Budget living doesn't necessarily mean sacrifice. If you're buried in debt or facing foreclosure, small changes aren't going to cut it. But if you're simply embracing a more frugal mindset, economizing can actually be cathartic. Here are 10 creative—and even enjoyable—ways to snip your spending:
1. Clothing swaps 2.0. Friends have been swapping their unwanted duds for decades, usually in small groups and over a few glasses of wine. Today, self-professed "swapaholics" are organizing larger, more sophisticated clothing swaps with hundreds of participants, and they're held everywhere from auditoriums to city parks. Some of these events operate on a one-for-one model, in which participants receive one ticket for each item they offer up, which can be traded for another, says Melissa Massello, editor-in-chief of Shoestring , an online magazine ( shoestringmag.com ) devoted to modern budget living. Others require a bag of unwanted clothing and sometimes a small fee for admission. Although the swaps are carefully coordinated, they still have a treasure-hunt feel. "It is literally a free-for-all," says Massello, who recently began co-hosting swaps in the Boston area through theswapaholics.com, and has begun branching out into other cities. Other sites that organize local events include swaporamarama.com and clothingswap.com . If you can't find a swap near you, thredUP.com operates a Netflix-style online clothing exchange.
2. Lunch clubs. Brown-bagging it is one of the best ways to slash your weekly spending, but it requires a lot of planning and prep. These days, groups of co-workers are sharing the load by taking turns providing lunch for each other during the week. It can be as easy as making an extra lasagna on Sunday night, or packing the ingredients for a large chef salad on Monday morning. "Even a fast-food meal can cost $5 or $6 a day," says Gary Foreman, a former financial planner who now edits The Dollar Stretcher , an print and online publication ( stretcher.com ). "But you can feed five people this way for about $10, and you'll spend $10 a week instead of $25." Nurturing workplace camaraderie is an added bonus.
3. DIY ideas. Along with other innovative savers, Massello's looking to the past for inspiration, " sponging up all the Depression-era wisdom spilled by her gregarious Greatest (and first-) Generation Italian-American family back in Boston," as she proclaims in her Shoestring bio. One of the site's most popular stories is "Homemade Condiments: Just Like Grandma Made," which coaches readers in making peanut butter, ricotta, ketchup, and mustard, and includes cost comparisons between recipe supplies and the store-bought equivalents. Cleaning products are other popular make-at-home items because their ingredients are simple, cheap, and often only require a trip to the pantry. "You can clean almost everything with baking soda and vinegar, which are safer for the environment than green products and cost less than any other cleaning products, green or toxic," says Jeff Yeager, author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Roadmap to True Riches and blogger at thedailygreen.com.
[Read more of Yeager's advice on How to Be a Savvy Cheapskate.]
4. Make your own beer or wine. The basic supplies and ingredients will cost you, but making several gallons of beer or wine—which can be done in an afternoon—can be quite economical, says blogger Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar. His step-by-step instructions for brewing porter include a list of what you'll need as well as a cost estimate for one batch. Hamm figures that $35 of ingredients will make seven six-packs, at a cost of about $5 each. Your start-up costs will be higher: Figure $80 for a homebrewing kit that includes a primary fermenter, bottling bucket, siphon, and other accessories. Hamm recommends turning the brewing process into a social event in which you and your friends split the costs—and the bounty.