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The Truth About Joy and Living Well, Below Your Means

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 money to save—imagine that! And to give some 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 can you 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.

On a scale of 1 to 10 …

The way to get started with prioritizing things in your life is to come up with a simple system for every non-essential expenditure.

Here’s a good one: On a scale of one to 10 how much joy does this bring to my life?

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.

Stop, think, prioritize

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.

Stop spending where it doesn’t matter

Personal finance is not about saying “no” to spending on the things you love. It’s a matter of scrimping like crazy where it doesn’t matter so you are able to spend where it does.

Living below your means is not about adopting a life of poverty. It’s about conscious decisions, not guilt. It’s about thinking and deciding what’s really important to you and then planning and saving … and sticking to it!

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

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17 replies
  1. PattiHath
    PattiHath says:

    Another great post. Makes us think about our priorities. I was taught (being of Dutch descent) from an early age about being frugal – out of necessity because my Dad was a preacher and my Mom stayed at home with us kids. People used to say about my Dad that he could pinch more out of a nickle than most people could out of a dollar. He always prioritized tithing and God blessed that decision and my parents retired with a nice amount of money and the ability to travel. Thanks Mary!

    Reply
  2. Gina Stevens
    Gina Stevens says:

    For those who spend a lot of time in cars (driving to work, visiting relatives, etc.) books on CD are a salvation. I get mine at the library for free (along with free movies on DVD). Libraries are a treasure trove of freebies. Mary, as usual, I enjoy Everyday Cheapskate immensely. Thanks, again, for the daily tips!

    Reply
  3. Luisa
    Luisa says:

    This is another great post. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? And this perspective is something your columns have helped me learn over a period of years. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I love to travel. I was raised on little means by a single mother. We were considered low income. I have always been frugal sometimes crossing the line to cheap. 🙁 I do buy some frivolous things, but I can afford to since I save almost 1/2 of my income. I try and always buy what I want on sale and use coupons/deals when going out to eat. Thanks for more things I can share with my Personal Finance class I each in high school. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Jan Schal
    Jan Schal says:

    Number 10 for me is giving to charity – whether it monetary donations to church, or making hats for people going through chemo, or crocheting tiny hearts for the Peyton Project. We paid off our mortgage early, saved big for retirement, cut the cord on cable, make our own laundry, hand soap, body wash, and shampoo, make our own vanilla, buy cars only with cash (all things I’ve learned from YOU, Mary!) – so that my husband could retire slightly early and get a dog (his dream retirement wish!). While I still work part-time at a job I OVE and can’t believe I get paid to do, I still donate my extra time, effort, and money to charities we love to try to make someone else’s life a little better. We’ve always lived below our means and it’s paying off now big time! Everyone should read your column every day and follow your advice. Living below your means isn’t sacrificing, it’s FREEDOM to do what matters to you!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      So happy to hear from you, Jan. Sounds like we go waaaayt back! It’s a daily walk, just one steap at a time, And from time to time we look back and see how all those small things have added up to be something amazing. So proud of you, Jan!

      Reply
  6. Julie Higginson
    Julie Higginson says:

    Hi Mary, I’ve been reading your column for years. Thank you for all your helpful info! I am newly widowed and have a monthly income of $1258, but my hubby and I had been living below our means for many years already. We had already cut out all non-essentials except for cable TV because he was homebound and it was his only source of being in touch with the outside world. I have NO credit cards and pay for everything I need with cash only. If I don’t have the money for something I want, I simply go without. Living frugally was really tough at first all those decades ago, but it gradually became a very liberating lifestyle; not being held slave to a bunch of STUFF. Anyway just wanted to say thank you for all your tips and encouragement over the years.

    Reply
  7. Linda Lopez
    Linda Lopez says:

    I think this article is great! I’m pretty good at saving and delaying gratification but I like the idea of the number prioritization. Previously, I have also divided the cost of the desired item by my hourly wage and asked myself, ” Am I willing to be away from my family and perform (fill in the blank) hours of (my job) so that I can have this or do this?” When I look at it as exchanging time with my family to obtain something, it puts it in perspective for me.

    Reply
  8. tboofy
    tboofy says:

    Right now my highest priority is paying off my house before retirement. It’s not something that brings me joy right now necessarily, but eventually it will make me extremely happy. Giving is also a high priority for me.

    Reply
  9. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Hi Mary, My car and the ability to travel are the only real 10’s in my financial life. I live 500 miles from my daughter who has been battling cancer for almost 5 years now, and being able to see her is the number one priority in my life. I have cut back on eating out – which would normally be an 8 on the score – and buying books (another 8), and I try very very hard to control my formerly uncontrolled splurging on unnecessaries. I’m not 100% successful in my budgeting yet, although I have managed to save $5000 in order to pay cash for a trip to Hawaii in February for a dear friend’s wedding. Thank you and God bless you for your help over these past months.

    Reply

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