These are not earth-shattering strategies, but they keep me inspired and motivated.
There are few things as satisfying in life as saving money. Whether it's done through shrewd purchasing, or, better yet, choosing not to buy something, the idea that more money is accumulating in my bank account, as opposed to flowing out of it, always makes me feel happy.
I go for this thrifty dopamine buzz in a number of ways. Trent Hamm, one of my favorite frugality bloggers who writes for The Simple Dollar, calls them 'little wins':
"They’re little frugality tips that, on their own, aren’t life changing, but they’re just simply better ways of doing things compared to what I used to do. In each case, they result in more money in my pocket, but they usually come with additional benefits."
Reiterating the fact that these aren't life-changing actions is important. There are more effective ways of accumulating wealth, such as playing with investing, working longer hours, buying rental properties, or whatever else might tickle your fancy. But the point of these little wins is that they bring a spark of joy, some immediate gratification, and a sense that I'm making progress of some kind, small though it may be. Hamm lists his top 12 frugality tips, which you can read here, but I'm going to share my own below:
1. Cooking from the pantry
I find it exciting and challenging to open the fridge and pantry, assess what's there, and figure out how to cook as many meals as I can using only what's available. I also take pleasure in delaying grocery shopping by a day or two (until my husband is really complaining!), just to see how far we can stretch it. My efforts aren't always successful, and the meals are sometimes less than stellar, but they help me to use up forgotten ingredients and expand my culinary boundaries.
2. Cooking in large batches
I don't do this as often as I should, considering that I have a busy young family at home, but it is deeply satisfying when I do. The cost per meal goes down and the amount of time saved goes up.
3. Using the library
I once had someone tell me they "wouldn't be able to afford" my reading habit, at which point I explained the purpose of the library. I, too, would not be able to afford my own reading habit if I were buying all those books! It would be absurd. The library is an incredible resource not only for books, but also for printing documents (I don't own a printer because it's easier and far cheaper to use the library). Our library has everything from day passes to the local museum, to fishing rods and tackle for kids. With every checkout, I feel like I'm making a statement in support of an institution that needs protection more than ever.
4. Riding my bike around town
I live in a small town, so the distances I ride are very short, but every time I get on my bike I feel satisfaction at having left my car in the driveway. There are dollars not spent on gas, fumes not emitted from the tailpipe, congestion not added to the streets -- and a clear message sent to all the drivers and pedestrians who see me riding that bikes belong on our roads, too.
5. Buying second-hand clothes
If you want to feel great about your frugality, start buying clothes at the thrift shop. It takes more frequent and persistent visits to find good stuff, but it pays off rapidly. Especially for kids, it's easy to find clothes in great condition for as little as 25 or 50 cents apiece -- a mind-boggling amounts of savings compared to the cost of new clothes. Why so few parents do this, I do not know.
6. Having a no-spend weekend (or week)
Hamm and his wife plan their no-spend weekend purposely, deciding not to spend money in any form between Friday and Monday. That means no gas, no groceries, no bills. I love when this happens and I reach Sunday evening with the realization that I haven't opened my wallet a single time. Sometimes I manage to do this for a whole work-week. While this sometimes means putting off expenses that must be made eventually, there are other desires that fade with time, and that money is saved.
7. Not buying junk food for my family
I'm always shocked at how expensive potato chips, ice cream, and fancy beverages are, and have difficulty understanding how people can afford to buy them on a regular basis. We choose not to buy them, both for health and financial reasons, opting instead for snacks like hummus, crackers, dried fruit, nuts, nachos with salsa. Every time I walk out of the store without a bag of chips, I get a surge of satisfaction.
8. Living in an old house
My house is more than a hundred years old, so no doubt someone will challenge me on this, questioning its lack of energy efficiency; but I once read that "the greenest home is the one that's already built," a line that I've never forgotten. As I watch the suburbs explode around us with mega-homes slapped together at reckless speed by developers, I can't help but feel satisfied with having 'saved' an old home from abandonment. Sure, it leaks cold air, has all the original windows and creaky floors, and needs some work, but we paid about half of what some of our acquaintances have paid to build their new mansions in town, and ours has more character. In its defence, our house has long finished off-gassing noxious chemicals; it's within walking distance of everything; it's shaded by magnificent old trees that cool it in summer and shelter it in winter; the yard is buzzing with wildlife that takes shelter in the overgrown gardens and hedges surrounding the property. I feel satisfied at not having contributed to the sprawl.
Like I said, these aren't earth-shattering revelations, but they satisfy me. Everyone will have their own frugal little wins that infuse their daily lives with smug satisfaction. These keep us motivated, keep us trying to be better. What are yours?