12 Frugal Habits for a Rich Life

The audio version of this post can be found here.

While I was cutting my husband’s hair last week, I panicked. “I’m coaching people on how to save money… but… how did WE save money?” My mind went completely blank. All I could think of was that we never did the “beans and rice, rice and beans” thing. But… what did we do?

Fortunately, Mr. Fortuna is excellent in a crisis – even a very small and self-inflicted crisis – and he reminded me of some of our habits, starting with…  

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  1. DIY personal care. My husband needs a military haircut, and he needs it every two weeks. Years ago, after a series of terrible haircuts at the base butcher barber shop, we agreed that even if I gave him a truly awful hack job, “this way I get a crappy haircut for free!” Mr. Fortuna told me I could just buzz his head if it was that bad, so the pressure was off. (I’m proud to say that we have not yet had to resort to that, knock on wood.) These days, I cut hair for everyone in my house but me most of the time. On my husband’s haircuts alone, this has saved us an estimated four thousand dollars over eight years. I love changing up my style, but lately my own hair has been relatively low-cost to maintain (nothing like a pandemic to help you finally grow out a fierce pixie cut). Although I love the idea of massages and mani/pedis as standard monthly maintenance, they tend to be fairly infrequent treats for me. There’s nothing wrong with having a killer lewk, but if you’re looking to cut spending for a little while, opting for something lower-cost – even just temporarily – can help. 
  1. We bought affordable cars that we really like, we take care of them, and we keep them for a long time. The total of our cars’ purchase prices is WAY less than the DR-recommended “less than half your annual income.” We paid cash for each of the three cars we currently own, and we have kept them for a long time – the average age of our cars is about 8.5 years. There are great, safe, and legitimately cool and fun-to-drive cars available at affordable price points – Mr. Fortuna is a car enthusiast, so trust me when I say that he knows. Another big plus for us that may not work for everyone: Mr. Fortuna enjoys doing a lot of our automotive maintenance as a hobby. While you may not be or have a live-in mechanic, you probably have something that you like doing and are skilled at that could save you money, even if it’s not car stuff.
  1. We bought less house than the bank told us we could afford. We shopped based on our budget, not how much money the bank wanted to lend us. Before we bought, we also paid off all our other debts and built a full 3-6 month emergency fund. We bought a house we love in an affordable but nice area, made a big down payment (eliminating PMI), and chose a 15-year fixed rate mortgage with a monthly payment that was still well below the recommended 25%-or-less of our take-home pay. 
  1. Most of our furniture is from Ikea or Target. (Honorable mention: 2 awesome Haverty’s leather sofas that are weathering a dog and two kids really well.) I know, so fancy, but we didn’t want to buy anything nice while we were still at the mercy of military-contracted movers. And then we had kids, who make the movers look meticulous and gentle by comparison. 
  1. We don’t have cable. Although we’ve had a grab bag of streaming services over the years, for a long time, it didn’t come close to the cost of the average cable package. Now that everything is split off across multiple services, if you want to watch ALL THE THINGS you might wind up nearing the sticker price of cable, but at least you’ve got options… including services that might come bundled with something you’re already paying for. 
  1. We keep our technology – phones, computers, TVs, DVD players – for a really long time. We also have a “dumb house,” and we keep our phones in protective cases. We wait to buy the tech that we like when we can afford it (and after the bugs have been worked out), and we don’t feel pressured to upgrade it if it still works just to have the latest. For example, I fell in love with the Samsung Frame almost the minute it was released, and watched covetously as all the cool decor blogs and interior design shows slapped those beauties up on countless walls. But we had a TV that worked perfectly well, and I couldn’t justify replacing it yet. Still, Mr. Fortuna was paying attention to my tech-lust, and he kept an eye out for a couple years. When he finally spotted a massive Black Friday sale, we were ready. (The old-but-still-good TV was gifted to one of our favorite babysitters.) 
  1. We declutter. We did a pretty big downsizing when I first read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up*, which set us on the path to appreciating and keeping track of our stuff. We’re far from minimalists, but we don’t have a ton of excess and we have a pretty good handle on what we do have. This means we tend to buy a little bit less and love the things we have a little more. Decluttering is an inherently affordable (and sometimes even profitable) hobby, but more than that… <FUTURE POST SPOILER ALERT>… I consider the mindset shift that it creates to be a cornerstone of financial transformation.
  1. We keep tabs on our memberships and subscriptions. A lot of memberships work well in the short term or if you’re someone who really loves and uses what you’re getting… but for the most part, these services are betting on you getting less value out of the service than you’re paying for. Many subscriptions and memberships are easy to forget about and hard to cancel, they add up fast, and they can be redundant. The subscriptions we have, we use the heck out of, or we cancel them. 
  1. We don’t buy extended warranties. These are definitely betting on you getting less value out of the service than you’re paying for. My personal rule for years has been, Don’t buy something so nice you couldn’t afford to buy it twice. Life happens, but we try to buy things that are durable and reliable and we have a solid emergency fund in case we ever really have a “stuff emergency.” (Note: we have never actually had a “stuff emergency.” Waiting a month for a dishwasher replacement part to arrive when I was in the full swing of pumping at work and we were handwashing a pile of pump parts and baby bottles for our infant son every night came really close, but an extended warranty wouldn’t have helped us there.) In our combined almost-40 years of adult consumer behavior, neither of us have ever regretted opting out of extended warranties. So every time Best Buy asks us to insure a video game or coffee maker for an extra 25% of the purchase price, it’s easy to say “no.”

Don’t buy something so nice you couldn’t afford to buy it twice.

– Fortuna Money
  1. We don’t go “out on the town” that often. Once we hit our late twenties, even before kids, it was usually more fun for us to drink and dine at home on our own or with friends, and watch a movie or play Cards Against Humanity or sit by a firepit and make Nutella s’mores. Which meant we were really well-prepared for the Great Staycation of 2020-2021. 
  1. Live entertainment and vacations were rare special-occasion treats during the lean years. Now that we’ve got a paid-for house and the world is starting to open back up, we’re planning to make ridiculous vacations and live entertainment a bigger part of our life, but while we were focused on cleaning up our finances, it helped a lot that these weren’t in our regular routine.
  1. Libraries. I love reading and I used to buy all the books. When I got a library card, my book spending dropped like a rock. (Don’t get me wrong, I still buy books… just not as many.)

Mr. Fortuna read this list and said, “Wow. When you put it all together like that, we sound… boring.” And to plenty of people, we probably do. 

Here’s the thing. We live on a budget, and that budget helped us figure out what we were spending on our needs, set and achieve our goals, and give ourselves permission to spend on the things that make us feel great. This is a concept you’ll find in Ramit Sethi’s book I Will Teach You To Be Rich*, which helps you figure out what YOUR rich life looks like. Prioritize the things that bring you the most joy, and cut corners on the stuff that isn’t that important to you, or that you can handle waiting for. You don’t have to do all or even any of these things to get your financial life together and live a life that feels rich to you. (Except the extended warranties – you really don’t need those.) 

I’d also like to note that while we have some frugal habits, we have also been enjoying the heck out of life, even while we were cleaning up our financial situation. Here are a few examples from our “rich life”: 

  • We’ve traveled to Europe as a family twice in the past five years.  
  • We did a luxurious full master bathroom remodel. 
  • We paid off our house in four years. (Hitting this goal made us feel SUPER rich.)
  • We want to live our rich life for our whole life, so we’re saving enthusiastically for retirement, kids’ college, and other goals. It might sound nerdy, but hitting those milestones and growing our peace of mind feels rich too.  
  • We have a really sweet home gym. 
  • I’ve paid for a lot of personal things that have been super fun and that matter deeply to me: I invested in the financial coaching course that’s been my springboard for Fortuna, completed a grant-writing class, and have done other cool-to-me stuff like life-coaching and yoga and spiritual development work. I also have a borderline-ridiculous plant collection and a penchant for the occasional high-end makeup splurge.
  • Mr. Fortuna went to a 3-day rally driving course that he’d been dreaming of for decades. He also embarked on an ambitious and expensive automotive makeover that turned his beloved first car into a barely “street-legal” hot rod.  
  • We entertain at home all the time, and serve delicious food, and pour really good beverages. We really like food, and we love supporting local restaurants, so we also get takeout from our favorite places pretty frequently. 
  • We have a great home theater system. Ever since college, Mr. Fortuna and I have loved watching movies together, and we feel fancy whenever we’re enveloped by the surround sound. 
  • It may sound corny, but generosity feels genuinely amazing to both of us, so we love making hearty donations to organizations that support our community, picking up checks, leaving big tips, and giving nice gifts to the people we love. 

For us, our frugal habits were fairly painless decisions that enabled us to spend money on a huge variety of things that we really enjoy, and save at a rate that supports our big picture goals. I’m sharing them with you in case you’re looking at where you spend money and trying to find opportunities to turbocharge your big goals. 

What are your easy-win frugal habits? What does your rich life look like to you? If you’d like help figuring that out, book a session. I’d love to support you. 

*These are affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase through the links, the price is the same for you, and Fortuna will get a small commission from Amazon’s Affiliate program.

Carrie Wren Life Coaching + Yoga and Dirtfish and the nonprofits aren’t affiliate links — we just love them and believe in what they do!

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