Ever wonder why it is that some people can seemingly live so well on an extremely small income and others – who make a lot more money – struggle to just get by? A lot of the reason is in the way people think about money.
Regardless of how much money you make, frugal living requires a frugal and thrifty mindset. It requires you to evaluate, or possibly reevaluate, how you think about a variety of things such as the way you view money, your level of materialism, or your attitude toward consumerism. Consider for a minute what your core values regarding money and frugality are.
• Do you buy spend your paycheck on what you want then sometimes find you don’t have money to pay the bills?
• Do you think it degrading in some way to buy used merchandise, i.e., someone else’s “junk”?
• Do you insist on buying only brand name merchandise thinking that generic is in some way inferior?
• Do you feel that you and your family deserve the good things in life whether you can legitimately afford them or not?
Don’t get me wrong! This is certainly not said to condemn. It’s just that when money is tight or when financial hardship strikes, we may have develop a more frugal mindset in order to simply survive. Sadly, not everyone knows how to do that.
Maybe you feel the need to save money now in the current economic situation even though you’ve never had to worry about it before. Or maybe you see changes coming that will soon require you to be more frugal. Whatever your individual circumstances, you may simply feel the need to become more concerned about how much money you spend and what you spend it on.
If that’s your case, here are three simple things that may help you to begin changing your attitude toward money and frugal living in general.
1. Look at money as a tool, rather than a status symbol. While there are many people who might disagree, money is truly designed to be used to acquire what you and your family need and want. Period. While it can be used to help you appear prominent and it may gain you a measure of status and respect, the underlying truth is that money is a tool to help you create a comfortable life for your family.
If you have enough money to create a luxurious lifestyle, that’s all well and good. But if you don’t, then for your sanity’s sake and for your personal survival, you’ll have to learn to adapt your thinking and make your lifestyle the best it can be with the money you have available.
That doesn’t mean you’ve somehow failed, or that you should be less content with what you have right now. It only means that you have to work to save and earn the money needed to create the lifestyle you want. And until that time, living frugally will help you live the best you can with what you do have.
There is no shame in not possessing everything you want, or even everything you need. Learning to manage your money and your attitude toward it will only help in the long run.
2. Realize that to manage your money properly, you must first spend it on the things you need, and then – if there is any left over – you can spend it on the things you want. A lot of people get in trouble when they reverse the order of this basic money management principle. They want what they want, so they spend their money on their desires then have nothing left with which to buy food or pay rent.
You must learn to discipline your spending so that your family’s needs are provided for first. Sometimes the only way to do that and have anything left over for the “extras” you desire is to live more frugally than you’re used to doing.
3. Learn to distinguish between a want and a need. Once you realize that you must provide for your family’s needs first, you must then decide what constitutes a need rather than simply a desire. Need are things we can’t live without such as food, water, clothing, shelter, transportation so we can work to provide for our needs. Wants are all the extras – even if they feel like needs!
Junk food, cable TV, movie rentals, new or brand name clothing, a new car every couple of years, a fancy home, etc. are desires, not needs. American society, in particular, has led us to believe that everyone is prosperous and if we’re not, we deserve to live as if we are. Our consumer mindset has led us to expect so many more things than we actually need to survive.
If your family is struggling financially, look closely at everything you spend your money on and ask yourself, is this something I really need, or can I live without it? The answer may surprise you.
It may be hard for some of us to examine underlying attitudes toward money and thrift, but with so many people losing their jobs, prices rising continually and no quick fix in sight, it’s critical that we all develop a more frugal mindset. It may be our only defense in a world filled with economic upheaval and uncertainty.
There really are so many ways to save money. When it seems as though you couldn’t possibly trim another extra from your budget, it may be time to start examining some of the things that you consider necessities.
True necessities and levels of frugality will vary from family to family, so just consider this list a jumping-off point to reevaluating some of those things in your life. When you decide to cut even little things from your life, it is amazing how quickly all that spare change can add up.
1. Eating out and ordering in. This really is a great “necessity” to cut when you are trying to live frugally. It’s pretty painless and the savings add up quickly, especially if you eat out once a week or more.
2. Buying a daily cup of coffee. For the price of a small cup of coffee at any of the major chains, you could make at least 12 cups at home. Instead, invest in a thermal mug or thermos and take coffee from home when you head out the door.
3. Convenience meals. If time is an issue when it comes to cooking, look for less costly alternatives. For example, spend a few days stocking your freezer with homemade meals. They’ll be ready to reheat for those days when you just don’t have time to cook.
4. New books. If you love to read, take advantage of your local library. If there are certain books you just love and need to add to your collection, look for them at used book stores, library sales, or one of the many websites that sell used books. You can usually find a book in great condition for just a fraction of the cost.
5. Name brand personal care items. The primary ingredients of most shampoos, conditioners, soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics etc. are virtually the same whether you buy top-of-the-line or generic. Experiment with lower-priced products to see if they’ll work for you. Most of the time you won’t even notice a difference. If you do, you can always switch back to the old brand.
6. Cable or satellite television. Consider how much t.v. you watch and which channels you really watch most often. Look into alternatives and see if some of your favorite shows from cable stations may be free to watch online through websites like Hulu. If you truly cannot cancel the service altogether, see if you can at least scale back to a less-expensive programming package.
7. Phone services. If you have both a cell phone and a home phone, look over your bills and see if it would make sense to cancel one service or the other. Cell phone package options have become so varied and reasonable that home phone service is becoming obsolete. However, if you do not make long distance calls and rarely use your cell phone, perhaps staying with a home phone and just a pre-paid cell phone for emergencies would be the smarter way to go. And again, just like in #6, if you really cannot get rid of either one entirely, examine your plans and see if there is a way to cut back.
8. Video rentals. Whether you have a membership in an online video service or you rent from a storefront, look for more cost-effective options. Most libraries have a wonderful movie selection and the rentals are either free or nearly free. And again, take advantage of the online options like Hulu.
9. Health club memberships. First of all, decide if you visit your health club often enough to justify the expense. If not, cancel the membership right away. If you do find it justified, see if there are other exercise options available that would give you equal benefits. Videotapes, walking outside or even through the mall, self-designed cardio programs, even investing in a piece of your own exercise equipment may all be better options.
10. Professional haircuts. If you get your hair cut at an expensive salon, try a less-expensive chain and see if you are pleased with the results. To save even more, see if you or your spouse could handle some of the hair-cutting duties yourselves, even if just for your children.
11. Dry cleaning. With a little research, you can learn some wonderful D.I.Y. alternatives to dry cleaning. You’ll quickly realize that most clothes really do not require professional dry cleaning.
12. Air conditioning. During the warmer months, don’t instantly turn on your air conditioning as soon as it reaches a certain temperature outside. Instead, see if your family will be comfortable with the windows open and fans blowing. On really hot days, only open the windows for a while in the morning, then close them and shut all blinds or curtains. It’s worth experimenting.
13. Name-brand laundry or dish-washing detergent. Try the less expensive or generic brands and see if you are happy with the results. If you’re happy with the cleanliness of the items but miss the scent of more expensive brands, research alternatives, such as using a tiny drop of essential oil.
14. Brand new ink cartridges. There are so many options nowadays when it comes to printer ink. Check around and find a local store that will refill your cartridges for you for a fraction of the cost. Many even offer a discount if you bring in your old cartridges. To save even more, look into purchasing a do-it-yourself refill kit.
15. “Instant” foods. Convenience always comes at a cost, and you can often recreate the convenience in your own kitchen. For example, you can make your own packets of instant oatmeal with quick oats, some brown sugar and cinnamon, a food processor or blender, and plastic baggies.
16. Several different pairs of shoes. Instead of purchasing 20 different styles of shoes, even at discounted prices, consider investing in only two or three high-quality, versatile and functional pairs of shoes. You may spend more initially, but the savings will quickly add up over time.Not to mention, your feet, legs and back will thank you!
17. Manicures and/or pedicures. You can easily give yourself a manicure or pedicure at home for next to nothing. If you’re not good at doing your own nails, see if a friend or family-member can do them for you. If you view these services as a time of pampering for yourself, see if a less-costly afternoon at a coffeehouse or some other alternative might fulfill that need.
18. Mailing your bills. This is a small one, but every little bit helps! If you are still paying for stamps to mail your bills every month, switch over to online billing with every company that offers it as a free service.
19. Electronic educational toys. We all want to help our children learn, but learning can happen just as easily with a picture book or some flashcards and a little bit of time as it can with the latest electronic gadget out there. That’s not to say that educational toys don’t have a place in our homes. Just be selective and don’t feel the need to get the newest thing on the market all the time.
20. Snack foods. If you cannot do away with purchased snacks altogether, decide on only 2 or 3 favorite snack foods for the whole family and purchase just those. Fill-in with homemade snacks or other options.
21. In-style clothing. Opt for timeless pieces that are well made and avoid the latest trends. If you really feel the need to stick with current fashions, choose just one piece per season.
22. Baby items. The amount of baby items available on the market today is mind-boggling. You really do not need most of them. Pay attention to what you purchase and really use and see where you can cut back.
23. An overabundance of extracurricular activities. Choose just one or two (if any) well-loved and enriching classes for your child. Then look for no-cost options or create your own where none are available.
24. Cleaning gadgets. Out of all the cleaning gadgets on the market, the ones that really get the job done are elbow grease and a good cleaning solution. Skip the swiffers, automatic shower cleaners and similar products. Instead, choose a good multi-purpose cleaner (or even better, make you own with baking soda or vinegar) and clean with your own hands. Your hard work will pay off quickly.
25. Vending machine/convenience store purchases. If you buy a snack or pop from one of these places on a daily basis, consider purchasing a pack or case of your favorites. You’ll typically be able to purchase these items for less than half-price when purchased this way as opposed to the single-serving option.
A frugal lifestyle isn’t about doing without – it’s about shifting priorities. Where can you shift priorities or reevaluate what is truly necessary? I hope this list has spurred you to reconsider some of your habits.