It seems that the age-old problem is always having a few more expenses than income, always counting down to the next paycheck. Not only is this extremely stressful, but also makes it easy to run up high-interest debt, and makes it virtually impossible to save for anything – your retirement, a down payment or even an emergency fund. Worse, when life does hit you with an emergency, you’ll feel the crunch even more. This could be a medical emergency, job loss, car repairs, or a whole range of other things.
Of course, the solution is to just spend less money. But as obvious as this seems, putting it into practice is not nearly as simple. With food to put on the table for our families, vehicles to keep filled up and maintained, utility bills and mortgages to pay, often there’s little left over. So how does one live well on less?
Trim and Swap the Non-Essentials
One of the first places to trim usually should be your non-essential spending. This is the spending that isn’t required to keep up your home, a working vehicle and food on the table. Unfortunately, what we do spend on non-essentials becomes such a part of our lives that it’s painful to even consider cutting them. However, often there’s a less costly alternative that you can switch to. Or you can simply try going cold turkey for a while and may be surprised how quickly you get used to living without whatever you just gave up.
Cable is a popular target of household budget cuts simply because of its sheer cost. Often costing $100, or more it can be a huge handicap to your bank account. Consider switching to a lower tier plan, or better yet, ditching cable altogether. In its place, you can pick up a streaming service or two. SlingTV, for example, goes out of its way to imitate cable, but for a fraction of the cost.
Eating out is another easy place to trim your spending. Going out is a great treat from time to time, but hitting the restaurants multiple times per week can easily add up to several hundred dollars each month. Of course, after a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is spend an hour slaving in the kitchen. However, there’s a whole trove of easy but yummy weeknight recipes that you can whip up in less time than it takes for you to get your appetizer at a restaurant.
Similar to eating out, a morning coffee at the drive through is easily costing your four or five times (or more!) than what it could if you made it at home. Skip the line at the coffee shop, and opt for a Keurig or Nespresso for a happy medium between convenience and cost!
Impulse spending is another gradual but painful leak in our pocket books. This one is hard to pin down because it seems to catch us by surprise every time. It might be in the checkout line at the grocery store, or a stroll through the mall. The worst part about impulse spending is that it so often leads to buyers remorse, since the purchase wasn’t something you really wanted.
Curing impulse spending is often a constant and never ending battle, but there are a few strategies to deal with it. One popular strategy is to ditch plastic on the go and only use cash when shopping. The act of paying with cash triggers a different response in our brains, often making us spend more intentionally to avoid the ‘pain’ of parting with the physical cash. Also, unlike the virtual unlimited spending you can do on a credit card, with cash there’s a very real limit to your spending. When you’re out of cash, you’re out of cash. Consider carrying only as much cash as you’re willing (able) to spend without blowing your budget.
If Necessary, Attack the Bigger Items
If trimming non-essentials doesn’t do enough for your budget, you may have to take a bigger step and move on to larger areas such as your vehicle or home. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re going to get rid of your home or vehicle altogether. Rather, you might consider swapping out for a more affordable home or vehicle. Also, I realize that swapping out your vehicle, and especially your home, is a huge life change. Listing and selling your home, buying a new home and then moving is a drastic change, and not one without risks. However, if your home or vehicle is holding your back from financial freedom, some short term pain and hassle might be worth it.
There’s nothing wrong with having a nice vehicle, but if you’ve shopped out of your price range, the burden of monthly payments, insurance (which is higher on more expensive vehicles) will far outweigh any enjoyment you get from the vehicle. Consider using Edmund’s True Cost to Own (TCO) estimates to consider the actual cost of a car.
As with vehicles, we’re often drawn into buying more home than we can afford. When we’re buying a home It’s easy to forget about all the extra costs that go along with home ownership: property taxes, home insurance, heating and cooling, maintenance, and sometimes association fees. Even if you’re renting, a bigger house means paying more in rent and utilities. If you decide that moving is a wise move, consider all the costs in your next purchase.
Finally, Tackle Your Expectations
As stated earlier, trimming your budget may be necessary, but it’s not fun. However, maintaining a good attitude and healthy expectations goes a long way in how you feel about living on less. Try to practice being content with what you do have, rather than focusing on all the things you wish you could have. This often has a far larger impact on your happiness than the amount of money you spend.