One of the most important practices when it comes to personal finance is living within our means. Spending within our means helps us to avoid crushing debt, save, and achieve our financial goals. However, this can be rather challenging.
With the advent of e-commerce, temptation is now all around us. We can make purchases and break the bank through a single click on our phones. In this age of credit cards and online shopping, learning to live within our means has become more crucial than ever before.
Here are 7 practical and effective tips to help you live within your means:
1. Have no-spend days
A no-spend day is basically a day when you don’t spend any money. This excludes your fixed or overhead costs such as electricity, water, internet, etc. Having one or two no-spend days a week is a great way to cut down on expenses.
Plus, it gives us an opportunity to be creative and resourceful when it comes to mealtimes. We can use up whatever food and groceries we may have remaining in the fridge before going on our next grocery run.
2. Look out for good deals
Looking out for good deals is one way for us to save more money. This could mean buying produce that’s on sale in the supermarket, adding items to your online cart and hitting ‘Buy’ when it’s on sale, or checking to see if there are any promotions/discounts offered for your credit card.
Also, when you plan to buy something, compare prices across different shops/e-commerce platforms to make your purchase at the best possible price. This is especially useful for travel-related purchases.
3. Don’t deprive yourself
Having a budget and sticking to it is great. But when your budget is too strict and it deprives you of many things that you enjoy, then it’s less likely to stick and you may end up splurging at the end of the day. Instead, leave some wriggle room.
In other words, put some money aside every week for things that you enjoy such as eating out or going to the cinema. If you enjoy eating out, you can research popular cafés nearby that offer affordable food and treat yourself. This serves as a reward and motivates you to stick to your budget.
4. Plan ahead for the future
If you expect big-ticket purchases in the future (e.g. laptop, smartphone, overseas holiday), then set clear savings goals now and start saving up for it. Avoid making last-minute decisions to buy a big-ticket item and charge it on your credit card. This is the fastest way to break the bank and accumulate debt.
To make it even easier, determine how much you’ll need to set aside each month to meet your savings goal and automate your savings.
5. Cut down on expenses
If you wish to save more for an upcoming big-ticket purchase, then look for areas where you can cut down on expenses. Again, avoid going cold turkey and depriving yourself of enjoyable things. Instead, learn to cut back.
If you eat out 3 to 4 times a week, cut back to twice a week. If you enjoy café-style coffees or lattes, indulge in them once in a while. On other occasions, experiment and see if you can replicate something similar at home for a fraction of the cost.
6. Use an add-subtract approach to budgeting
Sometimes, we’re really tempted to make impulse purchases. Perhaps our favourite e-commerce platform has a massive sale, and we really want to buy a few items. One way to appease this impulse and at the same time, not bust our budget is to use an add-subtract approach.
This is where you negotiate with yourself. This inner dialogue goes something like this: “Fine, you want to get items A and B. They cost $ XXX. If you can find some other way to cut back this week and balance your budget, go ahead.”
Maybe you’ll need to cut back on take-out or Grab/Uber this week. Once you start such negotiations with yourself, you might arrive at this conclusion: “Oh dear, I’m not willing to cut back on ride-sharing. That’s more important than item A. I’ll just reduce my take-out this week and only get item B.”
This way you don’t deprive yourself completely and at the same time, you don’t break the bank.
7. Find joy in your current lifestyle
This is probably the hardest thing on this list, but it’s the most important. Finding joy in our current lifestyle is key to living within our means. Striving for better things is not bad, but never being satisfied with what we have in the present moment can be dangerous. This could lead to us financing a more lavish lifestyle by accumulating great amounts of debt.
Instead, learning to find joy in simpler things can help us stick to our financial goals. Here are some strategies we can try to do this:
Practise gratitude regularly. Identify the people, opportunities, experiences, and things in your life that you’re grateful for. This helps to remind us that although we don’t have everything, we still have a lot to be grateful for.
Find cheaper alternatives for the things you enjoy. If you love eating out, look for affordable eateries you can frequent. If you enjoy travelling, opt to visit local gems instead of more expensive overseas destinations.
Spend lots of time with your loved ones. Do activities together with your family, catch up with your friends over a good meal, and go on date nights with your significant other. Remind yourself that not all joys in life come attached with a hefty price tag.
I know this last item on the list may sound super preachy and I apologise if it comes across that way. This is something that I frequently struggle with as well and I’m learning that a mindset shift can be really powerful. I realise that my bank balance isn’t much to brag about, but I’ve experienced great joy spending time with my loved ones and pursuing something I’m passionate about.
We’re in the process of buying our first home and initially, I was anxious about doing up the house, furnishing the new place, etc. But the more I think about it, I start to realise that I can reuse all my existing furniture, buy a few things here and there that I might need, and save up for the rest.
I don’t have a lot here in my current place either, but it’s home and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I guess what I’m saying is, once we find joy in what we have, we stop chasing after things we don’t really need, and that’s the best way to live within our means.