Finding extra cash by starting a side-hustle is about as mainstream now as mowing your own lawn. It’s a great way to upskill, network – and of course, earn more cash. Beautiful, lovely cash that can be used for paying down debt, investing into the stock-market, buying property, donating to causes you care about. But what if having more money in your pocket at the end of every month didn’t actually require extra work? Say hello to Frugal February.
Frugal February is all about creating more money every month just by making more frugal swaps in everyday life. By excluding some of our discretionary spending, the theory is that we can collectively find more money in our budget, instead of having to work to earn it.
I put this to the test in February this year.
By the end of Frugal February, I had almost $1300 extra in my bank account, and as a small business owner with a goal to retire early by investing widely, this cash was a welcome addition to my portfolio. Here’s exactly what I did through Frugal February to save and find more money, and what you can do too.
All discretionary spending went out the window.
To start, I went through my budget with a fine tooth comb to omit anything that I didn’t consider completely necessary.
This included many convenience purchases, which are so draining on the wallet. Think coffee, lunch in between meetings and door-to-door transport. I also cancelled and rescheduled any social outings – seeing as it was only a month, I figured that I could go without for a short period of time.
The next step was prioritising food and transport as necessities, but tweaking the way I spent on them. I walked frequently (or caught buses when it was too hot to do that), packed snacks and meals in my bag, and kept tea in a thermos to fulfil the coffee itch and ritual sipping I so enjoyed when working.
I’m a big fan of using subscriptions that have pause features (without penalty), so I put all of them on freeze, stopped drinking alcohol and planned everything in advance to avoid any last-minute temptations from striking up.
I stopped letting marketers target me.
It’s in a businesses’ interest to incessantly market to us, and we now live in a society where that’s so normalised, we struggle to identify when it’s even happening. I have conducted major email and browser cookie culls before, but was surprised at how many had slipped through the cracks since (and how many purchases I’d made without thinking).
I unsubscribed from everything, mercilessly.
It was strangely cathartic and opened up a new challenge of looking at local, free marketplace hubs for things I needed to buy. As it turned out, I was in the market for an iMac – which I found secondhand but in great nick for $140. Sure, it’s a 2007 version, but it works a dream, looks like new and had been completely refurbished.
I also made a new face serum using existing beauty products I had left over from other purchases. It took me half an hour and cost nothing. Honestly, it’s one of the best I’ve ever used so far for my skin.
Something borrowed, something re-gifted. Nothing new.
People often think that frugal people live like Ebenezer Scrooge, but anyone who knows me knows that I love treating people with gifts. It’s a real joy to give things to people you love and care about. But sentimentality can be expensive, and it’s only getting pricier.
So, instead of ducking to the shops in preparation for a dinner party, birthday celebration or Valentine’s Day – I turned my attention closer to home. In any given cupboard, I had unboxed candles, beautiful homewares with the tags still attached and lovely wines that had never been corked. And I’m not alone – how many of us have a bunch of stuff gifted to us from Christmas that would probably never otherwise see the light of day?
That wasn’t all, either. I went to a business dinner wearing a labelled dress I borrowed from a friend. And one other friend told me she borrowed camping gear for her first time in the wilderness (aka a caravan park). She hated camping so much she’ll never do it again… what a waste that would have been!
I jumped on the Do It Yourself bandwagon.
Something I’m definitely working on in my finances is calling in help for things I could do myself. I’m not averse to dropping off items to the dry-cleaner or alteration place, or using a house cleaning service or a car-wash – but for Frugal February, everything stopped.
I pulled out my dusty sewing kit for one of my favourite items of clothing when the seams tore, pulled up my sleeves to clean our car inside out on a weekend morning, and even braved the darkest depths of the kitchen sink cupboard to seal the water heater drip tray waste pipe when we realised it might be letting bugs in.
A lot of those things I’ll continue to do.
Discounts on everything became my modus operandi.
Whilst it wasn’t the most enjoyable exercise, I spent an afternoon one day ringing around all of the subscription providers I had contracts with, and point blank asked for a discount. My goal was to haggle down my monthly fees, even if just a few dollars – it all adds up, especially if a few providers agree unanimously.
I began with open-ended statements like: “When I took a good, long look at my last bill, I felt like I was paying too much.” This was to see what they would suggest (perhaps it might be more than I was going to ask for, and I didn’t want to short change myself). If they didn’t immediately offer a better deal, I asked outright: “Is there anything you can do before I start shopping around?”
To my surprise, many were quick to comply, and were even happy to. Some needed a little more persuading, but ultimately, offered a small discount after a while. Overall, I’m now better off $600 for the whole year, which is around $50 per month in additional savings. All for the time it took to make a few polite phone calls.
Frugal celebrations only, thanks.
Frugal February falling on Valentine’s Day is both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, it feels a little like you’re missing out – but on the other, you stand to save so much. Many retailers and restauranteurs will openly admit that the markup on their products and menus (often fixed price) is much more than they’d otherwise get away with charging – but on that day of the year, the demand very much exists.
This year, we replaced flowers, dinner and gifts for a homemade meal, cards made on Canva and a good old planning session of the next years’ share portfolio asset allocation. Sounds like a riot, I know – but to us it was actually fun. Just like the gift-giving thing above, we buy into the idea that the only way to show affection or appreciation is by buying stuff. It’s not.
We can have a great time and be thoughtful without digging deep into anything physical – and it doesn’t just have to occur over the month of February. Any month can be frugal with enough prep and motivation, so get out there and see how much extra you can accrue.