A frugal challenge is similar to a spending fast, but not quite as extreme. If better budgeting was one of your New Year’s Resolutions, or if you just want to find ways to save extra money, try to stick to one of these five challenges for an entire month. Doing just one of these challenges can help you save more money in February, but doing all five can really help you save money in your budget.
Dine In Rather Than Out
For some people, this challenge may be the easiest on the list. Those who enjoy cooking or have special dietary restrictions may already eat primarily at home. As a challenge, try to eat all of your meals at home for the whole month. This challenge should extend to your lunches for work, as well as evening meals.
Planning makes this much easier. Plan your monthly menu and grocery shopping list to make it easier. You can try precooking the week's meals over the weekends, or use your slow cooker to cut down on the time you need to spend in the kitchen. Leftovers from the night before work great as lunch the next day. Salads and sandwiches are quick and easy to prepare, and they keep well in lunchroom refrigerators.
You will be surprised at how much you can save when you stop eating out, but home-cooked food is also often healthier than fast food options, so this challenge can help you feel better, too.
According to one study, households that prepare six or more dinners a week at home spend $57 less per month on food overall, per person, than households that prepare three or fewer dinners at home per week . For a family of four, that's $228 per month, and $2,736 per year.
Reduce Your Monthly Bills
It may be easier than you think to reduce your monthly bills. If you put the effort in to reduce your bills in February, then those savings will last with you throughout the year. Call your insurance and utilities providers to see if there's some way to reduce your monthly bills. This might even include scaling back your services. Take time this month to see if you can cut cable completely or cancel a streaming subscription or two.
Do the same with your cellphone provider, even if you're under contract. You may not be able to switch this month, but you can still shop around for options and plan for how to save money once your contract expires.
Shopping around may also help you negotiate lower rates with your current cellphone provider. Some companies will negotiate with you if you have a better quote from a competitor.
There is no harm in asking for a lower rate on any of your services. Many companies have customer retention plans and other promotions in place; you just have to ask about them. The worst they can do is tell you that you currently have the lowest rate available.
Freeze Spending in One Category
This is similar to a spending fast, but instead of stopping all spending, you simply choose one or two categories to cut from your budget for the entire month. This may be entertainment, clothing, or any other category in which you feel like you are consistently overspending.
As you set your goals for the month, try to be as ambitious as possible. Start with your largest spending categories and ask yourself if you could go a month without those expenses. Drastically cutting your spending can help you realize just how little you can get by with each month. This can help you cut back on your spending beyond frugal February.
Do It Yourself
Challenge yourself to find three services or products that you can do or make yourself. If you have a housekeeper, try canceling the service for the month and save money by doing it yourself. Take the time to learn how to change your car's oil on your own. If you love freshly baked bread and regularly purchase it from a bakery, try baking the bread at home. At the end of the month, you will have a better idea of what is really worth spending your money on, and what is worth doing yourself.
DIY projects may help you find a new skill or hobby that you actually enjoy, aside from the money you save.
Set a Goal to Save More
You can guide your frugal February planning by setting a goal for how much you aim to deposit into your savings account throughout the month. The dollar amount you choose depends on your income, but be ambitious—you want to feel the difference in your spending.
This can be as simple as rounding up your transactions and keeping your change to put into savings. Make a chart and track your progress as you put the money in your savings account every week. This can help you start your emergency fund if you do not already have one. If you found that it was fairly easy to stick to your savings goals, then stick with the goals through March, too.
By Miriam Caldwell
reprinted from The Balance