Strategies For Living on Less

Updated in July 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists

Many people want to s-t-r-e-t-c-h their dollar so they can live on less. Unfortunately there is no simple solution for everyone so trying to do with less can be a challenge. How one person chooses to cut expenses may not suit the time or the expertise of another individual. Spending less involves assessing and balancing one’s resources.

The first step in developing a strategy for living on less is to analyze how the dollars you have are currently spent. If you have been keeping track of how money was spent by the month and year, analyze the expenditures. List expenditures in three groups: Necessary, Nice-to-have, Foolish.

If you have not kept track of the spending, have the whole family identify spending categories such as food, housing, clothing, utilities, entertainment, transportation, gifts. Estimate what was spent in each category for the month and then for the year. Check on the accuracy of your estimation by totalling each category, then total all the categories. Compare the last total with the amount of money you suspect or know was spent for that timeframe. Analyze the expenditures in each category by listing them in three groups: Necessary, Nice-to-have, Foolish.

The second step is to select items where spending can be cut or eliminated. Family agreement and commitment is essential if this venture is to be effective. If all family members cannot agree, it is still better to try yourself than to give up.

The third step is to develop a Spending Plan for the month and year. Set up a system for keeping track of the expenditures and checking to determine if the spending will be within the budget. Things that fit into the “nice-to-have” or “Foolish” category are difficult to pass-by the first few times one encounters them, but remember your commitment is to spending less!!!

The fourth step is to develop an action plan that will work for you and your family. The action plan will need to be reviewed frequently to remind people of the commitment and to determine if cutting expenses is successful. Revisions may be necessary.

Where Can We Save?

What works for one person/family may not work for another. We choose to pay extra for convenience and ease, for time and energy savings and/or for knowledge and skills we do not have. Unfortunately at times there is not the money to select all the options we would like. In order to “make ends meet”, rethinking the budget may be necessary. When giving consideration to reducing your spending, give thought to doing more things yourself, being satisfied with less, doing things in a new way or even giving up certain things. Here is a list of possible ways of saving money, some of which you may consider adding to the list you have created:


  • Shop from a list. This will help to ensure you get only what is needed, reduce impulse and “extra” buying and speed up the task.
  • Leave children at home or with alternate child care if possible so you can concentrate on shopping and reduce pressure from children to buy certain products.
  • Take it easy on “ready-to-serve”, “almost-ready”, party and snack foods, pop and alcohol. Work towards rarely having or omitting these items from the grocery cart.
  • Select fewer sugar and pre-sweetened products. Aim for unsweetened juices and fewer baking items.
  • Grow a garden. If you do not have space yourself, check with city/town hall to determine if gardening plots are available. Analyze the cost of growing vs. the cost of buying.
  • Buy at the outdoor or farmers market. This will give you a chance to include more vegetables and fruits in your diet – a nutritional and taste bonus!
  • Size of items can be deceiving. Calculate the cost per unit size. Sometimes the larger item is not the best buy!
  • Eat in. A basic evening meal model that is fast and easy to prepare includes: meat, starch food (potatoes, rice, noodles, bread or bannock) and two vegetables (one could be a salad). If dessert is desired, try fresh fruit. Complete the meal with a dairy product such as milk and/or cheese.
  • The microwave oven is a great time and money saver. Consider having a second one in the kitchen to help speed up meal preparation and help keep meal eating at home. Microwave ovens use little energy to cook small quantities of food.
  • Check the lower shelves in the supermarket. Eye-level items are what shoppers see first, grab and put in the shopping cart so stores will often put higher priced or new items at this level.
  • Go vegetarian once or twice a week. Consider serving beans (such as kidney, navy, garbanzo or pork and beans) or a cheese item instead of meat.
  • Select in season vegetables and fruits. Fresh root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets and frozen vegetables are usually an economical purchase. Often frozen vegetables are more nutritious than out of season products brought in from a great distance.
  • Cook larger quantities of food and freeze the leftovers for another day. Try “chain cooking” by roasting a chicken/turkey on the weekend, having hot sandwiches another day and then making soup or pot pie. Leftovers can be frozen.
  • Bring your lunch to work. To convince a person how money saving this is, consider what the average cost of a restaurant lunch is a day and multiply it by 20 to determine the cost for a month. The savings with a packed lunch could be a great as a bonus from work!!
  • Bring your own coffee to work instead of stopping at a coffee shop.
  • Join a co-op, community kitchen or a bake exchange group.
  • Clip coupons only for products you buy. Manufacturers often use coupons to try to introduce new products which are often costly and full of empty calories (calories with very little if any other nutritional value).
  • Do your own baking or substitute baking with fresh vegetables and fruits. Choose recipes that are fast and easy to make such as rice pudding, milk pudding, cobblers, crisps and bread puddings. These old-time favourites can be brought up-to-date by adding a variety or combination of fresh or dried fruits. A touch of whip cream, a sprinkle of nuts and it becomes a hit!
  • Consolidate errands with grocery shopping. This often saves time and gas. Usually grocery shopping is last to do on the list, as frozen items need to get to the freezer as soon as possible.


  • Calculate the amount of money spent on insurance and licensing vehicles, including pleasure vehicles. Do you need all the vehicles? Can you do with vehicles that are less expensive to license and insure?
  • Do a vehicle comparison on gas mileage. Can you do with a vehicle that uses less gas?
  • Consider driving a vehicle until it reaches the end of its tether and begins to cost to upkeep.
  • Shop around for automobile insurance. Do you really need windshield coverage? If you are driving an older vehicle determine if there is a need for collision insurance.
  • Do your own routine maintenance such as washing, vacuuming, and filling windshield washer and other tasks. If you do not know how to do them, learn by enrolling in a class, or asking a friend to teach you.
  • Take public transportation if possible instead of using a vehicle when there is only one passenger.
  • Is carpooling an option?
  • Keep a mileage log. After a period of time review it to determine if multi-errands can be done on a trip or if an alternate mode of transportation is possible.
  • On this website home page, go to Consumer Smarts and check out the following articles under Saving on Services: ” Cold Weather Doubles the Trouble with Underinflated Tires” and “Think Fuel Use: Consult the Energuide Label for Vehicles.”


  • Cut back on dry cleaning and take-out laundry. Wear clothes that need this special care at times when they are less likely to become soiled.
  • Learn how to do routine hemming and sewing on buttons. Doing simple mending by hand or machine can quickly save considerable money on clothing replacements. You can “earn” big money in a short time by mending.
  • Sell on consignment what you don’t need.
  • Check out clothing consignment and new-to-you shops for children and adult clothing.
  • Swap children’s clothing with family or friends.

Household Utilities

  • Turn the thermostat down at night and when away from home.
  • Set the thermostat a few degrees lower while at home and wear heavier clothing to keep you warm.
  • Regularly maintain and clean the furnace.
  • Make long distance phone calls during low cost hours. If you make numerous long distance calls a month, check out a “long distance” package with your telephone company.
  • Keep a timer next to the phone so you can limit the length of long distance calls.
  • Consider insulating the hot water heater. If it is a gas hot water heater, be sure to leave room for air circulation around the heating unit.
  • Avoid using the dryer when possible. Hang as many clothes as possible to dry.
  • Use motion lights outside rather than leaving the light on at all times.
  • Use the microwave to heat water for 1- 2 cups of water rather than the tea kettle or a pot on the stove.
  • Evaluate the cell phone use. Are all calls necessary?
  • Check your energy provider’s website. Many include energy saving ideas and information. SaskPower’s website, has lots of energy saving ideas.


  • Children may enjoy free or low cost activities such as “story time” at the library; borrowing of books from the library; participating in school based activities; visiting local museums, nature sites, parks and playgrounds; community or church clubs and music groups.
  • Adults may enjoy free or low cost activities such as some concerts, lectures, having company over, playing games or cards, going for walks, joining or leading community or church groups.
  • For dining out, go to a great restaurant – for lunch! Consider doing it less frequently.
  • Clip “dining out” coupons and watch the newspaper for restaurant specials. Try the church fall or fowl suppers.
  • Consider ordering appetizers or half sized portions and not entrées. Frequently the entrée is more than what a light eater can consume.
  • When out with a group, don’t collect the money from everyone and pay the whole bill with your credit card. The cash is easily spent and the charge to you credit card makes a big dent in your account.
  • Throw potluck or progressive dinners for friends or family. For extra fun, host a cultural dinner and have guests bring one food item from the culture featured that night.
  • Rent movies or go the afternoon matinees if they are available.
  • Evaluate your computer and cable use. Can you do with fewer options and upgrades?


  • Consider if all of the gifts you give are necessary.
  • Are you spending too much on gifts? Consider giving gifts from the garden, kitchen or indoor plants you have slipped and grown. Give a gift certificate of services such as babysitting, an afternoon of garden cleanup or snow removal.
  • Create a “gift and card drawer”. Buy an array of gifts and cards ahead of time and possibly on sale. Select from this drawer as needed.
  • If you travel, bring back unique items to include in your gift drawer.
  • Draw names for a Christmas family exchange. If they are drawn early in the year, you have a chance to shop sales.

Other Tips

  • Avoid ATMs that charge service fees and check if stores are charging for using Interact.
  • Pay off credit cards and eliminate all but one credit card. Interest on credit card debt is extremely high.
  • Pay by cash if possible. This helps you helps you keep spending under control.
  • Share magazines and eliminate ones you do not read.
  • Shop around for prescription drugs.
  • Avoid buying things on sale if you don’t need them.
  • Swap child care with friends.
  • Calculate how much is spent on tobacco and alcohol. Can you make savings here?

By Millie Reynolds, Judy Hannah and Liz Delahey, Home Economists