How To Be Frugal Without Being Miserable

By Ali Luke

April 30, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

With the recession biting deep, most of us are taking a long hard look at our spending. We’re staying in, buying fewer luxuries, and avoiding “treating ourselves” to things that, a couple of years ago, we wouldn’t have thought twice about.

Many people believe that being frugal equates to being miserable. But cutting down your spending doesn’t need to be painful. It’s simply a case of figuring out where you can make changes that don’t impact (much) on the fun that you’re having.

Here are four steps to being frugal without being miserable:

Figure Out What Matters To You…
Some things might be an expense you could cut, but if they’re giving you a lot of enjoyment, don’t be too quick to cut them out completely.

For example, if you really enjoy a few drinks after work on a Friday night, don’t force yourself to stick to soda all evening. If you end up feeling resentful about saving money, you’re more likely to blow it on an unnecessary purchase.

Or if your buy a couple of magazines every week, and enjoy the “me time” spent reading them cover to cover, decide whether you really want to give up that pleasure for a few dollars extra in your pocket.

Note this is what matters to you … not what your partner, parents or colleagues think is worth your money. If you couldn’t care less about an expensive haircut, don’t get one just because everyone else at work does.

…And What Doesn’t Matter
Once you’ve figured out where your spending really does improve your quality of life, figure out where it doesn’t. Maybe you always buy brand-name groceries out of habit … can you actually tell the difference if you switch to generic ones? (You could save about a third of your grocery bill each week.)

If you always grab a coffee and muffin on the way to work, is it really a treat or just a habit? Try eating breakfast at home instead, and making the coffee-and-muffin trip a once-a-week event. You might be surprised to find that you get a lot more enjoyment out of it.

About two mornings a month, I take my laptop to a local coffee shop that I adore, pick up a tasty morning treat and a cup of coffee, and sit here in this pleasant environment writing for a few hours. I enjoy it. It feels like a real perk to me and I leave feeling as though my time and money were well spent.

Several years ago, I made a daily stop at a coffee shop for breakfast. I’d sit in there each and every morning, drop $7 on a breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a paper, and read it without much real joy. It was my routine. It wasn’t joyful – it was just the way I started my day.

Trent, “Splurges, Habits and Projection”, on The Simple Dollar

Find Money-Free Ways to Have Fun
Socializing doesn’t have to cost you a dime. Instead of going out for a meal or to a club with friends, why not have them round for an evening in? If you ask everyone to bring snacks and drinks, it won’t cost you anything.

Instead of taking the kids to an expensive theme park at the weekend, why not grab a ball or a kite and head to the local park? Younger children in particular are often thrilled with very simple activities. Don’t buy into the commercial hype that suggests you need to spend a lot in order to bring up your kids well: your time, attention and love is much more valuable to them than your money.

Don’t Let Frugality Become An Obsession
A bit like people who get obsessed with life-hackery, some people can become obsessed with being frugal. Be careful that you don’t end up going to a huge amount of inconvenience and spending a lot of time just to save a couple of dollars. Sometimes, you may need to settle for the not-so-great deal at your local store, rather than heading miles to somewhere that has better offers on.

A good way to assess whether an action is “worth it” to you is to work out how long it takes and what your effective hourly rate of savings would be. For example, if it takes you two hours to go through all the coupons, vouchers and other offers that you’ve found – and you end up saving a grand total of $10 – that’s $5/hour. At that rate, you’d be better off ditching the coupons and vouchers, and taking up a McJob instead!

Are you trying to be more frugal? Do you feel that it’s making your life better, or worse? What tips do you have for being frugal without being miserable?

Ali Luke

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