September 26

How to live very frugally


No, you don’t have to eat grass.

But yes, there are certain sacrifices you have to make.

Like that Starbucks latte, or that restaurant meal. Honestly, you aren’t missing much. Do you really need that $5 milky, over-burnt coffee, in a fancy cup?

how to live very frugally
You probably don’t need that latte

Nah. There are better ways.

Here are the ways I’ve used to lead a frugal life across the different locations I’ve lived in, like China, Peru, Singapore and the U.K.

My story

I didn’t grow up like this. I grew up in a fairly comfortable home. But across the two financial crises, my family experienced retrenchments, that resulted in us having to queue up for free groceries at a charity.

No one wants to go through those experiences. It’s why frugality has been key part of my personal value system.

And it’s helped me to build a more sustainable life.

Frugality matters for long-term happiness

We buy things we don’t need, to please people we don’t like, using money we don’t have.

This quote changed the way I saw how I spent my money.

For 2 years, I had been in a full-time job that paid me a comfortable salary. But I realised it was soul-crushing. I was hardly fulfilled from the job. But I would apply a salve on my feelings by buying more things.

how to live very frugally
Buying things you don’t need, just to look fancy?

Something needed to change.

I quit my job.

The day I quit my job, I could no longer use buying things as a salve. I had to turn to other things. Over the past year starting my own business, these frugal habits have helped me to do something I’m good at, whilst building a happiness that’s not based on consuming more.

Stop reading the news or social media

A large part of your ‘wants’ are going to come from your friend’s latest post of their latest food find, or their holiday, or their adventure abroad.

You don’t need them to stuff more luxuries in your face. You will only feel more inclined to compete with them, and find the temptation to buy something, anything, overbearing.

Just to keep up with the Joneses.

You don’t have to do that. Simply limiting your consumption of media can reduce the desires you have for these items. Social media is one big torrent of advertisements thrown at your face.

how to live very frugally
Maybe stopping that media can help

Traditional media, like newspapers are also subsidised with ads designed to make you convert into customers.

Simple way? Delete those apps off your phone.

This is the pre-work that needs to happen, before you start living more frugally, with less desires.

Track every penny 

Record every single expense, every penny and every pound you’re spending now.

You will find yourself realising that the takeout habit might be costing you much more than you first thought.

Being clear about where the bulk of your expenses go can give you greater clarity on what to actually cut.

An app I use is Toshl Finance, which is a clutter free way to track your expenses, without all of the fluff. 

Do a frugality detox

Personal finance journalist Michelle McGagh spent nothing for a year. What she found during that experience was simply amazing.

By making a vow to spend on nothing, she found her decisions much simpler.

Eat out? No.

That handbag? Nah.

I tried that too. For a month, I spent on nothing.

The experience was nothing short of phenomenal. Saying no to every attempt to get money out of my pocket, except on the essentials, made me much happier. For the first time, I didn’t have to spend on things that I didn’t want. I found happiness outside of the traditional idea of spending money.

But it also made me more intentional at searching for experiences that didn’t need money. Like the free museum trip. Or the excellent free screening of movies at Tampines Hub.

Or just yelling, “GOAALLL!!!” at a free match at the nearby soccer court.

All these help you to realise that some of the best experiences, come free.

Lower your recurring cost base

Spotify. Netflix. That $9.99 for Spotify, $16.99 for Netflix, adds up over the long run.

Start by stripping them off.

Sure, you may think that you need music on that commute home. But when you quit those experiences, you will see how much clearer your mind is.

Living a life of simplicity is, ironically, complex.

Over the years, you would have found yourself increasingly bloated by things you thought you ‘needed’, to get intangibles like happiness.

how to live very frugally
Sometimes happiness can come from the intangibles, rather than the tangible.

But when you take them away, you will find yourself increasingly uncluttered by these subscriptions. For one, letting your mind run on the commute home, rather than head pumping to the latest Rihanna hit over Spotify, could perhaps incite greater creativity.

Start sharing subscriptions

Really need something?

Ask a friend if you can share a subscription with him. This is something many do for accounts such as Spotify, or Netflix, booking the family prices, for accounts with their friends.

Stitch together free subscriptions (constantly) for free trials

This might look like cheating, but I have created dozens of free accounts on the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, or Stockopedia to take advantage of their free trials.

Just cancel before the time is up.

This is an easy way to get the luxuries, without paying for them.

Buy cheaper food that’s reduced to clear

If you go to the supermarket at 8pm, you would realise that there’s a bunch of food that’s reduced to clear. You would probably get food that’s 50% cheaper. 

Buy those. You might get luxurious food at a much more affordable price. 

Bring a tupperware everywhere

Singapore is crazy about food. But it also means that a lot of food goes wasted, especially during those huge buffets. 

Take a box with you each time, and you will find your fridge being filled with more and more food that’s free and delicious.

Pack a fruit, or snack in your bag always

One of our biggest expenses, if you notice, would be the small snacks we buy from a convenience store. Whether that be a chocolate bar, or a bag of chips, those expenses add up. You’re paying for convenience, not value. 

What’s better is for you to take some time to just throw in a snack bar or an apple before you head out each time. 

It’s actually a much, much better idea than paying for something unhealthy. 

And it becomes a lot more convenient too. 

Bring a bottle of water out 

The Chinese have a brilliant saying that is loosely translated as 

Think of air and feel full. 

You can also fill your stomach with more water, just so you stop getting more food. 

Cook from scratch

Cooking, entirely from scratch, will be cheaper than that meal outside.


But that would involve you buying groceries. Some quick hacks there include:

  1. Buying food that’s reduced to clear
  2. Buying food from budget supermarkets
  3. Buying raw food, rather than processed food or prepared meals

Be thick-skinned

Every time I go out with my friends now, I tell them I will bring my own food. Being honest upfront prevents misunderstanding.

Trust me. I’ve had dates who have told me that I ‘forced’ them to buy something at the restaurant, even though it was clear that I didn’t want to buy food from a restaurant.

how to live very frugally
Nah you don’t really need that restaurant meal just to look fancy

Or simply sitting in a cafe without buying anything, to have a free coworking space, has led to me being chased out more than once by grumpy waitresses. But to me, it’s okay.

My face doesn’t matter that much. It’s up to you how much your face matters.

Expired food, doesn’t always expire

Best use by dates can be chucked out of the window. I remember my colleague once showing me how she ate biscuits 6 months past the use-by date, and looking completely fine the next day.

Or how she would scrape off the mouldy butter, to eat the butter underneath.

That’s extreme. You don’t have to do that.

But you can definitely learn from that. Simply allowing yourself to eat food that’s a few days past, is okay.

Frugal living, is good living

Living a world where you consume less, is good living. It’s not about being cheapskate. But it’s being wise, for the longer term. If you look at it, you don’t really need all those subscriptions and fancy restaurant meals.

Something just can’t be bought. Like the lovely meal with family. Or friends.

Spend on the things that do matter, and not the things that seem to matter. You don’t really need that Amazon Prime subscription for the 1-day delivery.


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