When I was a student, I lived very frugally. At that time, it was more of a need than a choice. However, constantly looking for tips to live frugally started to make me feel very poor. The only thing worse than not having enough money, is being constantly reminded that you don’t have enough money! So, I decided I didn’t want to give a lot of thought to frugal living, anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to save the pennies as much as the next person, but I just didn’t want to think about it all the time. Just like my direct deposits and auto-pay bills, I wanted to put my penny-pinching on "auto" mode. It was a great idea, and to this day, helps me maintain a fairly frugal lifestyle without having to constantly think about it. I sometimes still clip coupons and look for savings to stretch the dollar, but over the years, these tips have helped me save far more.
- Do grocery on weeknights. Or an hour before your favorite show on TV. When I went for groceries on weekends, I was usually very relaxed. I strolled around the store and picked up a lot of junk. I could always justify the need for almost any thing in my cart. I don’t know what first prompted me to start going on weeknights. I suspect it must have happened accidentally. But after a while I noticed the trend. When I went on weeknights, after a busy day, I was inclined to spend lesser, since I just wanted to get the necessary stuff and get the hell out of there. Once I started noticing this, I started planning my grocery trips either at the end of a busy day, or just before a TV show that I really wanted to watch.
- Do grocery only once per week. The above trick was great, but by itself, it had a flaw. In my hurry to get out of the grocery store, I would forget to pick up some of the things. So I had to make either a second trip to the grocery store, or pick it up at the closest gas station for about three times the price (those *#$@ crooks!!!). So I made a second rule – groceries would be done only once per week. If I forgot to pick something, I would just have to live without it until the next week. Slowly, I started to build an emergency supply of canned tomatoes, coffee creamer etc. And my grocery lists started being updated on time. Combined with the above trick, this not only helped me save a lot of money, but save a lot of time too!
- One of the biggest challenge to a person wanting to live frugally is being surrounded by temptations. I could trace the origins of more than a few of my impromptu shopping expeditions to some enticing ad shown on TV. So, I slowly started to reduce watching TV. Of course, I didn’t want to entirely give it up! Call it an idiot box if you like, but I love spending some quality time with it every now and then. So, I got into the habit of watching two shows at a time. In the ad break of one show, I would switch the channel to the second show, or just channel surf. This reduced the amount of time I watched ads. I am pretty sure this has prevented at least a few trips to the mall.
- The other source of enticement was hiding in my mail box. Every time I picked up mail, there would be a pile of coupons and offers. For a while, I actually believed I was saving money by using them! But if you buy something that you don’t need, no matter how heavily it is discounted, you still are overpaying. So, I started to throw away the advertisement fliers that were in my mail box.
- Another place I fell prey to temptation was when I went to the store to buy one thing, but saw something else out there that suddenly found its way to my i-must-have-it-or-my-life-is-meaningless list. So I started to make a list before going shopping (or at least a mental note) and restricted myself to only that section of the store which had the item I wanted to buy.
- The last trick I used was to announce intentions. This trick worked great for big ticket items. For instance, when I started working, the first thing I wanted to do was buy a new car. A BMW, no less. I realized what a stupid idea that would be. But that didn’t make me want it any less. So I told my friends, colleagues and even on this blog that I would not buy a new car because of any number of reasons. This has helped in two ways – (i)after enough repetitions, the reasons really sank in and now I really believe them and don’t want to buy a car and (ii)its too embarrassing to tell a story one day about why you wont buy a car and the next day you go and buy one. :) So far, I am still driving my trusty old car. We have had similar success with laptop and flat screen TV too. Our story there was "the price will come down some more, so no point buying it just yet". And now we believe our own story and are not really tempted by the "black friday" deals and other such gimmicks.
- Finally, still on my to do list is learning how to program the damn thermostat. We don’t have a manual for it, and the stupid thing has different mode for "temporary settings" and "permanent settings". No matter what changes we do and how we save the changes, it seems to always save it as "temporary settings". So, to save on utilities, everyday before leaving for work we switch off the heat and come back to a freezing house and hop around until the house warms up again. I really need to look on the Net and find a stupid manual for this model and automate the darned thing.
That’s it so far. My tricks to automatic frugal living. If you have any other tricks that helps save without having to consciously think about it every time, please do share. Thanks!