Updated on 09.29.14

Avoiding Boredom During A Financial Turnaround

Trent Hamm

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.

Seven Tips for Avoiding Boredom and Living Frugally

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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).

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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  1. dong says:

    I’m not sure I’ve detected same the strong undercurrents of mockers here in the comments section. I think the majority of comments are positive and supportive. Every site that has any level of popularity such as yours is going to attract trolls.

    I digress though. I think anything can be boring. Spending tons of money and living lavishly can be boring. I feel the key to avoid boredom is to balance being challenged and setting realistic goals. Having goals to work towards are always important.

  2. Frank says:

    Some people can only have ‘fun’ when they are buying ‘stuff’. Surprising that they haven’t figured out what this site is about by now.

    I have a white board on my refrigerator where I write my total debt and the amount it decreased over the last month – that’s a place I am guaranteed to see every day.

    And I’ve found that seeing my debt go down and my savings go up each month gives me a lot more ‘fun’ than most of the junk I have purchased in my life.

  3. Andy says:

    You know what is boring? The World Series. Yes, Trent, your blog is more exciting than the Fall Classic.

  4. Mark says:

    You know what else is boring? Regular season basketball games, nobody cares. I agree on the World Series, but the NLCS was way worse.

  5. Amity says:

    Trent, I beg to differ on “starting a garden” being an inexpensive or free activity. It is a great thing to do, but it is almost always more expensive for the inexperienced, and it takes time and connections to develop to experience needed to perpetuate a great garden. Until then you will be buying seeds, you probably will buy seedlings, you need decent tools, you may need to enrich your soil. I don’t know a lot about money, but I do know I have spent a lot of it on gardening.

  6. Nadine says:

    What is so exciting about being broke?!!

  7. Megan says:

    I agree that all of the above are great frugal practices, but I don’t quite see how going green and buying for the long haul keep boredom at bay. But maybe that’s just me.

  8. lorax says:

    Good advice Trent.

    I do have to agree with Amity. Google “64 dollar tomato” for the details.

    We we’ve gardened for years, but I’d be surprised if we break even. It probably beats video gaming though. :)

  9. kazari says:

    Sanity allowance!
    To avoid the boredom factor, make sure everybody, every pay, gets some money they can splurge on themselves. No questions asked.
    It’s actually more fun this way – because you plot and plan about what you’re going to spend it on this week. or, like my husband, you always spend it on coffees. because it’s limited, it feels more like a treat, i think.
    anyway, this idea is from anita bell. she writes great books like ‘how to pay off your mortgage in 5 years: by someone who did it in three’.

  10. Frugal Bachelor would add WORK to the list. Imagine a job which is so exciting you would pay to get a chance to do it. Now, find a way to make that your job. Then, every day is an adventure. Frugal Bachelor always has enjoyed his job (and it’s pretty close to his dream job), and during times of self-imposed famine, he gets particularly passionate about it. But that won’t help people who sold their soul to get into a career which they hate.

    He also likes the advice of Timothy Ferriss (who would probably not agree that much excitement can be derived from work), from The 4-Hour Workweek: that what people really want is not happiness, but excitement; that what they fear is not sadness, but boredom. So, do what excites you. That’s powerful advice.

  11. Rob in Madrid says:

    One advantage to cooking at home is when you do eat out your really enjoy it. My wife have gone from the drive through window for dinner to always making it ourselves. So when we do eat out, perhaps once a month we really enjoy it.

    A while back we did the movie and walk around Madrid with some friends that had just moved here. While we had a good time it was an expensive evening and the most interesting thing was I would have been just as happy to make dinner for them and watch a DVD or just visit.

    This year for our aniversary this year we ditched the idea of going out to a fancy palce instead we’ve invited a couple of close couples over. We suplly dinner they bring the wine. All involved have fun.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    My husband and I garden mostly for the pleasure of it, but it also saves us money (except for the whopping $$$ we paid to have a yard close to Washington, DC). Most of our tools were Christmas gifts, hand-me-downs, or purchased at thrift stores. And the $30 we spend on seeds every year is far less than what we’d pay for the veggies we get from them.

    The big-savings-for-small-outlay winners in our garden: raspberries (cuttings from a friend’s plants, so free to start) and butternut squash (seeds saved every year from a packet bought years ago). Both are delicious, very low maintenance, require no cash outlay at this point, and are expensive to buy when someone else grows them.

    But on the theme of this post, I find gardening is never boring! And it can make a frugal diet a lot more interesting by providing, for free or nearly free, an abundance of foods I’d rarely buy because of their cost (like raspberries).

  13. Mitch says:

    I am fortunate that the things I enjoy doing are pretty cheap. I take books out from the library, watch a couple movies a week through Netflix, and I get video games for free. My monthly entertainment budget is less than $200 and I’m totally fulfilled.

    But what’s “boring” to me about finance is having to wait for the results of my efforts to pay off. I’m on step 2 of a 5-step financial plan I drew for myself, which is paying off my student loan debt. I anticipate that completing this step is going to take 5-6 years. Now that’s boring!

    If circumstances change in the interim, I may also be able to move on to step 3, which is to open and max out a Roth IRA. In the meantime I’m throwing every extra cent at my debt and the results still aren’t showing much. Psychologically, this is the hardest part.

  14. Tordr says:

    I would like to add the obvious: Start a website and blog about your financial turnaround.

  15. Lintu says:

    How about knitting? Is it allowed when you’re being frugal? I mean, it doesn’t cost practically anything _while_ you’re knitting. But before&after: lots of yarn, knitting needles, patterns… by saying lots of yarn i really mean lots and lots and lots. But one can knit jackets, pullovers, shirts, blazers, bags, socks, socks, socks, mittens, hats, scarves etc etc etc.

  16. Mohammed (UAE) says:

    This is going to be a long comment (you’ve been warned)…

    After purchasing a house, my wife and I moved abroad. The house is now on rent, so that’s an income which covers the monthly repayment. We did however want to clear the debt as quickly as possible and that became our main financial objective.

    As a result, we adopted a frugal lifestyle. The thing is, as you say a change in behaviour takes some effort and we probably went overboard and made ourselves very “tight”, as a result – very bored!

    In the meantime, the exchange rate went against us, so all that excessive frugality seemed a bit wasted. So, we reviewed our situation and made some adjustments: still living frugally, but with the ability to spend on fun as well. This has meant that, for example, we took a four day break staying at a basic hotel (as we were hardly spending any time there, just somewhere to sleep and wash), but at the same time, dining at some of the best hotels and spending the rest of the time on the beach or shopping (yes – shopping). We made use of some special offer vouchers which cut the cost.

    We had a great time, a much-needed break, spent relatively little (about a third of what it would have cost with a stay at a grander hotel), and came back with some bargains which we really needed (due to not replacing things earlier).

    Now, we’re planning a similar trip for the winter, incorporating a few “splurge” nights into a mainly frugal holiday.

    I think people say “get a life” because the blog is focussed on this specific topic and some may conclude that your whole life revolves around counting the pennies. Perhaps more posts, like this one focussing on the “life” that you’ve got may help give a more balanced picture. We did go too far and have now adjusted to make sure we do have a life!

  17. klf says:

    to lintu regarding the yarn…hopefully you may come back and read this post, though I realize I’m coming late to this party.

    anyway, have you considered going to thrift stores to buy your yarn? I can get bags and bags of it for cheap, and it’s not all weird colors. (The weird colors I just knit up into blankets and donate to hugs4homeless animals…they don’t care what colors they are). If there is no label, light a match and burn a piece of the yarn. If it balls up into a melted clump it’s acrylic. If it turns to ashes, it’s wool.

  18. seye says:

    i like the stuffs you taught, but what i din’t see is a portion of one’s earnings should be for the under-privileged. cheers, i think everyone should be reminded about that.

  19. Sandy says:

    Gardening by the Foot!
    I cannot recommend this enough, it is a book and a website, but if you get the book PLEASE get the newest edition from the library as the newer edition is easier. This is great gardening for those who have small spaces, or who just do not want to spend all day weeding.

    The basic premise is that you can garden without having a huge garden and tons of tools and back breaking work. It’s easy. Take 4-4 ft long 2×6 boards, form a square. Line with weed block. Fill with a even mix of mixed-type compost, peat moss and coarse vermiculite. Lay down slim dividers, dividing the box up into square foot sections. Plant, water, weed, harvest. You shouldn’t need to do more after that then add a little compost when needed, and that you can make yourself. Tools you’ll need are a bucket for carrying water, a trowel for digging out plants and a pair of scissors for harvesting.

    My husband and I started off with an expenditure of about $100 and have had fresh veggies for our family for about 1/2 the year for about 3 years now. We spend maybe 10 minutes a day on the entire garden, and we have 3 boxes. And we’ve grown just about everything.

    Think about just tomatoes, lowest price here in Philadelphia is 1.99 a pound (no I am not kidding). So we eat about 2-3 tomatoes a week, that’s about 5.00. 5 times 52= 260.00 a year on tomatoes.

    We grow tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, strawberries, pumpkins, carrots, green beans, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, hot peppers, cabbage, onions, geraniums, basil, celery, green peppers and zucchini. Yes all at the same time and in 48 square feet of space.

    If you ever considered gardening but hated the idea of all the work, or having to spend three years to get a good harvest, you have to try this type of gardening. We had a good harvest the first year with one box and each year we had a box.

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