Every year during the month of February, my husband and I participate in what we lovingly refer to as “Frugal February.”
Essentially the concept is to save as much money as possible during the shortest month of the year. That means no eating dinners out, no morning coffee runs, no clothing shopping, no cab rides. We’re certainly not perfect, but we try our very best.
And that isn’t always easy when you live in a big city. The cost of living is pretty high and it can be difficult to save a ton of money. But we’ve learned a heck of a lot over the years and have some tips to share with you. We know some of these ideas should help you put a few more pennies in your bank account this year, just like they did us.
#1. Google map doable walking routes
One of the best things about living in the city is the walkability factor. I can walk a few blocks out my front door and instantly be at a restaurant, grocery store, gym or bar. We try to walk as much as possible and will often log many miles during the day, simply by running errands.
#2. Actually utilize public transportation (and try Bridj)
But let’s be real, walking isn’t always feasible. The grocery store is too far, you need to head to a different neighborhood where your friends are, or it’s just too cold outside (hello, Chicago in February!)
Public transportation is a way of life for many, but for some of us, we don’t even consider it. Don’t be that person – if you got it, utilize it. (Especially if you have access to a smart phone.) Last year, Uber and Lyft even began striking deals with smaller cities to implement ride-sharing discounts to people using their service to get to public transportation.
And here’s a cool new idea: if you live in Boston or Kansas City, startup “Bridj” has begun a new “pop-up urban infrastructure to autonomously move people and goods around cities”. Buses operate solely on demand of requested routes, creating daily, real-time routes that cost an advertised $2-6 on average.
#3. Find free (or cheap) activities online
One of the biggest perks of living in a big city is the number of things to do, and often times these activities are free, or nearly free! Farmer’s markets, neighborhood festivals, movies in the park… there are lots of fun things to do in the city. I recommend checking out the website Thrillist.com and typing in your city to find free activities nearby.
Another new-to-me activity is a website called Sofar Sounds. They’re in 310 cities worldwide and offer secret concerts on a budget (I’m talking like $10 a ticket!) You have to sign up for various days and then if you’re chosen they tell you the secret address for the concert. It’s always a small, intimate venue and is often BYOB. Now that sounds like a fun, spontaneous and inexpensive night out on the town.
And as always, the old standby Meetup.com can be a treasure trove of awesome, often free things to do.
#4. Incentivize homemade meals, group up!
We are fortunate to have a lot of gorgeous parks here in Chicago, and although we can’t use them all year round we do try to utilize them when it is nice out! Taking a homemade meal outside is a great way to save money. It also gives you a chance to bring along friends, see someplace new, and sheds a new light on bringing a boring sandwich to work.
#5. Stop buying coffees out, it’ll save you hundreds
I love a hot vanilla latte, but my bank account definitely does not. Spending $5 a day on coffee is a budget breaker, so we choose to make our coffee at home and bring it to work. Investing in a coffee maker or just a french press with a nice to-go mug will save you a lot of money in the long run. Read up on how you can even save almost $400 a year by just developing better coffee brewing habits.
We like to save those special lattes as a little treat every once in a blue moon.
#6. Nobody has cable anymore, so ditch it
There’s no way around it: cable and satellite TV are dying. And if you still have it, you will be some of the last few people picking up the costs of all the people who have jumped ship to better things. Obviously, there are now so many other ways to relax and enjoy television: Apple TV, Netflix, or Hulu chief among them for getting your entertainment fix at fractions of the cost. Don’t waste hundreds on TV packages you’re probably not even watching.
#7. Socialize in, not out
What sentence do you hear more? “Remember that time we were all over at your place, drank, and played that awesome game?”, or, “Remember when we all went to eat out?”
It’s easy to spend lots of money going out to dinners or to the bars with large groups of friends. We’ve found that we often save a lot of money by inviting our friends over to our house. We’ll grab a few inexpensive snacks and drinks, and guests will often BYOB too! Board games have also come a long way since you were a kid, so consider diving in with the same amount of money you’d spend going out a single time.
#8. Take your exercise routine outside
There’s really no need to pay monthly fees for a gym when you can exercise at home or right in your very own neighborhood. Walking everywhere is a great way to burn some calories, but taking a run or biking around town is also an idea to get in your cardio. There are also a ton of great at-home workouts available. Check out this post for some easy ways to make it actually happen.
#9. Choose budget-friendly groceries
Yes, Whole Foods is delicious, but it can also be incredibly pricey. In the summertime, we love hitting up farmer’s markets (there are so many all across the city) to stock up on cheap produce. Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and Amazon Fresh are other places where you can fill your pantry on a budget. If you are somewhere Amazon Fresh exists, your first order will have a $25 discount.
#10. Plan out your meals for the week
If you’re already spending part of your monthly budget on groceries, then you should be eating the food that you buy. Make a plan for the week for your meals, and do food prep on Sundays so you’re ready for the week ahead. Trust us, you’ll save lots of money if you eat at home and consume the contents of your fridge and pantry.
So what do you say? Are you ready to start your own Frugal February? We hope you take some of these ideas to heart so you can start saving too!