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When my husband and I made the commitment to change our spending habits, it was the result of a shocking moment. Some pals and I were talking about taking a girls trip to Italy for our 40th birthdays coming up in two years. In addition, our house was nearly due for a new roof and our cars were getting older.
If I wanted any chance of making the trip happen, I knew I’d need to start saving now. I figured I could tuck some money away here and there – shouldn’t be too hard, right? We did have a budget after all.
Turns out having a budget isn’t a magic bullet for solving financial problems – especially if you don’t actually stick to it.
I took a few minutes one day to itemize our spending for the prior couple of months so I could see where I could cut back in order to save for my big Eat Pray Love adventure. But before I could even say “cannoli” the bottom line nearly made me choke.
What I discovered was that we had major spending problems that we didn’t even know we had. We had no clue how bad our spending had become.
Let’s just say we spent over $1,000 in one month on eating out and retail shopping. That number made me sick to my stomach. The truth was staring me in the face in the form of scribbled dollar amounts on a notebook page that added up to utter stupidity.
That day we made a change and we’ve stuck to it ever since.
I expected our new frugal lifestyle to be hard. I expected to save money as part of this journey. That was it. But I experienced a few surprise bonuses that I didn’t expect that have kept me motivated.
Here are three unexpected benefits of the frugal lifestyle.
1. I saw a change in health. Specifically, my waistline.
A little over a year ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Our second child. While I bounced back from the first pretty quickly, I was almost 37 years old when we had our second and, well, fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes had become a pipe dream.
I’d given up on wearing my wedding rings simultaneously. It was too uncomfortable to wear both my engagement ring and wedding band on one finger. I got down to within 10 pounds of my pre-baby weight, and I’d accepted that. In fact, I was happy with it! Rings can be resized, after all.
I had discarded my pre-baby jeans and purchased some new ones in the next size up. Then one day, I noticed that when I placed my hands on my hips to lecture my son about leaving the toilet seat up, there wasn’t quite as much there to cushion my hand.
My jeans got a little looser. People at work were asking me, “Do you work out?” I had been working out, but I had been working out for a year and no one noticed.
I realized, by packing my lunch every single day instead of eating lunch out, I had lost weight.
I have the benefit of working for a large company with a really stellar cafeteria. We even have a Starbucks cafe. It’s an amazing perk…unless you’re trying to save money.
Before we started living frugally, I was buying breakfast a few times a week at work. I was eating lunch out every single day. If I wasn’t eating lunch at my desk after a trip to the cafeteria, I was meeting a friend for lunch, or swinging by a drive-thru.
If you’re serious about living frugally, one of the top ways to cut spending is by reducing how often you dine out.
I committed to planning the next day’s lunch each evening. Cooking more meals at home meant this was usually pretty easy. I’d scoop some leftovers out for myself and my husband and call it a day.
Each Sunday, I hard boiled a dozen eggs and pre-packaged them two-by-two for quick grab-and-go breakfast and lunch.
The first month living frugally, I made a goal to pack lunch four days per week and to pack breakfast every day. How hard is it to grab a granola bar, banana and a handful of nuts, after all?
By month two, I had gone a full 30 days packing both breakfast and lunch every single day for 30 days.
Guess what happens when you commit to packing your lunch?
- You save MEGA BUCKS. We cut our dining budget by 70 percent, eating out only once per weekend or for special occasions.
- You eat better food. When you cook more at home and prepare your own packed lunch, whether you are consciously doing it or not, you’re eating less processed, preservative-laden foods.
- You eat smaller portions and less fried junk. I wasn’t eating out, so I wasn’t getting super-sized portions. I wasn’t walking back to my desk with a sandwich and fries.
- You cut calories by nixing sugary drinks. I switched to water when I realized that my sweet tea addiction was costing me upwards of $2.50 a pop. And speaking of pop, I cut that too. Have you ever noticed how much a drink adds to your restaurant bill nowadays?
- You lose weight. At least that’s what happened in my case. As I sit here writing this, I’m actually a few pounds lighter than my pre-baby weight. Thank you frugal living!
- You could see other health benefits. Thankfully, I had no major health issues prior to living frugally, but think about it. If you go from eating out to packing, you’re cutting out loads of sodium, saturated fat (if you make smart choices), preservatives and other yucky stuff that comes with pre-prepped, highly-processed fast food.
As if this fringe benefit wasn’t enough, I also found another unexpected perk.
2. I became a boss at multi-tasking and getting things done.
When I evaluated our spending, I came to the conclusion that I had a lunchtime shopping addiction. I typically get an hour lunch break. Before we started living frugally, I had been using part of that time to shop – either at local retailers or online.
There was one month when my husband and I had spent $166 at T.J. Maxx and over $200 on Amazon.
What’s sad is that I couldn’t even remember what I’d purchased. I was ashamed we’d spent so frivolously on items that meant so little that we couldn’t even remember what the heck they were.
I knew I had to put an abrupt stop to all of my lunchtime shopping. And that was hard because it had become a habit. I filled my lunchtime with other activities to keep my mind off of shopping and my wallet out of the store.
On nice days, I started walking on my lunch break. There are several walking trails near my employer, so I’d pick one and get in a 20 or 30 minute walk. (This also probably had a big impact on my weight loss too!)
Walking is cathartic when you’ve been tied to your desk all day. I found myself not only feeling great, but I had time to think.
I used my walking time to plan and strategize for the upcoming week. I’d put notes and reminders into my phone and sometimes I’d even make phone calls to take care of things I’d put off for far too long, like renegotiating our cable bill or calling our insurance company to see if we could make any changes to save money.
One lunch break, I went to our cell phone carrier to see if we could cut rates on our current plan, which was nearly at the end of the contract period. Guess what?
In 20 minutes, I saved us $600 per year.
The store associate was super helpful and quickly determined how much data we were truly using. Next thing I knew, I was skipping out of the store with a bill that was $50 less per month than our current plan.
Actually making money on my lunch break instead of spending it? Yes please!
Each small win gave me motivation to find more ways to effectively use my spare time.
I got serious about my side hustle.
Before our frugal journey began, I wrote occasionally, whenever I could fit it in, which was seldom. When you work full time and have kids, spare time is a precious commodity.
Now, on days when the weather isn’t fit for walking, I eat my packed lunch in the car on my way to the local library near my employer. I can usually get in a good 45 minutes of side-hustle time.
You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in less than an hour. I work on writing projects, queries to get freelance gigs or write for my own blog.
My pre-frugal self used “working full time with kids” as an excuse. I always wondered how people had time for side hustles and thought it would never work for me. Now it does. In fact, once you start by using just one pocket of time efficiently, you’ll find that others open up.
For example, I realized that, in addition to my hour lunch, I was missing an opportunity to work my side hustle after the kids were asleep. Gone are the days of lounging on the couch, binge watching Netflix with a jar of Nutella and a spoon while my husband does homework for his master’s degree.
When he does homework, I work too. Pitching, writing and planning. No more excuses. Now, I’m able to make a little more money on the side to throw at our debt. Huzzah!
These fringe frugal living benefits have led to the biggest unexpected reward yet.
3. I am happier overall and have less stress and less guilt about spending.
It seems counterintuitive to think that you’d feel less guilt when spending on a frugal budget. Every purchase is a nail-biter, fraught with decision, right?
Actually, for me, the opposite has been true.
Having a budget and actually giving every dollar a job has fundamentally changed how I think about money and purchasing. Before, I would spend impulsively on things we really didn’t need. I’d come home with a haul from a home decor store and the next week go back again.
Now I only make mindful purchases, so I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.
If I want a pair of nice shoes or something for our house, I sit on the idea first. I always ask if it’s a true necessity. If it’s not, I don’t buy it right away. Instead, I refer to our budget app and budget the item in if there’s room.
I can feel good about spending now because I know for a fact we’re sticking with a budget and saving money. We’re not overspending anymore.
Spending mindfully has trickled into other aspects of my life.
Since making the decision to live frugally, I’m mindful of my time with my children. I’m mindful of the time I spend on social media, time spent commuting and even cleaning (which I used to think I needed to do constantly, even during precious time with my kids).
I see everything in terms of value now, just like money. If it doesn’t add value to my life, it doesn’t belong in my life. And can I just say how much simpler it is to dress in the morning when you’re working with a capsule wardrobe instead of a closet full of tacky clearance finds that were purchased just because they were a “good deal”?
In fact, shopping trips have become more mindful as well.
Before, we’d load the kids into the car and head into a nearby town to get groceries, stopping for fast food on the way home. (Yeah. I know how utterly stupid this was, in hindsight.) Now, I pack us a light lunch and we find a picnic spot in one of the many local parks.
Let’s see…trying to pass fries and a drink to a kid in the back seat while sorting nuggets and sauce in a moving car? Or packing some healthy sandwiches and fruit and spreading out on a blanket with my kids where we can play and have fun without the petrified fry collection growing under my son’s car seat. Which would you pick?
Speaking of kids, it’s worth noting that shopping with them isn’t quite so excruciating. We were never the sort to give in to whining for toys or candy, but our reason has changed from the ol’ standby, “Because I said so!” to a more meaningful one.
I’ve made it a point to discuss money and spending with our 5 year old son. We used to do all of our shopping at superstores, but these days we opt for Aldi. At first, he hated going shopping with us because Aldi didn’t have a huge toy department.
When I explained to our son why we were changing our grocery shopping routine, he seemed to catch on after a few weeks. Now he doesn’t really balk at skipping the superstores. In fact, what used to be a daily mantra of, “Can we buy a new toy? Can we? Can we Mommy? MOMMY CAN WE BUY A TOY?” has all but diminished into an occasional ask.
Talk about happy!
The other aspect that I absolutely love about frugal living is the challenge. No, I don’t mean that it’s hard anymore – I mean my constant thirst for learning and seeking out new ways to effectively manage money and pay down debt.
When we cleared our 60-day hurdle – two whole months of strict budgeting – it was exhilarating. We had accomplished something that seemed impossible, and I was hooked on the high of success. In that short time, we’d paid down an extra $800 on a small student loan, which is nearly paid off now.
I consider the senseless spending of our past and think about what I could have done with that money. While that’s a little depressing at first, it’s mostly motivating because it’s in the past and the future is limitless.
Reinventing ourselves financially means that my husband and I share the same short-term and long-term goals that are exciting and, most of all, achievable. I don’t feel sorry for myself, or wonder how “other people” do it anymore.
I have the power to make financial choices that add value to my life and our family goals. When I think about those goals, and our roadmap to get us there, it makes me incredibly fulfilled and eager to succeed, not only for myself, but my family.
It’s really no surprise that living frugally has made me happier. Money is a primary source of stress in many households. We live in a vacuum of consumerism where the Jones’ reign supreme and we all try to keep up with them.
I used to be one of those people.
But what good is keeping up with the Jones’ if you can’t even keep up with the bills? No thanks. I’ll keep my waistline and our finances in check, along with my sanity, while I plan an amazing trip to Italy with my best friends.
And that makes me very, very happy.