It happens to a lot of people – myself included.
One day, something triggers a change inside of you. You get really sick of paying money to the credit card companies and finally you reach the tipping point where the drawbacks of living a debt-filled life outweigh the benefits.
You’re sick of it.
You cut up the credit cards. You read a bunch of personal finance websites and books and articles. You dive full force into every frugal tactic you can think of. You sell off a bunch of stuff in your closet.
For those first few weeks, it’s an incredible rush. You’re finding all sorts of new ways to avoid spending money. Your checking account isn’t going down and you’re able to pay all your bills and even make a big payment or two against your debt.
It feels great!
But it isn’t sustainable. The patterns and routines of the life you lead come calling. You begin to miss old hobbies and old treats. You want to go out with friends and live.
So you slip a little. Or, maybe, you slip a lot and you just go on a big spending splurge.
You feel guilty about it and try to reclaim the magic that had you moving in the right direction… but it just feels gone.
What now? What do you do in the aftermath of a frugality binge?
The first thing you need to realize is that some of the things you’ve been doing have worked and some of them have not. You’ve likely tried a lot of different tactics all at once. Some of them really do work in accordance with your life. Others… well, they just weren’t meant to sync up with your life. Not everything works for everyone.
The trick is to go through what you’ve been doing and separate the wheat from the chaff. You need to figure out which tactics were a net positive for you and which ones were not.
For example, writing a grocery list and buying fewer things at the store might have been a pretty big improvement for you without really eliminating anything you care about from your life. On the other hand, going out for lunch with your coworkers on Tuesdays might have been something that you really valued.
This is where balance really comes in handy. If you’re finding that missing out on that lunch is actually putting a significant damper on your life, then you shouldn’t skip it.
Here’s the real trick: most of the money-saving tactics out there that really work are nearly invisible. They either work because they really require only a one-time action from you or they don’t actually bother anything you value in life.
Generic products, for example, are an “invisible” frugal gesture most of the time because you never notice the difference when using the product, but you save money by choosing it. Airing up your car tires is an “invisible” frugal gesture because, once it’s done, your car’s fuel efficiency is improved and you buy gas less often (at least for a few weeks).
It’s those “invisible” ones that are the real key to turning your financial life around. Find them and the quality of your life remains unchanged, but your finances steadily improve. If you find that a frugal change is bothering you more than it’s worth, toss it to the side and seek a different approach.
When you make these “invisible” changes, though, don’t just freely spend the money you save. Keep track of those changes and how much they’re saving you, then take that amount that you saved and apply it toward improving your situation. Don’t let your lifestyle inflate in other ways.
Most of us, when we start turning our financial lives around, binge on frugality. Quite often, we rebound back from those changes because we find them too draconian. The key to success is keeping up with the tactics that actually worked well (invisibly, in other words), discarding the ones that didn’t, and utilizing what we’ve saved in a positive fashion.
What you’re left with is a pattern that leads to success.