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How to Live Cheap on a Budget

People often think having a budget is the same as not spending money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Budgeting is about tracking and controlling your spending, not living like a hermit in a cave.

Even when finances are tight there are ways to get the most out of life, without excessive spending. The four keys to living cheap:

  • Plan your meals, outings, and social events.
  • Learn your options: free events, cheap movie nights, discount nights at restaurants, coupons, special sales, etc.
  • Conserve and avoid wasting electricity, food, heat, hot water.
  • Be creative and find ways to save while keeping life interesting.

Grocery Shopping & Meal Planning

Developing an interest in food and cooking keeps your grocery budget down and improves the quality of what you eat. Preparing food from scratch is cheaper than buying processed foods and is healthier for you. If you develop basic cooking skills, you will be able to make dishes which are better tasting than those served in many restaurants. Once you get the hang of preparing home-made burgers, you’ll never eat in McDonald’s again.

  • Plan your meals. Use your plan to develop your shopping list.
  • Get containers for storing or freezing leftovers.
  • Pack a lunch and snacks.
  • Buy no-name instead of name brands.
  • Get inspired by recipes. Find them on the internet or buy recipe books from used bookstores. Share and exchange recipes with friends.
  • Variety is important. A boring meal plan makes it too easy to end up splurging.
  • Avoid convenience stores. There is a cost for the convenience.
  • Replace cleaning products with cheaper environmentally friendly alternatives. Use vinegar and hot water instead of a window cleaner. Baking soda has a number of household uses such as scrubbing pans, clearing drains or deodorizing.
  • Replace paper towels with old clothing or rags for cleaning.

Buy in Bulk

  • Cereals or granola. Try to avoid highly priced boxed cereal.
  • Buy meat in family packs, then freeze in meal-size portions. Make sure you wrap the well before freezing so as to avoid freezer burn.
  • Buy a bag of popping corn instead of expensive microwave popcorn. Use an air popper (you might find one at a yard sale) or pop it on the stove.
  • Snacks. Nuts or other bulk items make great snacks.
  • Spices are very expensive when bought in containers. Cheaper in bulk.

Make Smart Choices at Home

Small choices can equal big savings.

  • Television: Do you really need cable? If you have high speed Internet there are places where you can watch some shows for free or buy episodes.
  • Buy Used: Get to know the used marketplace, like Value Village, Frenchy’s or go to garage sales.
  • Call long distance during discount times or get a calling card. If you don’t know when the cheap times are, or if you’re using a cell, you’re probably paying much more than you have to.

Be Social

You don’t have to give up your social life, just because you’re living cheaply; find creative ways to be sociable for little or no money.

  • Get physical. Go for walks, hikes, tobogganing or biking. Camping if you want to get out of town.
  • Free events in your community, such as lectures, movies, farmers’ markets, art shows.
  • Rent a movie with a bunch of friends. It is a lot cheaper than going to a movie. (see popcorn above)
  • Dinner parties. Have a potluck or invite a group of friends over to make sushi or tacos.
  • Order too much at a restaurant? Take it home in a doggy bag for tomorrow’s lunch.