The Secret to Sustainable Frugality

by Tracy · 16 comments

Frugal fatigue has been in the mainstream media a lot this week. It seems that consumers have grown weary of tightening their belts and are letting it all hang out. It’s certainly okay to splurge every once in a while especially on things that have real meaning to you, however, it’s important to not forget the lessons we’ve learned during the recent recession.

The key is to create a positive mindset about frugal living, so that it doesn’t seem like something that’s been imposed on you but rather a way of living that you have chosen for yourself. When we are frugal because it aligns with our values and goals, it’s much easier to see the bigger picture and resist the temptation to solve our problems by spending money.

Why Are You Frugal?

Knowing why you are choosing a frugal lifestyle is the first step. Everyone will have a different answer. Long term financial security is certainly a big one for most people, but think of the other benefits. Do you want to free yourself from being focused on material things? Are you concerned about the environment? Do you want to be able to live on less so that you can spend your time doing things that matter to you?

If you know why you are choosing frugality, you are empowered to stay on track towards meeting your goals. It also gives you the freedom to spend money on the things that will enrich your life as you can see how they fit into your overall goals and desires.

Gain Some Perspective

I am always shocked when I see a news report that says the average household income in the area where I live is in the $30K a year range because it seems like I’m always stopped behind a luxury Lexus SUV with bumper stickers for pricey private schools on the back.

Most of us do tend to notice all the Joneses that are living the high life and ignore all the evidence that many people have much more moderate means and too many are living in dire poverty. This skewed perspective can leave us feeling like we don’t measure up, which can lead to buying things so that we feel like part of the crowd.

I don’t think any of us would feel joy at knowing that many people are struggling just to eat but it can give us perspective and a feeling of gratitude and humility instead of feeling deprived.

Give Yourself Permission to Splurge Wisely

Never spending money on things you would enjoy is a grim way to live. If you’re experiencing a financial crisis, tightening is unavoidable, but when you can, give yourself some leeway to “blow” money on unnecessary items that give you joy.

Starvation diets don’t work in the long run when it comes to losing weight and neither does a starvation budget. Not only will you eventually rebel, but it doesn’t teach you how to weigh options and make smart choices. As many failed dieters will tell you, sheer willpower is not enough. You need to craft a plan that works with your lifestyle and personality for long-term success.

Replace Spending with Something Else

If you’ve ever stopped smoking, you’ll know that kicking the habit is much easier if you can replace smoking with another activity to break old habits and stay away from trouble spots like nightclubs and friends that smoke. Likewise, it’s hard to stop spending if you spend all your free time in the mall or browsing online deal sites!

I’ve found that the more physical activity I get in my life, the less I spend. It keeps me out of the stores and I’m too busy to even think about all the cool stuff I could be buying. What activities do you enjoy that will keep your mind off of shopping and give your life richness and meaning?

Finding a circle of friends who are willing to spend time doing low-cost activities with you is an excellent way to fill your days with fun. If your friends and family usually like to do things like go to the movies or restaurants, take the lead and invite them to a movie night at your place or a picnic in the park. You might even find that they are grateful to you for finding inexpensive ways to fill the time.

What do you think are the secrets to a long-term frugal lifestyle?

Photo Credit: danesparaza

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    Frugality can lead to wealth . There are a myriad of ways to save money , a few dimes or quarters or dollars on a daily basis will lead to thousands of dollars over the years . A small drip in a bathtub will eventually fill the tub and overflow .
    A small [ insignificant ] leak in a 125 foot Yacht will eventually sink the Yacht .
    Perpetual Credit Card debt and paying off the minimal amount every month , the compound interest will destroy you financially . Look for sales in Supermarkets such as Buy 1 , get 1 Free ……I load up and buy 4 or 5 . I buy house brands on canned goods and save quite a bit. Make a shopping list of what you need and only buy those items . When you go to work , adjust your heating or cooling . At night , I only have 1 light on in the house , the room that I am in . Showers , wet down , turn the water off , soap up , turn the water on to rinse off . You save on water and heating the hot water . Buy summer clothes the end of the season when on sale and winter clothes in spring when on sale. Buy Christmas candy and Christmas cards the day after Christmas when sold at half price . The cards are of course for next year. I don’t buy bottled water , it is insanely expensive . If you insist , then buy the gallon water for 99 cents . I have always bought low mileage used cars for the past 50 years and have saved a bundle. You can also buy good quality used furniture instead of new . You save about 50 % or more . If some people who love antique furniture and pay very high prices , what is wrong with buying a used dining table , cocktail table or a couch . I recently sold a tufted leather couch that cost me almost $ 6000.00 about 10 years ago , it was in mint condition / like new for less than $ 1000.00
    I buy used DVD movies for about $ 3.00 rather than pay the Cable companies a high price to watch a ” premium ” movie . When doing laundry , I hang up the wet wash until it is about half dry [ 1 to 1 1/2 hours ] before I put them into the dryer . You save a lot of electricity . Dinner , I have a salad , meat , vegetable and rice or potato . Never eat more than 4 ounces of meat or chicken , it is more than enough. When you are on your own , from 18 years old to 85 years is 67 years , that is 24,455 days . 47 years [ 18 – 65 ] working , you should have been able to save at least $ 150,000.00 and if cautiously invested it could easily be over $ 1,000,000.00 . I started with nothing but am now very wealthy with no concerns for the rest of my life due to my being careful but still lived a great life.

  • Gerald Iversen says:

    Both my spouse and I have recently retired and are in very good shape. Our formula has been simple. Give away at least 10% to help others, save at least 15%, live within or below our means on the rest. We were strongly influences 30 years ago by “Living More with Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre. We follow the maxim from Ghandi “Live simply that others may simply live.”

  • Donna says:

    Frugality was ingrained in me by my depression era parents. We did not have a lot but we had 80 acres to play in plus I had horses, every girl’s dream. Now I have a chunk of money in a 401k, 6 years left on my mortgage and no car payments. I choose to drive a 13 year old Subaru, buy used and on sale clothes, do not shop very often and set a budget. It is a matter of perspective. It is not my money, it is God’s. That helps me set my spending.

  • Jewelsmom says:

    To me, being frugal means not worrying about money. THAT is a luxury few of my friends have.

  • Sara Tetreault says:

    I agree with goal setting. Picturing what you’d like to do with your “savings” is usually easier than just saving. Being frugal has brought our family many more choices in life but the benefits don’t come over night. Saving (as a couple) in our 20s has allowed us to have more time (as a family) in our our 40s. Long term returns, yes, but time is our greatest luxury in life.

  • Pumpkinshell says:

    To me it is a game. It’s fun. I keep getting better at it. But I do think you have to stop short of the point where it is an obsession and it masters you, rather than the other way around. Honestly, though, it is as much fun as spending wantonly. I guess they are both a kind of sport. This is the game I choose.

  • sonya says:

    Being frugal isn’t something that came natural to me it was a process, of slowly changing bad spending habits. Saving the wants for the things I needed, its still a struggle but I’m in a better place finicially than I was say two years ago.

  • indio says:

    Living in a small house has been the best reminder to stay frugal. With 1200 square feet to live and work in, a family has to be frugal about how much it buys or the house would be bursting at the gills. My rule is that any time a bag of clothes or toys come in, another bag has to go out. This is the only way to make sure the clutter doesn’t take over, but it also has the added benefit of keeping us frugal. We only buy what we need.

  • Savvy Young Money says:

    I like using the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality in a reverse manner to help me be more frugal. I’m young, so my net worth is not very high, but I like comparing what others own, earn, and save to remind myself to keep up. That way I can set high but realistic goals to one day to be able to afford a good lifestyle.

  • Jenna says:

    Act like the money you have isn’t actually yours. Max out your 401 (k) matching plan, max out your Roth IRA, donate money, etc.

  • Eloisa says:

    I’ve learned to be frugal early in life when I became a teenage mother. Most of my earnings were spent buying necessities for my baby such as diapers and formula. I’ve learned early in life how to prioritize my wants and needs and live below our means. As I got older, money was a bit more plentiful, a previous coworker convinced me to sign up with a 401k plan at 22 years old. The fear of becoming a burden to my kids is what keeps us contributing to our retirement. It still is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and it’s automatically taken out of our paychecks. My family and I splurge in eating out, traveling and making our house more comfortable by adding a little bit of upgrades.

  • Austerity Bill says:

    You’ll never be happy over-spending on material things. Spend wisely and spend on things that make you and your happy family.

  • Ginger says:

    I think building habits is one of the best ways to be frugal. It is a habit to buy in bulk and freeze or store the rest. Over time this builds a pantry I can eat from. There are weeks I just go to the store for fruit/veggies and milk because I have everything else. My goals are important to me, more than anything else, however if I did not have an splurge money I would go nuts. I believe people have not learned how to be frugal and therefore are just cutting out the fun. This leads people get tired (frugal fatigue) or to go out and splurge big time. People need get good frugal habits and that takes time. Learn to plan ahead, that saves time and money.

  • MoneyNing says:

    Seeing my retirement goals come to fruition has almost become an addiction, so it’s easy to be frugal because it helps me reach my goals faster.

    The way I see it, the sooner I can reach my goals, the more freedom I have in actually being able to splurge away. The ability to spend is worth far more to me than actually spending.

    I guess in a way, going along Tracy’s post, I’m working my way to become the Jones.

  • Squirrelers says:

    There are many ways to get ourselves to be persistent with our frugality. A couple that work for me are:

    1) Visualization- Do I want to be old and poor? By thinking of this, it gets me to stay on track

    2) Habit- by making something routine- like brushing teeth – it becomes second nature. Practicing and repeating frugal decision making can make it more natural and possibly more likely to remain long-term.

    3) Living not just for tomorrow, but also for today – ok, this might seem contradictory to the 2 above, but we don’t want to live in want, with total delayed gratification, do we? Balance is important, and rewarding ourselves in smart ways can be good for us overall.

  • Beth says:

    That’s so true. If you don’t have a good reason for being frugal, it isn’t sustainable. Personally, I am frugal for both long term financial security and environmental reasons. Having a little extra flexibility in my budget of course doesn’t hurt either. 🙂

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