How to become frugal and follow an extremely frugal lifestyle is something I am often asked - how it all started, why I do it and what keeps me pursuing such a lifestyle when I no longer seem to need to do so? Keep pecking away at those debts or adding to the savings, as the freedom to be frugal is well worth it. (Part 1 can be found here.)

Sorry this second part was delayed but I don't exactly work regular hours in a regular place of employment. I'm home based, self employed and slowly developing my frugal kingdom, so it's starting to take me out and about a bit more while preparing for a slight change of direction. Or perhaps it is better said that I'm preparing to add another business venture to my existing writing and publishing work, as I have no intentions of giving that up any time soon.

First of all, I began this lifestyle because I had to - in the grand scale of things, my entire life changed almost overnight and pretty much equated to finding myself homeless and jobless with next to no income and joint debts hanging around my neck from divorce, among other things. I refused to go down the benefits route and there was no way I was going to opt for bankruptcy when I knew I was perfectly capable of producing something worthwhile that had the potential to generate me an income, even if it meant moving from one end of Britain to the other, with several moves along the way. My determination to get myself out the hole I'd inadvertently dug has always been present, even if I was in the stereotypical 'to hell with you, I can do this on my own' frame of mind at the time.

I do think that analysing all the historical facts surrounding an entire situation and recognising, then accepting, that there was nobody else to blame except myself played a huge part in the battle, as I saw previous events (even those acted out by others) as having been stupidly ignored or overlooked at the time. I should/could have acted sooner, but circumstances dictated otherwise. What will be, will be. There is no point turning back after deciding on a new route, Besides, there is always another fork in the road sooner or later that presents us with further choices.

Anyhow, as the years progressed, I honed my cooking skills and had always been a bit of a bargain hunter in an effort to stretch whatever I had to cover exceptionally (some may say ridiculously) expensive habits and hobbies. I soon learned these had all to go, so everything did. Finding ways of pursuing my outside interests on a budget of NIL was frustrating but also educational, entertaining and even rather fun at times.

NEEDS VERSUS WANTS

No non-essentials! Needs versus wants: knowing the difference between these two is paramount to a frugaler's success. I hear from many people who consider themselves frugal or who think of themselves as wise spenders, but when you venture near the subject of debt, they assure you it isn't really debt when it is a mortgage, loans, hire purchase, overdrafts or credit cards when they are earning enough to cover all their costs adequately. Well, I am sorry to burst your bubbles but THAT IS DEBT and if your circumstances had to suddenly change for the worse, you would be knee deep in financial poop and soon start sinking if you have no safety net in place. Just because you think you earn enough to service your debts and afford to run a car and have a holiday now and again does not make you indefinitely solvent. I know people earning £1,000 a week who couldn't put their hand in their pocket and pay a loved one's funeral, pay their council tax in a lump sum or pay cash for those annual holidays - they still need incremental payments or outside help. Little of what they think they own is actually theirs! I've been there, I've seen what happens when it all goes pear-shaped and I have, hopefully, become what I consider to be a frugal living expert. Some call it extremism, others accuse me of meanness or self-imposed poverty but I can assure you all that I lead a very rich and rewarding lifestyle. At no point can I imagine ever stopping, nor can I imagine ever falling back into the debt trap. Money has become almost meaningless - it isn't even a means to an end any more. It is a necessary evil even when trying to avoid it, but it can also be seen as something that nobody can have too much of at any time IF it is treated for what it is - an exchange mechanism.

HOW FRUGAL ARE YOU?

In 2007, I finally cleared my debts and was in a position to start saving. Up until that point, my entire income, which fluctuated enormously and propped up by tax credits, amounted to £4,000 for the year after deducting household bills, work expenses and debt repayments. I house shared, I grew some fruit, herbs and veggies, at one point I juggled several part time jobs and, when my son started work, he contributed what he could towards his own keep. With the debts gone and safe in the knowledge that I could happily live on £4,000 for a year, it was a simple step to switch the debt repayments money into savings accounts - and so it began.

As a writer, I write about most things relevant to my lifestye, publishing it online for next to nothing. Nowadays we have free blogs, so more and more 'things' keep on becoming affordable on even the tightest budget. Once you have overcome the shock of discovering you can live on so little, you seek out your personal spending zone and it becomes habit forming. But despite everything, I still smoked! Why? The simple fact was that I could still afford to do so, I didn't see any real need to quit. But the Government soon dictated otherwise. As the taxes rose on non-essential luxury goods, my purse strings tightened and I took a stand - I rebelled against the taxation heaped onto tobacco products by quitting. There was no thought for the health benefits, my incentive was purely for personal financial gain. Prices were fast approaching £5 per pack and the majority of that was some form of taxation. I quit - it was easy once my mind was set on it and I already knew how determined and stubborn I could be - I didn't quit smoking, I quit paying those ridiculous, unnecessary taxes and instead, paid them into my own savings account.

During my times as a quitter I had so many rows with so many people who whined about not being able to stop smoking, or else how addictive the habit was, but I didn't apologise then, nor will I apologise now - quitting spending money I no longer wanted to spend on something I didn't need was an easy choice to make. I just adopted a new habit to replace the old one and avoided the triggers that brought about the habitual reaction of reaching for a cigarette.

Another habit I formed was avoidance of 'fake foods', as I called them - my saving frenzy increased as soon as I started seeing the balance in the savings account increase. I may not get as much for my £4,000 per year in 2015 as I did in 2007 but the £15 I was spending each month on cigarettes is still going into the bank, as is every other available penny over and above the £4,000 annual household budget. If it doesn't go into the savings pot, it gets spent on something that can bring long term benefits to myself or others. 

House-sharing with someone who appreciated frugality has also been paramount to the overall success. No matter what form of relationship you have with those who share your living space, having everyone pull in the same direction is essential, even if it sometimes needs a bit of creative thinking to help them see the benefits. Surround yourself with like-minded people, they say, but have you realised how difficult it is to find truly frugal people? After all these years, I still know only a handful!

INCENTIVES

  • Knowing what you need
  • Knowing what you want
  • Knowing WHY you want it
  • Knowing the difference between needs and wants
  • Knowing your priorities
  • Knowing it can be done
  • Knowing the choices are yours to make
  • Knowing that the incentive is to reach your goals
  • Knowing all your goals may never be reached because you have the right to extend them
  • Now You Know!

BUDGETS

Since 1999, I have written screeds and screeds on budgets and budgeting, from analysing incomes to prioritising debts. We have had challenges for almost everything under the sun, from saving pennies to £2 coins, from turning £10 into an entrepreneur's dream to stretching £5 to feed an adult for a week... the challenges are all online, either here, in the Frugal Forums or on web sites like Moneysavingexpert.com Your budget is your own - mine began at £4,000 per annum for a purpose - it was what I had. It continues at £4,000 for the simple fact that I can do as I jolly well please and it pleases me to save whatever is left for whatever I jolly well want.

MY SPENDING

At this precise moment in time, we are into the fourth quarter of my 2015 Frugal Living Challenge, which can be found at www.frugalforums.co.uk and, to a lesser extent, on the Moneysavingexpert forums. My general household budget for the year is £4,000 and it is broken into the following categories:

  • Food and drink - £640
  • Toiletries, laundry and cleaning products - £80
  • Electricity - £800
  • Coal and gas cylinders - £440
  • Logs - £80.00
  • Telephone, Internet & mobile - £495
  • TV Licence - £145.50
  • Footwear & clothing - £80 (mine only)
  • Gifts for others - £225
  • Transport - £180
  • Home deliveries and postage - £100
  • Home insurance - £112.19
  • Household pets - £100
  • Life assurance and National Insurance Contributions - £365 (mine only)
  • Miscellaneous - £157.31

Total - £4,000.00

The grocery budget is set at £5 per week per person for two of us plus an extra £10 per month to allow for visitors and holiday guests. As you can see by my list, there are WANTS included that are not 'needs'. I don't actually need things like television, telephone, Internet, mobile phone, pets, life assurance or even to buy gifts for others. If I was in debt in any way, shape or form, I could forego these luxuries, for that is exactly what they are, and free up another £100+ per month. I could even further reduce my grocery budget by cutting out all non-essentials like crisps, chocolate, juice, the occasional bottle of wine or pack of biscuits. 

Food has become so affordable nowadays that my grocery budget has been decreasing over the years by way of altering our diet to fit the selection of readily available foodstuffs and although I do still find it very difficult to accommodate the Government recommended '5-a-day' into that amount, it isn't too difficult to grow a few herbs, fruit and vegetables and forage for whatever is in season to help make up for it. The mainstay of the vegetable diet in the Frugaldom household is incorporated into homemade soup - it can cost less than 10p per portion and can contain most of what you need. Homemade fruit-based desserts are also an easy source, but I have to admit to having a love of sugars in all shapes and forms. I already make my own laundry liquid and we collect and cut scrap wood for the stove.

Based on the above, imagine your household of two, each earning at least a full time minimum wage - that's almost £24,000 per year coming into a household that costs only £4,000 per year to run. Allowing for extra spending like work-related travel, council tax and a little bit of pin money, a frugal household could quite feasibly save £1,500 per month. It's the getting to the stage that you can live on a fraction of your income that takes patience, a strong will and tight purse strings, especially when you have children to consider. Teaching them the true value of money from the beginning will easily set them on the right track for creating future prosperity from current austerity.

Aim beyond your goals so you recognise your achievements when you are passing them by to move onto the the next one - never lose site of your ambition and strive for success. It's what gives us the incredible drive to keep on going in search of bigger and better things. Just don't run before you can walk free from debt.

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