Why Frugality is Hard for You (And What to Do About It)

by Vincent King · 16 comments

You’ve tried setting a budget and sticking to it.

You can’t, so you blow more money than you would have had you not set the budget in the first place.

Why is it so hard? And what should you do about it?

Budgets are hard because they’re so restrictive — almost suffocating.

When your friends invite you out to TGIFriday’s, you can’t say no. It’s degrading. It’s demeaning. It’s just plain sad. You can’t bring yourself to do it. Out you go, deeper in debt thanks to your lack of will power.

The psychology behind budgets encourages failure. It’s tantamount to being told “no,” and who wants to be told “no” to everything they want? It’s almost like budgets are daring us to spend.

Here are some ways to get around this mentality — and finally get frugal.

7 Tips for Budgeting Without Suffocating

1. Change your attitude

If you look at your budget as a tool, a measurement of your success, you’ll be less likely to resent it. It’ll be part of your team, not your opponent. You should also view it as a choice. You’re the only one that can put you on a budget, and you’re the only one that can opt not to. It’s entirely up to you.

2. Frame your reasoning

Why are you being frugal in the first place? Do you have a goal you want to reach? Are you trying to teach your kids how to budget? Do you want to pay off your debt? When you define your reason, write it down. Repeat it to yourself each morning.

3. Set a time frame for your goals

It doesn’t mean you stop living frugally after reaching your goal; you’ll simply set a new one. By giving yourself a time frame, you can at least see a stopping point in the future. Frugal living will become second nature as you continue to set and meet small goals.

4. Establish your new habit one step at a time

If you’re faced with moving a mountain, you’ll likely shut down at the thought and won’t complete the task. It’s simply too great. Who wants to try something they know they can’t do? But, if you’ve been told to move a single rock from that mountain, you’ll probably start laying out your plan and get it done. Because it’s just a rock.

Establish frugality in stages. What are some of the easy steps you can take to change your habits? Maybe set a rule for not eating out. And until that’s engrained, don’t try to add a new habit. Take it one step at a time.

5. Measure your successes

If you must live frugally, then you don’t feel like you can do whatever you want. For many of us, that’s a downer. Celebrate your successes — no matter how small — and do so often. Did you have coffee from home today instead of from the coffee shop? Celebrate. Not by spending money, but by giving yourself a pat on the back and cheering yourself on. (Out loud!)

6. Identify your weaknesses

What are your triggers for spending? Why? How can you avoid them? Or, what alternative behaviors will help you deal with them? Most of us can control ourselves and our spending — until we hit a trigger. It could be a bad day at the office, a break up, or even an invite to hang out with friends. Make a list of your triggers, then write down alternative behaviors that will bring you the same feeling (without the cost).

7. Find more pleasure in your life

It’s hard to wallow in the yuck of being told no. So, seek pleasure. In everything. Yes, this is a frugal lunch of peanut butter and jelly, but it’s an amazingly creamy peanut butter — and with this glass of milk, it feels like elementary school when your mom lovingly packed your lunchbox each morning. You’re no longer eating a cheap PB&J; instead, you’re consuming a wonderful memory.

Thriving in frugality is a mental game. Luckily, it’s one you can win.

How has changing your mentality helped you become more frugal?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Y Raz December 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

This really hits home, and all these tips are spot on. Its hard being frugal. It really feels suffocating. Enjoy life and keep a budget!

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Jonathan December 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Framing your reason is an excellent tip. The more you remind yourself of why you are saving, the more likely you are to stick to it in my opinion, especially if it’s for family :)

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Trace @ Independence Investor December 9, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I set saving, investing and debt reduction targets. If I am doing OK in these categories, I don’t lose any sleep over spending my remaining take home pay. I tend to take a long term view and attempt to strike a balance between current needs vs. future goals.

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Jon@2-copper-coins.com December 9, 2013 at 9:02 pm

“Frame Your Reasoning.” I love that point, it helps you keep focused on your motivation for being frugal in the first place. I also love that you offer people the freedom to end their season of frugality, if they can afford it. Frugality is a tool to get us toward our bigger financial goals. Also I look at our budget as a way to say no to things that I feel guilty about not going to. When our friends invite us out to eat and I know we can’t afford it, rather than agonizing over the hit to our budget I use that budget to get us out of a stressful situation. A budget is nameless and faceless and my friends can’t get frustrated with it.

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property marbella December 10, 2013 at 5:20 am

In your budget, there must be a pleasure account so you can join at TGIFriday’s, etc. A budget should include all parts of your expenses for an entire year, you should not skimp – you’ll be economical.

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Karen December 10, 2013 at 9:06 am

Great suggestions. We have to accept that we can’t have it both ways.I purposely try to cut back on things I can control to free up money for fun things like concerts and baseball games. I’m a big Red Sox fan and I like to splurge on tickets. I save money on every day expenses so I can afford fun activities. I save money on groceries. I plan carefully and came up with a system to not waste my food. At times, it seems hard but I remind myself of why I am doing it. : )

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KM December 10, 2013 at 11:07 pm

I don’t know, I guess it’s easy for me – I don’t have a lot of interest in spending money or going out or keeping up with someone else. Just today, I was at the store thinking about getting a larger slow cooker because the one I have does not make enough for us to have leftovers and is hard to clean. I ended up rationalizing my way out of why I wanted it in the first place – and this happens all the time. “Should I spend money on such and such?” “Why? Do I really need to? Can I get away with something else? I will do it later, when what I have is broken, etc.” I think it’s the mentality, but I don’t remember acquiring it or forcing myself into it. I can see how it can be difficult for some people, but I also think it’s the cornerstone of being frugal.

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Gina December 11, 2013 at 4:46 am

Great tips. The key is setting realistic goals and working towards them. Thanks for sharing.

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Jon @ MoneySmartGuides December 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I make it into a game. The more I save the closer I am to reaching my goal of financial freedom. Then I try to save more than I did the previous time. It’s all about your mindset.

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fredjohnson December 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

I don’t really live “frugal”, but I do live below my means. So, to me, this is all a relative thought. For example, if you make $50k a year and live on $25k of it then that’s what I’m talking about. If you make $900k a year and live on $200k of it then that’s living below your means, but probably not frugally. Either one is fine in my book.

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Lisa Woodley December 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm

It can be good to really try to spend as little as possible for several weeks just to see how little you actually need to get by. Once you get over the pain of cutting back it becomes much easier to save.

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life December 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I like to use percentages rather than strict numbers for budgeting. They adjust based on adjusting income which gives me the freedom I need to not feel totally suffocated and restricted.

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Laura @ RichmondSavers.com December 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Wonderful advice! I think it’s important to allow yourself to acknowledge and celebrate your progress, and to also identify your weaknesses. You can’t overcome your personal challenges that are stopping you from being frugal/budgeting well if you’re not willing to admit what they are.

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lana January 24, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I try and act frugally. We give 10%, save 30% and spend the rest. The rest is the problem. I feel like we could save and give more. Right now we’re getting our kids through college, so things are a little tight.

When I get the urge to acquire or spend, I go to a thrift shop or garage sale. Sometimes it feels great to make homemade crafts like candles or lip gloss. Sometimes going for a hike or reading a great book can scratch the spending itch.

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