You might not think there’s a frugal bone in your body, but I beg to differ. Maybe you just haven’t discovered the right tools yet. Maybe you’ve started the journey and you just need a few new ideas. There’s hope for you. I’m not talking about being stingy, I’m talking about being frugal. Spending less on ourselves so we have more to save and more to give to those who are truly in need. I daresay that if you are reading this, you have a lot more resources than you think you do. Maybe you just don’t have a handle on them yet. They trickle out of your pocket before you even know what happened.
I know because I’ve been there.
I’ve definitely noticed a pattern reflected in my spending – one of irresponsibility with a gradual shift to responsibility. I’ve always been a saver by nature but that doesn’t mean I didn’t waste some money on some silly things back in my teens and early twenties. What could I have done differently? What habits do I now have that reduce my consumer spending? I’ve narrowed it down to a couple different categories.
Things I Used to Waste Money On:
Coffee dates with friends, happy hours after work. Way too much overpriced junk food at Denny’s and Steak ‘n Shake. I’ve already written a whole post full of frugal ways to maintain a social life. And you know what? It’s actually a lot more fun to get out and do things other than eat and drink together! And let friends know that your place can be the hangout. Even if you provide the meal, it’s much more frugal to host in your home than it is to grab dinner out. Here’s some of my favorite frugal recipes for your next get-together.
I love music and it’s still a guilty pleasure that Josh and I treat ourselves to a live show every now and then. But I used to go to concerts every weekend and movies throughout the week. That might sound like a lot to you…or it might not. But it certainly does add up over time. That “Entertainment” budget can be a major yearly expense. Thankfully, some of my favorite things to do, like hike and ride bikes, are free entertainment.
If you gamble for entertainment regularly, I suggest you give that up right away. Rather than gambling away what you have on a dream reality, why not take some steps to make your real life more awesome and financially flexible?
I went through so many random styles as a young person trying to “find myself.” I still have a couple quality items I bought as a young adult. But I owned way too many clothes most of my life. With the exception of good running shoes, I’ve spend almost nothing on clothing the past year and a half. I plan to keep it up, both to save money and reduce waste. This is a fairly easy one to give up. Even if you don’t do a full-stop shopping ban, it helped me to write down what I wanted rather than buy it, and delay the purchase for as long as possible. Sometimes that desire went away altogether.
When you live at home or on a college campus and your dietary staples are being met, it’s tempting to go grocery shopping anyway. For “fun” groceries. Organic spelt granola with acai berries, superfood probiotic smoothie powders, fair-trade protein bars and fruit leathers, single-serving anything in a burlap hand-printed wrapper. You get the picture. These gourmet delights are nothing but processed foods marketed as healthy. You know what’s really healthy and delicious? Making real food from scratch yourself. A couple hardboiled eggs aren’t as exciting as the latest protein bar craze, but they’re actually healthier and more affordable.
And that’s before we even mention the booze. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good jammy red wine or a craft seasonal beer. But when I started buying alcohol, I’ll be perfectly honest: I did it to fit in. I didn’t have a palate that could distinguish the nuances in every bottle. I was just playing my part as a young person. It was what we did on the weekends, right? The palate came later, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have it because I still have to resist the urge to spend sometimes. Maybe it’s a good thing actually. Now that my tastes are more expensive I indulge less often. (And right now I’m taking a break for No Alcohol October.)
Oh, and the junk food…. I was a sugar addict until three years ago. I didn’t know it at the time, but I now know that sugar is a highly addictive drug that pulls you along through highs, lows, and withdrawal periods. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s entirely worthwhile -both for health and for frugality- to cut out sweets.
Maybe it’s because the stuff is marketed directly to teens and pre-teens, but I used to own more Bath and Body Works beauty products than I could ever use. Not only did I have lotion and hand cream, but the bubble bath, room spray, incense, and enough scented candles to make it through six-week power-outage. Seriously, what’s the deal?
And treating yourself to Starbucks or other similarly-priced coffee everyday is a big frugal no-no. Seriously. Get a french press and make the stuff taste good at home. Restructure your mornings so you have time to heat up water yourself. (It doesn’t take any longer than sitting in line at the drive through window, and you’ll save a sweet $5 a day or nearly $2,000 a year.)
I used to “thrift” for fun. The funny thing is that making hobby out of thrifting isn’t the least bit thrifty. I found a few good things on these ventures…I also brought home a lot of junk that I no longer own. Thrifting for fun is a double-threat, as you not only waste time and money, you’re buying things impulsively that you will sooner or later need to purge and get rid of. I’ve come full-circle. I accumulated and purged way more than I ever needed to. There were some cool things, like some of the dishes I still currently own…but I couldn’t tell you all the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on things that I used a little while, and then purged. It was basically just someone else’s clutter that I paid to bring home. I should have known better. Some stuff is at the thrift store for a reason…just sayin’.
And then there’s all those other stores. How many other mamas out there are slightly addicted to Target?! It’s true that sometimes we need to buy things, but it’s easy to get distracted and overdo it. Yeah, I definitely shop at Target, but I don’t do it to fill a void or try to kill hours of time. If the day is long, and the kids and I need to get out of the house, we kill time at the park or the library. I do my best run in and run out with the one thing I actually needed.
My Top 5 Financial Tips:
1: Track Expenses
Know where the money is going. Josh and I do a reverse-budget, where we sit down at the end of every month and write down everything. Every. Thing. That. We. Spent. An added benefit is that it puts us on the same page. We know where our money is going. We don’t allow ourselves budgeted amounts for different categories, as that’s money just asking to be spent. Rather, we challenge ourselves to spend as little as possible on ourselves.
2: Understand Wants Vs. Needs
Be realistic in your understanding of luxuries vs necessities. Many of the “needs” of middle-class Americans are “wants” in disguise. Pay attention to this and re-adjust your expectations.
3: Pay Down Debt
Absolutely funnel your savings from cutting out the money-wasters mentioned above into paying off any existing debts. Don’t accept that debt is a normal part of life and you’ll die with your debt. Make a plan, starting with the smallest for the quickest payoff, and knock out those loans one by one.
4: Don’t Ignore Retirement
Josh and I invest using Vanguard. If you have a retirement account at work, consider making contributions, especially if your company matches. This isn’t something young people should overlook. If you’re a young adult, now is the best time to get the ball rolling on your retirement.
5: Give Generously
It might seem counter-intuitive, but giving is a huge part of personal finance. It’s the absolute coolest part of spending less money on yourself. Sharing and giving back is one of our main motivators to spend less as a family. It also helps keep things in perspective. We are so fortunate to be able to willingly make small sacrifices to live on less. I want to live joyfully on as little as possible in order to make a positive difference in the world around me.
What are your financial tips and experiences? Did I forget anything important? How have your spending habits changed in the past few years? What are your financial goals currently?