Keeping an eye on spending is hard. I know many people who keep every receipt, for every transaction. I’m sure that’s a great system, but I haven’t been able to do anything like that for more than a week or two at a time before I revert back to just ignoring my receipts. They’re just going to end up in the laundry or in the trash or perhaps that cat will get a hold of them and rip them to shreds on the carpet. Still there is some benefit to keeping them, but I have other ways of tracking and managing my spending so I’m pretty ok with what I have going on.
After all, why do we track our spending? Why is it so hard to stay on a budget when we don’t keep close tabs on where our money is going? I, for one, know that if I get lazy about staying on top of where my money is going I tend to spend more than I should (why do I always assume I have more money than I actually do, rather than less?).
Humans are habit-driven creatures, and frugality, much like a morning cup of coffee or eating out on Friday’s, can become a habit. Of course, people can go a bit overboard and spending can be clipped too much. But, in my experience, just like attempting to adhere to a strict diet program can lead someone to “cheat”, making them feel discouraged and then fall back into old bad eating habits, attempting to completely cut out or severely reduce all non-“essential” spending can cause a backslide into old bad financial habits. Simply put, harsh budgeting is simply not sustainable. Now, if you’re living above your means and find yourself in a truly bad financial situation, then sometimes drastic steps need to be taken.
After all, why do we have a job, if not to provide for our needs and satisfy (a certain subset of) our wants? This doesn’t give us excuse to satisfy every want; after all, frugality is not done for the sake of frugality, but rather, to handle short-term sacrifices in exchange for longer-term benefits.
But we can treat ourselves occasionally – as long as we can afford it – without it getting out of control. Here are some tips that I either use, or have done in the past, that both allow me to splurge while not putting my finances at risk:
- Petty Cash – I should really go back to doing this, but for a while whenever I went to the ATM I would withdraw an extra $20 and I would put it in a designated envelope. Slowly over time I would accumulate a reasonable amount of money, and whenever I impulsively bought something, I would use that cash if it was handy; if it wasn’t, then I would deposit the contents of the envelope into my bank account.
- Leverage the Power of the Internet – Not only is the internet good for doing research before going out and buying something, it offers a wider variety of merchants than what you can find with typical brick-and-mortar stores in your area. I’ve been out shopping before and about to buy something when I thought “well, I could probably get this cheaper online.” Then when I get home, either enough time has gone by that the impulse has passed, or I’m able to save money by getting it somewhere cheaper. Some of my favorite frugal websites are:
- Amazon.com (including their Gold Box deals) for everything imaginable
- woot.com I wanted to get a netbook, had some money set aside for it but didn’t want to pay over $200 for one. Recently, a new one became available on woot for $175. Awesome!
- retailmenot.com Coupons for every major vendor
- newegg.com For cheap computer supplies and excellent service
- Zappos.com Good product and legendary service. They deserve their own post due to how great they treat their customers.
- Keep a Physical List of Financial Goals Big and Small – This may seem trite, but it’s helped me out. Sometimes we all need reminders for why we’re trying to be frugal. Whether it be a house, retirement, a new car, or a new TV or video game, we’re always saving for something. But the daily toll of trying to be frugal can sometimes cause us to lose our perspective. Once reminded, it’s easy to get back on track. But once we lose sight of our real financial goals, then we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Or at least irresponsible spending that takes us further from our goals.
Update: This post was featured on The Festival of Frugality