My husband once called bread “a vessel for the filling”, and I’ve always loved that description for money too. Although money is useful to pay bills, buy food, and pay for home lifestyle costs, to me it’s still just a vessel to those things. The money isn’t what makes your belly full, but it’s a way to ensure that it happens. In the same way, it isn’t really the thing responsible for that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.
I do the living cheaply gimmick like a pro
I’ve spent my life being pretty damn cheap. I’ve been nicknamed “mooch” on account of my ability to get free tickets to Bonnaroo and other events, friends hit me up when they need to book flights or make a large purchase to make sure they are getting the cheapest price, and I’m never that friend who has spent their entire paycheck in the first week and cannot afford to go to the bar on the weekend. On account of pretty great parenting, I think I was conditioned to see money as a careful resource, and also not as the only resource, from a very early age. So over the course of thirty years, I’ve built up some pretty good habits that allow me to live a rich lifestyle on a relatively modest budget. I figured I’d share some of those tips, because… well, being nice is a good thing.
1. Get over buying things new
I think that most people looking for ways to be more frugal don’t need telling to go to thrift stores and second hand outlets – it’s sort of the first thing you learn when trying to live cheaply, but it’s worth being said. I’ve noticed that people are very weird about buying things that other people have owned, and yet I don’t see a whole lot of reasons why it makes sense to be like that. I spent $25 on my wedding dress, a $1500 lace gown that fit so well that it barely needed any alterations. How? I got it from AMVETS thrift store on half price day. It was clean, absolutely stunning, and yet other people commented on how they would only be able to buy it new because “someone else had worn it”. That’s $1475 (AKA a whole paycheck) they’d rather spend just to get over an “eww gross” reaction. Our society views other humans as so disgusting that the mere thought of wearing a cleaned garment someone else once wore is worth an entire paycheck to avoid. Let that sink in for a moment. Once you get over the psychological barrier of second hand items, you can save 90% of your budget and have the exact same thing just by giving something a good clean first.
2. Fill the gaps in your life with low/no cost adventures
I had an amazing few hours out of the house the other day at a local park. It runs alongside the lake and has a ton of open space that goes over a hill, allowing you to see for miles. It’s gorgeous! I got a heavy dose of exercise, a lot of friendly smiles, and two hours of entertainment for the cost of nothing. Near to the park is a secondhand book megastore that sells almost every book worth reading from the last 30 years, most of which for a price under $4. Sometimes I’ll take one of those books, stroll up to the top of the hill, and sit and read, taking in the views and the supreme people watching it affords.
There are a million and one different things that don’t cost money, that you’ve probably just ignored because it ‘sounds boring’. Yeah, that Shakespeare in the Square recital might not be on the same level as a front row Hamilton ticket, but you’re still opening yourself up to new experiences, saving yourself a bunch of money, and who knows, maybe you’ll even have a good time.
My trick is to use the Facebook Events feature, as well as the local subreddit, to find things happening near me that don’t cost much/anything. Worst that’ll happen is it’s boring and I come home, but most of the time I find a new thing to love, while my wallet sits quietly in my handbag.
3. Dine out…side on your porch
Food is my weakness, just like most people. I love to eat, and I hate to clean up. I’m lucky to be in a partnership where he doesn’t mind washing up if I create the yummy stuff in the first place. I’ve found that one way to add fulfillment to my day and feel a sense of accomplishment is to take my dinner outside, and eat on our porch or even do a travelling lunch in my van.
A lot of people choose to go to restaurants because they are bored. Sure, they probably would blame laziness and hungriness too (I know that’s a thing I do), but the fact that they would probably still choose to dine out even if there were filling leftovers in the fridge suggests it’s driven by something more. Restaurants give us that feeling of a positive difference in our day – something new, a break from the boring routine, even if the table is the worst in the house, or the ambiance is dead. This got me thinking about our meal times, and that perhaps we could achieve that feeling by just changing where we eat. So one day I served up homemade pizza on the porch, and we had a blast! The only downside was that as both the chef, the server, and the diner, I didn’t get to take home a tip at the end…!
4. Break the spending urge with micro-splurges
I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I’m all Buddhist about material purchases and the true meaning of a fulfilled life and not point out that I love spending money and it’s still a huge compulsion of mine. The point of this blog is to show that you can be a normal, money-spending person, and still save money and be happy at the same time. Probably my best tip for someone researching how to save money without compromising their quality of life would be to do what I call micro-splurges. These are those little $2 eBay spends on crafting beads or silly headbands, or $5 on some tacky socks in Walmart, or an extra $2 on the nicer ground beef at the store.
All the modern blogs on saving money love to point out that “if you stopped spending money on insignificant things, you would have enough money to buy a small island at the end of the month!” but they forget the reason why that’s dumb advice – we LOVE the feeling of acquiring something new. Gathering is what we do best. The trick is to control it into small, calculated bursts. I recently got into this amazing coffee after testing it out on a whim, and a week later I splurged on a pour over coffee dripper. I spent $20 in total over two weeks on coffee, but in the process I saved $3 a day on my normal store-bought cup, AND I scratched that ugly spending itch. And now I can make trendy coffee like a badass.
You can make adjustments today, and be a rich mooch like me!
These things aren’t groundbreaking, but they can turn into habits that breed better monetary control, and some more fulfillment in your day. Sometimes I will round up all my old clothes and items I don’t use anymore, and I’ll donate them all to our local thrift store, and that coupled with the above habits leaves me feeling a bit more in control, and a little happier about my wallet.
Do you have a spending tip? Or do you just think I’m gross for wearing a second-hand dress on my wedding day? Comment below and let me know! 🙂