Being frugal with money is something to be commended for. In a world filled with extreme consumption, you should be commended for not following the herd. However, in the spirit of being frugal, we could easily cross over into the world of making our lives miserable. Being way too excessive with our frugal habits and crossing over into the world of miserable red-zone. So in this post, I want to share with you 5 ways we can remain frugal, but not miserable.
01 - Buy Quality
As people who are money conscious, when it comes to purchasing items, we often think of how much money we can save. We look for the best deal or the cheapest option available. While this may work for some items, it may not be the wisest decision to apply this blanket strategy to everything we buy. Instead of focusing on price, we should actually be focusing on quality.
When you buy quality, most often quality products last longer and work better than their cheaper counterparts - saving us a lot of misery. Rather than having to replace your items every few months or even weeks, you can go longer between purchases and also save money in the long run.
For me, I see the greatest benefit of buying quality when shopping for clothes. When I was younger, because I wanted to save money, whenever I needed a new jacket or a new shirt, I would find the cheapest one I could find. My go-to stores were Old Navy and Ross.
However, as stated earlier they wouldn’t last long due to wear and tear and I would find myself needing to replace them in just a few months. Not only was I frustrated by the fact that I had to make multiple trips to the store but I also felt like I was spending more money than I should have.
Eventually, I started investing more in my clothing and buying from higher-end stores. Today one of my favorite clothing brands is North Face. Now just to be clear, North Face is not paying me to say any of this. It’s just a brand that I’ve come to love because its clothes are truly high quality. But of all the clothing brands I’ve tried, I feel they have the greatest durability. The jacket I bought 5 years ago still looks and feels the same as the day I bought it.
Yes, are their jackets and pants way more expensive than similar no-brand ones I can find at Old Navy and Ross? No doubt. A similar-looking jacket from North Face might be 4 or 5 times more expensive. However, I can tell you from personal experience they last 10x longer. And therefore they not only save me the misery of having to shop for a new pair of clothes every few months but money as well.
Being frugal doesn’t mean we are buying the cheapest item on the rack. Because when we do that, it comes with its own set of misery - frustration that the item doesn’t work the way we wanted, time wasted buying a new item, and money wasted constantly replacing existing items. Being frugal is something to be commended for. But be a smart frugal shopper. When it comes to spending your money, focus on quality.
02 - Slow Down
When we first make the commitment to transform our lives and cut back on frivolous spending, it is easy to fall into the misery of too fast too soon. You realize after watching all these personal finance videos that you want to make changes to your money habits.
So you decide to sell your car and start biking to work. Who cares if your work is 20 miles away? Your priority is to save money. Instead of eating out for lunch, you decide to just fast. Who cares if this is humanly impossible? You are pursuing financial independence. However, just like a newbie swimmer jumping into the deep end of the pool is unwise, and so is jumping into cutting back everything in your life without a sensible plan.
I remember when my wife and I had just returned from our first money conference with Dave Ramsey. I was so motivated to make changes to our financial life that I decided to cut back on everything. In the spirit of trying to save money on my son’s diaper, we tried reusable diapers. I realized very soon that I was not a very patient father. Within weeks we switched back to disposable diapers. I felt like a complete failure and felt miserable for it.
I truly commend parents who have the patience to not only take care of their children well but the environment as well. So when it comes to practicing new frugal habits, start off nice and slow. Restrict certain aspects of your lifestyle piecemeal instead of all at once. Make a list of your major expenses and prioritize the areas you want to cut back one by one.
For example, this month the goal is to cut back on eating out. Great, progressively target cutting back your eating out from 5 times a week to 3 times a week. Then in the following month target is two times a week. Slow and steady, you want to ease into building your frugal habit. If you aren’t used to it, this isn’t something that just happens overnight.
I’ve seen people who push the boundaries past the breaking point way too soon and end up spending more money than they intended to initially because they needed the recovery time. After our reusable diaper fiasco, my wife and I were on the verge of booking a $5,000 trip to Fiji because we were driving ourselves crazy. Don’t make the mistake that we did. Take things slowly.
03 - Control Big 3
When it comes to most families’ budgets, the three biggest categories of expenses are often - Housing, Food & Transportation. These three make up the majority of the budget so when we can control these three, it makes managing the rest of our budget much more feasible. And frankly less pressure on the other categories of the budget.
I know of people who obsess over gym membership and Netflix subscription prices. Complaining constantly that why can’t get ahead financially because Netflix and their gym keep raising prices. So they make dramatic moves like canceling all their subscriptions and memberships in the spirit of frugality.
But what is most ironic is that these so-called dramatic moves actually don’t make much of a difference in their overall financial situation. It is their huge home mortgages and very expensive luxury vehicle car payments that are doing the most damage. So when we can rein in and control the three biggest expenses in our budget, we won’t have the pressure to make dramatic frugal moves that aren't sustainable, and frankly miserable. Here are a few tips to control the big three.
When it comes to our housing, if we are honest, we most often desire to buy more houses than we need. We imagine hosting lavish parties and using every corner of our house. However, according to a study published in the Wall Street Journal in reality, we only tend to use a small amount of our living space.
The study found that 68% of the family’s time was largely spent in the kitchen as well as the family room. The formal dining room got almost no use, the living room saw very little activity and the porch? No one hardly sits there.
I know every family dynamic is different and with your family, you might love spending time on the porch, but what this study showed was that for many Americans, the majority of our homes most often went unused. So think hard about what type of home you want to raise your family in. What space would your family most value and do you really need 4,000 square feet home to achieve that?
When it comes to transportation, I feel the biggest culprit is that we buy a car for its brand value rather than utility. We focus on the prestige associated with certain cars and overlook the practical aspects that make one vehicle better than another. This can lead to buying a car that is more expensive but not necessarily better suited to our needs. Instead, focus on the features and practicality of a car – not just the brand name. If a Toyota Camry can do the job, do we really need a Jaguar?
When it comes to food, to be honest, if you have your housing and transportation dialed in I feel this is one category you can splurge a bit if you are a foodie. There is naturally an upper limit to how much food we can consume as human beings. However if you notice that your food spending has been creeping up over the past few years, consider meal prepping as a way to dial in your food spending. I personally like to meal prep my breakfast and lunch and this has not only helped in controlling costs but allow me to really enjoy the few meals we eat out.
04 - Stop Feeling Guilty
This is a common feeling that everyone goes through. Feeling guilty after spending money. However frugal individuals tend to allow this feeling of guilt to overpower them even more. Because we are frugal, we often think that every dollar should be spent as effectively as possible. If it's not for our basic sustenance, then it should be invested for good use.
So we have a tendency to put tremendous pressure upon ourselves. And when we spend money, even a small amount on something we want, we can’t help ourselves but feel guilty. After getting that designer leather jacket that we always wanted, we doubt ourselves.
Did I pay too much?
Should I have invested that money?
Who am I to think that I can afford such a piece?
Am I going nuts?
But know that we are all different individuals and all our money situations and priorities are also very different. Being frugal doesn’t mean our car has to always look outdated. Our clothes are tattered. And our shoes are always off-brand from Payless. Don’t deprive yourself of nice things because you think that is what frugal people do. That is just a recipe for misery.
My wife struggles with this constantly. She loves fashion but because of her frugal tendencies, she constantly questions if she should buy a certain item she’s been looking for and researching for the past 6 months. And even after she finally pulls the trigger, she would feel guilty for another 6 months. Feeling like she shouldn’t and couldn’t wear it around.
I have to often remind her that she shouldn’t feel guilty for purchasing something that she worked so hard for. Frugal habits got her to where she is today and she shouldn’t feel guilty for at times treating herself. Really smart, frugal people know their priorities and spend money on things they highly value, while ruthlessly cutting back on things they don’t care too much about.
05 - Spend Money
Many of us who embark on the journey to live frugal lives are often very afraid of spending money. We are afraid of making mistakes when buying something. What if I’m paying too much for this item? What if I don’t love it? We are deadly afraid of wasting money. But when we do this to every single purchase, this comes at the cost of really never enjoying life.
“Spend extravagantly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don't.” - Ramit Sethi
I really love this statement. When it comes to saving money, ironically saving money isn’t the final end state. We save so it can provide us with a sense of security and comfort. And we save so we can enjoy life with the money that we saved.
Smart frugal people have mastered the art of saving money. But they also know how to resourcefully spend their money. Maximizing their dollar so they can fund big-picture wants and dreams. For me, the biggest, yet the most satisfying purchase I made recently has been buying back time.
If I was stuck in the cheap mindset, I could never have considered willingly taking lesser pay because that meant I couldn’t save more. But because I was able to recondition my mind towards a more smart frugal mindset, I saw the true value of time and was willing to pay for it.
If you like to learn more about smart frugal living and specifically the principle of frugal wealth, please check out my post here.