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My Journey to Frugal Living - Why I Stopped Wasting Money on Junk and How You Can Be Frugal Too

Updated on January 4, 2012

The Moment I Realized My Spending Habits Had To Change

Some people live frugally because that's what they've always known, and they accept the sensibility of it. Others have to come to a realization to see the value in not wasting your money. I had a definite moment in time where I realized that my spending habits had to change:

I was living in a small apartment, with not much of anything, really. I was unemployed and living in the city with the highest unemployment rate in the country, which didn't help, either. Money wasn't just "tight" for me, it was pretty much non-existent, and I was incredibly unhappy.

One day I was sitting in my apartment and just looking around. I realized I had been working full-time jobs my entire adult life, and now had nothing to show for it. Not only did I have no idea where all that money went, but I didn't even possess any reminder of having had it. You'd think there would at least be a lava lamp or a blacklight or something left over from my more colorful spending sprees. But, there wasn't.

I got to calculating how much money I had made over the last decade. I don't remember that figure now, but I remember it was a pretty big number. I sat there and tried to figure out where that money went. After a time I finally managed to account for most of it... And what I discovered changed my perspective on money from that day forward.

My apartment building at the time.
My apartment building at the time.

My "Frugal Living" Epiphany

You've probably heard the term "disposable income". Well, I sure managed to dispose of my income like a pro. I figured out that I had literally disposed of most of my money in the most direct and destructive manners possible. I had spent a decade of poisoning myself with cigarettes and junk food, and that's where the majority of my money had gone. I might have single-handedly been keeping the local convenience stores in business, and somehow I never even noticed at the time.

What I didn't spend on cigarettes, fast food and junk food, I had spent buying products on a whim that I would trash within a few months and chalk up their purchase to another phase I must have been going through. I recalled the several months in a row where I had cell phone bills over $500 a month, because I was unnecessarily using my cell phone like a home phone and making long distance calls on it that were costing me 50 cents a minute! It didn't matter to me, because I had more than enough money, and no real direction or purpose for it.

I had smoked, ate or drank most of my income. When I looked around the room the only possessions I could find that seemed valuable to me were things I received as gifts and a leather jacket I had purchased. Perhaps one of only a handful of product purchases I had made over that period that wasn't a total waste.

Boy, times sure had changed. It wasn't that long ago that the overdraft on my bank account was higher than some people's credit cards. And speaking of credit cards, back in the care-free disposable days of the past, I had actually phoned Capital One to complain to them about their "insulting" offer they had mailed me for a credit card with a $500 limit. They apologized and sent me a much better, one, by the way. I didn't find out until years later why I didn't receive that card. It turns out my mother had intercepted it and thrown it away, because she was worried I'd end up in debt.

A Decision To Change Directions

So there it was. I had spent a decade working. I wasn't on the path to any great career, I didn't have any savings, I barely had any assets at all, and I was in debt. Even the first Capital One credit card was looking pretty good to me at that point.

It was a tough realization. It was hard to confront, but I learned a valuable lesson: It's a lot easier to save money than to make money. I still astonish myself with how much shopping for food at the grocery store instead of the convenience store makes a difference. I realize that probably sounds crazy to many of you, but I never learned how to save money until it actually mattered to me to save it.

I've come to see living frugally as not only the smart way to spend money, but as a sort of science and art. I spend time researching coupons and sales, and I focus on things of high quality, because I've seen how they outlast the "cheap" alternatives. I'm now empowered by my spending habits instead of crippled by them. As much as I regret the silly spending patterns I used to have, I'm grateful that they led me to a realization still pretty early in life, that some people never make.

I know now that how much money you make isn't really what matters. It's what you're doing with your money that makes a difference. I might be a bit late in the game, but I'm dedicated now to using money to improve the quality of my life, and part of my method with that is in cutting costs and investing that money for the future, so that 10 years from now, I won't be sitting in a small apartment and wondering where all my money went.

How About You?

How frugal are you?

Do you think it's common to not worry about how you spend your money when you don't have a plan for it?

Do you have a story or experience about spending habits to share?


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    • FloBe profile image

      Flo Belanger 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What you say in this hub is so true and a valuable lesson to learn. I have had to learn these lessons through necessity and managed to get to a place in life where I no longer have to be as careful. However, I'm very aware that I don't want to become a frivolous spender just because I have it. All the years of being "frugal" keeps me in check and focused on making good, long-lasting investments as well as taking time to play and enjoy life. Good advice!

    • Angelique Loux profile image

      Angelique Loux 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Anything that I can do to save money I do. Great hub!

    • viking305 profile image

      L M Reid 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Great article about using money the clever way. I too was caught in the trap of easy credit from loans and credit cards.

      Like yourself I wish I had used my money better when I had my excellent wages from a job I loved. Now I too am unemployed having been made redundant a few years ago.

      Thanks for sharing. Up and awesome

    • d.william profile image


      8 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Excellent article. Every young person starting out should read it. When i was starting out, there was no-one in this world for me to 'fall back' on, so i learned quickly what my priorities were:

      #1. rent (you always need a place to live),

      #2. auto (to get back and forth from home to work - or to get out of town fast with),

      #3). food

      #4) phone, then all else came after that.

      After college when i had a good job, bought my first home and new auto i always bought the best i could afford. I had a good life through those years, but not much in savings. After retiring, it took some time to learn to adjust to buying 'down' and only necessities as a fixed income retirement check only goes so far. But the most important thing i learned is to appreciate having my own home, and peace of mind, my pets, and how much friendships really mean. I hope you have success and peacefulness without regrets in your later years as well.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      8 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Wait until you discover a great home made recipe meal with a wife or friends, frugality also can mean comfort. I enjoyed your phrase about saving, well put my man.


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      Money is tight for me too. I just had an $860.00 vet bill saving Amy from a vaccine reaction that was supposed to be the property taxes on my condo.

    • Bud Gallant profile imageAUTHOR

      Bud Gallant 

      8 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      Movie Master, Thanks for the great comment and sharing your story. I've been thinking about that myself, and I have a feeling it's going to remain in mind for me when I do my shopping, too. Seems like a pretty good way to gauge things to me.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Bud, it sounds like you learnt a tough lesson, but thankfully it's never to late to learn and change your ways, I think a lot of us can relate to this.

      A few years back when I was on my own and times were tough, I use to go shopping with my sister. Everytime I picked something up to buy, she would say 'is it a necessity?' ususally it wasn't so I ended up with nothing!

      Now years later, I still think about those words when I am shopping, it helps!!

      Really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing.

    • Bud Gallant profile imageAUTHOR

      Bud Gallant 

      8 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      RTalloni, Thanks :) Glad you liked this

      Poetvix, Absolutely. I think it will definitely become more important to people. In a way, I think it already is, however a lot of people consider solely price, which isn't always the least expensive over the long-term. It's funny you mention shoes, actually, because it's a good example. There's shoes you can buy that might cost you $2000, but they will literally last for a lifetime. For most people that is actually a better deal than spending $200 every year, or even buying $20 shoes every few months. Of course it depends on how long you're expecting to live, as well. Sometimes paying more can cost you less, but where people go wrong with quality is thinking that brands guarentee it. In fact, in most cases the "popular" brands are low to moderate quality, and happen to be more expensive due to their large marketing budgets, rather than superior materials or production.

      Temirah, Definitely how I see things, too. I would love to find Armani jeans for that price. That's one of my favorite clothing brands, actually. I think it's great you had that background to increase your knowledge. Very useful to have those connections. I have watched Freecycle a little in the past and did see some good opportunities on it, but for whatever reason I didn't get involved. I'm in a new city now, so I will have to see if there's something here locally. I think it's a great concept!

      Kitty, I think that's true. The most valuable things are those which we cannot buy. Thanks for the comment!

      Saddlerider, I completely understand. What you are doing makes perfect sense. I also focus on quality myself. If something is cheap but going to cost me more money in the longrun, I consider that to be expensive. There's very little in my area as far as good clothing, unfortunately. Maybe I just haven't been persistant enough with my search. It sounds like you have an excellent system working for you. My diet sill needs some work, but I'm moving in a healthier direction with it. I do believe I am wealthier in spirit and pocket than previously, so I'm surely on the right track. Thank you so much for your insightful comment, and I am very glad you enjoyed reading.

    • saddlerider1 profile image


      8 years ago

      I to as a younger man was exposed to all the credit card offers,bank offers, minimum interest free loans, etc etc. I learned the hard way by going bankrupt once, that was what smartened me up financially. Now I am the most frugal poet I'm sure of that in my city.

      I shop at the bargain stores, new and used garment stores, furniture, autos, and bookstores all used. I still find QUALITY as I wont allow myself to substitute quantity for quality. I have bought very expensive clothing for almost pennies at used stores, silk shirts that would cost many dollars new.

      I buy my foods mostly at open markets and health food stores, waiting for their sales. I also drink my red and white wine at $10.50 per bottle, Organic PUMA and very tasty I must add. I can go on and on about being FRUGAL but I know the message has been conveyed. I hope you are that much wealthier in spirit and pocket than you once were and have learned a very important message about frugality.

      Great Hub, thoroughly enjoyed your scribe...

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      8 years ago from Summerland

      When I was in my early twenties, I lived very frugally...barely on any money at all, and guess what? I was just as happy without money as I am with it now. We can do without all of the useless material things...after all, we can't take it with us can we? Great hub. Useful and voted up.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a very honest hub and such a good topic thanks to the state of the world. Not only are we at the peak of a throw-away society/generation but we now don't have the money to spend on our throw away goods...hmmm, is there some cosmic balancing going on here?!

      I love being frugal - my parents were born just before WW2 were subject to the rationing that went on in the late 40s and 50s it's been ingrained in me. I have no problem with second hand stuff and love a bargain from charity shops (my £5 Armarni jeans are a current favourite!).

      Have you found Freecycle? It's an international phenomenon and there's probably a group near you. The idea is that you post an email about stuff you want to get rid of and someone who wants it contacts you and collects.

      Learning the value of money is a really important lesson for all of us.

    • poetvix profile image


      8 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      I'm really liking the theme of this. With the way the economy is going, I think ways of being more frugal are going to become increasingly more important to most of us. It's a shame we don't learn these things sooner. God knows I have blown enough income myself with my addiction to shoes. Talk about throwing money away!

      Interesting, useful, and up of course.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Smart stuff. :)

      Nothing like the school of hard knocks to teach us real-life lessons.

      Voted up.

    • Bud Gallant profile imageAUTHOR

      Bud Gallant 

      8 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      Denise, Thanks so much. Yeah, definitely not a fun realization, but I am totally glad I had it. I just wish I could have had it earlier! I guess we learn from experience, though.

      Jennuhlee, Thank you. It's really cool that you felt this was like a conversation, because I felt the same way when I was writing it, so it's good to know that came through. Haha... Loaded question! I actually did quit, but more recently started back up. I don't smoke very much, and I've been telling myself that once I finish my last two packs, that will be it. We'll see how it goes.

      Janikon, Yes, that's a good point. I went into debt when I went to college and probably didn't make the smartest choices there, either. Unfortunately, credit can be really misused. I went through a phase where I thought credit was the devil, but I've come to see it can actually make you money if used correctly. The problem is, learning how to use it properly doesn't com naturally and it sure isn't in the interest of the companies to tell you!

      Annie, Thank you. :) Glad you enjoyed it.

      Sunnie, I totally understand. One great thing about retiring and gaining back some additional time in your day is the number of ways it can save you money. Gardening can make a pretty big difference with food costs, plus it's probably a lot healthier. I agree with what you said, and thanks for the comment!

      BukowskiBabe, I know exactly what you mean. The strange thing is, I know I bought a lot of books, but can't even account for a lot of them anymore. I blame gnomes. ;) Yes, I think working long hours really impacts on spending for exactly that reason. When you're tired and short on time, it's natural to just do what is convenient, quick and usually too expensive. Plus I've found that when I was working jobs I particularly disliked, my spending would be even higher. Glad you made a shift to fiscal responsibility. Now if only the politicians could have the same realization. They won't, though, since they are mostly spending other people's money, instead of their own!

      Deborah-Diane, I agree with you! Thanks.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image


      8 years ago from Orange County, California

      It's amazing how easy it is to waste money. Becoming more frugal actually makes you feel better about yourself. Thoughtful hub!

    • BukowskiBabe profile image


      8 years ago from Somewhere in the middle of it all.

      Another good one, Bud. I too learned that I was squandering a lot of money and had to change my wicked ways. Geeze, I could drop nearly two hundred on a bookstore outing without blinking an eye. And as for food, I would order out because I was simply so exhausted from working the graveyard shift. Now I coupon and wait for the sale ads to make the most out of my coupons. I eat less crap and save money in the process. It's been an adjustment, but worthwile. It's amazing the amount of money we can spend when not paying attention to the figures. Geeze, I was almost as bad as congress.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      8 years ago

      Wonderful hub with much heart. I too have been on this journey and now that I retired this year without a retirement persay..I know I will have to be even more frugal..Going from two paychecks to one..I think it is the honorable thing to do..there is way too much waste and I believe we should be accountable and thankful for what we do have. Thank you for sharing.


    • annmackiemiller profile image


      8 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      this is so well written, I loved it. thanks for sharing your experience with us. annie

    • janikon profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      Great Hub, this subject will resonate with many young people, especially the ones, like myself, who were approved for the highest credit amount offered to students and spent like it would never need to be paid back.

      I came to the shocking realization late in life and now have really wrangled in my spending. Voted Up and useful and interesting.

    • Jennuhlee profile image


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Well,this was a really great hub, I'm sure a lot of people, including myself can relate. I also love the way it was written, just like you were having a conversation with someone on the topic. I've recently discovered I am also spending entirely too much money at convenient stores and my impulsive buys. I'm glad you fixed your habits, some people go there whole lives living that way. But of course you're too smart for that, and I have to ask..did you ever quit smoking?

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I like your candor in this hub. It is a tough lesson and many of us (myself included) have had to learn it the hard way-through the school of hard knocks. However, at least you did learn this before you were much older. Great for you. rated useful and interesting.


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