Does Spending Less Money Get Easier Over Time?

My family has been on a mission to reduce our spending, pay off remaining school debts, and build a giant emergency fund for well over a year now.  For much of that time I’ve been chronicling that journey at Frugal Dad.  One question I am typically asked by readers, and media types, is if I started Frugal Dad to make myself more accountable.  Honestly, that wasn’t one of the primary reasons, but I think writing every day about being a better steward of money has made it easier for me to bypass impulse spending opportunities.

Finding Contentment, Not Resentment

Over time it is difficult not to grow a little resentful of your reduced spending plan.  You do not have to look far to find someone who by all appearances is doing better than you.  It is hard to see neighbors hauling in new furniture, or a plasma television, or driving home a new car, and not think, “I wish I could afford to do that, too.”  This past year it seems like everyone I know has taken a great vacation.  We haven’t taken a vacation in over a year now, and frankly we could use the break.  But, we stayed home this summer to keep plugging away towards the goal of cleaning up our finances once and for all.  We are content to pass on life’s luxuries for now while we focus on living with only life’s necessities (with some occasional fun stuff mixed in, too).

Developing Frugal Habits

Like any new habit, frugal living takes a little time to become routine.  It’s not like you wake up one morning and completely undo all the years of being a mega-consumer.  And even when you do get all that emotional spending out of your system there times of relapse.  Something shiny may catch your eye like a kid in the toy store.  It might be a new tool that you just have to buy, or maybe the object of your spending desire is a new pair of shoes that you have been wanting forever, and they only have one left in your size.  Learning to recognize those moments, and still make a frugal choice, is what separates the “men from the boys,” financially.

I still occasionally have my moments, but for the most part I am fairly content with what I have. Sure, my vehicle could use an upgrade, but it runs well and gets me from A to B.  A few pieces of furniture around our house are broken, or badly worn, and should probably be replaced.  However, we are content to “let things ride” for the time being, while we focus our efforts on other financial goals.

So to answer my own question, yes, over time it does get easier to spend less money.  At least, it gets easier to buy less things.  With the way prices have recently inflated it is still tough to spend less money!

Comments

  1. I think the biggest thing being frugal does for you overtime is get you in a routine where spending does go down like you mentioned. Things like clipping coupons, buying presents early, and things along that line save money overall and they are easier to do once you get used to them. It may be hard at first though!

  2. Yes! It gets easier. What is hard is looking at what you spend now versus what you used to spend and realizing how you wasted your hard-earned cash. At least that’s where I am now. The less I spend, the less I want to spend. But it’s also a result of a reasonable spending plan that allows for fun too, not just sustenance.

  3. This is a really great question. I live quite frugally and I would say that over time it has been getting easier because we are getting better at spending less. It takes time to develop new habits and strategies and it takes practice. One thing I love about spending less is the ability to see through all of the crap that advertisers are trying to get you to buy. It’s really refreshing to have your own mind back. (Although that iPhone, and Apple in general, is very tough to ignore.) I also think that there is a certain level of “want” that never goes away, it just murmurs along at a low level, ever tempting you.

    IMO, our society has lost its ability to value restraint. Kind of like how you can go into any grocery store and buy a tomato at any time of year. But if you don’t, and you wait until that first home-grown tomato of the season, WOW, what a sensual experience, all courtesy of a little restraint. In all of the glut, restraint is something to work towards and aspire to. Plus it builds a little character along the way.

  4. It gets soooo easy you’ll be on autopilot :)
    Trust me! I’m you in the future :) (over 50)

    What gets harder is actually spending money on something that’s not a necessity! One gets so ingrained in NOT buying things that it is hard to buy something new. Usually I have to go thru a whole process of…is it really needed…will I really use it…is it worth the time/hourly wage it will take me to buy it… can it be gotten less expensively on sale, from a garage sale, from a friend, as a hand me down… then it goes on the list on the back of the kitchen cabinet door. If I still want it in a year, then I get it!

    And about the kids – they need to learn to save up for whatever it is they want. Just buying it for them is not teaching the value of patience, restraint, and saving up, nor the self-reward of having earned it all themselves.

    (Sorry about all the school/sports/activity fees tho – those can be devastating until you hit that family cut off level)

  5. Try some mini-vacations… on 3 day weekends plan something close in and pretend you are tourists. Have food premade or in the freezer – use paper plates etc for little clean up. Have a movie/popcorn night. Take a picnic to the park/lake/woods what have you. Just get out and do something that the tourists would do if they came to your area. Sometimes just the mini vacations can help. :)

  6. I would say a big YES! I grew up frugal but my husband was raised in a house where they always had just enough — and knew it. So when we met, he was a major spendthrift. He would literally spend his paycheck within three days and then live hand-to-mouth until the next paycheck.

    Part of this was from the just-making-it mentality and part was from his ADD. Either way, he’s a lot more thoughtful about spending, nowadays. He still struggles — as do I, since I’m overly rigid about frugality — but we’re finding a good middle ground that lets us pay down debt while still having fun occasionally.

  7. One thing that helps me is to remind myself that it’s highly likely the person getting the new car, plasma TV, or whatever really can’t afford it.

    But not only that, if a plasma TV were in my sights (it’s not really), one thing that would help me is knowing they’ll be cheaper next year. Right now demand is high due to the unnecessary DTV switchover. Just as the manufacturers hoped, people are scrambling to buy them before the February 2009 deadline so they don’t miss an episode of Deal or No Deal. So there’s no incentive to cut prices.

    In a year or two, there will be oversupply, and prices will drop like a rock the same way the price of LCD computer monitors did. I remember when a 15″ LCD cost $300. Today you can get a 22″ LCD for less than that.

    To me, it’s not worth paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more to be the first guy on the block with something like that. I’d rather wait a couple of years and get more for my money. And in some cases it turns out I really didn’t want it anyway, so then I’m even further ahead.

  8. You know, I am creative for a living so I apply the frugality thing creatively to my life — some would say off the deep end actually. I try to grow/raise as much of my family’s food as possible. I don’t have cable at all, drive a TDI Jetta that gets 50 MPG, but really ride my bike (or tandems with the kids) most everywhere even though I live 20 miles outside of our main town. (I lost 80 lbs. doing this!) When I need new furniture I usually try to make it (my husband is an awesome craftsman) or I trade for it — I just traded some antiques I was kind of tired of that didn’t really fit into our home for some that suited me better and I got the whole “new furniture” thrill from that. I traded out websites (I work as a web developer) to pay for my kids’ dance lessons last year and that led to a new studio wanting me to build a website for them for dance lessons this year. Heck, I even traded an old computer for a dairy goat once. I find it fun and exciting to live this way, but a lot of people I know think I am nuts. :-) It’s fun for me to find creative ways to apply frugality.
    http://www.eggsintomatoes.com

  9. I agree. Over time it is getting easier over time. I think that with time and practice we develop kind of frugal ‘intuition’ that helps us spending less money.

  10. I say, yes, it does get easier over time. However, with me it didn’t happen until I got extremely sick and tired of putting out money for every little thing. I realized at the beginning of summer this year that I was in fact finally truly frugal. It was at that time that my air conditioner broke down and I was told it was not repairable. I cringed at the thought of having to buy a new one. And instead of buying one, I went to the thrift store and bought some fans. I also bought the kids summer passes to the local swimming pool. I then wondered how long we could make it before I would give in and buy an AC. Well, I am happy to say that we made it through the entire summer and I still have not replaced that broken air conditioner. And the kids did not even complain once. You see, it turned out that it really wasn’t that bad. Sure, there were a few rough days, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And while I worried at first about my son’s asthma, he not once picked up his inhaler during the summer. I enjoyed waking up each day with a cool morning breeze coming through the windows and the birds singing. And I thought to myself, “I’ve been missing this all these years!” Plus, I went through the entire summer without a high energy bill. We took some of the money we saved and went on a long overdue (but frugal) vacation. I love being frugal. Should I become a millionaire tomorrow, I will probably still be frugal. But I might break down and buy that air conditioner.

  11. It gets easier, but still there are days when I am tired of it. I admit, I struggle with that. There is an immediate gratification with going out and buying something I want that I miss. Oh, I know it is all for the better and everything that all the commenters have said – doesn’t mean I don’t still have rough days.

  12. In general yes, but Frugal Trenches asked an interesting question. “Why doesn’t everyone in debt do a bare bones budget?”

    While still in debt we are running a nice surplus, it feels so good after sooo many years of being broke that I’m loathe to run it all on to debt. While I’m careful I am really really enjoying spending real cold hard cash.

    Another reason why I’m not so worried is that when you have real hard cash in the bank (as vs available overdraft) is your hesitant to spend it all.

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