeness to the seller isn’t in your best interests.
Greet the seller. You gotta schmooze a little to get good deals. So, remember to greet the proprietor. If she isn’t busy, try to shoot the breeze. You’ll be apt to get steals if she takes a liking to you.
Ask for what you want. If you’re not confident enough to ask for the deal you want, there won’t be any possibility of getting it. The seller might say “no,” but so what?
Offer a fair price. Don’t insult the merchant by asking for less than half of the tag price. Start at little more than half and expect to meet somewhere in the middle.
Point out defects. Don’t be overly critical of the seller’s wares but do point out flaws if you see any.
Show ’em the money. Make an offer, and then hold that amount of cash. This makes your offer more irresistible.
Leave if the deal looks like it isn’t happening. If you don’t reach an agreement on price, skedaddle. You can also come back later to see if the item has been sold.
11. Basic Automotive Repair
Car maintenance can seem daunting to do yourself. That’s why most people don’t know how to fix anything on a car. It’s true you can’t do everything, but you can do the basics.
Learn how to change your oil, and you’ll never have to pay for an oil change again. Over time, that’ll save you significant amounts of the green stuff.
Check out this step-by-step guide to learn how.
You can also inspect and replace your engine air filter. Unscrew the air filter box retainers and remove the old one. Then hold a light behind the filter to see if any light passes through. If the filter blocks 50 % or more of the light, it’s time to change it.
If not, put it back in and secure the air filter box cover.
Another essential skill you should have in your repertoire is changing a flat tire. If your tire goes flat and doesn’t have roadside assistance, you’re going to get socked with a fee. Don’t let this happen.
Learn how to change a tire for crying out loud.
You can also change your own wiper blades. It’s easy to tell when you need to get new ones. Press the washer button and see if the wiper blades can wipe the fluid away.
If they streak, you need to get new ones. The auto parts store will have cheaper alternatives but go with a name brand instead. They cost more, but their higher-quality rubber blades wipe better, have better UV protection, and have a longer life span.
Follow the installation instructions on the package. Hold the wiper arm tight when removing the old one.
If you don’t, it can escape from your hands with enough force to damage your windshield.
Tying It Altogether
So that’s it in a nutshell.
These are 11 excellent skills that’ll make your frugal journey a more fruitful one. Learn them all, and you’ll save thousands of dollars over your lifespan.
Plus, you’ll be more self-reliant, which will boost your self-esteem.