Frugal living is to successful dieting as Snickers bars are to diet failure. Okay, perhaps my analogy is not quite that bleak or dreary in real life, but you get the idea. If you are a spender, and you put yourself in front of something that makes you spend, disaster usually ensues -- just like dieting and a rich, delicious Snickers bar.
Two years ago, when I embarked down the path to a frugal lifestyle, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was not prepared. And because of that, I failed. In fact, I failed many times. It wasn't until I figured out how to mentally psyche myself into saving that I finally met with success. What did I do differently?
No 1: I set realistic goals.
I did not just wake up on morning with enough money to pay off all of my debts, but I did wake up with the resolve to start paying down my debts one at a time.
As I do with most other things in my life, I created a spreadsheet. And once I saw how much I was paying back (normally four or five times my total) to my credit card companies, it was enough to electroshock me into better fiscal behavior. I started by paying off my debt that had the smallest balance and highest interest rate, and then snowballed the rest of my debt from there.
I made paying off each debt a challenge; a game of sorts. Reviving my ultra-competitive streak got things done, even if I was only competing with myself.
No. 2: I did a (regular) mental check in.
Instead of looking at a frugal lifestyle as one of being deprived of everything I wanted, I adopted a new attitude: I began thinking of all the things I could do if I did not have a mountain of debt holding me back and prioritized my spending. When I prioritized my spending, it was much easier to cut spending on things that did not matter, in favor of things that did.
No. 3: I kept a "Yay Me" journal.
When I paid off a card or achieved a savings milestone, I documented my achievement, gave myself a pat on the back and then had a mini-celebration, rewarding my good behavior.
No. 4: I went with what motivated me.
Remember my saying that I would reward myself after each successful milestone? Well I did. However, before I did this, I had to figure out what motivated me. For me, a little splurge on a dinner out (not having to cook is a nice thing for me) was all the incentive I needed -- and naturally I wrote this splurge into my budget. It helped.
No. 5: I still have "mad money".
I realized that the primary reason I kept falling off the frugal wagon was that I was not seeing a payback for my cutbacks. So, I built a little frivolity into my budget, without making my budget frivolous. What do I mean by this? I give myself a "mad money" allowance at the beginning of each month.
Mad money is money I can do whatever I want with: I can buy a new pair of shoes, snag a new outfit, enjoy a girl's night out with my pals or do whatever else my little heart desires. Trick is, when that money is gone, I have trained myself to realize that it is gone until the next month. It gives me a reward for my frugal life, while helping me stay on budget during outings and splurges -- I think it's a win/win.
6. Go public.
I love accountability, and I find that talking about my frugal life using a public forum is great for that. I blog about my frugal life nearly every day. This activity keeps me accountable both to myself and to my readers. I even keep a Facebook fan page where I publish daily tips, alongside items I use to keep me on the frugal path.
If blogging is not for you, participate in self-help forums or get a money buddy. Both of these options keep you publically accountable as you proceed on your journey to living a frugal life.
How are you living a frugal life?
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