The Best-Kept Secret to Frugal Living

By Sarah Winfrey on 24 September 2010 (Updated 16 September 2011) 15 comments
Photo: nlewis039

It’s easy to take the checklist approach to personal finance and frugality. Save more. Check. Spend less. Check. Invest wisely. Check.

While that works for some people, though, there are others who find it impossible and even the most conscientious Type A will have moments where they’re not motivated by check boxes and lists of numbers.

Without the right motivations, financially responsible, frugal living isn’t only difficult, it’s impossible. Sure, you might be able to maintain momentum long enough to pay down some credit cards or make it through a rough patch, but you won’t make long-term lifestyle changes. (See also: 25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today)

To do that, you need to do more than change how you act. You need to do more than change how you think. The secret?

Be content with your life as it is.

The best path to becoming frugal through and through is to realize and appreciate what you have. Only then will you be free from the desire for more, because you won’t be looking to the next thing, the next purchase, to make your life complete.

Being content means recognizing that no one possession nor amount of possessions will ever make you happy or fulfill you. It means realizing that you will never have it all. And it means choosing the life you have, with its difficulties and frustrations as well as its special joys, over any life, past or present, that now only exists in your head.

Finding contentment means learning to be present, and to choose the now. Often, it means making that choice over and over and over again, every time you feel discontent rising in you, even under hard circumstances.

The content stance acknowledges that life as it is isn’t perfect and that it never will be. Becoming content might mean making peace with a past where you had more things and more financial freedom, and choosing to live in the present instead. Or it might mean choosing this moment’s financial hardships instead of focusing on dreams of future abundance, even when that’s what you’re working towards every day.

The point of contentment isn’t a trance-like unawareness of the difficult things in your life, but to accept them, particularly if you can’t do anything about them. When you’ve done this, you won’t need to buy into consumerism’s cycles because you won’t need to spend to be happy.

Contentment comes easier for some people than for others, but anyone can find it. Start small. Begin to notice your frustrations and things that you wish were different. Instead of trying to change them or make yourself happier, just hold these things. Look at them, examining them and how you react to them.

As you do this, you’ll find in yourself the growing ability to just let these things go and let them be. And as this ability grows, you’ll find yourself spending less, because you won’t need it anymore.

Tips for Finding Contentment

  • Remind yourself of what you have when confronted with what you don’t have.

  • Ask yourself if a purchase will make you happier long-term, or whether you’re buying for short-term pleasure.

  • Stay away from advertising: watch movies and TV on DVD; determine the articles you want to read from the table of contents in a magazine, instead of by flipping through; copy and past web content into a blank document to read

  • Spend time with people you love who love you back.

  • Learn to form meaningful relationships that go beyond “How are you?” and “The chicken sure looks great.”

  • Discover how you feel when you’re discontent - common signs include tightened muscles in your neck, shoulders and back, stomachaches, general malaise.

  • Tell yourself the truth - “I have enough.”

  • End each day by remembering the moments that you liked best and the ones that meant the most to you.

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Guest's picture
Guest

In regards to "copy and past web content into a blank document to read".

Here is something much easier.

http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/

You pick how you like the page to look, drag the bookmark to your bookmarks bar. Then, when you are on a page cluttered with junk, you click the bookmark. It makes it clean for you to read.

Guest's picture
jasir

i think a much easier way is to use firefox browser with adblock plus extension.
http://www.getfirefox.com/
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865/plus

Guest's picture
Guest

Great article. Really well said.

Guest's picture
Candice

Very true! I noticed this the other day when I flipped through a catalog that arrived unrequested in my mail the other day. Suddenly, I was longing for the things on the pages - wouldn't those look good in my home? And I had forgotten about the things I really wanted - things I was willing to save for because I wanted them so much. Advertisements are backed by millions of dollars in research about what triggers people to buy - best to stay away when possible!

Guest's picture
R4DS

Being content - the most important living tip of all, frugal or not. Well said!

Guest's picture
RL

Great article. It was a good reminder of what's important and what I needed to read today so thanks.

Guest's picture

This is a wonderful story. I too grew up with frugal (not cheap) parents and then found myself practicing the art of frugality for my entire adult life (i.e., the past 27 years) and even wrote a series of books on the subject ("Frugal Luxuries" and "Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons", Bantam Books, NY). I can personally verify that the philosophy of defining contentment is vital in creating a happy life! As well, to be a good steward of the resources available to you is immensely satisfying and stimulates creativity, self confidence and happiness!
Warmly,
Tracey McBride
http://frugalluxuries.blogspot.com

Guest's picture
Pattie

And I have both of your books on my shelf at home! Like you, I started to get on the Frugalness Bandwagon both before it was "cool" and long before the explosion of the net!

Guest's picture
BMY007

It's not the actual purchase that makes us happy -- it's the moment right before we purchase something. It's called anticipation. Thats why we get more excited about going to a party, going on a vacation, about to eat something really delicious, than we do actually doing these things.

Except for food clothing and shelter, try pretending to buy something without buying it or keeping it in your memory, you will feel much happier than if you actually bought the item in ?

Guest's picture
Guest

BMY007: This is a generalization and NOT TRUE for everybody!

This may only be true for a few people, not close to all as you claim.

When one decides to "buy" something, one has selected that item to exchange for hours of labor, represented by money, that can be used to buy anything else.

Why would I pay my hard-earned funds for the "excitement of anticipation" if the ownership of the item brought no real rewards? I would NOT do such a thing. If I did, the actual item would cause me to feel ANGER every time I looked at it or used it, instead of the satisfaction that accmpanies a good purchase.

What you claim may be true in cases of "buyer's remorse", but for the majority of people who buy what they need or want to fill needs, the purchase of an item is only the beginning of long rewarding relationship.

Guest's picture
Miriam

Wonderful article to be featured in the October 30th Stress Management Blog Carnival at http://almasimanagingstress.blogspot.com/
and at the October 30th Prosper Biblically Blog Carnival at
http://prosperbiblically.blogspot.com/

Guest's picture

Nice post being content with our lives is hard to practice but if we mastered it no worries can bother us

Guest's picture
Suzanne M

Thank you for a great article. "Stay away from advertising" is the key to frugal living for me. I am a sucker for infomercials, advertisements, and the like. I can watch an infomercial and be convinced by the end that I need that latest and greatest gadget. So removing the urge is essential for me.

Guest's picture

My top tip for being content with what I've got is to stay away from interior design mags and sites. (A friend of mine calls World of Interiors 'World of Inferiors) And keep clear of Hello magazine and others which do those 'At Home with a Celebrity' type features. Or, if you can't keep clear, take it all with a huge huge pinch of salt.

Guest's picture

Understanding the difference between wants and needs and being satisfied with not having all of your wants fulfilled is a key to happiness. Great article!