When people start out on the path to better finances, many go overboard and slash their budgets to the bone. (Either that or they cut one tiny thing and claim success). They cut out every little extra expense and leave themselves with nothing but food, utilities, housing, and other essentials. It’s like going on a crash diet, but with money. There can be no joy, no pleasure, no indulgence or else it’s like falling off the wagon.
Of course, it’s not too many weeks later (maybe only days) before the cracks start to appear in this plan. The indulgences start to slip in. Coffees are bought at Starbucks and meals are eaten out. A book is purchased. Before you know it, these people are feeling like they’ve failed and are kicking themselves. Either that or they simply decide they cannot be frugal and give up entirely.
Frugality doesn’t have to be (and really shouldn’t be) an all or nothing proposition, though. Unless your finances are so tight that you literally cannot afford anything extra, a good budget or frugal lifestyle has room for the things that give you pleasure. The trick is to learn for yourself what those are and to include them in your plans.
I started being more frugal so that I could leave the corporate world to do my own thing. I went nuts at the beginning and chucked every extra expense. I squirreled away money and refused to spend on anything not necessary. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before that began to feel like a prison. So I eased up. I thought about the things I was letting slip into my budget and evaluated whether or not they were really important to me. Books are a passion of mine so those were important. Meals out at mediocre restaurants simply because I didn’t want to cook weren’t important. Travel was very important. The latest electronics were not. On and on it went with me questioning the importance of every “unnecessary” expense.
Once I’d identified all the things that were truly important to me, I worked them into the budget. Of course, this didn’t mean that I could go nuts and buy tons of books or travel everyday. I still had to stick within the amounts that I could safely spend, but those amounts actually went up once I stopped spending on the unimportant crap. If I saved money at the grocery store by using coupons and buying store brands for the items where brand didn’t matter to me, that put more money in my book fund. If I ate out less often that put more money in my travel fund. If I reduced my utility use by being conservative and careful, I had more money to spend on my other hobbies.
Frugality became a way for me to have more of what’s important to me in my life, rather than less. What started out feeling so limiting quickly became liberating. Suddenly I had money to spend on the things I loved, instead of being mad that I couldn’t pursue my passions.
Obviously what’s important will be different for everyone. You may hate to travel, but love to have a new cell phone every year. You may hate books but love video games. The trick is to figure out for yourself what you want to keep in your life in order to be happy and satisfied and then drop or greatly reduce the stuff that doesn’t matter. Frugality gives you the tools to save on the areas of your life that aren’t important so that you have money to spend on the things that are.
(Photo courtesy of coneslayer)