How to Move from Overspending to Spending Less

Even the mention of words like frugality and thrift send some people over the edge because, for them, those words conjure up thoughts of poverty and deprivation.

They assume that cutting costs is tantamount to diving into dumpsters to find one’s next meal. No wonder so many people prefer a life of debilitating debt to one of frugality.

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Let me set the record straight. Please.

There is nothing undignified about spending less than you earn. That’s called living below your means, and it’s a fabulous way to live! When you spend less than you earn, you have some to save. And to give away, too. When you spend less than you earn, you are not dependent on credit to get by. It is a very good thing.

So you may be wondering how you can move from overspending to spending less, without giving up your quality of life. It starts with prioritizing everything according to how important it is to your life. Then only spend on things at the top of the list, ruthlessly cutting your spending on the things that don’t matter.

The way to get started with prioritizing things in your life is to come up with a system, like “on a scale of one to 10 …” Now, apply this to every way that you spend money. Do not hand out “10s” willy-nilly. Reserve that designation for only those things you truly love because they bring incredible joy and fulfillment to your life.

As you prioritize, examine everything. Do you eat out often? Go to the movies? Travel? Do you spend on home-improvement projects, kitchen gadgets and visits to the gym? Are cable television and electronic devices a main source of joy? Are you most fulfilled when you are donating your skills and time to an outreach charity in your community? Is fancy jewelry your thing, or are you more into driving a fancy car? Perhaps for you it’s shoes, or gifts for those you love.

Our lists are not likely to be the same. For example, eating out in mediocre chain restaurants is not a priority for me. To me, the food is overpriced and of inferior quality. Having my own car is not high on my list, either. And I could not care less about English bone china or maintaining a koi pond, but I know people for whom both rate 10s on their lists.

But having a beautifully maintained yard with flower gardens, traveling to beautiful places and spending time with good friends are all at the top of my list. I will cut mercilessly in other areas to have money for the things that I really love.

Personal finance is not about saying “no” to spending on the things you love. Living below your means is not about adopting a life of poverty. It’s about conscious decisions, not guilt. It’s planning and thinking and deciding what’s really important to you.

Question: What gets rated as a 10 in your life? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jeneene Brengelman

    Travel and experiences. I recently started contra dancing. It is fun to dance in a skirt, but I hadn’t worn one in many years. I went to St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill (charity shops) on senior discount day and bought a wardrobe of skirts and tops for about $30. I never eat in restaurants unless traveling, and then usually only lunch. My favorite traveling dinner is to pick up a few items like cheese, bread and fruit, plus a newspaper. I go back to my room, put my feet up, eat at my own pace, and plan the next day. I may or may not go back out. I love the freedom that living below my small income gives me much more than the temporary thrill any purchase provides. But the real secret is low overhead. Keeping your fixed expenses as low as possible is the key to a free and happy life, IMHO.

  • Emily Booth

    Travel. Tithing. Gifts. I have separate savings accounts & budgets for each. I am not extravagant; I am retired. But, I am free. Free from debt. People marvel that I can travel, support charities & treat family & friends to dinner & give gifts. I appreciate they are sensitive to my being retired. I can do these things because I save first — 10% tithes, 10% emergency fund and the rest to manage as I wish!