How to Save Money and Still Have a Life

7 years ago
Couple posing with a piggy bank

Frugality.

Penny-pinching.

Budgeting.

Do those words conjure up negative thoughts in your mind?

Are you afraid that cutting back on spending will be harder than you can bear?

It doesn’t have to be that way, especially if you remember two key concepts when budgeting.

Flexibility

The first is flexibility. The more flexible you can be in your thinking, the more likely you are to succeed at saving money long term. If your attitude toward saving money is "woe is me," you won't last long. Much better to think of frugality as an interesting challenge, a path to freedom. Because that’s really what it is:  a way to gain more choice in your life in the long run.

Recently our microwave broke. We paid over $100 for it just two years ago, and I wasn’t eager to spend that much again. Instead of racing out to buy a new one, I’m keeping an eye on craigslist and plan to hit a few yard sales this weekend. My parameters? Black or silver, to match the other appliances, and no more than $25. My married daughter’s current microwave cost $5 and has lasted three years without a hiccup. So we’ll see how I do.

For now, we’re getting by fine. I am warming up leftovers in a casserole dish in the regular oven -— it is surprisingly quick. My husband has discovered that the coffee pot is faster than the microwave at heating water for his morning oatmeal. And we’re patting ourselves on the back for our creativity.

Balance

The second concept to remember when working towards a more affordable life is balance. Frugality isn’t an all-or-nothing concept. Be game to try new things, but don’t be afraid to pick and choose and adjust for the demands of your own life. Recently I heard from a gal who’d just had a new baby and was wishing money was less tight. She said if I saw her budget, I’d certainly tell her to get rid of her cleaning lady. But she feels like having a clean house at least once a week is a key to her current sanity.

Does that mean there’s no hope for her budget? No way. She just needs to think deeper, more creatively, and come up with other solutions that will work in her life right now. She might find that the thrill of the yard sale is way better than the siren call of Nordstrom’s, and that it makes her cleaning lady possible. Instead of a weekly babysitter, she might be able to trade date-night child care with a friend. She might be able to spend an afternoon a week making double batches of a couple favorite recipes and shave $50 off the food bill in a month.

Are you in the same boat, wondering if there are doable ways for you to save money? Often frugal choices benefit more than your checking account. You may discover that tomato plants and herbs in pots on your patio add to the quality of your life. Home-cooked enchiladas taste much better than drive-through tacos slammed together by indifferent strangers. Cloth napkins bring a new level of elegance to dinnertime.So don’t be afraid to try.

Yes, in trying new things, you’re bound to have failures, but often those failures can lead ultimately to success. I hate couponing -— I’ve tried and tried, and it just doesn’t work for me. But I enjoy the variety and lower prices to be found by shopping at a couple of different grocery stores per week, and I save just as much money. You might hate making bread. But your teenage son might excel at it. There are people who discover that washing out zip-top bags for the savings of a few bucks a week is easy and "green." Others love cloth diapering -- have you seen the adorable styles these days? There are as many ways to save money as there are families, so jump in.

Start small. Try a new idea on for size every week or two. And soon you will be well on your way to finding budgeting success.

Success, your way.

Now that’s a budget you can live with.

Mary Ostyn is the mother of ten--yes, 10! -- children.  She is the author of FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK and A SANE WOMAN'S GUIDE TO RAISING A LARGE FAMILY.  She blogs at Owlhaven

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