5 Frugal Living Tips for 2015

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A new survey says that middle class military families are focusing their financial goals for 2015 on frugal living. They want to get out of debt, cut back their spending, budget, use more cash and less credit and shop more at bargain stores.

That sounds pretty good to us, too. The survey, conducted by First Command Behaviors Index polls a pretty small sample of military families over the E-6 pay grade. But small or not, these results are probably representative of us all. Who doesn’t want to be in better financial shape at any given point? (Now if only I could remember that BEFORE I walk into Target).

This is a pretty uncertain money time in military life. Troops are being cut. Promotions are being denied. Benefits are under threat of downsizing. In the pretty near future most of us are probably going to have to spend a little more here and there to do things that, in the past, have been handed to us for free or at a greater discount. We’ve already seen Tricare pharmacy fees increase slightly and BAH rates take a hit.

Want some practical ideas for doing that? Now seems like a good time to adjust some spending habits. Even a dollar here and there can count. I have tried crazy couponing, making my own dish soap, buying every item possible only at thrift stores and many other money saving techniques.  But most of those things didn’t work long term for me. Here’s some of the things that have stuck:

Innovative Couponing.

I have a love/hate relationship with couponing. On the one hand, I like it when something so simple can make things I was going to buy anyway cost just a tad less. Even saving $3 off my commissary visit means I’m covering the cost of paying the bagger.

But I have a really hard time being organized enough to do it. I remember to save coupons from the paper. But often I never get around to cutting them out. And when I do, I often forget my coupon keeper at home or in the car. And, yes, schlepping back out to the car when I’ve already gotten myself and my 2-year-old into the store and done the majority of my shopping is really just too much.

That’s why I was happy to discover a series of coupon apps that work at the commissary (where I do the bulk of my shopping).  In addition to the Defense Commissary Agency’s (DeCA) own Rewards Card app, Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Shrinks all work there. Most of these apps have you scan items you buy and then your recepiet. If you don’t shop at the commissary you may benefit from using other apps our friends over at Many Kind Regards talk about in this post.

Price matching.

If you’re like me, this one is a challenge for some reason. I blame my inexperience on the fact that the commissary, where I do the bulk of my shopping, doesn’t price match. But since the commissary is notorious for its bad produce, I do often hit up other stores for that. And by not price matching I’m missing a fantastic opportunity to save some money on stuff I would be buying anyway as a matter of convenience. Walmart is a fantastic place to do price matching. And thanks to their Savings Catcher program, you dont even really need to know the prices at other stores before doing your shopping to reap the benefits.

Use a budgeting tool.

Several years ago a close friend of mine got me into Mint.com. This service securely downloads your transactions from credit cards and bank accounts into a form, allows you to create a monthly budget and then allows you to categorize spending to match that budget. While the cash-only method works great for some people, we just like the convenience of plastic (plus we do a ton of our shopping online). Mint lets us use our cards while still keeping close tabs on exactly where our money is going.

If you don’t like the idea of Mint, here’s a little review of some other online options.

Streamline your shopping.

Since I work from home with my two-year-old, and my work day ends when my older son gets off the bus, time management is really important to me. If I don’t use my time well there is no way I will get done during the day everything I need to do (this blog doesn’t run itself, folks!). Time is my most precious resource. And while it’s cliche to say, time really is money. Being frugal with it is just as important to me as anything else.

That doesn’t just mean making sure my home life is streamlined. It also means making the most of precious errand and grocery shopping time. Not only do I make a menu plan for every single meal during the week and a shopping list to go with it, I also add items at other stores to a standing list so that I can make a single trip, and only if I’m already going to be near the store. For example, on Saturday I have eye check appointment at Walmart. I’ve been needing a few pharmacy section items (new ice pack, lotion, etc.), so I’m adding those things to a list and getting them all at once.
These may seem like simple, no-brain things. But they save me time (and, therefore, money) in the long run.

Practice responsible giving.

You may be thinking “what does charity have to do with being frugal?” To my family, charitable giving is something we do out of enjoyment, but also because it’s part of our belief system. But we want to be responsible about how we do it. Since we can only give so much away, we want to make sure it is going as far as it can.
That means that before we pick charities to contribute to through the Combined Federal Campaign or any other way, we research the organizations. We look at their Charity Navigator rating. We make sure their goals line-up with our values. We want to know that we are using our money the best way possible.
These are the ways my family is going to be practicing frugal living this year.
Photo courtesy of TaxCredits.net via the Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Some Dude

    This article feels like that Geico commercial where the guy floats a dollar on the end of fishing line teasing the lady. I really thought we might here “consider skipping the commissary, it’s not always worth the trip and your purchasing power is significantly greater elsewhere.”

    Here’s the problem….. if the government insists on being in the shopping industry, then the stores they run should offer everyday low prices. DeCA is given over a billion and a half dollars to offer our troops great deals, not to create apps or offer to do my shopping for me and then bring it out to my car for free.

    And if much of the commissary benefit is for retirees as a thank you for their service, then why are they getting the short end of this stick? Most retirees that are of retirement age, well I don’t usually see them zipping around the commissary on their electric scooters with a smartphone in hand getting those good deals. So instead of offering everyday low prices to everyone, the commissary is once again only offering great savings to a small demographic. And balancing their budget on the backs of troops who aren’t all that tech savvy or organized well enough to coupon.

    If DeCA or the Exchange can’t offer everyday low prices without forcing our troops to jump through hoops to get those good prices, then perhaps the government really does have no business in the shopping industry and we need to find a company who can offer us similar prices without jeopardizing the important things like the Clay Hunt Suicide Bill.

    If our troops really want to stretch their dollar the furthest and they either don’t have the ability to coupon or operate a smart phone all that well, then they should skip the military shopping benefits offered to them for most things. Their dollar will go much further off our military bases.

    Military shopping benefits can not be treated like the golden goose. And that’s what all of these articles do, they fail to really talk about how to save money. The military shopping benefits are not what they used to be and they are by far not the best places to stretch your dollar.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Wayne — I welcome you to write a post about saving money if you are so inclined. You know where to find me. But I do enjoy the fact that i can always count on you these days for a negative comment. :-(

      • Some Dude

        I’m sorry you view it as a negative comment, because it can also be considered constructive criticism of military shopping benefits. Albeit harsh criticism of military shopping benefits, it has been effective. This is where I’d insert my “value selfie”, but thankfully memes aren’t used here.

        I thank you for the opportunity to write about saving money. I will take you up on it and give it my best shot. Up until now, nobody has extended that opportunity to me on this subject. I’m no math whiz and by no means a financial guru, but I know where to get a deal on the second largest monthly expense in most families budgets.

        Again, I’m sorry you view my criticism of DeCA and the overall military communities support of military shopping benefits as negative. Perhaps the reason I’m not as attached to those “benefits” is because I spent years prior to my wife’s enlistment shopping like a person of Walmart and Winn Dixie and Publix and Food Lion.

        My motivation for my comment is for military shoppers to make their dollar, and the American taxpayer’s dollar, go further. I do hope you know that.

        • Caratacus

          Some Dude,

          I encourage you to write that article. A couple of us retirees were just talking about the fact that commissary savings are not what they used to be. The only reason I shop there now is I am overseas. The savings is lost in CONUS.

          Don’t even get me started on AAFES…. Those crooks are marketing $50 to $100 shirts to our enlisted folks over here (When’s the last time you saw a $20 button down shirt at the BX?). They aren’t here to support the military. They are here to make a buck, pure and simple.

    • Jean

      I have always gotten good deals at the commissary.

  • Some Dude

    Correct…. DeCA is not given “over a billion and a half dollars”. They are only given $1,400,000,000.

  • Joy Butler

    I don’t know about where you live, but where I live the Commissary is the best place with the best prices to shop. I am the wife of a deceased soldier and shopping at our Commissary surely helps me with my grocery budget!

    • Some Dude

      Joy,

      We are located at a Joint Base where we have 2 fully funded commissaries operating within a few miles of each other and offering the same services. While I don’t believe one branch should have the commissary taken from their community, I have to wonder if operatimg one of the stores quite differently may be more efficient than their current set up.

      I do live off base and that certainly makes shopping at the commissary harldy worth the trip when the commissary cant advertise prices, but I also believe for many of our troops we are misleading them with an unrealistic cost savings of 30% annually and actually encouraging them to spend more each year by discouraging them to shop elsewhere.

      You don’t specify whether your soldier died in combat or because they served a lifetime in uniform and earned this benefot for you, to me it doesn’t matter and I hope you understand I am not trying to attack a benefit your family earned. I thank you for your families service and wish that every store in America recognized what your family has given to us.

      • Shosh

        Here in Alaska, I figured I would shop around some of the local competitors and compare them to the commissary. I’ve checked out Carrs, Walmart, Fred Meyer, and Target. I wanted some frozen vegetables, which I can usually get for $1.00-$1.50 a bag at the commissary here. Walmart wanted $1-2 more PER BAG. I’ve noticed I can get better deals on not only frozen foods, but meat and dry goods (like rice, pasta, cereal, etc.) at the commissary in AK than off base. For example, Kraft Deluxe macaroni and cheese is usually $1.50-$2.00 a box on base, and $3.50 off base. For things like dairy and produce, I do better off base. The prices there are lower on those items off base, and they are also fresher and last longer. Sodas, bottled drinks, etc (heavier items) are almost always less off base, too. I agree the exchanges are a joke – overprices luxury brand items most troops can’t afford. However, the differences in the commissary benefit vary widely from location to location, and I know shopping there saves me lots of money in this very high cost of living area. It’s just too bad it’s no longer one stop shopping…

      • Some Girl

        You live around JBPHH, since that’s the only base who operates two full commissaries within a few miles of each other. I also live around JBPHH, and the commissary saves us a substantial amount of money. I dare you to go purchase two identical grocery lists from two stores, once at the commissary and once out in town, and then tell me you aren’t saving money at the commissaries here.

        I’m also confused, because you talk about the apps with the smart phones and such, where that doesn’t apply here in Hawaii. The apps are made for the mainland commissaries. So, even if you did know how to work a smart phone, it wouldn’t be applicable to your shopping experience here.

        You seem to have a lot of negative things to say. But I fear all you’re doing is stirring the pot here, so to speak. The commissary is a savings booster, no matter where you live. I think the focus of your dissatisisfsction should be on the cost of living increase, rather than how you think the commissary isn’t saving anyone any money. As the cost of living goes up, so do consumables pricing.

        One last thought, as a resident of the great state of Hawaii, you receive a Cost of Living Allowance, bringing your monthly income up higher than those of mainland locations. Yet, you still complain about the price of food. We also receive a COLA and actually save it, since shopping at the commissary keeps us under budget.

        • guest

          COS also has numerous commissaries, 3 within like 10 miles, as does the DC area.

  • Guest

    Stores like Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot are ALWAYS cheaper than the commissary and less congested might I add.
    Another way to save money get out of phone contracts! Carriers like Cricket and Metro PCS offer the same services for much less you could pay 40 dollars monthly versus 160 or more

  • John Willcockson

    Try these frugal tips:
    1) set up/use automatic investing.
    2) resolve to use your credit card only for planned items already on your budget.

    Automatic Investing plans pull a specific $ amount from one of your bank accounts and invest your dollars into your investment account on a regular basis. For example, you could have $100 pulled from your checking acct and invested in your IRA on the 5th of each month. The great thing about auto-invest plans is that you pay yourself first, and live on what is left over. That is why limiting your use of credit is also important: discipline with credit is a key financial strength that will help you get rich slowly. Start small, maybe $25 per month, and mark your calendar with regular reminders to gradually increase the amount you save & invest. The amount you save is money you are not spending this month, and helps you put good frugal habits into practice. Good Luck!

  • Again

    Want some really great frugal tips simple, ask someone born before the year 1960. I’m an 80’s babies and I cling to older generations they are more emotionally equipped (no wimps), more frugal, and full of answers to life hacks.

  • guest

    Frugal hack, out of a gallon of whole milk and a quart of heavy cream (about 5.50 on sale 6.50 not) I can get a lb of fresh mozzerrella, a quart of butter (around a lb, little over all you need is a blender or food processor), half a quart of buttermilk, and roughly 3/4 quart of really really good ricotta, enough for me to make 5 dozen homemade cheese ravioli and still have leftover.

    Fresh mozz sells at the commissary for 8 or more a lb depending on brand they have, it’s 9.99/lb at the market by my house. Fresh ricotta, when you can find it, is usually 6-9 a quart, even the over processed Sargento you get in the commissary is up to 5 bucks a container. Butter is 3-4 a lb, and buttermilk costs a couple of bucks. Fresh cheese ravioli runs 10 a dozen by me in the regular stores.

    What else do you need for all of this? Milk and cream, citric acid and rennet for the cheese (cost me 10 bucks for both and each makes about 50 lbs of cheese), plain white vinegar for the ricotta, salt..that’s it. If you make ravioli it’s semolina flour, all purpose flour and eggs.

    • guest

      I would love it if you would email me your recipes for the homemade cheese ,buttermilk,ricotta, and butter! We are trying to get back to fresher and healthier foods without additives. Thanks and as always, thank you for your service! May God Bless You and Your Family!

  • Nancy Williams

    Being frugal is awesome. It has lots of rewards and benefits, and one that I enjoyed most is that I can get a better sleep because I don’t have a lot to worry about, especially when emergencies creep in.