How to Live Below Your Means and Be Happy
Being Frugal when Liking Good Stuff
If you are like me. you are good with money, you like to save, loathe to waste, and since we do our best to get the most out of every dollar spent, we are frugal.
However, I'm not the kind of frugal lady that is super comfortable in thrift stores and yard sales, I buy mostly brand new things. I buy used things too, but not on a regular basis.
When it comes to food, drinks, medicines, vitamins, lotions, or anything that would end up in my family blood streams, I am very suspicious of cheap products. I stick with best/good quality items, trying to find them on sale; I avoid the cheapest products, especially if I don't like what's on the label. I totally believe that we are what we eat.
That said, I'd like to share some examples of how my experience handles finances.
Our rule of thumb is: "If we can't afford it, we don't get it".
Living Below Your Means - What Does It Mean?
The ability of living within your means is a great asset in any financial situation.
Many people don’t realize their family income could be plenty to allow some splurges, because they haven’t been living within their means or, should I say living below their means.
To leave below your means, the first think you need to find out is “How much can I spend?”
Knowing how much you can spend requires sitting down and crunch some numbers together. If you need guidance on how to do your own budget, you can find plenty of personal budget articles that tell you how, or see video below.
Once you know how much money you have available, make a plan to spend less than that.
One Family, One Financial Plan
It’s extremely important to agree with your partner on how to handle family finances and money. Different opinions on what is necessary and what is frivolous can lead to escalating problems and arguments, especially when money is short. It is very important to work as a team, and be on the same page.
My husband and I come from families that have lived through the hard times of World War II, and have built their own homes slowly, saving up a little bit at the time, and only bought things when they had the cash to do it.
Because of that common background, we fully agree on the main choices of how to handle our finances. After we got married, we rented for one year, and then we decided we wanted to pay for our own place, and we bought a house, starting a 30-year mortgage.
We both agreed that the mortgage would be the only debt that we would ever have, and so we made choices to make that happen - at least until the kids will go to college! When I say we have no other debts than our mortgage, I really mean it: we have bills, but no other monthly payment that includes interests.
How did we stay "debt free"? When we got pay raises, we maintained the same lifestyle as before the raise. That’s the only way to set aside some savings. If you increase your monthly expenses every time your income increases, there will never be money for special purchases or emergency.
Buying a Car Only When You Really Need It
When we needed a car, it had to be a used one, valued whatever we had in the savings account at that time. In the 12 years we’ve been married we have been driving four different cars, but never paid a penny in loan interests.
Car dealers don’t really like that, they want your money, and they love to get you sign up for loan with them.
Three of the cars were used ones, purchased from privates. One was brand new, a 2002 Honda Accord, which we are still driving, and we chose it for the reliability, the great gas efficiency, and because we could afford it with our savings.
Use Lines of Credit Responsibly
Using Credit Cards Wisely
I’m very proud to say that in many years of using credit cards practically for everything we buy, neither one of us has ever paid one penny in credit card interest. That’s huge savings right there. We do use our credit cards regularly, but we spend only as much as we can pay off the next month. I realize this takes some self-discipline.
Some people suggest controlling your budget by taking out the cash you can spend each week. I respect that opinion, but it’s not my style. I can self-regulate my credit card purchases not to go over a certain amount. I don’t like to use debit cards and checks much because if we both spend from the same account it becomes difficult to properly keep track of the balance, and likely to overdraft it.
When we need cash, we go to our bank’s ATM, to avoid foreign ATM’s fees. Also, I get cash back when I pay with my debit card at a store.
Saving Money on Food
Since we need to eat every single day, and several times a day, food has definitely a huge influence on our family budget.
I’m not big on coupons, maybe because I found that they encouraged me to buy things that otherwise, without coupon, I would have never purchased. But I do use them sometimes, if the apply to my regular purchases.
What I really like is our supermarket’s fidelity card. Not only it makes you eligible to the weekly store savings, but also it gets you discounts on gas at the affiliated gas stations, and when you purchase gas, you get discounts on food. I love that program, it really works for us. We usually save around $600/year just using our store card, without any other coupons.
Packing Lunch Saves Money and It's Healthier
No leftover gets thrown out at my house, no way. After I paid for it, and I spent money and energy to cook and fix meals, any leftover goes into a plastic container, in the refrigerator or freezer and it will be enjoyed on another day.
Note: It is important, for safety reasons to refrigerate leftovers pretty quickly, when they are still warm, to avoid bacteria growing.
Pack lunch to work. Packing lunch is not only a great way to save money, it’s also extremely healthy. Leftovers are a great resource for packing lunches. I usually cook extra portions on purpose, refrigerate them in my super-useful plastic containers, and I’m all set for my husband’s and my lunches.
I pack the kids’ lunch too, even if I have to admit, school lunches are pretty affordable, but my kids end up always getting the pizza, so I prefer to prepare for them something they like and it’s also healthy.
Switching to Home-made Coffee Can Save You a Lot of Money
Being a Frugal Coffee Lover
Being frugal is great, but for some things I don’t compromise. Quality and taste of what I buy must be good. One example is coffee.
We are coffee lovers, and can’t get started in the morning without our cup o’ Joe. And we kind of need one after lunch too; it’s our mid-day energy booster.
We buy the best coffee blends of our choice, no cutting corners there to get the cheaper ones, and we make our own. Only in special cases we buy take away coffee, like on trips.
My husband used to get fancy coffees during the work days, until he bought a good coffee maker, at a great price, that makes excellent coffee; now he keeps it in his office.
In only two weeks he paid off the coffee machine by making his own cappuccino, and saving money and time too, since he does not have to go to the cafeteria anymore.
Save on Clothes
In Europe sales are very seldom and short, that's what I was used to. When I moved to the USA, I found the US malls being super-stimulating for my shopping-lover self, because there are sale racks any given day.
It can be tricky to get out without buying anything, but I’m learning to control the urge to get the deal of the day – it might be a sign I’m getting old! But when I do need clothes, I only buy what is on sale.
I signed up for email notifications from my favorite stores, and they let me know when major sales are going on, and usually the email has a printable coupon as well.
I’m not big on buying used clothes, however, I love hand-me-downs. I raised my children on clothes outgrown by friends' children.
How We Save on Greetings Cards
Especially when we need cards for children’s birthdays, I ask my kids to make one with construction paper, stickers, markers, and other décor that I have around the house. The money we save on the card can be spent toward the gift. After all, for a child birthday, what’s better that a handmade card from the invited young pal?
For adults, sometime I buy them, but mainly because I run out of time to make my own. If I can, I make a nice DIY card for everyone, if not, or look in the $.99 section at the store, there are some cute cards that can definitely compete with the fancy ones. This is not really to save money, because I spend more on the gift. See, if it was for me, I’d rather get $3-4 more in the gift value than in the card, so I try to apply this rule when I give to others.
How We Choose to Save Money on Movies
We don’t watch much TV, so we don’t need fancy movie channels. Sometimes we order pay-per-view, some other times we go to the movies.
We found this great movie theater close by that shows movies for $.50-$2.00, and we love it! Of course they are not new releases, but they are new to us!
A great change to our budget has been canceling cable subscription and getting Netflix. The kids were a little disappointed at the beginning because they lost some of their favorite channels, but Netflix has a lot to offer, and connecting a laptop to the TV monitor, we can virtually see anything.
How we Save on Books
A house without books… is not our house. We love books, and thank goodness the children do too. We haven’t converted to electronic readers yet.
Maybe in the future, but for now the idea to give up the physical book makes me sad, so we’ll be sticking to paper for a while.
Since books are expensive, we try to get them from the library as much as we can.
Some books we prefer to own, so I try to buy new releases on sale, and for older books, used book stores are a great resource.
Steps to make a personal budget. I recommend using a tracking software like Excel, but you can do it on paper too.
© 2012 Robie Benve