Last month I shared the importance of saving money to assist with getting started on the road to financial freedom. This month, we’ll focus on living within means without feeling too restricted. When you feel financially limited, it can result in poorer financial decision-making.
Here are 7 strategies you can implement to start living and spending within your means – without the feeling of limitation working against you.
- Separate wants and needs. When it comes to shopping, knowing the difference between a want and a need will help keep you out of debt. Before you make a purchase, ask yourself if you really need it. If you don’t, wait before you buy it. I use the 48-hour rule. If I see something I want to buy but don’t think I absolutely need, I’ll wait 48 hours before I buy it. More often than not, I change my mind.
- Challenge recurring expenses. Find ways of making spending cuts without major lifestyle alterations by getting creative. Your recurring expenses – monthly, quarterly and/or annual costs, are the perfect starting point. If you’re still struggling to live within your means, take a hard look at your expenses. There is probably something you can cut out or at least cut down on. These expenses include gym memberships, hair and nail salons, cable TV, shopping trips, etc. Also, stop paying for the privilege of things you can get for free! Basic checking accounts and ATM withdrawals for example –BIG waste of money.
You may be dead set on keeping cable, but you can still call up the cable company (and its competitors) to try negotiating a better rate. Even mundane expenses like your insurance should be reassessed every year to ensure you’re getting the best coverage based on your current needs at the best possible value.
- Shop savvy – it’s not just recurring expenses that are up for negotiation. You can save hundreds of dollars on everything from household repairs to medical bills by researching price ranges and challenging costs.
- Spread out splurges. Another great option for reducing costs without cutting them out entirely is rethinking their frequency. Just as you might transition from daily to weekly happy hour for the sake of your health, adjusting the timeline of your spending splurges can go a long way in supporting your financial health without resorting to total deprivation. For example, if you indulge in a monthly massage, try changing to a quarterly schedule. Or if you go in for a haircut and color every 6 weeks, try stretching it to every 8 or 10 weeks.
- Don’t compete! Don’t fall victim to the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. Sure, your friends or neighbors might drive nicer cars, have the newest technology, or take expensive vacations, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Your neighbor might have financed that Mercedes, put the new flat-screen on his credit card, and taken out a personal loan to pay for a vacation. Stay in your lane in making the best decision based on your financial status and goals.
- Save money wherever possible. Saving money will help you stop overextending yourself financially.
- Never walk into the grocery store unprepared. Before you shop, clip or print out coupons, check the weekly circular, and make a list. I estimate I save about $40 a trip this way.
- Don’t pay retail. Sign up for a store’s newsletters to get coupons and learn about sales. When shopping online, always compare prices at several sites and look for a coupon or promotional code. Sites like Dealnews, Savings.com and RetailMeNot will help you find the best deal.
- Skip designer coffee. Sure, it tastes fantastic, but it’s also $4.50 a cup. Make your coffee at home and I have received fantastic coffee from gas stations for under $1.00.
- Buy secondhand. You can find incredible deals at garage sales or in thrift shops.
- Save a sizable portion of your income. To ensure financial security, most financial advisors suggest saving 10-15% of your income. This savings will help you endure various emergencies that may arise and build up your retirement accounts.
When you hear terms like “living within your means,” especially when combined with words like “budget,” it’s natural to think about deprivation. You might think there’s no difference between “budget” and “diet.” They’re both about deprivation, right?
Wrong. A diet is deprivation: Cottage cheese isn’t anything close to ice cream. Living within your means, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be about deprivation. Spending less on insurance by raising your deductible doesn’t negatively impact your life. Nor does having a drink at home with friends instead of paying $8 each at a bar.
Sure, it’s fun to spend money. I like eating out, traveling, and other entertainments as much as anyone. However, I think I found the secret to spending less money. You have to learn to enjoy free/cheap entertainments. These days we spend most of our time enjoying hikes, reading, playing at the playgrounds, cooking, listening to various free concerts, and ferreting out free and discount days at the museums around town. There are a ton of free things to do out there and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun. Spending money for fun once in a while is good, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
In short, you can live within your means and still enjoy life. The trick? Substituting imagination for money. Think about what you really enjoy — then find a way to get it for less.
Now that you’re on your way to achieving your savings goals and living within your means, be on the lookout for next month’s tips on the importance of maintaining a healthy credit score/report.