Frugal living has become one of my primary focuses these days. As a full-time student and parent-to-be, I’m living in that sweet spot where I’m not bringing in much money, and suddenly I need ALL the money. And bless my husband (who is fully supporting us!), but the public servant research world isn’t as high-rolling as it sounds. So, how do we live within our means without feeling stressed, frustrated or deprived?
1. STAY ORGANIZED
Budgeting can sometimes be a drag, but it is the best way to stay in control during a financially lean time. For my family, that means assessing our income, expenses, and debt…continuously.
That last part is key—things change on a dime. In our case, we are aggressively saving money and managing debt payments, so after each round of monthly bills we are left with very little discretionary income. While our cash-flow remains fairly consistent due to Peter’s set salary, the leftover dollars we have for groceries, eating out, and anything else still seems to vary week by week.
Re-assessing where we are with the income/expenses balance helps us prioritize exactly how we will use the rest of our money, while allowing us to check in on how we are progressing with our savings and debt payoff. That can be empowering and motivating!
This is where I’d like to plug my holy grail budgeting resource: Budget Bootcamp. Jordan Page, the wonderful creator of this course, breaks down the process of budgeting in a way that is easy to understand and implement. If you’ve exhausted yourself trying to slog through your budget on your own, I highly recommend checking out this program.
2. STAY ALERT
Living as an adult is wrought with expenses. Not to mention, has anyone else royally struggled with the fact that your biweekly paychecks never seem to neatly line up with your bills?
With so much coming and going in my bank account (let’s be real, in my case it’s mostly “going”), even my best projected budgets can often go awry. To avoid overdrafting on forgotten expenses, I find it helpful to check in on my checking account every single day. This may sound excessive, but it keeps me alert to when payments actually post, what bills are due next, when my next influx of cash will be, all while being able to catch any unexpected expense right when it happens. Can’t put a price on vigilance! (Except I can, and it’s $30 per overdraft at my friendly neighborhood credit union).
3. STAY FOCUSED ON YOUR GOALS
Do you want to be able to buy a nice car? Send your kids to private school? Travel the world? Quit your job? Afford your dream home? Buy artisanal cheese from Whole Foods? Identify what you want out of LIFE and let your mindset shift to how your financial goals can take you there. Scrimping and saving feels a whole lot easier when you know it’s bringing you closer to achieving those goals.
4. STAY PRESENT
Listen up—this one might be the most important step.
Once I have a goal to cling to, the “WHY” behind our financial sacrifices make the process feel much more manageable and motivating. Even so, to feel caught in a place of living paycheck to paycheck, wondering if it will ever get easier, can be very disheartening. Peter and I have cried into our dinner bowls of cereal over this very issue.
The thing to remember is: this is a process. To think that anything lasts forever is a folly of our youth. Everything ends, including this feeling of financial stress, which will give way to brighter–and darker times still–in the future.
Reminding yourself to stay present is a step toward accepting where you are now and being open to what it might teach you.
- Assess your budget and stay organized.
- Take control of your finances and stay alert to where you are in the process.
- Understand why it is important for you to manage your money by staying focused on your goals.
- Stay present by reminding yourself that even when this process is hard, it will not be hard forever.
Your hard work will pay off! I have seen other people successfully make their financial dreams come true, and I have no reason to believe that I can’t do the same. Believe in your ability to achieve your goals, and remember that while growth can be uncomfortable, it is a part of your success.