In today’s world, you hear a lot about frugality: frugal living, being frugal, the frugal lifestyle, and more. Being frugal is a great lifestyle to adopt. Just be aware when you’re looking to become more frugal: it requires significant behavior change.
Being able to make the changes necessary to become frugal requires some serious motivation. You’re basically deciding to re-learn between 25-75% of your current habits. That’s a pretty big undertaking and even more if you’re committed to long-term change.
Frugal vs. Cheap
Many terms relating to spending habits are somewhat personally defined by the people using them. I’ve included my own personal definitions of these terms.
To me, being frugal means carefully considering all purchases to ensure money is not wasted or spent frivolously. This means taking a variety of things into account, such as item or service quality, expense, reusability or versatility, care instructions, and more.
This is not to be confused with being cheap. Cheap is like frugal’s weird little cousin.
Being cheap is choosing the least expensive option without considering the quality of the item or service, such as repair or replacement cost, life expectancy of item/service, or other complications.
- A cheap person will select a $7 shirt because of the price alone.
- A frugal person will select a $27 shirt because of its quality, taking into account the material, versatility of wear, care instructions, and more.
People adopt a frugal lifestyle for a variety of reasons: debt, savings goals, starting a family, moving, etc. I’ve adopted a frugal lifestyle because my goals are worth more than any impulse buy. I’m living frugal to help pay down my debt and save money for my future goals. My primary focus right now is to pay off my $80,000 in debt.
Life lesson: Don’t go to graduate school out-of-state, unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.
There are a variety of ways to be frugal, from using a clothesline to sharing toothbrushes. As long as your primary objective is to spend less money, there’s no wrong way to be frugal.
The first step towards becoming frugal is to establish your goal. Ask yourself “Why do I want to change my habits?” Whatever the reason, you need passion behind your change to really see results.
The second step is to establish rules and boundaries for yourself. Do you have something specific you want to cut out, like buying clothes? Are you willing to share a toothbrush with someone else in your home? Are you open to hanging your clothes outside to dry? Are you open to making your own household cleaners, seasonings, or toothpaste? Give yourself some time to figure out where you want to start.
The third step is to remain open-minded. We as humans are often more rigid in the beginning of any transition because change is scary. Change is hard. The longer you live a frugal lifestyle, the less anxious you will become to trying new things.
The fourth step is to continue to grow. Keep challenging yourself to move outside of your comfort zone and see how much you can grow as a person. Continue growing to develop even more positive habits and see what happens!
Debt is a primary motivator for many people who want to live a more frugal life. And let’s be honest: having debt sucks. Unfortunately for many of us, there is little to no way around acquiring debt. Many people will end up with a mortgage because housing is essential. Many people will end up with student loans while trying to better themselves and their futures. Just because having debt is “normal” doesn’t mean you should acquire debt to be normal.
Trying to get out of debt feels overwhelming. It’s exhausting. To me, it feels like trying to run a marathon with a pallet of bricks tied to me. I know I’m moving, but it definitely feel like it. I know one day I’ll finish, but some days I’m too tired to think about the finish line. Some days I think about quitting the race. I know I’m not the only one like this which is why I want to share my struggles with you.
I’ve practiced some degree of frugality throughout my life, if only by following the principle of not spending money I don’t have. In reality, I’m pretty new to the frugality game. Prior to 2016, I had never completed a no-spend anything. I recently started using my cash envelope system which has helped me save a few hundred dollars so far this year. I’ve established a large savings goal for 2016.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing anything to work on my goals or pay down my debt. After graduating from grad school in 2013, I started paying double to triple my minimum student loan payment each month. I maintained that payment schedule until I refinanced my student loans in January, when my minimum payment went up. I continue to pay more than the minimum on my monthly payments.
I have tracked my spending for the previous year. I establish financial goals for myself. I continue to work on developing more positive habits to allow me to put more money towards my debt. I make my own lip balm to off-set my addiction to chapstick. I switched from soda to tea to reduce grocery costs and improve my health. I’m continuing to grow in my own frugality.
I’ve encountered five primary struggles I experience with the transition to a more frugal lifestyle. They are all heavily intertwined, as they often feed off of each other.
I have a history of setting really ambitious goals for myself, particularly when it comes to saving money. I spend a lot of time creating spreadsheets for the year, calculating averages, and more. At first I feel really confident. I dive head-first into my plan and work really hard to monitor my spending and saving as much as possible. Inevitably, something happens that causes me to feel overwhelmed.
The best tool I have found to fight feeling overwhelmed is to break everything down into small steps. I just continue to focus on small changes I can make, even if it’s as small as saving $5 for the week.
The roof gets a leak. The car gets a flat tire. The car needs repair, or worse, needs to be replaced. Being surprised with a bill is terrible. This will often result in feeling overwhelmed, particularly if you are just starting out with your frugal changes. It hurts to see hard-earned money you’ve saved get drained for an unexpected cost. At this point, feeling discouraged is completely normal.
I also find it helpful to focus on the positives in a situation and celebrate you’re success. I know it’s difficult to start over when you have to wipe out any money you have saved. But you know what? You saved the money in the first place. That’s huge! Go you!
Struggling TO Use Savings
It is really, really, REALLY difficult for me to convince myself to use my savings. I worked incredibly hard to save this money, and I’m afraid that if I use my savings for anything, I will just starting spending it all. This is never the case (unless there is a dire emergency).
For this, I have to remind myself that I am creating an emergency fund for just that: an emergency. I have anxiety around spending my savings, so I have to develop a repayment plan to help hold myself accountable and make it seem more doable.
Struggling NOT To Use Savings
On the other side of the coin, sometimes it’s difficult to use money if it’s readily accessible. The temptation is real. I see that nice number with the commas in it and I think to myself “Well, I could just use a little to buy this…” and then POOF! It’s gone.
To help with my self-control, I keep the majority of my savings in a Capital One 360 account. I use this account for a variety of reasons, however the primary reason is because it takes 3-5 business days for any money to be transitioned. I’m a lot less likely to impulse buy something if I think about it for 3-5 days.
Getting Too Ambitious
I love the challenge of setting goals for myself. I like pushing myself to grow and change my negative habits. One major problem I struggle with is getting too ambitious with my goals.
I was recently looking at my automated IRA contributions and didn’t even realize my 2015 contributions were still active. I remember thinking to myself, “It ends mid-April, so a couple more weeks will be fine.” Of course, then I had an unexpected cost come up. I was able to pay from my checking account, but I had very little money left over in my account.
I struggled with this because I really wanted to keep my goal the way it was. I had to really think about this before I had an epiphany: If I’m borrowing from savings because of my savings goals, are my goals too big? Moral of the story: Make sure your goals are realistic.
Making Frugal Fun
Because being frugal is such as long-term commitment, it is important to make it fun. People enjoy different things about being frugal, so it’s important to focus on the parts you love.
Some people enjoy the challenge of trying to save as much money as possible, either by trying to save as much of their income as possible, or by trying to save an exorbitant amount on their everyday purchases (Extreme Couponing, anyone?)
I’m a giant nerd so I really enjoy a lot of things that go along with being frugal. I really enjoy saving money and I treat it like a game. I love updating my spreadsheets with my weekly donations and checking where I’m at in my time frame. I enjoy going to the bank to make deposits. I like experimenting with making my own everything (lip balm, detergent, etc.).
Whatever you enjoy about being frugal, do it!
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What has been your biggest challenge with being frugal?