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How to stick with a frugal lifestyle

By Gary Foreman
Published: December 20, 2012

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for

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Question for the expert Dear New Frugal You,
I've been reading your column and have decided to change my financial habits. Tired of being in debt and never knowing where my paycheck goes. But I'm not sure if I have what it takes to stay with it. Is there some advice or help that you can give me to make this a real lifestyle change? -- Judi

Answer for the expert Dear Judi,
Congratulations on your decision to improve your lifestyle. And, your wisdom to recognize that it will take determination and a good plan to make it work. Let's see if we can give you some tools to help you achieve your frugal goals.

Let's break our suggestions into two broad categories:

  1. Things that require other people.
  2. Changes you can make by yourself.

There are a number of benefits of doing some group frugal living activities. You'll develop new friends who will encourage your journey. That's especially helpful in a world where many measure themselves and others based on material possessions.

You'll also find that groups tend to create their own excitement and momentum. That's important to help keep you motivated.

One of the easiest things to do is to join or form a coupon-swapping group. Any place where you meet with the same people regularly will work -- your job, health club, church, kids' play group, etc. Not only will you enjoy the group dynamic, but you'll have more useful coupons and save more money.

Harder, but more beneficial, is to form a frugal living group. Find some like-minded people. Agree to meet in person or online on a regular basis. Share your goals and how you plan to achieve them. Then report back as you make progress (or fail to make progress).

If sharing finances with a group is too public for you, choose someone you know and trust to hold you accountable. Studies show that we're much more likely to attain a goal if we tell someone else about it.

See if any purchasing groups are available to you. The most common ones buy bulk groceries -- everything from fresh produce to whole sides of beef. These groups take a bit of coordination, but the savings can be significant, especially if you're into organic or locally grown food.

If you have kids, join a babysitting co-op. You'll significantly reduce the cost of date night, and spending more time with your mate could help avoid an expensive divorce lawyer bill later!

Join or form a neighborhood group to share rarely used items. How often do you need an extension ladder? Or a carpet shampooer? Not enough to justify buying it. The group could be as simple as a list of items that each neighbor has that they'd be willing to lend out. Some groups ask that the borrower 'rent' the item for a few dollars. Others do it just to be neighborly.

Next, do some things that don't require others to join with you. Make them a part of your routine.

Tweet your bargains. Post them on Facebook. Celebrate your wins. Be proud of your new lifestyle.

Plan on rewarding yourself along the way. We all like rewards. So decide on what you'll give yourself when you stick to your plan for three months or when build your emergency fund to a certain level. You might even want to put a picture of the reward in plain sight as a reminder and motivator.

Have a specific plan of action. Don't just say that you want to save money. Decide that you'll spend the first month working on reducing your grocery bill. You might choose the second month for your household utility bills. Then do a little research and determine specific actions you can take within each challenge.

Have a recovery plan. Most of us will miss the target occasionally. That's discouraging. If you have a recovery plan, you won't be tempted to give up. You'll get back on track again.

Be proud of yourself. Not only are you taking control of your financial future, you're proving to yourself that you have the ability to stay with a project for the long-term.

See related: Frugal living groups, Easy, inexpensive home heating tips

For more than 35 years, Gary Foreman has worked to help people get the most for their money. Prior to founding The Dollar, he was a financial planner and purchasing manager. Gary began The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters in April 1996. Today the website features more than 6,000 articles on different ways to live better for less. Gary has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The Nightly Business Report, USA Today, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. Gary answers a question about a budgeting or saving issue from a reader each week. Send your question to The New Frugal You.