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How to Get Your Family Interested in Living Frugally

Updated on January 8, 2014

The hardest thing about transitioning to frugal living isn't doing it yourself, it's getting your family to come along for the ride. I often get asked how I got my family interested in frugal living. The truth is, I got them to do things that were fun to do. I made a game out of it. A word of caution though, if there are family members that are ultra competitive, this might not be the best method. You don't want to pit one family member against the other. You are all going in the same direction here, and that is just as important as the savings you will get.

I've seen some people answer this question by saying that you should accentuate the positives, but not preach them or to make frugal choices but don't tell your family the real reason you are choosing them (ie. Choose to have a nice dinner at home instead of going out to a restaurant, but saying you want to do it to spend more quality time with the family). I wholly disagree with these things. You shouldn't have to hide your reasons for doing things. You have every right and obligation to tell your family why you are doing what you are doing. The key is to get them to see why you think it is important and how it can directly benefit them to do the same.

Even Target knows that frugal can be Fabulous
Even Target knows that frugal can be Fabulous
Frugal families don't have to dumpster dive.
Frugal families don't have to dumpster dive.

Explain to the Family that Being Frugal is Not Being Cheap

Another major problem I have seen time and time again is that people confuse being frugal with being cheap. This can be a huge issue for kids, especially those in jr. high and high school. Make sure you see things from their perspective and assure them that you will not do something that makes them look bad socially (like wear clothes that have been out of style for a few decades).

Being frugal is purchasing things that will cost you less over the long run. Instead of buying a low quality item for a couple of dollars, I'd rather spend $10 on an item that is going to last. I also don't turn the furnace off in the winter or the A/C off in the summer. There is no point in being frugal if you are miserable. People who are cheap do things that make them uncomfortable just to save a few bucks.

The real meaning of frugal is doing the most with what you have while remaining comfortable and happy. That means sometimes I make my own soap, sometimes I reuse my empty wine bottles, and I look for ways to pinch every penny out of the daily routine without making my family suffer. Most of the waste that happens in the home is because the family doesn't know that it is being wasteful in the first place.

Your kids don't have to dress in outdated clothes just for you to be frugal.
Your kids don't have to dress in outdated clothes just for you to be frugal.

Make the Changes Easy

People are creatures of habit. If your son or daughter is used to throwing every piece of paper, every wrapper and every piece of leftover food in the trash can, that can be a hard habit to break, especially if you've been telling them that's where it goes since they were little. Instead of constantly reminding them to stop and separate out the recyclables, compostables and reuseables incessantly, place the containers for these things where the trash can used to be and move the trash bin to a very inconvenient location (like out in the garage). Family members will find that it is easier to sort their items than it would be to walk all the way out to the trash can, and this will start a brand new habit.

This is just one of the hundreds of ways you can change your family's behavior. Another big one is to have your family start reusing their shower towels. When you get out of the shower you're clean, so the towels remain clean, they just get wet. Have each family member pick out two shower towels (either sew or write their names on them or have everyone get different colors to tell them apart). Install a towel hanger on the back of your bathroom door. If someone doesn't hang up their towel and it doesn't dry, that's too bad. It'll only happen once or twice. The towels get washed once a week and you save a few loads of laundry.

Remember to introduce changes slowly. Throwing in more than a couple a week is going to get some backlash. As your family starts taking to the changes, you can start going for harder things like making sure that electronics are turned off at the power strip (or unplugged) and starting a family garden with chores for everyone to complete.

Do you need an easy to follow budget chart? Here's one from the Frugal Mama.

Give Them Incentives

Staying on a budget while still having everything you need at home can mean eliminating some of the traditional activities and foods that your family has grown used to. They will notice this and you will have to answer to them about it. This is the perfect time to gamify the system with incentives. Before you can do this, though, you'll need to explain the constraints of the budget and make a list of all of the things that have been cut out. This way you can show them that you have cut out extras as well. After all, if you can't lead by example the first time they see you break the rules you will lose all of your sway with them.

After discussing the budget with the family, look at some of the things that you spend money on every month. Divide them into these categories – Mandatory Bills (utilities, housing costs, insurance, etc.0,)Home Essentials (laundry supplies, food, drinks, clothing, etc.), Entertainment (cable, movies, video games, etc.), Fuel Costs and Emergency Fund. Show everyone what the incoming cash flow looks like and put that at the top. Next, show them the reality of home much each of the mandatory bills cost, home much is spent on essentials, what goes to entertainment, how much is allocated for fuel and what, if any, is left over for the emergency fund.

Now they should have a good idea of what you deal with every month when you balance the budget and why you might be going the frugal route. Then, and this is the fun part for you, have them help you decide where to cut costs so they can get some of the things they have lost, back. Make it mandatory that a certain percentage of the budget goes into an emergency fund and anything above and beyond that can be used for incentive purchases. It is extremely important that you reward them for trying, even if you don't make your goal the first month. Don't give them what they were after, but do make sure they get something for their efforts. A small reward will make them feel like what they did was worth something and not just a wasted month.

Who are you having the most problems with when it comes to adopting the frugal attitude?

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Use Their New Knowledge as a Tool

As soon as this system is in place you can revisit it every month and make tweaks to it. Once your family members have become active in the decision making process and see that they have a vested interest in saving money, you'll be able to show them some of the hundreds of frugal living tips and tricks you want to apply to your daily routine. This includes things they can do, like limiting the length of showers to cut down on hot water heating costs, growing vegetables to reduce money spent at the grocery store, getting rid of cable television and using a service like Netflix or Hulu Plus instead (even better, get videos from the library) or shopping for everyday items at thrift stores and garage sales.

You'll know you have brought them over to your side the first time they suggest a frugal activity to you. As long as both you and your partner are on the same page, the kids should follow suit. If your partner isn't on the same page, there are several things you can do to try to sway him or her to your side. I'll tackle those in another post. For now, check out some of my friends at Eco Dir.net.

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