4 Moms: Favorite frugal tips

This week we 4 moms of many are sharing some of our favorite frugal tips.   I’m already busy making this harder than it has to be, asking myself if  “favorite” means the tips we enjoy the most (or complain about the least), or the ones that save us the most.  Or maybe our favorites would be the most creative ones, that make us happy just because we thought of them.  Maybe our favorites are the ones that are so deeply ingrained as habits that we don’t even think twice about them, but then it gets really hard because we might be utterly unaware of them and then how would I tell you about them?

And if it’s hard to decide on the criteria for the word favorite, how about a definition for the word frugal?  This blockbuster post on Frugal Hacks reminds us how widely our definitions can vary, and maybe when I decide which frugal tips are my favorites you’ll just snort derisively and mutter, “She calls that frugal?”  Or you might be horrified and send the link to all your friends: “Can you believe she does this to her own family?!”

Now that you’ve been exposed to all my deepest self-doubts and neuroses, I’ll share a few of my best tips for stretching a single income in a double-income society.  Some may seem too obvious, but I suspect much depends on where you’re standing and what you already do or know.

Save on food:

  1.  Cook from scratch.  If you already do some scratch cooking, expand your skills by tackling new recipes: Enchilada sauce, pizza crust & pizza sauce, tortillas, biscuits, pancakes.  This adds some work in the kitchen, but cuts your grocery bill and simplifies shopping because you buy greater quantities of staples like flour but less individual items like canned biscuits, bread, english muffins, bagels, and pancake mix.
  2. Buy in bulk but always check unit prices.  Bigger isn’t always cheaper, so don’t get fooled.
  3. Shop the specials but check unit prices again.  Not everything in the weekly sales flyer is a good deal.
  4. Always watch the prices as your items are rung up.  I get overcharged on at least one item almost every time I go to the store, especially sales and clearance items.  If you catch the mistake before your order is finished, it’s easy to fix.  It’s much harder if you wait and have to go through customer service.
  5. Use what you buy.  It seems obvious, but even a great deal is a waste of money if you don’t use what you buy.
  6. Do some menu math.  You might be surprised at the results.
  7. Drink milk and water.  Juice may have a few vitamins but is loaded with sugar – natural or otherwise.  You get much more bang for your buck by eating fresh fruit.  Other drinks have little or no nutritional value, so the less you drink of them the better.
  8. Learn to eat meatless meals.  Don’t make the switch all at once if you are heavy meat eaters, but begin having a meatless meal every now and then.  Skimp on the meat in regular dishes, and teach your family to see it as a garnish rather than a main dish.  It could be that your family won’t miss the meat at all!
  9. Avoid eating out.  Even a cheap meal out usually costs much more than eating in, so do your best to avoid eating out.  It’s fine to treat your family to a restaurant meal, of course, but make it a planned event.  Don’t let it happen by accident or default just because you failed to plan.
Save on repairs:
  1. Take care of possessions.  Reduce the need for repairs by taking good care of the things you own and use.
  2. Ask how you can save on a repair.  Some shops will let you order and provide the parts for a repair, just charging you for labor.  If you can find a better deal on the parts than they offer, you can save some money.  Prices are often negotiable, too. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
  3. Do your own repairs.  You can do many of your own repairs on autos, appliances, furniture, walls, plumbing, and more.  Don’t know how?  Learn.  The internet is a wealth of free information at your fingertips.  If you need to actually see how a repair is done, YouTube is a wonderful resource.
  4. Borrow tools for repairs.  If you need a particular tool that you aren’t likely to use often, ask around for a loaner.  Besides your own friends and acquaintances, Home Depot and Auto Zone often loan specialty tools for free.
  5. Make it last or do without.  Use cars, appliances and other big-ticket items as little as possible to extend their lifespan.  When it’s time to repair them, ask yourself if it’s really worth the cost.  How much would you miss it if you chose not to repair it?
Save on clothes:
  1. Shop secondhand.  If you’re used to buying new, secondhand stores may give you the heebie-jeebies at first, but that feeling passes.  Thrift stores can be a great resource for high quality items for far less than you would pay for a new cheaply-made counterpart.  Some items are brand new and still have tags from local retailers.  We routinely find shoes that retail for hundreds of dollars in thrift stores for $10 or less.  I have 2 pairs of boots that I absolutely love: one cost me over $100, and the other pair was like new for $4 (but retails for nearly $200).  I bet you couldn’t tell which was which.
  2. Enjoy hand-me-downs.  Let it be known that your family appreciates hand-me-downs, and you may never need to enter a thrift store – except to drop off donations.  Many people would prefer to give their children’s outgrown or out-of-favor clothes to someone they know rather than donate them to a business, but they need to know that you want them.  Brag up the adorable bag of dresses that ____ passed to your daughter, and others will know that pride doesn’t stand between you and a new free wardrobe.
  3. Plan ahead.  Don’t wait until summer to hunt for a new summer wardrobe.  Whether you’re shopping new or used, it pays to plan ahead.  Great prices are easier to find at the end of the season than the beginning, so think about what you’ll need next year.
  4. Repair and remodel.  It doesn’t take mad sewing skilz to do minor repairs.  Even some very impressive alterations take more creativity than skill.  Get outside your comfort zone and you might be shocked at what you can do.  Check out what Kaitlyn did in less than 10 minutes to pretty up a plain t-shirt.
  5. Extend the life of your clothes.  Washing and drying is hard on fabric, so if it’s not dirty don’t wash it.  When you do wash it, consider hanging it out to dry rather than using the electric dryer.  You’ll save 3 ways: less electricity, less wear and tear on your dryer, and your clothes will last longer.

Save on purchases:

  1. Don’t fall victim to SOS.  Shiny Object Syndrome is a dangerous disorder that can wreak havoc on your budget.   If it’s new and cool, force yourself to wait and make a careful decision after the excitement has worn off a bit.
  2. Don’t just ask yourself if you’ll use it.  Go a step farther: ask yourself if you need it, or if you’ve truly missed having it.  Did you just realize you wanted it when you saw it on the shelf, or is this a great deal on an item you’ve been looking for?
  3. Shop around.  Don’t assume that a sale – or a thrift store find – is a great deal.  Take time to check prices, or make sure you already know prices when you are shopping for an item.  If you weren’t already shopping for the item, you probably don’t really need it right now.
  4. Know the return policy and save your receipt.  Leave yourself room for buyer’s remorse, and be ready to act on it.  Even many thrift stores allow returns under the right circumstances.
  5. Don’t fall victim to the spend-to-save fallacy.  Some deals make you feel like the more you spend, the more you save.  Stop and think: if Option B leaves less money in your pocket than Option A, it’s probably not a savings.
  6. Eye buyer’s insurance with deep suspicion.  There’s a reason stores offer you those extra insurance policies, and it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.  They profit on the deal, which means somebody loses on the deal.  The odds are against you, so unless you have good reason to believe you might beat the odds, just decline.

And a bonus tip:  Don’t be shy.  Ask for discounts.  Ask for add-ons.  Many prices are negotiable, and you’ll never know unless you ask.  Negotiating is a dying skill in the US, but is alive and well in much of the world.  Help bring it back!  Be courteous, but bold.  Smile when you make a request, and thank them whether or not you get what you asked for.  Here are some phrases I have used successfully:

  1. I would love to have this, but it only costs $8.99 new.  Can you come down on the price?
  2. I think my daughter would really like this dress, but it has a hole here.  Can you take something off the price?
  3. I love the color of this shirt, but it has some faint spots – see?  Can you adjust the price?
  4. I’m looking for an oven like that.  Can you do a little better on the price for me?
  5. If I buy these 3 items, can you throw this in for free?


What are some ways that you save money?

Here’s what the other 3 moms say:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • May 17 – Q&A
  • May 24 – Homeschooling when in a rotten temper

Recent topics:

About 4 Moms, including a complete list of all past topics


  1. Hi Kim!
    Love your tips on frugality. I’m so thankful for a mom who taught me how to cook and for a husband that enjoys cooking. We make almost everything from scratch and it is not only a help in terms of frugality, it is SO much healthier – saving money down the road on medical bills.

    We so often want things to be fast, but planning and cooking ahead allows make-from-scratch dinners to be less intimidating. For example, break up the time in the kitchen by doing the preparation (cutting up veggies, etc.) at another time of day. Having a weekly or monthly menu plan cuts down on the impulsive less-than-healthy-but-faster-to-prepare buys at the store. Teaching your daughters and sons how to cook healthy meals is time well spent.

    Thank you for your post!


  2. I have a question about buying shoes at the thrift store… Do they sell brand new shoes? I don’t mind passing gently used shoes down from child to child, but I have heard that shoes that have been ” broken in” should not be passed down…

    I’d also be interested in any other ideas your readers have on saving money on shoes 🙂 I spent a lot of time and money buying shoes for my children this week… I always try to get a reasonable deal… One things I did discover was that JcPenny had the same shoes online for $5 cheaper than the store. I had them shipped to the store for free. I got to thinking that, in a large family, it might be possible to do a ” mass order” and have it sent to the store. Whatever does not fit, could be returned on the spot… This, of course, is assuming that all of the shoes cost less online… Anyone have thoughts?

  3. Even in our dual income family we use many of the tips you mention – I find consignment shops are a gold mine of in-season designer work clothes for a fraction of the price. Also, craigslist has helped us furnish our home with top of the line furniture for next to nothing. I second the hand me downs, we *almost* feel bad that we have almost never bought the baby new clothes or new toys.

    Could you send a pancake mix recipe? I only recently realized I didn’t have to buy premade mix. Diving into the world of made from scratch.

    Frugality has allowed my husband to leave a large law firm and start his own business and me to start what I hope is my dream job (but commission based) next week.

  4. LOVE your tips 😀 Another way we save… well, okay, this is ME, the mom… is to have a couple of meals in the freezer (turkey pot pie being a favorite – and thank you very much, now I”m hungry). I’m not a cook-a-month-at-a-time person, but having one or two frozen meals has saved me from those “I can’t stand the thought of even thinking of what to have for dinner, much less making it, so please, for the love of God, go get some take-out” moments. *ahem*

  5. When were younger the biggest thrill we got was when our fashionable friends gave us their hand me downs. It was almost like shopping! Regards bartering I remember being mortified in a shop when I was a girl because my mum insisted with bartering with the shop assistant because she was paying cash. However it was worth it as she got £100 worth of outdoor gear for £75. I have to say I have used the same technique myself when paying cash and have managed to make some savings over the years. A rucksack (for hill climbing) that retailed for £95, I managed to with vouchers and the fact I was paying cash (and it was my birthday) managed to get the price down to £45! I got it for my 17th birthday and I only threw it out last year as it was falling to pieces and I had just turned 31. I think that was £45 very well spent! Will definitely have a look at all your frugal tips to see how I can save money! Thanks!

  6. Wonderful list Kim. We do many of the things listed. I am working on doing more of them, like doing our own repairs, and hang drying some of our clothes. I already started washing them less.
    Cooking more from scratch, and eating out less!

  7. Some great tips and ideas Kim! I do many of these myself and it certainly does make living on one income easier.

  8. One item that we find very expensive is men’s suits. Almost always the trousers wear out before the jacket. We have found that it is worth buying two pairs of trousers with one jacket.

    I’ve written recently about how we save money in the kitchen.


  9. Here are some of the ways we save money.


    We are also buying our meat on the hoof now, raising our own chickens for meat and eggs and trading eggs for our milk….which also decreases the amount of butter I have to buy as we use the cream to make butter….and occasionally homemade ice cream. We are canning much of our food, making lard, and make our own fast foods for the freezer.

  10. Great tips! Love the encouragement to barter, too…and just in time for yard sale season! If I find several things at a yard sale that I want, I usually just take them all to the owner ans ask, “will you take $x for all of this?” (asking a bit less than what is priced) and they always say yes.

Don't just think it: say it!

%d bloggers like this: