The Two Biggest Mistakes People Make When Starting to Live Frugally
"I've turned over a new leaf in life!" You exclaim from the highest mountain about your newly adopted frugal lifestyle. You've seen the light — possibly through dire financial necessity — and you understand that with a few lifestyle changes, you can live frugally with relatively no pain and lots to gain.
Living frugally, after all, is en vogue. Brown-bagging is in, sushi is out. Home-brewed coffee in, Starbucks out. Curling up with a good book in, rounds of drinks at the bar out. Macrame Christmas presents are in, shopping at the mall is out. You're full of frugal lifestyle ideas and are excited about getting on this bandwagon. (See also: 25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today)
Making the Investment to Be Frugal
So you head to the grocery store in preparation for your new frugal lifestyle. Your previously empty fridge will be stocked to the hilt with inspirational ingredients that will fuel your new frugal gourmet life, and you're determined to create works of culinary mastery that will serve up nutritious dinners yielding leftover lunches you'll be excited about the next day.
You look forward to bragging to your co-workers about the awesome lunch you'll be toting. They might even become so envious, you'll start cooking up big batches of your soon-to-be-famous dishes and selling them for an extra few bucks on the side. Now that's how you make frugal cool, baby!
You reel yourself in. For now you just need to learn to cook something good and stock your fridge. But since you had an empty fridge to begin with, this is a frugal investment.
Next in your shopping mission to live frugally, you stop at the bookstore. Books provide hours and hours of entertainment, so even though they may cost the same as going to a movie, they last so much longer, and you can enjoy them over and over again.
"Wow — it's been a while since I've read anything," you think as you browse the bookstore. You're inspired by so many books, you can't seem to choose. So you don't. You buy the lot.
The last stop on your frugal shopping spree is Starbucks. If you're going to start bringing coffee from home in the mornings, you need a nice travel mug to tote it in — and some nice beans to get you started. (Wait a minute — that's a pretty nice French press coffee maker there. The coffee will taste much better from that, and you're much more likely to be excited about your daily coffee if it's really high quality. This is most certainly a frugal investment worth making — something that will be paid off with a few weeks of no lattes, anyway).
So in the name of getting ready to start living frugally, you've made a hefty investment. But it's all worthwhile, right?
Off and Running...
Now you're ready for your new frugal life. You cook a terrific meal that's so good, you entertain the idea of hosting frugal dinner parties and showing other people how to do it. This is easy! You can't believe you didn't start this whole frugal lifestyle thing earlier.
After dinner you curl up to your new book and fall asleep in a state of frugal bliss.
The next day your frugal lunch is delicious, and you don't even mind eating it in the company of your coworkers who have ordered their standard sushi lunch. You love sushi too, but frugal tastes better.
You think of all the other ways you can live frugally. Inspired by your initial success, you're ready to take your life to frugal extremes.
...But Too Fast?
Maybe you last a week of living with your new frugal choices. Maybe longer. But at some point you wonder how long you need to live like this before you're allowed to splurge. You've been so good — cooking meals at home (it's a lot of work!), brewing your own coffee (which isn't nearly as good as Starbucks), brown-bagging your lunches (which are good, but not sushi), and staying inside reading your books (which are getting a little bit boring).
You haven't even reached a break-even point of your "frugal investment," and you're wondering when you can splurge. The sense of deprivation is starting to kick in. Frugal may be cool, but it's definitely not happening.
The Two Biggest Mistakes People Make When Starting to Live Frugally
The above examples of adopting a frugal lifestyle are, of course, exaggerated and slightly parodied. Although there are people out there who fit this profile to a "T," there are also many more who make choices about becoming frugal that don't cost as much money. Either way, these examples demonstrate two major mistakes people often make:
Mistake 1: Spending Too Much Money to Be Frugal
Although in some cases you need to spend a little money to save a lot of money, generally, this is not part of the frugal mentality you need to adopt. Beware of shopping sprees in the name of adopting new frugal habits; until you know the habit is maintainable, it's not worth spending the money. (Besides, there's usually a more moderate or creative approach to the task that costs less.)
Mistake 2: Doing Everything at Once
Turning your life upside down overnight in the name of starting to live frugally is a recipe for disaster. Living frugally isn't about sacrificing everything and depriving yourself; it's about making balanced choices that allow you to live large on a small budget. By swinging from one extreme to another, your ability to strike a frugal medium — one that is actually a maintainable lifestyle — is remote.
Deprivation is not frugal. Although adopting new frugal habits might require some initial compromises, miring yourself in deprivation in the name of living frugally only invites a financial rebellion before you've even made any headway.
How to Really Start Living Frugally
Instead of turning your life upside down in the name of becoming frugal, here are some suggestions for how to start living frugally:
- Ease into new frugal habits in a way that's comfortable, not shocking. If you're going to start brown-bagging lunches, for example, and you're used to eating out every day, then start with leftover lunches three days a week. This still gives you a lunch out two days per week to look forward to — and you're still saving money overall.
- Adopt frugal lifestyle ideas one at a time, and incorporate them into the framework of your life. It takes 21 days of doing something to make it a habit, so allow yourself this time to weave new frugal habits into your routines. After bringing lunches to work becomes comfortable to maintain, shake up your coffee ritual by only treating yourself to Starbucks on Mondays and Fridays. Let this habit sink in, then tackle another area of your life.
- Instead of always adopting new frugal habits, try deepening a habit you've started. Leftover lunches going well? Then try cutting down lunches out to one day per week. Liking your home-brewed coffee? Maybe Starbucks can wait for Saturday mornings only. Or maybe Starbucks can become a thing of your past altogether.
If you want to start to live frugally, you'll best get there slowly and methodically — as unglamorous as it sounds. But in this slow-and-steady approach, it's easy to lose sight of the ball. Remember that you decided to start living frugally for a reason, and that reason is attached to a goal. If you stick to living frugally in a manageable way and track your progress, you'll reach those goals — and then some.
Your frugal lifestyle is just that — a lifestyle, not a passing fancy.