Admit it. You’ve said this — to yourself, to God, but probably not to your soul mate, because it really wouldn’t go over well:
“I don’t know how we’re going to survive on what we’re making. We need more money, but I just don’t see how.”
Or a variation on the theme.
I was talking with a woman the other day who expressed a similar sentiment, and it reminded me of, well, me, several years ago, when I slammed the budget book down on the Dead Cat Table (most people call it a buffet, but an unfortunately geriatric family cat died on top of it and the name stuck) and told, er, sort of shouted at, God,
“That’s it! We need more money. You’ve just got to do something.”
Two weeks later my husband got the pink slip.
It’s not like it wasn’t a surprise; the company had been making tummy rumblings for years and we knew that our day of being expelled would someday arrive. It’s just that you always tend to think that someday is permanently in the future.
Because there was one decent person in management, my husband received a generous severance package, and because we have never, ever lived on what we make (which has always been moderate, incidentally), we had savings set away.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that what we were living on before — the amount I, um, mentioned to God — was significantly more than what we were budgeting ourselves to live on now, through a time of uncertainty that had no clear, foreseeable end.
More good news: we made it, on significantly less, because we had to. We were in what I call Survival Mode, which means that you cut every single unnecessary expenditure because the alternative is not particularly pretty.
Many people who want to save money, however, aren’t in Survival Mode (thankfully), but because they’re not, the steps they take to save money aren’t quite so brutal. They don’t have to be. But this gentle approach may not result in what these people are looking to do: save money, significantly.
So let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are in Survival Mode, and consider what you need to do to make your resources stretch further:
- Question every single expenditure for its necessity. Sure, I know you can afford the pizza, but if you were in Survival Mode, you wouldn’t buy it Tuesday. Nor the coffee on Wednesday. Nor the cute flip flops on Thursday. These things add up. Stop buying stuff. If we stopped right here, this would be enough to practice on for months.
- Stay out of the stores and stop reading the ads. If you don’t see it, you won’t be tempted.
- Seek out free or cheap. Let people know you’ll take their cast offs; scour yard sales; haunt second hand stores. But remember point number one — buy it only if you need it.
- If you don’t know how to cook, learn. Eat in season; wean yourself from boxed food; and simplify your palate.
- Turn off the lights; don’t let the water run; wear a sweater if it’s cold; turn on a fan before you resort to the air conditioner. Cable TV? This is not a basic utility. Seriously.
- Look at what you have already, and use it. Unfinished craft project? Finish it before you start another. Jeans torn at the knee? Make cutoffs; they’re coming back into fashion. Old, ugly TV that still works? Don’t replace it yet. We have far more resources than we think we do.
Saving money is more of an attitude than it is a series of tricks and tips, and it all begins by asking ourselves one, double faceted question:
Do I really really need this, and can I do without it?
As this is the essential Survival Mode question, it comes with a caution: saving money taken to its extreme results in uber frugality, or cheapness. While it’s important learn to live on less, cutting everything to the bone, all the time, decreases the joy that money can, and does, add to life.
So while you can teach yourself how to live on less by pretending that you have no choice, when you do have a choice, don’t take things too far. Be thankful for the resources you have been given, and use them wisely. Don’t feel guilty when you indulge, but don’t indulge to the point that it feels normal.
Saving money is a lifestyle, and we customize what we do according to what works for us as individuals and families. My book, Live Happily on Less — 52 Ideas to Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, walks you through the real, sustainable changes that you can make that will work for you.
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- Steve Henderson Fine Art (original paintings, signed limited edition prints, posters)
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This article was originally published on ThoughtfulWomen.org.