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You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy life. We’ll show you how to live well the frugal way with 13 ways to live well on less.
A Little More for a Little Less
Everyone deserves to have some pleasures and even a little luxury in their lives. But when we think of things that are pleasurable or luxurious, we often think of costly things like five-star vacations or meals of lobster, caviar, and champagne.
But when you’re living Frugal For Less, those things are probably out of reach.
But there are plenty of ways to indulge without busting your budget. We want to help you spoil yourself with these 13 ways to live well on less.
1. Keep Housing Costs Low
For most of us, housing costs are our biggest expense. We have to have a place to live but how much space do you need? I grew up in a small house, and I like a small space.
It makes me feel cozy so having a big apartment has never been a priority for me. I think my apartment is about 600 square feet.
But it has plenty of room for me and my stuff (although I am pretty minimalist when it comes to everything apart from books). I could afford to live in a bigger place, but my rent is less than 25% of my income.
The rule of thumb is that your rent or mortgage should be no more than 33% of your income, so I’m doing well and am perfectly happy in my little space.
With the money I save by having such low rent, I can afford to do things like go to a nice dinner, take several long weekend trips a year, and have one bazillion thread count sheets on my bed which is something I really recommend! Unicorns wish they had sheets as soft as mine.
2. Buy Used
I live in New Orleans, and Mardi Gras balls are a big deal down here.
They are faaaaancy so you can’t just show up in any old dress. I was invited to one of these fancy balls in only my second year of living here which is no mean feat for a filthy Yankee transplant like myself, so I wanted to do it right.
But I can’t afford to buy a brand new fancy ball gown. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is a master thrifter. She knows her way around thrift shops like Eric Ripert knows his way around a kitchen.
She took me to her favorite shop and helped me find a great gown that was in perfect condition. If I had bought that dress new, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars, but I got it for $75.
If you want a little luxury in your life, buy used. Not only clothes although you can find some great, high-end stuff in a good thrift store, but things like a fancy bike, an expensive camera, or great cookware like Le Creuset or All-Clad can be found in thrift stores too.
The only downside to buying used is that you can’t always find what you’re looking for right away, especially if you have something very specific in mind. But if you have some patience and flexibility, you can really live well on less when you buy used.
3. Look After Your Things
When you do spend money on a quality item, take care of it. I had a red Dooney & Bourke purse that I loved. It wasn’t Louis Vuitton, but it was expensive to me.
Rather than storing it in the cloth bag, it came in; I just shoved it in my closet with my other purses. I’m not sure what happened, possibly it got damp from the humidity, but a black purse that was touching the D&B purse stained it with black marks.
I even took it to a shop that specializes in repairing leather goods, and they couldn’t fix it. I still use the purse because lucky for me, the marks were only on the back but had I stored it properly, there wouldn’t be any marks.
If you have expensive leather goods, treat them with leather conditioner and store them properly. If you have an expensive couch, Scotch Guard it to protect it from stains.
If you have an expensive cast iron skillet, don’t for the love of all things culinary, run it through the dishwasher! Take care of your things, so they last a long time.
4. Fix It
Going back to that red purse, it’s big, and when I travel, it’s the purse I take because it has enough room for all the stuff I need to be comfortable on a flight and what I need when I’m spending most of the day out.
So I pack it full, and it gets heavy. One day, one of the straps broke.
What did I do? Throw it away and buy a new one? No, because I can’t afford to replace it. I took it to a cobbler, and he was able to repair the strap. That was years ago, and I still use it. Although I try to carry less stuff now.
If something you own breaks, don’t just toss it. See if it can be repaired, most things can. You might even be able to fix it yourself if you find the right tutorial on Youtube.
5. Eat Well
Eating out is a pleasure for most of us, but it’s certainly not a required expense. But if you want to eat at a pricey restaurant, you can do it for less. Many nice places offer a cheaper lunch menu.
The whole experience is the same as it would be during dinner service but the menu is cheaper.
Many cities do a restaurant week. Participating restaurants offer a prixe fix menu. New Orleans actually does this for the entire month of August because tourism is slow due to the hot, muggy weather.
A lot of the participating restaurants are offering two-course lunches for $20 and three-course dinners for $40. Some even offer drink specials too like $0.25 martinis. Can’t get much cheaper than that!
6. Start a Capsule
How many items of clothing are in your closet? How many do you actually wear on a regular basis? Probably a fraction of them and likely, most of them are in the same color family.
Instead of buying lots of new clothes that you end up not wearing, start cultivating a capsule wardrobe.
A capsule wardrobe contains a few quality, timeless pieces that can be worn together.
A typical capsule for women would include, black pants, a black skirt, a little black dress, a white dress shirt, a few cashmere sweaters, a cardigan, quality t-shirts in a few neutral colors, two or three pairs of good jeans in various cuts, a trench coat, a leather jacket, a wool winter coat, black flats and pumps, leather boots, ballet flats, a good pair of sneakers that aren’t running shoes, a daytime purse and an evening bag.
You can inject a little color or individuality with accessories like colorful scarves and sunglasses, a few pieces of classic jewelry and a few statement pieces.
You don’t buy all this at once. You put it together a piece at a time, and each piece is the best quality you can afford.
A capsule wardrobe helps you avoid buying “fast fashion” and trendy items that you can only wear for a season or two without looking dated.
I’ve been doing this for years, and the only item of clothing I tend to buy to excess is sundresses because it’s hot where I live for 80% of the year. It has really cut down on impulse buying which has saved me probably thousands of dollars over the years.
7. Rent It
If I hadn’t been able to find a ball gown at the thrift store, my next step would have been to rent one. You can rent all kinds of things, formal wear, wedding wear, camping equipment, tools, hobby equipment like ski or surfing gear.
If you’re considering taking up a new hobby that requires a lot of equipment like golf or camping, rent the gear first to make sure you actually enjoy doing those things. If you do, great, you can start buying your own stuff.
If not, great, you haven’t wasted money on stuff you don’t use that is now taking up space in your house or garage.
Do you need to power wash your house? How often are you going to do that? Every year, every five years? Why would you buy something you hardly use?
Maybe by the time you need it again, it won’t even work because it’s been sitting dormant for so long.
If you need something, you only need once or only need once in a while, check out Zilok. You can rent everything from sewing machines to kayaks, to wedding gowns.
Most of us can’t afford the best of absolutely everything, so we have to pick and choose where we spend our money. What is important to you? Is it looking good?
Then there’s nothing wrong with spending money to have your hair colored in a salon if you think home color doesn’t look as good.
Is it eating well? Then you might allocate more money towards farmer’s markets and high-end restaurants. But the extra money has to come from somewhere.
I work at home, so I don’t need a lot of “office appropriate” clothes. I like to cook, so I don’t go out to eat all that often. My work clothes budget can be shifted to having professional manicures and pedicures.
My restaurant budget is small, so I have more money to spend on fancy candles that make my home smell nice.
9. Quality over Quantity
Do you really love chocolate? Have you ever eaten an entire Hersey bar all to yourself? You probably have. Have you ever eaten an entire bar of Vosges chocolate to yourself?
You probably haven’t. Do you know why you ate all the Hersey bar but not the Vosges? Because the Vosges chocolate is of higher quality and when something is made better, you are satisfied with less.
And it’s not just food that works that way. I have a wool suit jacket from Brooks Brothers that I bought way back in 2000. It wasn’t cheap but I still have it and wear it 18 years later, and it looks as good as it did when I bought it.
Had I bought a similar jacket from a fast fashion retailer like H&M, not only would it not have been made of a good, natural fiber like wool, but it would have been poorly constructed and cheaply made.
It would have been in the rag bag years ago, and I would have had to spend more money to replace it, several times.
When you buy quality over quantity, it’s more satisfying and longer lasting.
10. Take Charge
Part of living well is spending time with your friends and family. And depending on what you do, that can get expensive. Going out to dinner, going to a concert, and going out for drinks can really hurt your budget.
But you don’t want to be the person always refusing invitations because you can’t afford whatever activity is being suggested. Eventually, people will just stop inviting you to things.
The solution is to become the “cruise director.” You make the plans. Having a potluck or a barbecue can replace dinner out in an expensive restaurant.
Seeing a small local band in a bar can replace seeing a nationally known act in a huge sports arena. Ordering a few pizzas and telling everyone BYOB can replace a big bar tab at a trendy brewery.
The important thing isn’t what you do or how much you spend. The important thing is spending time with the people you love.
11. Get Involved
Jazz Fest is a big deal in New Orleans and for a good reason. Great live music, good food, unique art, and unsurpassed people watching. But tickets are $80 for a one-day admission.
There is a way around this though. If you offer to volunteer, you can attend for free. Sure you’ll spend a few hours doing things like selling tickets or carrying ice, but you get to enjoy the fest for free.
If there is an event you want to attend in your area but can’t afford tickets, see if you can volunteer for free admission. You can do this at the opera, the Philharmonic, the ballet, the theater, and at sporting events.
12. Cheaper Than You Think
Before you just assume something you want to do is out of your price range, do some research. I didn’t travel internationally until I was in my 30’s because I thought it was something only rich people did.
But I really wanted to travel, so I started doing some research. If you know a few tricks like the best time to buy airplane tickets or how to score free accommodations in exchange for some labor, you can travel for a lot less than you think.
Another thing that I only thought was for rich people was having someone else clean your house. It’s a luxury for sure. Unless there is something physically wrong with us, we can all clean our own house.
But sometimes you just don’t have enough time, or sometimes, it’s a really big job because you’ve let it go for so long.
It’s cheaper than you think to hire a cleaning service. Maybe you can’t afford it every week but if your in-laws are coming or you’re having a big party, and the state of your house is causing stress and fights with your partner, just hire someone!
And then stay on top of it, because weekly house cleaning is really not a Frugal For Less use of your money.
13. My Favorite One
Sometimes a few well-spent dollars really does make you happy and increase your quality of life. My favorite example of this is fresh flowers. Having fresh flowers in your home is such a pleasure.
Living in New York City made this a really affordable luxury. NYC has bodegas on nearly every corner. A bodega is a sort of convenience store but not a corporate one like a 7-11. Bodegas each have their own personality.
And one of the things they often sell is dirt cheap, fresh flowers. Like $10 for two dozen roses cheap! It was great, and I always had fresh flowers when I lived in NYC. Now that I don’t live there, no more bodega flowers.
So I don’t buy them as often, but when peonies and sunflowers are in season and for sale in my local grocery, I buy them.
They cost about $10 a bunch and obviously are not a necessity like food or rent, but they make me happy and bring a little luxury into my life. If you want to perk up your own mood, or someone else’s, buy them a bouquet of flowers.
You don’t have to make six figures to live well. When you know what to buy and where to buy it, you can live well on less. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article – thanks for reading and happy frugaling!