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10 Ways To Build A Strong Frugal Mindset (Without Feeling Awful)

If you want to save money, having a strong frugal mindset can help you achieve your goals. After all, your mindset drives most financial decisions you make. A frugal – yet positive! – outlook will help you to live responsibly, but not at the cost of your happiness.

In fact, if a frugal lifestyle makes you miserable, it’s time to rethink your approach. 

Frugality is about spending your money more economically to achieve specific financial goals. It is a misperception that frugal living equates to being cheap, dull, or miserable. There are various ways to build a frugal mindset while still feeling happy and enjoying life.

Here are ten ways to develop a more sensible money mindset without feeling like it costs you all of life’s pleasures.

Frugal living written on a note pad, next to money and a calculator.

1. Pause For A Reality Check

The first step to a frugal mindset is to make peace with your reality.

Whether it be the salary bracket you are in, your debt that doesn’t seem to disappear, or the fact that you’re driving a 20-year old Toyota while your neighbors have the latest-and-greatest new car – this is your life, and odds are, it’s actually better than you may realize.

As challenging as your life might feel, the harsh reality is that 719 million people live on just $2.15 daily. This statistic might be extreme, but it can help put things into perspective.

Yes, you may be struggling right now.
Yes, you may be living paycheck to paycheck right now.
Yes, you may not have everything you want right now.

But think about the reality of what you do have, and know that you can (and will!) develop a plan for improving your financial situation over time.

2. Practice Gratitude

A reality check is an opportunity to be grateful for what you have. It is sometimes easy to focus on what we lack, like that new car or a bigger house. Suppose you reverse this mindset and consider everything you have. In that case, you might be stunned by the outcome and learn to appreciate frugality.

A few ways to do this:

  • Keep a daily gratitude journal in which your record at least three things you are grateful for. Make it a morning ritual or before you go to sleep at night.
  • Practice random acts of kindness to others. Lifting up another person often helps us feel more grateful and happy in our own lives.
  • Make a list of what you do have. This can be material items that you love, or it can be non-material things that you appreciate (friends, family, etc). Sometimes actively writing it down on paper will help you realize just how much you do have.
  • Considering thinking outside your immediate bubble – reflecting on these realities of those in other parts of the world can help you realize your own blessings.
A woman and her dog sitting by the water.

3. Declutter Your Life

There are various benefits to decluttering – including helping you feel calmer, less-stressed, and more in control.

But it’s not just good for your mental health; it also allows you to re-evaluate your need for material things and identify unhealthy spending habits. (And as a bonus, if you sell some of the items you declutter, you can earn a little extra cash.)

Start by decluttering your home. Consider parting with items that you don’t use, have duplicates of, or that are broken (let’s be real, are you planning to fix it?). You could donate usable items, or try to sell them to make a little extra cash.

Be sure to assess the situations that led to this clutter to help you improve your frugal mindset. For example, do you have tons of new clothes in the closet with tags still on that you’ll probably never wear? Maybe it’s best to stay out of the mall if you’ve got a tough time regulating that spending.

Or perhaps your kiddos room is overflowing with toys. Could you perhaps be trying to buy them excess to overcompensate for lack that you experienced as a child?

Identifying these triggers can help you improve spending habits.

After you get through material items, move on to other aspects of your life: consider all the non-essential activities and subscriptions costing you money. For example, think about the number of streaming services you have (do you really use them all?), or when you last used your gym membership (be honest!).   

Reflect on what decluttering has taught you about yourself and your relationship with money. Then use this information to make more responsible choices in the future.

4. Don’t Compare Yourself With Others

Avoid getting too caught up in jealousy and comparison to others when trying to nurture a more frugal mindset. When your neighbor remodels their home, or your work colleague buys your dream car, it is natural to feel like you’re missing out.

But instead of wanting to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, try to change the way you see the fortunes of others. For all you know, they might be entering into debt because of a particular purchase. Or perhaps they too went through a frugal journey for years to accumulate wealth.

Keep believing in your financial goals and be proud of living more financially responsible.

If you do experience comparison envy, try to get to the root of those feelings. Do you really want a pool like your neighbors, or do you love the idea of fun afternoons swimming? Maybe a free trip to the local lake with your kids will satisfy that same need, without spending money.

Spend crossed out on a piece of paper, with save written and circled underneath.

5. Practice Affirmations

Try playing around with mantras, phrases, or affirmations.

For example, I love practicing money affirmations to help me feel more positive in my financial situation, even if I haven’t achieved my dream level of wealth yet. It’s all about the feeling and believing in the journey – not necessarily immediately reaching the end destination.

You can also use mantras or phrases whenever you are going to spend money. For some people, it might be a quote from a financial guru, or it can be one word or phrase that redirects your attention to your goal.

For example, when you are about to spend money on something non-essential, you might remind yourself of a goal by saying “college tuition”, “retire at 45”, or “Hawaii”, for example. Instead of merely denying yourself an impulse buy, you’re reminding yourself of your goals. From there, you can decide if the purchase falls in line with your values-based budgeting.

6. Learn To Love Deal Hunting

One key aspect that I’ve found exists in a strong frugal mindset? Embracing the fun of deal hunting.

This doesn’t mean buying items simply because they’re on sale. Rather, it means not rushing into purchases you allocate money for anyway.

Instead, give yourself time to do thorough research and hunt for deals. More often than not, it will yield a cheaper/better option than you may have initially found.

For example, I love to travel, and that’s an important value for my family. We allocate money towards travel experiences. But not every trip fits our budget.

If you love to travel as well, refrain from booking your weekend getaway on the first website you open. Browse different sites, compare packaged deals, change your dates to see if you can get a discounted rate, etc.

For us, taking advantage of credit card point deals makes traveling much less expensive.

Similarly, we use Google Flight’s “explore destinations” feature a lot. You can click that and then choose something like a “1 week” or “weekend” trip in the next X months. It’ll show you a map of destinations based on flight prices. This can be a great way of getting cheap flight deals and exploring somewhere new.

Screenshot of Google Flights Search screen.

The best part is – I enjoy this research! It’s like a treasure hunt to find a great deal, whether with points or cash.

The same concept goes for other essential item purchases. Consider whether you can buy an equally suitable product secondhand or, if you only need it temporarily, see if you can borrow it from a neighbor.

7. Set Fun Challenges

Is frugal living proving to be a mood buster? Try creating challenges for yourself and your family by adding an element of fun to it. Here are some examples:

  • Find three entertaining activities you can do each month that are completely free
  • Set a goal to reduce your electricity or water bill, and get your family to work together to achieve it
  • Do a pantry challenge for a few weeks, making meals using only the ingredients you have at home
  • Challenge your family to create a delicious meal using only five ingredients
  • Don’t spend on any clothing for six months, creating new outfit combinations using clothes you already have in your closet

Rather than feeling limited in what you can do, gamify frugal habits to help motivate you. If your family is on board and participates in challenges, make it worth their while by offering a reward for making better choices.

8. Get Creative

Being frugal means respecting your goals and making appropriate money choices, but it doesn’t mean you never get to have fun.

Does your dream vacation involve a trip to Paris? Make Paris come to you by hosting a family theme night. Cook a French dish, pop on some cute berets, use YouTube videos to learn some French phrases, and watch a movie that takes place in France.

Whatever luxuries you feel you are missing out on, you can recreate them in a different context. Yes, the result won’t always live up to the real thing, but get the creative juices flowing, and you’ll be surprised at how much fun you can have along the way.

(And don’t forget – you can also build a savings goal for these dreamy items. You may feel more motivated to cut out daily luxuries if you know that you could go overseas in just a year by saving that cash.)

9. View Money Differently

Your relationship with money is a personal and often complicated dynamic. Some people use money to impress their peers or exercise their power. Others try to buy love or use it to cover up insecurities. The trick is to delve deeper into your spending habits to determine what drives your financial decisions.

Make a list of essential things that add value to your life, like hobbies, interests, family time, etc. The key is to be mindful of what makes you truly happy and invest in these core values.

Use those core values to create a values-based budget. This means you prioritize spending in the areas that are most important to you and your family.

10. Reward Yourself

Frugal living is not sustainable if you find yourself becoming a miserable penny-pincher. You should maintain a balance and find ways to reward yourself every so often for achieving goals.

Nobody says you should go out and get a designer handbag or front-row tickets to an NFL game. A reward might mean a once-monthly fancy drink at Starbucks while you read a good book. It could be prioritizing a date-night with your spouse for quality alone time. Or perhaps it means saving for a yearly vacation.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important to have a small budget line for these indulgences. Depriving yourself of everything you enjoy will never be sustainable or enjoyable.

The Bottom Line

Changing how you feel about your money is vital to living a happy and frugal life, but it can initially seem daunting. Start by choosing one or two habits on the list and try them out for a few months. You will soon develop a strong frugal mindset while still feeling positive and motivated. 

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