The secrets of being super-frugal

With the cost-of-living crisis on everyone’s mind, most of us are thinking of ways to trim our budgets. But at the same time, we still want to enjoy our lives. Impossible? Leah Hardy discovers how frugality can actually make us happier

Scott Dixon, 52, doesn’t spend any time at all watching his electricity meter tick up. But it’s not, as you might assume, because he isn’t terrified of his next energy bill. Instead he’s enjoying working out the next clever trick to cut his bills. All without so much as turning down his thermostat.

And if the consumer rights expert isn’t doing that, you might find him enjoying a free breakfast bacon roll and coffee, courtesy of his phone apps with Greggs and Café Nero, negotiating down the price of his insurance and broadband contracts (“I saved £51 within 15 minutes on my multi-home and car insurance policy recently”), or snaffling yellow- sticker bargains at the supermarket to enjoy meals like marinated salmon with wild rice at 75 per cent off.

You might feel too shy to boast about such penny-pinching tactics, but Dixon disagrees. Dixon, who is author of How to Complain: The Consumer Guide to Resolve Complaints and Motoring Disputes (£3.99, Amazon) and lives in Edinburgh, says, “Keeping my outgoings low is key to enjoying life on my own terms. I also enjoy saving money. It’s a challenge and gives me a sense of achievement. I know my outgoings could be double what they are if I didn’t deliberately choose to be frugal. As it is, I can afford to work part time and never feel stressed about money. Yet I can also enjoy holidays such as a winter sun break in Spain every Christmas.”

And Dixon is not alone. Experts agree that feeling in charge of our money can make us calmer and happier and even help us enjoy life more. Why? Behavioural psychotherapist Dipti Tait ( says, “When we feel in control of our finances, we feel secure and safe. When we lose control, this can trigger feelings of anger, anxiety and fear. Our financial health is linked to our feelings of stability and self-worth, as well as being our ticket to freedom and feeling happy.”

Laura Moore is a certified financial coach who specialises in helping women to have a better relationship with money. She says, “Financial well-being is not simply a nice-to-have – it’s a necessity. Everyone deserves to feel the abundance, security, joy and freedom that the absence of money worries can provide.”

So how can we learn to embrace the happy budgeting habit? It all starts, says Tait, with finding the right mindset. She says that some people go wrong by panicking at terrifying headlines, slashing their outgoings to the bone as a result, then find that they feel deprived and resentful. They may then abandon the plan entirely or even start buying things in secret, leading to guilt and shame. She compares this approach to going on a crash diet and then binge eating.

This happens, Tait says, because when we read about a ‘crisis’, it can provoke the same primitive response as being chased by a mammoth for our ancestors. “If not only our  financial future but also our levels of safety and comfort are being threatened, our brain’s ‘flight or fight’ reaction kicks in, leading to panic.” We may also have developed a habit of excessive spending. Tait explains: “If our brain is used to enjoying the short-term fixes, which is what we get when we buy things we don’t need, this can feel like the energy buzz we get from sugary food. It’s not healthy, we burn through it, and feel worse afterwards. Spending frivolously does not lead to greater happiness. In fact, it can ultimately lead to addiction.” And in a world where those endless property TV shows, Instagram and even Facebook ads tell us we need more, newer and better things in order to be attractive and successful, we can become a slave to consumerism. Tait says, “Wanting more creates discontent and unhappiness.”

Or we might simply be resistant to making changes, so we put our head in the sand only to be shocked when the bills start pouring in. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Says Tait, “We may not be able to do much about the state of the economy, but we can do something about the state of our mind.”

Time to change

Reframe your thoughts

Instead of looking at cutting back as a negative thing that we are forced to do, Tait says we should think of it “as a positive behaviour to secure our future.” We should also resist ‘catastrophising’ – which is when you assume the very worst. When we believe nothing will ever improve, we might conclude that saving money is pointless as we will have to sell our homes or never go on holiday again. “The situation is real, but it won’t last forever,” says Tait. “It’s important to be realistic and react appropriately.

“This one shift instantly eases our resistance to change, and our brain can go into planning and preparation mode, enabling us to financially streamline and declutter. As we take control and see what we have achieved in terms of lower outgoings and more savings, we feel calmer and happier.”

Take charge of your budget

“When we do a financial audit of our spending, we can really start to feel more in control of what is going in and out of our accounts. We can then research ways to get what we want at a better price,” says Tait. Moore says we might think that saving £20 pounds here or there won’t make a big difference, but “small habits incorporated into our daily lives bring us closer to our goals.” Think about using a budgeting app connected to your bank account to help you see where your money is going.

Spend mindfully

Have you bought clothes you never wear, cosmetics you don’t need or gadgets that don’t add anything to your life? Laura Moore says impulsive as stress or boredom. “Before buying something, ask yourself: ‘Am I spending money right now to cope with  something emotionally or change the state of my emotions?’ Ask yourself if there is another way to tackle the emotions differently?”

Dipti Tait says, “Thinking about the economic time you are in positively will help you feel in control. This is an opportunity to get creative and do things differently. Turn the crisis into a positive choice to embrace how you spend the rest of your life, and the cost of that will be the investment in your most precious asset – your positive mindset.”


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