The book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over 15 million copies since it was first published in 1989, teaching people all over the world how to live happier, more successful, and more satisfying lives. One of the prevailing themes of the book is that to change your life, you need to change your attitude.
No one else is responsible for what happens to you but you, so you can either complain about the things you don’t like in your life or you can set about changing them. Not surprisingly, this directly relates to the state of your finances. This post is a financial application of the concepts presented in the book.
If you’re tired of living paycheck to paycheck, having your phone regularly cut off, or making excuses to skip dinners with your friends, then you can use these seven habits to take control of your money situation and live a happier and more frugal lifestyle.
Habit One: Be Proactive
The first habit of highly effective people is that they take responsibility for their own lives; if they fail, they have no one to blame but themselves. Regardless of how you were raised or how you were treated at school, you can choose your behavior now. Being proactive means understanding that YOU are in control of your day-to-day interactions, and thereby, the direction your life takes. This is in stark comparison to a reactive person, who is often affected by their environment and will find external sources to blame for their behavior. For example, if the weather is good, they’re in a good mood, but if the weather is bad, it affects them and they blame the weather for their bad mood.
What most people forget is that though you can’t control the stimulus, you can control your response. One of your most important choices is your words; the language you use is an effective indication of how you see yourself. If you use proactive language, such as “I can” or “I will,” you’re starting with a more positive attitude than someone who uses language like “I can’t” or “I have to” or “If only.”
How to be proactive for effective frugality:
- Take the first step. You cannot take control of your finances until you make the commitment to do so; the more you ignore the situation, the worse it will get. Instead, take a long hard look at your finances — your budget, debts, income, and expenses, and try to understand where your money is going and where you can budget better. (To help you out, here are 25 ways to pay off your debt more easily.)
- Tell people. Using proactive language to vocalize your hope of being more financially responsible not only helps you crystallize your goal, but it can also help you avoid the peer pressure that makes budgeting and frugality hard. If you explain to your friends and family that you’re trying to live a more frugal lifestyle, they’ll be less likely to pressure you into one more round of drinks or another dinner out.
- Listen. Listen to yourself and to the reasons you give each time you make a purchase outside of your budget or decide not to put spare money into your savings account. Taking the time to stop and listen to the reasons you give yourself for spending more than you earn will give you the opportunity to hear just how shallow many of those reasons are. This can stop you from making purchases that impede your goal of effective frugality.
Habit Two: Begin with the End in Mind
Those who are effective in achieving their goals are able to envisage their desired end result in spite of the obstacles. Highly effective people adhere to this habit based on the principle that all things are created twice; there is first the mental creation, then the physical creation. The physical creation follows the mental creation the same way that a building follows its blueprints.
If you don’t visualize what you want, then you’re at risk of other people and external circumstances influencing your life – because you’re not influencing it yourself. Instead, begin every day and every task with a clear vision of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Make that vision a reality with your proactive skills from habit one.
How to visualize effective frugality:
- Define your goal. There are many ways to live a frugal lifestyle, and you need to decide how frugal you want to be. Do you want to be debt free, build a savings account of a certain value, or live on one income in a two-income household?
- Decide how you’re going to get there. This will again draw on your budget, but you need to be aware of the obstacles that are standing in your way. These may be literal obstacles, such as credit card debts, or they may be obstacles you’ve identified in your behavior. An example of a behavioral obstacle would be spending $10 every day on junk food on your way home from work, because you’re starving. Instead, you could be packing an inexpensive granola bar to keep you going until dinner. Or, do you find that when you go shopping with your sister, she always helps you justify a frivolous purchase, when you could leave your credit card at home?
MoneyNing Tip: Make sure your goals are SMART!
Habit Three: Put First Things First
Knowing WHY you’re doing something is an effective motivator in helping you transform a mental creation into an actual physical creation of your goal. Ask yourself what the things are that you find most valuable and worthy to you. When you put these things first, you’ll be organizing and managing your time around your personal priorities to make them a reality.
For many people, it’s hard to say no, but this is exactly the skill you have to learn to keep your goals as your first priority. While we are constantly told we can have it all, in reality, having it all is really about prioritizing what is most important to YOU to have, and then focusing on that.
How to put effective frugality first:
- Recognize the effects of your finances. You may not dedicate as much time as you should to managing your finances and practicing frugal principles because you feel there’s always something more important to be doing — whether it’s work, taking the kids to soccer practice, or getting ready for dinner with the girls. If your finances aren’t under control, however, and you’re regularly spending more than you earn, then they’re having a negative impact on every other aspect of your life, from your work to your family and friends. You need to recognize that being frugal is your first priority.
- Just say no. It’s easy to spend more than your budgeted amount each month when you’re worried about missing out on a dinner with friends, feel as though you have to cater a birthday party for your son and 50 of his closest friends, or don’t want to wear the same suit to a work conference two years in a row. If you recognize that you don’t have to take on everything and that it’s okay to say no, then you’ll find you’re more in control of your spending and your budget.
Habit Four: Think Win-Win
Most of us are taught to base our self-worth on comparisons to others and competition against our peers. We think we can only succeed if someone else has failed. We’re also taught that there’s only so much pie to go around, so if you get a big piece, then someone else is missing out. When you think like this, you’re going to feel like nothing is ever fair. As a result, many of us retaliate and take the pie before someone else can take it from us.
Thinking in a win-win mindset allows you to see mutual benefits from all of your interactions. By doing this, you’ll see that the pie tastes even better when it’s shared. If you can approach conflicts and problems with a win-win attitude, you’ll be able to express your ideas and feelings with courage, while still maintaining consideration for the feelings and ideas of others. When you have an abundance mentality, you’re able to see that there is enough for everyone, and that by balancing your confidence with empathy, you can achieve your goals while helping others achieve theirs.
How to create frugal win-win situations:
- Recognize that you don’t always know the full story. As you aim to implement frugal principles and stick to a budget, you may often find yourself thinking “it’s not fair.” It’s not fair that they get to go out to dinner. It’s not fair that they get a new car. It’s not fair that they get to go on vacation, and I don’t. Take the time to realize, however, that you’re only seeing a small part of the finances of your friends and family who seem to “have it all.” And though it’s hard to watch your best friend take a dream European holiday, or your brother buy the car you covet, you’ll get there, too — if you manage your finances frugally. And the best part? There will still be plenty of holiday destinations and fast cars when that time rolls around.
- Understand the difference between possessions and net worth. While your friends and family may seem to have a fuller lifestyle because their house is bigger or their car is newer, you need to consider that it could just be a facade covering their mountains of debt. True wealth is not measured in possessions, but in assets. When the value of your assets is greater than the amount you owe on mortgages, car loans, and credit card debts, then you have a strong net worth and are truly wealthy. By trying to live a more effectively frugal lifestyle, you’ll be able to achieve true wealth, rather than just a life full of stuff.
MoneyNing Tip: When building wealth, remember to look at the big picture, too.
Habit Five: Communication
At its base, communication is the desire to be heard and understood. Most people will listen with the intention to reply to what you’re saying, rather than to understand what you’ve said. To effectively communicate, you need to first understand. If you communicate with the sole intention of being understood, you may ignore what others are saying and miss their meaning entirely. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; pay attention to what people are trying to tell you.
How listening can help you be effectively frugal:
- You are not the only person in your life. Chances are you’re married or in a relationship, have friends or children, or all of the above. As a result, you’re not the only person being affected by your decision to live a more frugal lifestyle. To be effective in your goal of frugality, you need to be able to listen to and understand the goals and behaviors of the other people in your life, too. Consider how effective your frugality would be if you were taking packed lunches to work and avoiding the afternoon coffee run, while your partner was going on shopping sprees during their lunch break. Instead of living a more frugal lifestyle, you’d really be saving on one end and spending on the other.
- Understand the goals and needs of others. While it’s important to explain your desire to live more frugally, it’s also important that you understand the goals and needs of those around you. This way, you can find a way to be more frugal without them having to give up all of the things that are most important to them. You can’t know what those things are unless you listen.
Habit Six: Synergize
Interactions and teamwork are some of the most important ways you can learn new skills and more effective behaviors. Synergizing is the habit of creative cooperation — working as a team to find new solutions to existing problems. Synergy is not something that just happens. It’s a process where you bring all of your personal experience and expertise to the table, enabling more effective results than those you would have been able to achieve individually. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
When you have genuine interactions with people, you’re able to gain new insights and see new approaches to your problems — ones you might not have thought of before.
How to synergize for effective frugality:
- Look for new ways. In a society that excels at consumerism, you’ve probably already realized that you need to find new ways of doing just about everything to be frugal. It’s easy to buy your lunch every day, but it’s more frugal to pack it. It’s easy to drive to work, but it’s more frugal to take the train. It’s easy to buy a new cocktail dress, but it’s more frugal to make one.
- Surround yourself with other frugal people. To be successful in your quest for frugality, surround yourself with like-minded people. Find people who are where you want to be by joining online frugal-living forums, striking up a friendship with a fellow coupon-cutter, or starting a sewing club. When you’re around people with the same goals as you, you’ll be able to share ideas and learn from each other.
MoneyNing Tip: Learn to embrace the positive influence of saving money.
Habit Seven: Sharpen the Saw
You’re the greatest asset you have on your journey to achieving the lifestyle you want, so you need to look after yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Taking the time to renew yourself in these areas of your life will give you strength to maintain the previous six habits, which are essential for your success.
How to frugally renew yourself:
- Physically. By eating better, you’ll feel better. Take it another step further and start your own vegetable patch, which will save you money at the supermarket and be healthier for you. Exercising keeps you fit and healthy, and it doesn’t cost you anything to go for a walk, ride a bike, or skip rope in the backyard. To rest your body, you don’t need to go to a day spa; you can simply relax in the tub at home.
- Emotionally. Interacting socially with others allows you to make meaningful connections, and it makes you feel good. This can be achieved by chatting with the woman at the coffee shop or by calling your mom once a week.
- Mentally. Exercising and expanding your mind through learning, reading, writing, and teaching can be done frugally. Visit your local library, or volunteer at a school or retirement home to teach others a skill you may be taking for granted.
- Spiritually. Spend time close to nature and expand your spiritual self through meditation, music, art, or prayer. Take a quiet moment to center yourself and empty your mind before going to bed. Or, go for a hike and be grateful for the beauty of nature surrounding you.
Frugality doesn’t mean having to give up all the luxuries and things which make you happy. Don’t get burned out by developing habits one through six without taking the time to renew yourself. Frugality is something you want to develop and maintain for the long-term. Follow these seven habits, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a highly frugal person.
Do you consider yourself a highly frugal person? How did you get there?
This post was originally written by Alban, a personal finance writer. He offers money savings tips and helps people to compare home loans online.