One strong undercurrent of sentiment among commenters on this blog is that living a financially sensible lifestyle – spending far less than you earn, investing, not spending money foolishly, and so on – is boring. Incredibly boring, in fact. So boring that I get numerous comments along the lines of “WHY DON’T YOU GET A LIFE?”
Well, the truth is that it’s not really boring at all and, in fact, I feel substantially more fulfilled after turning my financial situation around than I ever did before. Here are seven tips that I encourage you to try out if you’re trying out financially sensible living and finding it to be less exciting than you’d like.
Re-evaluate your hobbies There are a lot of enjoyable hobbies out there that don’t require a fistful of cash. Read a book. Start a garden. Take a walk. Fully enjoy the DVDs/video games/CDs you already have. Teach yourself to cook. Then, focus on that hobby and really develop it – if you put in the time at any hobby, you will become more skilled at it. Since figuring out my financial situation, I’ve come to really enjoy cooking, something I didn’t enjoy nearly as much until I decided to actually learn how to do it with some modicum of skill. Not only is it fun, virtually everything I make is cheaper than eating out.
Involve other people Being frugal doesn’t mean being a hermit. In fact, it’s quite often worthwhile to get others involved. Invite friends over and prepare a meal for them. Have a movie night where you watch some of your favorites from your collection. Don’t shy away from other people out of some kind of “shame” that you’re being frugal; instead, put your lifestyle choices out there.
Go green Almost every environmentally friendly choice you make is also a frugal choice. Start recycling aluminum cans by having a separate storage container for them – and then take them to the recycling center yourself on occasion and make a few bucks. Reduce your energy use around the home and save on your electric and natural gas bills. Find ways to increase your car’s gas mileage and save on your gasoline bills. There are countless things you can do under the umbrella of going green that don’t involve spending money, plus it’s something you can discuss with others in a culturally relevant manner (while padding your pocket with the savings).
Buy things for the long haul Financially sensible doesn’t mean cheap – in fact, I quite often buy very expensive things. The only caveat is that these purchases were made with reliability and the long haul in mind. I am quite willing to spend a lot up front for a reliable and energy efficient appliance. In other words, you don’t have to fill your house with cheap stuff to be “frugal” – I certainly don’t and I don’t recommend it either. Instead, buy just the stuff you need – but buy quality. If you’re concerned about appearances, most of the best choices for total cost of ownership are aesthetically pleasing, too – they’re usually rather expensive right off the bat, but they’re cheaper over time and last longer because of reduced energy and maintenance.
Instead of buying ten frivolous items a month, focus on one quality item a month. A lot of people like to shop, and as a result they wind up buying a lot of stuff that’s completely unnecessary. To those folks, I generally recommend reducing but not eliminating your purchases. Instead of buying ten unnecessary things a month, cut that down to one, but make that item quality, allowing yourself to spend more than usual on that one item. This works particularly well for clothes shopping – I know one person who is addicted to buying shoes, buying several pairs a year, but I know she would get much more enjoyment out of one great pair of shoes than box after box of cheap pairs that are just worn a few times each.
Fill your life with positive reminders of your choices. I like visual debt reminders; they perk me up quite often and make me realize that the choices I’m making really are transforming my life. Keeping one in my wallet has convinced me to keep my wallet closed many times – and feel really good about it.
Give it time. Behavioral changes don’t come overnight. Spend some time trying out all of the other tips and slowly you’ll find yourself weaned from at least some of your financially irresponsible behavior. Once you’ve done that, it becomes much easier to start getting a grip on your situation and getting financially ahead.