23 November 2016

The Beginner's Guide to Thrift: Saving Money by Following the Golden Rules

For the more fortunate of us, living a thrifty lifestyle comes naturally. The most obvious influence is the parental one. If we grew up in a household where "make do and mend" was the overwhelming attitude, then we're more likely to carry that into our own lives.
The above, however, is the lucky category. For the majority of the population, being thrifty goes against everything society teaches them to do. We live in an age of consumerism, where having something is better than going without. The way of the modern world is to replace before you even attempt a repair. It's also where wealth is more of a status symbol than ever, so why go cheaper if paying more gives you a few social points?
There comes a point in many a life where this rampant spendthrift attitude begins to seem a little empty. You can't spend your way to happiness, but you can definitely spend your way to unhappiness. It may be that financial circumstances change or trying to fight your way out of debt, but for the first time, you hear the thrifty calling.
Sound familiar? If it doesn't, you're probably a little overwhelmed at the idea. No longer will the swipe of a credit card be the answer to your problems. While there are endless benefits to being more careful with your money, there are downsides as well. It takes a lot more effort, for example. You don't just grab the first thing you see; you have to research and be meticulous.
If you're thinking that's beginning to sound exhausting already: don't panic. Being careful with cash is a skill like any other. You wouldn't expect to be able to climb onto a tightrope and immediately dance across it with the grace of a gazelle. You'd expect to have to work at it, hone the ability, and maybe have a few falls here and there. Switching the way you spend money is a similar process, albeit one with far less scope for catastrophic injury.
So don't give in to defeat before you have even begun; this is one skill to start honing right now. The best place to begin is the very start, so here's some golden rules to get you on your way.
#1 - "I will learn to coupon and I will do it with pride."
Yes, we've all seen the TV shows about those people whose commitment to thrift is so absolute that they take every coupon going. They take the local free paper. They get copies of that same paper from neighbors and family. Some even go dumpster-diving to grab more coupons. No-one is saying you have to go to these extremes, but there are plenty of coupons readily available to you. So use them.
A lot of people have hang-ups about using coupons, even on a small scale. And fair enough, no-one likes to be that person holding up a line by paying for a full cart of groceries with a hundred coupons. But if you plan out your shopping trips properly in advance then you don't have to take any more time than necessary.
One of the major issues with couponing to the beginner is that the rules are so varied. What one store will let you do - such as using multiple coupons in one transaction - another won't. If you're planning a big shop, then it's worth calling ahead to ask for details of their exact policy.
If you do find other shoppers being unnecessary and rude, then just smile and take your time. If they push it further, tell them you're quite willing to let them pay the cost of your shopping without coupons.
#2 - "I will consider every purchase I make."
Stopping the impulse to spend is one of the trickiest things to overcome when you begin making the switch. Some of us are emotional when we spend; we buy things to celebrate, or to cheer us up when things aren't going well. Learning to channel these emotions is an important lesson and one that will help you regain some control.
For the first few months, try and take your time before buying anything. Give at least a couple of days between the decision to buy and actually doing it. This should allow a cooler head to prevail.
#3 - "I will spend where it counts."
Being thrifty is not the same thing as being tight with money. There are some areas that it's just not a good idea to scrimp and save on.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that some areas need money to be as efficient as possible. Sure, you can splint a broken arm yourself and hope it heals - but a doctor will be much better at it. The former is free; the latter costs money - but thinking financially above all else could be damaging.
You also don't need to let the new attitude have an impact on your values. It's perfectly possible, for example, to be vegan and also live as thrifty a lifestyle as possible. You can still find your cheese substitutes and avoid leather; you don't have to compromise your values for the sake of a lower price. It's about saving money where you can to spend where you need.
The same is true if you are ecologically aware. Sure, you can grab a cheap mattress for double-figures - or you can source one from the likes of http://www.betterbedsolutions.com that is better for your health. The former is the less expensive, so that's the one you should go for if you're being thrifty - right?
Wrong. Not only does that compromise your ethics, but it's also going to mean that you need to buy a new mattress in six months. If something is massively underpriced, it's probably not durable. That just means you end up spending more in the long run. This is about changing your lifestyle permanently, not to get a fix and feel better about your financial affairs right now. Commit to it and note where the investments are worth it.
#4 - "I will not buy things that I can make* myself."
*While this is a good mantra, there's also a need for some realism! It is possible, for example, for you to make your own butter rather than buying from a store. However, it will also cost a fortune - for the cow, the machinery, and actually learning to do it. So apply a little common sense here.
One area it's very easy to apply this philosophy is with home furnishings. Fabric is much cheaper than buying ready-made curtains or cushion covers. If you make the switch to making your own for life, you will recoup an investment in a sewing machine in no time. The same is not true for the butter example - so that's where you draw the line.
The initial investment and learning process of making your own home furnishings might be more expensive. However, it's something you can keep using again and again, taking advantage of the money you will save on fabric. Plus you never know - it might be a new hobby you enjoy!
#5 - "I will throw away as little as possible."
This ties in with number four.
A quick glance at the internet and life hacks will show you the way a whole variety of things can be used. This ranges from using egg shells to grow seedlings to using straws to remove strawberry cores. If you look hard enough, you can find a second, third or fourth use for almost everything.
By reducing your waste output, you also get a tick in the environmentally-friendly column. At the very least, make sure you recycle everything you can whether that be inside your home or out. Affix a sticker to your trash can to remind you to evaluate everything you might put in there, searching for another usage.
#6 - "I will allow myself the occasional treat."
Sometimes, we need to kick back and just let go. If you try and adhere too strongly to any new lifestyle practice, one thing and one thing alone will happen:
You will begin to hate that new lifestyle practice.
It's going to feel restrictive. You can't do the things you want; you have less spare time; it's making you miserable. This shouldn't be making you miserable! The whole reason you're doing it is to improve your life, so if you're finding it too arduous, cut yourself some slack.
Look at it like this: by saving in other areas, you're earning the right to spend in others. You're just cutting waste and being more careful, not trying to stop spending on purely pleasurable items forever. So don't force yourself into accepting something you don't want - and don't chastise yourself if you indulge.
Try and aim for 75% adherence and you're going to be doing very well indeed. The rest of the time, enjoy the freedom, knowing you have worked hard to earn it. If you do it right, you're going to enjoy being let off the leash even more as a result.

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