How We Live Well on Less

live well on less

Doing what we love best – being active outdoors!

My husband and I live a frugal lifestyle, and we do so by choice. We don’t put much value into material possessions, and instead we focus on the more fulfilling things in life. I’m routinely amazed that more people don’t make the choice to live more simple, yet more satisfying lives by not worrying about what the Joneses are up to.

Happiness can’t be found by acquiring more stuff. Even as a frugal household, I feel like we have far more than we need, and I can’t imagine wanting for anything more than I already possess. If you’re lucky enough to have been born into a country of immense wealth and abundance, it’s so easy to live well without blowing your income. And yet, so few of us can handle cutting back and consuming less.

But it’s entirely possible, even easy to cut back on spending in order to save more. Need some proof? Here’s a glimpse at how we manage to live well while spending less:

We Just Don’t Care About Stuff

I’m really not sure how to put it any more simply than that. Bottom line, material possessions just don’t rank very high on the “what’s really important in life” list for us. 99% of the time, I have no desire to spend my hard-earned money on stuff that doesn’t get me any closer to my goals in life. I will buy books, high-quality clothing that will last for years so I won’t have to buy more to replace it, and delicious food. But beyond that.. I can’t think of a single thing (beyond my necessary bills, of course) I’d spend my money on right now.

We Have Hobbies that are Healthy and Frugal

We’re avid runners who love the outdoors. Running is an extremely low-cost sport. All you really need is a decent pair of running shoes, which will cost you about $100.

Running has saved us an incredible amount of money. It’s been the cure for emotional- or boredom-induced spending and it provides us with an awesome way to spend an afternoon or weekend. To supplement our running, we bike when the weather’s nice and we swim in the summer (okay, my husband does, and I try. I don’t have a great stroke but I do thrash around in the water pretty spectacularly). We also go backpacking and hiking whenever we get the chance to do so.

Healthy Lifestyle = Minimal Health Costs

Because we love being outside and we keep physically active, it means we stay pretty healthy. I can’t remember the last time I went to the doctor beyond a routine yearly checkup. Since we’re not spending money at the doctor or on prescriptions, our health insurance can be quite basic. Our coverage only costs us $80 per month (and includes a simple life insurance policy, as well).

Eating right helps keep us on track here, as well. We focus on whole foods and skip food products. And our grocery bills are always less when we buy real food and skip the processed stuff and junk like soda.

We Seek Out Low-Cost Alternatives

One of the easiest ways to get frugal is to simply make a switch from an expensive choice to a cheaper option. For example, you could cut your cable and grab Netflix for $7.99 per month instead. Supplement what’s available through that service by making a one-time purchase on an antenna and see if the shows you love are available for free online (the Colbert Report streams for free on both Colbert Nation and Comedy Central). Same goes for movies. Quit getting ripped off at a theater every weekend and rent a DVD from RedBox for a couple bucks.

Or let’s say you love having meals and drinks out. That’s fine, but why not consider cutting back? It’s not like you’re going to be deprived if you eat out a bit less – especially when you consider that’s more money in your pocket that can be saved and invested. We still eat out; we just don’t eat out multiple times in a week. We brew our own coffee instead of paying for the pleasure of having some college hipster spell our names wrong on our paper cups. We go out for dinner or drinks, not both. Whichever one we’re skipping on having out, we’ll enjoy at home.

Apply this line of thinking to all your expenses. You don’t have to be ballin’ 100% of the time, and you can handle doing some things yourself if it’ll save some money. Ease back a little or find a lower-cost way of doing things.

We Live Well on Less Because We Prioritize Our Spending

I believe this is the key to living frugally and living well on less. We understand what our values are, what our goals are, and what our priorities are. For us, becoming financially independent, continuing to grow as individuals, never ceasing to learn, and experiencing new things are our top priorities.

Within this framework, spending decisions become simple and easy. Will replacing our used cars with new, fancy vehicles complete with car payments get us any closer to any of the above? Nope – keeping our older cars it is. Will furnishing our home with all-new pieces straight from Pottery Barn do it? Nope – our hand me downs will work just fine. Will traveling to one new place a year or trying a new restaurant every month get us there? Yes! These are opportunities to experience new things, learn something interesting, and (in the case of travel more than food) grow as people.

If you’re still not sure where to start, consider what is truly important to you. Can’t decide? Think about your spending in a new way: stop seeing it as exchanging money, and start thinking about it in terms of time. If you make $20 an hour, and you want a $20 shirt, that’s one hour of work that you’re handing over to get that 1 shirt. Is it really worth it? Couldn’t your money – your time – be spent in more meaningful, fulfilling ways?

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How do you live well on less? Any tricks you learned to switch from a mindlessly consuming stuff and blowing money to becoming a thoughtful saver who wants for less?

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Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to chat about personal finance. She's passionate about helping millennials manage their money while learning to live well on less.

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  1. says

    I’m working toward spending money on experiences rather than stuff. I have a pretty big fashion addiction but I’m learning to be more thoughtful about what I purchase. Investing in pieces I love saves me money in the long run and makes me feel better about my spending habits. I also prefer travel, experience and delicious food above most things, so that’s where my discretionary money goes right now. Great post!
    Kendal @HassleFreeSaver recently posted…Frugal Tip: Water & MicrofiberMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Kendal! I’ve definitely found I have less buyers remorse when my money goes toward and experience rather than more stuff – although like you, I do love clothes :D That’s my biggest temptation!

  2. says

    You two sound so much like my husband and I! That’s so awesome :-) We are always looking at ways to cut down our cost and we make do with less “stuff” so that we can prioritize the good things in life: our collective experiences.
    One of the big ways we’re able to save is to cook at home and actually being vegetarian (for me mostly, but my husband doesn’t complain when I cook LoL) We exercise together and even ran a marathon together.
    This is such a great post – it’s great to have a community of frugal couples who prioritize all the things we do! Cheers!
    Anneli @thefrugalweds recently posted…20-Minute Dinners: Spicy Penne with Broccoli Rabe & Caramelized LeeksMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Anneli! I agree, it’s wonderful having a bunch of likeminded couples around :) Hey, we’re on the same vegetarian wavelength, too! I’m vegetarian, so we usually end up cooking vegetarian meals at home. My husband is definitely a meat-eater, but he’s happy to skip it at home. That’s awesome that you guys have run a marathon together!

  3. says

    We tried making our own dish soap and dishwasher detergent and didn’t feel very satisfied with it. It was another thing on the to do list and wasn’t worth our time. I am going to trial a small salad garden this summer to save some money at the farmer’s market to see if it’s worthwhile. I think the bottom line is that you cut back where you can, what’s fun for you and if it’s not working, move on to the next thing.

    • says

      Love that, Claire – only cut back where it makes sense for you and not to the point where you’re driving yourself absolutely crazy! Thanks for the comment :)

  4. says

    Great post about your own life and how others can live similar, fulfilling, yet less costly lives. My wife likes to run, and I used to run, but chronic disease has make that difficult. I still try to stay in shape by walking around the neighborhood as well as riding our stationary bicycle. Our biggest expense right now is probably our son. He is 13 years old and in the 7th grade. After an initial $50k lump sum contribution to a 529 when he was born, we have continued to contribute $500/mo to the 529. It seems like we are always buying new/used clothes as he outgrows the old, and we have begun to notice that he eats more than either I or my wife do. There are constant pleas for monetary support for various school programs, as well. We have been giving over $1,000 per year. I guess supporting a child could be considered a life experience. Right?
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted…Another Voice That 3% Is the New 4%My Profile

    • says

      Thanks Bryce. Kids are definitely a life experience for those who wish to have them. They’re an expense, but that’s your priority! I would say that I would encourage your son, even at this age, to think about scholarships and grants for school. There are so many ways to get a bit of money for education, and he’s at the age to start thinking about what scholarships he might like to apply for. I wouldn’t let him think mom and dad will foot the bill for EVERY university expense!

    • says

      Thanks Addison! I completely agree, it’s amazing how much life seems to change for the better when you can be appreciative of what you do have instead of dwelling on what you don’t. The comparison habit is definitely a hard one to quit – I think we all struggle with it from time to time.

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