Frugality gets a bad rap from many people today. Too often it is seen as stinginess, or indicative of poverty. Those who are forced to abruptly change their spending habits by financial difficulties are especially apt to feel that frugality is synonymous with deprivation and unhappiness. Yet those who embrace frugality as a voluntary lifestyle don't see the practice in this light at all. Those voluntary frugalites have attitudes that might mystify those who come to frugality through necessity. So for those new to frugality who are feeling deprived in an unfamiliar lifestyle, I offer these ideas.
Try to look at frugality not as a punishment or as a penalty for lack of savings in the past. Instead, look at it as a challenge, a game and a choice you have made for yourself. Because even when money is scarce, it still is a choice, isn't it? You're choosing to live responsibly: within the means you now have, rather than racking up credit card debt you can't repay in order to live your former life.
Look for little ways to economize. Pat yourself on the back when you find each way to stretch a dollar a little further, to get by with a little less. Everyone is different and will find different ways of conserving their hard-earned money. Many aspects of a frugal lifestyle truly do allow you to live well on less. Comparing prices and buying in bulk saves you money without requiring you to go without. Learn some new recipes built around cheap ingredients. There are plenty of frugal meals that have no taint of deprivation about them.
Remember that a lot of people who live the way you used to have very little money in the bank. They look like they're rich and they behave as if they are, but in reality they're not rich (and never will be) if they're not saving. Only a tiny number of people, the multi-millionaires, can act rich and be rich at the same time. A lot more people can choose between looking rich and eventually being rich. And then there are those who can't choose at all and will never be rich. You may yet end up in the middle with a lot of the rest of us.
Look at your new lifestyle as an opportunity to teach your kids to do better than you did. Model frugality to them, talk to them about it frankly, so that they might avoid the patterns you followed earlier. Parental behavior is an enormous influence on children. You might not think your children listen to you, especially when they reach the teenage years. But they are assuredly watching you and learning from what you do. The most powerful lessons your children will learn are when your actions match your words. Challenging them to rely on their creativity and industry, rather than on expensive conveniences, will provide them with invaluable skills for their early adult years when their incomes will be modest.
A good way of thinking about expenditures is to ask yourself whether a brand new gadget is really worth 10 times as much as the same gadget bought used at a yard sale or thrift shop. Sometimes, we really need new things. No one will tell you that a used toothbrush is a good buy. But clothing, toys, furniture and tools can often be had for a fraction of the price of the new item. And often in excellent condition. Well made furniture will last more than a lifetime if well taken care of. The same can be said for most metal tools. It takes an investment of time to collect what is needed from yard sales and consignment shops. So try to see the time spent as a bonus: free entertainment and recreation.
Most importantly, when money is tight, try to retain a positive outlook. Don't beat yourself up over the past and don't despair for the future. You may have made less than wise choices with your money in the past. But every little step you take today to work your way out of debt, and to spend your money carefully means a better future for yourself and your family. Each little effort adds up. It really does!
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