When people think of living frugally they often think of deprivation and having to go without life’s little pleasures. This stereotype isn’t without merit. For years, budget experts have pushed the idea that “if you just skip your morning latte” you can magically afford a brand new home or car or be debt free. Do not believe this lie. It is true of neither lattes nor avocado toast.
The trick to living as frugally as possible is being smart about where you spend and where you skimp–and to remember that it isn’t just about dollars. Living frugally is as much about your time as it is about your income and expenses. For example–you could save hundreds of dollars by attempting to do HVAC maintenance and repairs yourself…if you are a skilled electrician and technician. If you’re using YouTube tutorials, you’re likely to wind up costing yourself hours of time and likely far more money on hiring a professional to fix what you accidentally broke than you would to just hire a qualified HVAC repair tech from the beginning.
Another example, as we alluded to in the intro, is going without small daily pleasures because someone insists that by forgoing these small pleasures will somehow allow you to save up for huge expenses. Guess what–when you do the actual math? It doesn’t work out that way. Saving that $20/week on the latte or, as one particularly pompous boomer insisted, opting out of delicious avocado toast is not enough to save up for a home or other large expense within your lifetime.
In fact, it could wind up costing you more money because let’s face it: the reason you’re opting for lattes and quick deli breakfasts is that you don’t have the time nor the inclination to make your own breakfast and coffee every morning. And if you were to buy the ingredients and equipment for such things, you wouldn’t actually use them, leading you to literally throw your money away as you clear all of the spoiled food/ingredients out of your fridge each week.
So how do you balance it all out? How do you live as frugally as possible without subjecting yourself to the deprivation that depression era thinking has so thoroughly drilled into our brains?
Be honest about who you actually are and what your priorities look like, and then build your budget to accommodate that. Good intentions are great and goals are even better, but you must be brutally honest with yourself about what you will and won’t do.
Concentrate on Building
Instead of focusing on what you have to tear down, focus on what you get to build. Concentrate on building good cost-effective habits. A good example of this is with your energy usage. There are dozens of ways to reduce an electric bill that have nothing to do with deprivation and everything to do with conscious living and the building of healthy habits.
Need Vs. Want
This is where that brutal honesty will come in handy. Learning the difference between a need and a super strong want is important when you have a limited budget. A good way to tell the difference is to stop buying stuff impulsively. If you see something you feel like you “must have” but that isn’t immediately necessary for your survival (like food or shelter), write a quick note to yourself about whatever it is and then wait thirty days. If the desire for that something is still burning after thirty days and you have the room in your budget, go ahead and buy it. You’ll be amazed at what you forget about over thirty days that seems so crucial in the moment.
Look, there are hundreds of articles out there that list the different things you should or shouldn’t buy when you want to save money. But if you want those tips to work, you need to start with the tips we talk about here. Honesty, habits, and the ability to differentiate between wants and needs are what will make those other tips stick and actually work for you.