How many times have we watched a movie or a show in which a character announced a tightening of the belt, because lean financial times are ahead? Where everyone is being put on a budget and their struggle to cope is the means by which the comedy is created?
Plenty of times. So, naturally we associate a more structured budget and a frugal lifestyle with some sort of punishment and deprivation of the good things in life.
This is far from the truth. Living frugally helps you live a better life. A life with meaning and less frivolous things that distract you from reaching your goals.
Below I have listed 7 steps to help you look past the idea of frugality is a deprivation and suggest how you can embrace this new lifestyle.
1. Make a Financial Plan
You know that question they ask you during job interviews, it’s a bit of a lame one and swear it must be a rhetorical one: “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
I always have to bite my tongue for a second so that I don’t blurt out “hopefully not jobless, living under a bridge”.
It might be a weird question to ask during a job interview when your life could potentially change very quickly and decidedly, but generally speaking it is a good question to ask yourself, especially when it comes to your finances.
Where do you want to see yourself in a year? Five years? Financially speaking.
Do you want to pay off your student loan? Save enough money to finally take that trip you have been dreaming about for so long? Build a solid foundation on which to grow your retirement savings?
These are all valid and possible goals to set when it comes to your money and your future.This is your opportunity to take a look at where you are currently and where you want to go and ultimately end up.
Take control of your financial life and the first step to do so is to make sound, realistic financial goals. When you have that feeling of control, you won’t have that sense of deprivation or even punishment, because you have put yourself on a path of frugality.
It is your choice and you are doing it for a specific reason. Focus on that and keep working towards it.
2. Track your Spending
You may think you are depriving yourself of a lot of little treats here and there by starting a more frugal life, but I bet once you have tracked your regular, non-frugal spending for a week or a month you will be surprised how much money gets wasted on those little treats of yours.
During my university days as a starving student I thought I had a handle on what I was spending in a week. I mean, I didn’t have that much money available to begin with, so how could I spend so much on things I didn’t really need?
Was I ever proven wrong once I consciously and methodically tracked my spending. I was happy that I could save a few extra dollars, which are very precious when money is super tight.
We always think we are able to remember certain things, because they are important. Matters such as financial ones are important, so we should remember them.
Or they are stress inducing, so we don’t want to remember them.
Either way, it doesn’t matter if you are a starving university student, juggling a part-time job, homework and midterms or a working guy/gal with two kids, a mortgage and a bad knee, life will always be just busy enough to have you lose track of your spending.
3. Don’t Use Your Credit Card
One way to keep track of your spending is by reducing your means by which to pay for those spending.
It’s my very cryptic way of saying don’t touch your credit cards, because it’ll only increase the chances of you losing track of what you are buying.
I have done that plenty of times. I put everything essential on the credit card, because we needed it and then had all that money sitting in my checking account just begging to be spent. At the end of the month I had a huge credit card bill and no money in my account.
Live and learn. Over the past few months I have been weaning myself off using my credit card as my first option of payment.
This has two benefits. For one, it’ll lower the balance on my monthly credit card bill. And secondly, it makes me stop and think twice, if I really need what I’m about to buy and if I can actually afford it.
Sometimes doing a credit card detox is just what your finances need to get back on track.
4. Decide on a Budgeting Method
Good intentions are always great, but having a concrete method or plan to stick to and to keep you on track is even better.
I have written a number of articles discussing various budgeting methods, ranging from cash envelopes to glass jar budgeting and beyond. The common message I always try to convey is to make a budget system work for you.
You may have to adjust and tweak it so that you can get the most out of your budgeting method. Do not despair when your new budgeting system does not work to its fullest right away.
You may have to allocate more money to groceries than you had anticipated, but you might be able to save a lot by cutting out unnecessary expenses, such as subscriptions you don’t want anymore, memberships you haven’t used in six months or longer and cable TV.
It all takes time, scrutiny and adjustments. The most important thing is not to give up.
5. Make It Your Lifestyle
With steps 1 through 4 in mind, it should become relatively easy to make frugality your lifestyle.
As I have said before, you are taking steps towards taking control of your financial matters and with that of your life, because let’s face it, almost everything costs money in this world. We live in a society that makes money kind of essential to survival.
So, instead of looking at this frugality as a punishment or deprivation of your overall happiness, see it as a recovery of your freedom. Eventually complete freedom from debt and freedom from stress caused by money strains.
See it from this side: a frugal lifestyle is a way of decluttering your life. How many times have you thought you may own too many things or really need a bigger place for all your things?
Have you ever felt cramped by the lack of space you have, even though your house/apartment is of considerable size?
I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I guarantee you will feel a similar lifting of weight off your chest once you embrace and implement the concept of a frugal lifestyle that is similar to getting rid of unwanted clutter in your home.
It’s absolutely freeing.
6. Don’t Elevate Your Lifestyle
So, you have made some changes to your budget, cut some unnecessary expenses and started to notice that you have more money at your disposal.
Maybe you got a raise/promotion at work. Good for you. This comes with a bigger paycheck and more opportunity to save and reach your financial goal, right?
Yes and no. For most of us the temptation to use the money to elevate our lifestyle, so to speak, is really high and we give in.
Maybe we start eating out a bit more. Maybe we make a few extravagant purchases. I mean you earned it through hard work, why should you not finally treat yourself to that flat screen TV with all the newest gadgets?
I totally get it. But most of the time the more money we have the more we spend.
Do not fall into that trap. Yes, you have worked hard for that raise or promotion or your budget to finally show signs of fruition, but your reward is not all the stuff you can now buy with the money, but reaching that financial goal you have set yourself.
Remember that when you have that excitement thrumming through your fingertips at the sight of your spare money. Is it really spare money or money that should go into your savings?
7. Work on Savings
This brings me to my last step: savings.
Do not forget to make savings part of your budget and your goal. This is your reward, having that money tucked aside to pay off debt, for a rainy day, for your dream vacation or retirement fund.
It might be a rather long-term goal compared to that instant gratification of buying that new TV, but unless you need a new TV that “long-term goal” is worth saving for.
Also, make sure you ask yourself your understanding and idea of what is needed and what is wanted.
Most of the time it is merely about an attitude adjustment of wanting what one already has, instead of getting what one thinks they want. Stop comparing yourself to others. I know, in the age of social media this has been almost an impossible task, but try you must.
If you constantly try to keep up with the Joneses, you will never find your own happiness and reach the goals you have set yourself. You will only waste your precious time, money and youthful years running after something that doesn’t exist.
Lifestyle adjustments can be difficult and feel constricting and panic-inducing at the beginning, but at least with the lifestyle of frugality you can rest assured that it truly is for your own good.
Whether it is because of a decrease in income, the desire to pay down debt or wanting to save more money for the future, this lifestyle change has a positive outcome: financial control.
I hope that the 7 steps I listed above will inspire you to see a frugal lifestyle as a means to gain greater control of your life, financially most of all, and are able to shake the feeling of being deprived. The only deprivation you will feel is that of the loss of debt or financial confusion.
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