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Frugal deeds (done dirt cheap)

As I work toward helping my family become debt free, from time to time I struggle with staying motivated.

We’ve paid off our smaller debts and now the debts we’re working on are larger, and are therefore going to take longer to pay off.

Without a little financial victory on a more frequent basis, I find it hard to stay as intense about my goals.

The big picture? Sure, that is easy to get excited about. I cannot wait for the day when debt no longer has a hold over us!

But the little details, the day to day choices, and sometimes struggles? Those aren’t as fun. There’s not a lot of joy there; in fact, it can feel like downright drudgery.

It can be a challenge to stay motivated day to day. To be honest, I get frustrated sometimes when it feels like we’ll never get there, never reach our goals.

Oh, yeah, another bill to pay.

Oh joy. Price matching diaper deals.

Sorting my coupons on a Friday night. Total excitement.

Hooray. Drinking water. Again.

Another budget meeting date night? Sexy.

Forgive me for the dripping sarcasm, but that is why I started documenting our family’s frugal deeds (done dirt cheap, of course), and I started a Pinterest board with the same name – because I need help to stay motivated to do the little things.

Because, really, there are no little things:  they all add up.

(And if I have a rockin’ [if silly] mental soundtrack to go with it, that’s all the better, right?)

So, here are just a few of our latest Frugal Deeds (done dirt cheap!). I’d love to hear in the comments what frugal things you and your families have been doing lately so we can motivate each other.

Frugal Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap!)

  • Removed the eBay, Amazon, and Etsy apps from my phone–because they were making impulse buying too tempting and easy for me. (Self-discipline is not my strong suit, friends.)
  • We only have meat for dinner one or two nights a week and have been focusing on meatless meals.
  • We’ve been eating lots of sandwiches and salads, some with the lettuce and radishes that are starting to be ready in our garden and store bought bread purchased in bulk at the Bakery Thrift store.
  • Streamlining our gardening this year and sticking to what I know we will eat and use, because in years past I’ve probably invested too much in plants and seeds for veggies and herbs that my family won’t eat or doesn’t like and that isn’t saving us money.
  • Putting in the work to weed and maintain the garden and our trees so that we protect that investment–plus, gardening = FREE exercise!
  • Speaking of exercise, we have an Amazon Prime account and many of my favorite workouts have been found in the “free with Amazon Prime” selection.
  • Water is the beverage of choice (or milk at meals for the kiddos).
  • Reading one article or blog post about money every day (that’s where the Pinterest board comes in handy). Other people’s stories and financial victories help to keep me motivated.
  • Decluttering and selling a few items to raise some extra money.  Every little bit helps as we pay down this debt and selling things we aren’t using anyway is a pretty painless path to success.
  • I put myself on a yarn and fiber “diet” as I knit from my existing stash.
  • I’m making a list of children’s clothing items we need for the upcoming fall and winter and I’m keeping my eyes open at yard sales, the thrift store, and wondering what we can refashion or hand-down from things we already own.
  • The same goes for school supplies and homeschool needs:  making a list, checking it twice.


  • Re-read this post on the Art of Simple (hmmm, man vs. dryer, that story sounds awfully familiar) and then sat down with Christopher to discuss the sunk cost fallacy and the future of certain appliances around our home.
  • Speaking of re-reading posts, I actually took some time recently to re-read this post about our turning point.  It was a good reminder of where we’ve been and that we really are making progress.
  • I’m already planning for a mostly homemade holiday season this year.
  • I’m also selecting crafts and projects for gifts that can be made inexpensively and, even better, with materials and patterns that I already own.
  • Getting back into the practice of making our own homemade cleaners.
  • Using the library and making sure to turn things in on time to avoid fines.
  • Checking out the free books available on Kindle.

A few of my favorite places for frugal living inspiration:

Those are just some of the things we’ve been doing, I haven’t listed everything, but even writing this brief list is motivating to me and reminds me that we are making progress.

I’d love to hear what you all have been doing and hope we can encourage each other. What did I leave out?

What have been your recent frugal deeds (done dirt cheap!) and what are some of your favorite places for frugal living inspiration?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Jennifer

    It took us 22 months to pay off all our gradschool loans and car but was so worth it, financially and relationally. I remember our big year where finances were limited and we made or thrift store-shopped for gifts. And in our one Christmas since then, when we really upped the normal budget to make up for our low costs the previous year…I don’t remember what gifts we gave. But I distinctly remember everything we gave in our tightest year, whether it was food (a shortbread wheel for Father’s Day, a potted plant with baby footprints for my mom’s first Mother’s Day as a grandma, a shadow box for all the tickets from dating events my sister saved before she married her high school sweetheart after college, etc). Just an encouragement for your low cost holiday/gift plans.

  2. Heather

    I love this list! It definitely motivates me to want to sit down and see where I might be throwing money that I don’t need to. We don’t eat a lot of meat in my house, but seem to eat a lot of fresh veggies. I really could do with a bit more menu planning I think in order to get the grocery budget under control.

  3. Robin from Frugal Family Times

    Well I guess I know what song will be playing in my head today. So much fun – I love it and giggle everytime I read it!

    Stay the course, Kara – your doing a great job and it will be so worth it when you get there!

  4. MaryP

    There is a great budgeting program called “YNAB” (You Need a Budget) that is absolutely great in helping see where your money is going and getting control of it. It is not free, but it is not terribly expensive. They also do a blog that has lots of good information that is applicable even without purchasing the program. Here is a link to the blog:

    • Amy

      I love YNAB, too. So well done. It’s the first budgeting program I’ve ever used that I’m completely happy with. I’m a little bit addicted…I love updating it. And THAT’S a first.

  5. Sarah M

    We definitely do a LOT of these as well. I am glutenfree (celiac) and this xmas just asked for a gf-option breadmaker. It had saved us a LOT of money for me to be able to make my own…and then my family’s regular bread.
    I was able to join a program that buys books on amazon (sadly, not choice books) to rate how fast you get them on your front door. The payback is $10 per book (and the cost of the book) in your paypal account and FREE amazon prime membership. Sweet! For about 10 minutes of my time. Love that.
    We do a lot of homemade/edible gifts, too, and I’ve been knitting from my stash for awhile (amazing how it all adds up!).

  6. Moira

    I really like this list! We are building up our emergency fund to get ourselves through a transition year as we move cross-country and my husband restarts his career in a different industry. Like you said-the big picture is great! But the day to day doesn’t feel much like a victory sometimes…we already do several of the things on your list, but I’m going to add a few more in! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Stacey

    We went solar! I wrote about our experience (, but I have to update because I’ve since gotten our electric bill (from the Solar company) and am very excited to say that we expect to save about $80-130 a month (depending on the time of year)!

  8. Helene

    We give our kids haircuts at home, unless they would like to pay for their own. “Rent” movies from the library. Make our own pizza, much yummier, much cheaper. Try to roll down the windows instead of using the AC in the van. Carpool when possible. Do laundry with cold water only, hopefully saving on oil burned to heat our hot water. Shop for food mostly at Aldi- incredibly cheap, quality food and bonus…no coupons to bother with! We try to buy from thrift stores and hand down used clothing. Get an independent insurance agent to find you the cheapest home, life, and auto insurance possible. This is saving us hundreds this year. I just wasn’t able to find the cheapest on my own. Agents know what to do. I dye my own hair at home for $3.00 and don’t need to bother with appointments. Anyway, these are just a few things we do to raise a large, homeschooling family on one income. We have been blessed and God has taken such good care of us.

  9. Tiffany @ DontWastetheCrumbs

    You’re so right Kara – it’s difficult to find the motivation in the little things (and can TOTALLY relate to sorting through coupons on a Friday night, lol). But as you said, reminding ourselves that each little mundane budgeting task is a small battle win in the war of debt is a HUGE motivator.

    A couple random (and weird) things I do to stretch dollars… use butter wrappers to grease tins/pans (haven’t had to buy cooking spray in MONTHS), reserve shower water for the garden and make “clean out the fridge” smoothie with all the partially eaten, tiny pieces of fruits & veggies leftover from the week. Add a scoop of yogurt and a banana (maybe some peanut butter, depending on the veggies, lol) and done! 🙂

    Blessings to you and your adventure Kara!!

    • Silke

      There are many places around the world where people do without cooking spray. The first time I have encountered it was as a grad student in the US. Back in Europe I haven’t missed it yet. 🙂

  10. Sarah Westphal

    I really needed this post today. We fluctuate between Baby Step 1 & 2 (topping up the Emergency Fund, then needing it…..topping up the Emerg fund….then needing it–does it ever end?) while we pay off our car for the next 2yrs (only the mortgage after that!) So while we haven’t been nearly as frugal as we could be to pay off the car sooner, it seems we use that money on stuff that just comes up (car registration, sewer bill, dog euthanasia & cremation, anyone?) all. the. time. I needed this dose of motivation. I am horribly impatient and 2 yrs seems so long. But won’t be I know. We have made such progress! It is easy to forget it.

    • Gabrielle

      I hope that you’re giving yourselves credit for having — and contributing to — an Emergency Fund, even if you have to dip into it (and the things that you’ve listed are necessities, even if only one of them, the car registration, is predictable). It’s really easy to get discouraged about budgeting and saving, and sometimes it looks like an impossible task. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right, and I hope that you remind yourself of that from time to time.

  11. Lindsay

    I love these ideas. Thanks for sharing!
    We just finished paying off our smaller debts too and as we’re getting ready to tackle the last two bigger debts, we are setting benchmarks for ourselves to help keep us motivated. So say for every $5000 paid off towards a bigger debt my husband and I will treat ourselves to a dinner out. A little splurge to help us celebrate those baby steps and keep us motivated to keep at it.
    One of the sites I notice that always has some great tips for saving money is:

  12. Carrie Willard

    I’ve started posting weekly to my blog about the things I do to save money. We’re also paying off debts and it’s so hard to stay the course!

  13. Vina Leahy

    Great article! Something simple that helped me stay focused on chipping away at a debt mountain was to do a simple bar chart in Excel of our debt that I printed in color and posted next to my desk. Seeing that bar get progressively smaller each month was a huge motivator for me. Nothing compared to the day that bar disappeared entirely!

  14. jessica

    We bought a $35 antenna for our attic from Amazon, subscribed to Amazon Prime and got rid of cable. Saving $70 a month! I still get major channels and PBS for the kiddo from the antenna and other favorite shows and movies from Prime. Plus I don’t waste all kinds of time watching nothing on TV.

  15. Barb from CNY

    I too can relate to the no self discipline, so I love your idea of taking away the easy to purchase app option! Also if you love free books have you heard of BookBub? They send an email with free and cheap Kindle and Nook books every day, there are lots of free book options. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us and helping us all to stay (or get back on!) track!

  16. Sharon Holbrook

    In the same vein as deleting shopping apps from the phone, I’ve stopped nearly all paper catalogs. Even more helpful was setting up an email rule that sends all the email ads/coupons to a separate folder. So if I’m actually shopping, I can search “Old Navy” and find the email with the coupon. But they’re not in my face all the time, tempting me to shop. Huge bonus = streamlined inbox.

  17. terri

    Take a bottle of water and an apple for each person whenever you leave the house, even when you don’t expect to be gone for long. Having a snack decreases the urge to stop and get something, especially if the errand takes longer than anticipated.

    • Valerie

      This is a fantastic idea Terri! I am always looking out for the kiddo, but not for myself and end up spending needless money on snacks.

  18. Amy B.

    He may not be for everyone, but the most motivating financial blogger I know is

    With searing logic, he blows away pretension and my tendency towards consumption-creep. Sometimes I just need a stiff slap upside the head.

    He has great money-saving advice, too. Check out his cell phone provider post(s).

  19. Cherie from Queen of Free

    Wow what an awesome list of frugal deeds you’re rocking right now. It must be you who has been on my heart this week as I’ve written about staying the course. 🙂 Thank you so much for including me. You can do it. Chin up, chest out. 🙂

  20. Sloan

    I love reading The Frugal Girl and I also enjoy Non-Consumer Advocate. Both are practical, everyday advice, which is awesome.

  21. Bonnie Jean

    One thing you can do with the things you do not need is donate them to the charity of your choice. You get a tax deduction receipt from most reputable places and it can provide returns when you file your taxes. You must chose the charity careful and be sure the items are being used they way you want them to… either resold or given to people in need… either way the idea is to help others or organizations… not just pass along your trash. And do not donate anything you would not wear or use if you needed it. Giving the needy your trash is not uplifting… they can find that at the dump. I have been the recipient of such things and it is demeaning. Give the quality you wear.

    • Valerie

      Bonnie- Just a thought here, I know some thrift stores “recycle” stained/tattered clothing. If your local thrift store does recycle clothes, it is a nice way to keep things out of landfills. 🙂

  22. Darcy

    Well, it’s tough…isn’t it!?!

    We could be getting out of debt a year or two faster…it’s true!

    We have STOPPED using credit cards – woo woo to us!
    BUT…I like a good Round Table pizza, a dinner out, a movie now and again.
    So we do use the money that could have gone to pay off More Debt to not feel so deprived.

    Yes, sometimes it sucks-we say no to ourselves a lot. But I am celebrating the victories! We have not used credit cards since last July!!!

    I love all these ideas to continue on the debt-free path, but I also realize that an extra month of debt for my sanity needs to be ok – I put $5oo toward debt instead of $600 and took my kids to the movies.

    It’s not 50/50…that would not be enough toward debt…but it is not 100/0-fun!…we are probably 80/20 and at the end of the day…it keeps mommy happy and frugal (with some penny pinching).

    cheers and good luck to a debt free 2015!

  23. Jessica

    I love this! We have a very low income at the moment and when you are deep in that scrimping and saving mode for sooo long it’s hard to not burn out and just for once not have to shop sales or hold off a little bit longer or make something work.

    Thanks for the encouragement…and for getting that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day!

  24. Valerie

    To save money-

    Rarely buy books. Go to library or borrow.

    We are part of a CSA that is non-certified organic. It is $200 for an entire season (June-Oct). I could easily spend the same amount in one month for organic from the grocery store.

    Use ebates for online purchases that I cannot buy locally.

    Making homemade products for cleaning and laundry.

    So many great ideas shared above!

  25. Fawn Carriker

    I have been listening to Dave Ramsey (and have seen him live twice now) for several years, but haven’t been good about my written budget. As someone else commented earlier, I fluctuate between baby steps 1 and 2, getting that baby emergency fund in place and then needing it again. I am selling things on Craig’s list and yard sales, and cut up my credit cards 4 years ago, but my student loan debt on my retirement income is very challenging. I am gardening on a small scale and using the clothes line rather than the dryer whenever possible. And we shop consignment and resale stores for clothing, etc. Every little bit helps! – Fawn

  26. CK

    I noticed the author was clipping coupons for diapers and I really want to encourage everyone to use cloth. It is NOT as bad as people say! That’s a myth perpetrated by Pampers! I also used homemade soft cloths for wipes and just tossed them in the diaper pail with the diapers. Spent almost nothing on diapers for TWO kids, and then when I was done I free cycled them and my breast pump to a wonderful stranger who gave me a hug.

  27. Angela Knoll

    Thank you for all of this advice. We just recently became debt free (except for the house) and we did it through diligence, staying away from the mall and other stores as a way of entertainment, sharing kids clothes and baby supplies with friends, keeping snacks in the car (granola bars and raisins) to steer clear of impulse snack splurges and making playdates and Netflix the source of our entertainment.

  28. shermon

    I can’t believe I didn’t think about amazon instant videos for free workouts. Thank you for hitting me over the head with it.

  29. Laura

    Did that 15 years ago. I kept up with all the good habits. It changed my life. I was never a shopper or a big spender. I just went to school for too long and couldn’t find real work for a few years. Barista is not what a girl with a degree and debts that come along with it wants to do forever.

    I still don’t live with much material, but it’s by choice. The things I do want or need, I have, like a great computer.

    I became a saver… it’s a great stress reliever. It offers lots of flexibility when you feel like making important changes in your life.

    In terms of food, if you get tired of sandwiches, I find that buying a big bag of couscous at the Mediterranean store is cheap and makes a great base for all kinds of salads.

    I also find that a big bag of rice, a real big one, from the indian store, is also a lot cheaper than bread and healthier than the pre-cooked rice. Cheap bread tends to have lots of sugar added and very little fiber. I make Gallo Pinto for breakfast with the rice (south american tradition, look for recipes on the web). Cooking from cheap base ingredients that you can buy in bulk like carrots, oignons and potatoes doesn’t take longer than worrying about coupons. It’s also healthier. If you ever get tired of coupons, or want to alternate with coupons every second week, and make cooking for the week ahead a ‘free’ weekend family activity, it’s a fun/healhty family bounding option.

  30. Kelley

    These comments have some GREAT ideas!

    Here’s some we do:

    – Consign clothes you thought we a good idea but no longer love
    – Ditch cable and opt for lower internet speed. You can find kid shows on Netflix or movies in Redbox
    -Ditch the smartphone and contract. This will be hard at first but so liberating. We now use $15 phones and pay one month at a time. $30/month

  31. Jessica

    Just this week we sold the car with a payment and were given a used car for a fantastic price. Still working on baby step 1. This is the first month we may not be able to pay all of our debtors, but we can take care of our ‘4 walls’. Always good to see that it’s not just us….

  32. Nicole

    Was browsing through Old Navy yesterday and came across the clearance rack full of cold weather clothes for thrift store prices. I didn’t buy any yet bc I haven’t gone through exactly what I need but just an FYI for you and everyone else. I always love finding brand new items at thrift prices, esp for kids since they go through things fairly quickly.

  33. tosha

    Love! One of the things that I do is keep a couple of Google docs titled “Victories” – in these documents I write down all of the little hard choices I’ve made throughout the day/week – all the times when I said “no”, even when I didn’t want to. This helps me enumerate and celebrate all of the small things that lead to the big thing. I do it for choices surrounding both money and food. I also make it a goal to find one thing that I can deny myself every day – one thing that I can do without. This way, I get to add to the “victories” lists really frequently.

    I also make time to review those lists briefly, just to celebrate all the choices.

    You and your family will be SO glad that you worked so hard – both for the freedom that it will afford you, and also for the way the journey changes you. Blessings upon blessings!!

  34. Caroline

    Great list! Massive inspiration to people here in the UK too. We don’t have many good thrift stores here but major supermarkets have their own budget option of items- do you guys have this option over in the US?

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