Personal Finance

How To Live As Cheap As Possible

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 13 minute read

It’s easy to overly restrict yourself when you’re attempting to save money. You have the same mindset as someone starting a new diet: you will eliminate all threats and lose weight (or pay off debt) as quickly as possible. This tactic, however, often fails.

If you’re on a diet, you know that eating nothing but carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs for several meals in a row may make you feel like you’re about to explode. Similarly, it’s possible to snap after months of rationing your spending, couponing religiously, and avoiding eating out. The next thing you know, you’re out on a crazy shopping binge, spending all of your savings and more. This is a phenomenon known as “frugal weariness” among financial gurus.

The remedy to budget watchers’ weariness is the same as that for dieters’ fatigue: more variety in your diet. Make your strategy more forgiving by allowing for some modest indulgences so that you don’t feel too deprived. Rather than depriving yourself of all pleasures until you’ve reached your objectives, it’s important to find ways to reward yourself while still following your budget.

Recognizing Frugal Fatigue

The primary reason people become tired of being thrifty is boredom. You buckle down so severely and for so long that you begin to experience chest pains and dizziness. Yet by that point, you’ve become accustomed to economizing, so the thought of letting off even a little bit never enters your mind. When you finally give in and allow yourself to indulge, you give up entirely and start spending money like water.

Factors Influencing Frugal Fatigue

Anyone who has been living frugally for an extended period of time may experience frugality weariness. The process may be sped up, though, by a number of different forms of pressure. Among these are:

  • Temptation. Every day, the ordinary American is bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands, of advertisements. Every eye-catching storefront display, billboard along the highway, catchy radio jingle, and internet banner ad is designed to make you feel as though you need and want to buy the product being advertised. Exposure to these signals increases the difficulty of resisting them.
  • Incurred Costs That Were Not Anticipated. When you’re having trouble putting away money, any unforeseen costs might feel devastating. You’ve been toiling away at the job day in and day out to save a little bit of money here and there, and then something like an unexpectedly expensive hospital stay or car repair comes along and completely devastates your budget. This might make you feel that giving up and giving in is the best option. Since you’ll never be able to put money away, you might as well treat yourself now.
  • Impossible Expectations In general, if you want to conserve money, it helps to have some concrete targets in mind. Knowing that saving $4 per day may go toward larger goals like a dream vacation or a new automobile makes forgiving small indulgences like skipping your morning espresso a bit easier. If the targets you set are too lofty, though, the strategy will fail. If you’re trying to save for a house down payment but can only spare $10 per week, no amount of time spent saving will make the objective seem any closer. When you don’t see progress, it’s tempting to give up on your objectives and resume spending.

How to Enjoy Low-Cost Luxuries

A personal budget that includes a line item for indulgences is the greatest approach to prevent growing weary of saving money. You may identify this as “fun money,” “mad money,” or even “blow money” (since it’s money you can squander on whatever you want). You may avoid feeling deprived without sacrificing financial discipline by including these “fun money” purchases in your budget.

Naturally, if you’re strapped for cash, your “crazy money” spending will be minimal. A small amount of money saved each month, even if it’s only $10 or $20, may buy you a startling variety of luxuries. Here are a dozen suggestions for low-cost indulgences that you may still enjoy even if your financial resources are quite limited.

  1. A Good Coffee

There’s nothing better than going out to your favorite coffee shop and ordering a delicious and decadent espresso drink to enjoy. Unfortunately, it’s a somewhat pricey delicacy at around $4 per serving. Buying one of those bad boys from Starbucks every morning will set you back roughly $120 each month.

There are, thankfully, two options available to reduce this expense. One is to give in more seldom, yet more frequently. You can save yourself $40 a month if you just treat yourself to a Starbucks beverage once per week instead of every day. According to research in the subject of happiness economics, treating yourself to your favorite coffee drink rather than making it a daily habit may increase your enjoyment of it.

One other option is to educate oneself on the art of brewing gourmet coffee at home. You may save money by purchasing a pound of your preferred coffee blend from a coffee shop rather than paying $3.60 each cup. You will have plenty for a morning cup and more to spare to share with friends.

A French press coffee machine is available for an additional $10. It’s easier to use than a drip machine and, according to coffee connoisseurs, makes coffee that tastes better. Or, for about $20, you can get a stovetop moka pot and brew your own espresso, if that’s more your style. Steam milk on the stovetop and whip up your own froth with a whisk.

Invest in a nice cup or mug to complete the look of your makeshift coffee shop at home. Thrift stores like Goodwill have a wide variety of beautiful dinnerware for as cheap as a dollar each. Select an item with a cheerful hue or design that you’ll like using on a regular basis.

  1. Fresh Flowers

It’s true that nothing cheers up a space like a vase full of fresh flowers, and they don’t have to break the bank to accomplish the trick. Here are some low-cost flower options to consider:

  • Get them at a discount. Avoid spending twenty dollars or more on a single arrangement from the corner florist. You can get the same effect by purchasing a bouquet of flowers for $5 at your local grocery shop.
  • Disperse Them Widely. If you cut the bouquet apart and place a few stems in a vase in each area, it will last much longer. Then you can take them with you wherever you go and enjoy them comfortably.
  • Select plants with longer-lasting flowers. If you don’t need to buy new flowers every few days, you may save a lot of money. If given the correct care, flowers such as orchids, carnations, chrysanthemums, gladiolas, alstroemerias, and lilies can remain for two weeks or more in a vase.
  • Construct To Last Forever. Your flowers will retain their beauty for as long as possible if you follow two simple rules: (1) keep the water in, and (2) keep the germs out.
  • Make sure the container is spotless before storing them there. Then, for every quart of lukewarm water, add one spoonful of sugar and two teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Using kitchen shears, cut an incline into the ends of the flower stems to increase the surface area that will come in contact with water in the vase. If you want to avoid rotting and unpleasant odors, remove any leaves that will be submerged in the water. After two days, you should empty the vase, clean it, cut the stems, remove any dead or wilted flowers, and refill it with fresh water, sugar, and vinegar.
  • Put it in your own garden. If you have a yard, planting flowers in a designated area will provide you with free, year-round beauty. Wildflower seed mixes are available for purchase for a variety of regions, and their varied flower species ensure that there is always something blooming from spring through October. A little potted rose shrub can fit on a balcony or patio and provide a few stems of cut flowers.
  1. A Great Shower

The mood you get in the shower in the morning will last you all day. To start the day off on the wrong foot, consider showering beneath the tepid drip of an old, blocked shower head. But if you take a few minutes every morning to relax beneath a sumptuous, beautiful stream of water that you can modify to your liking, you’ll start the day feeling refreshed and ready for anything.

A broad, gentle-streaming “raincan” shower head can be purchased for $200 or more, but a good shower may be had for considerably less. Even if your home’s water pressure is weak, you can get a high-powered shower head for $20 or less.

A few of the best shower heads on the market today are the Italian-made Siroflex model, the Delta model with its variable water flow, and the Niagara model with its impressive water savings. Before you buy, do some research online to find out which models provide the water flow that suits your needs.

After a luxurious shower, dry off with a thick, plush towel. Front’s Resort Cotton Bath Towel comes well regarded by Wirecutter.

  1. Luxurious Toiletries

Investing in a high-end bar of soap, shampoo, or other personal care product that you like is another way to add a touch of opulence to your routine shower routine. Pick for an item with a pleasant aroma so you may treat your sense of smell to a treat right after you wake up.

  1. Comfortable Bedding

If a refreshing shower sets the tone for the day, then a cozy bed is the perfect way to end it. A few things may make going to sleep at night feel like a true indulgence, such as:

  • Sheets of the highest quality. These Mellani microfiber linens have received rave reviews on ConsumerSearch. They’re inexpensive (only $25 for a whole set) and comfortable (yet sturdy), with a lifetime warranty. A set of flannel bedding is another option to keep you warm and cozy on those chilly winter evenings. Threshold sells for about $25 at Target and has received several positive reviews.
  • Superb as a Pillow. The quality of your nightly rest can be greatly improved by switching to a more comfortable pillow. Sophisticated memory foam pillows, which are both comfortable and supportive, may set you back at least $50. Still, if you spend one-third of your life in bed, the price per hour of comfort is rather low. There are high-quality fiber pillows for less than $20 if you prefer a softer cushion.
  • To use as an extra layer on top of a mattress. Your old, flat mattress may be revived with the help of a fluffy mattress topper. The most common mattress topper material, memory foam, molds to your body to provide a soothing, supportive feel.
  • ConsumerSearch recommends the DreamFoam gel mattress topper, which retails for about $40 for a twin size and does not retain heat like other memory foam toppers. While not precisely inexpensive, this is still far more affordable than purchasing a whole new mattress.
  1. Extra Soft Toilet Paper

You might think it’s foolish to spend money on toilet paper, but the fact is that everyone has to use the restroom many times a day, and the quality of the paper makes a huge difference. Using thick, fluffy paper that feels like a soft bath towel may turn a trip to the restroom into a mini-spa experience in the middle of a hectic day.

To top it all off, the price tag is reasonable, especially in comparison to other indulgences. According to Wirecutter’s tests, a twelve rolls of the highest quality, softest, most effective toilet paper costs roughly $6.50, or $0.54 each roll. Save money by purchasing in bulk or by using coupons to reduce the price per roll to about $0.44.

The typical individual uses one roll of toilet paper in around five days, as documented in the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia (yes, there really is such a thing). At a cost of $0.44 a roll, the monthly expense for quality toilet paper is about $2.54. When compared to this, the monthly cost of using the cheapest store-brand paper (at roughly $0.32 per roll) is just $1.92, saving you only $0.62 over the course of a year.

As a matter of fact, the gap may not be all that significant. According to Wirecutter, high-quality toilet paper still uses fewer sheets each use without sacrificing performance, so you won’t go through it as quickly. That’s why it’s so obvious you should splurge for the plush material instead of cheap, scratchy, single-ply sheets that shred easily.

  1. A Gourmet Meal at Home

When money is scarce, it’s not possible to eat at fancy places. A pair of filet mignons at Morton’s, with sides of potatoes and veggies, will set you back $100 per person. When you include two glasses of wine, dessert coffee, tax, and tip, the total could easily reach $200.

However, if you’re prepared to do some of the cooking yourself, you can still eat like a king without breaking the bank. According to an article published by The Balance, the raw materials for a filet mignon meal only amount to roughly $8.50 per person, or $17 for two. 

You can buy high-quality flash-frozen steaks delivered to your door from places like Omaha Steaks, and you can easily find instructions online for making a steakhouse-quality steak in your own kitchen. A pot of handmade coffee costs less than a dollar to make, and a bottle of decent, affordable wine is about $10.

Thus, you can prepare and serve a gourmet lunch for two at home for a little $28. Serve the dinner on your finest plates and set the table with linen tablecloths and candles for an elegant feel. This is a wonderful cheap date idea.

Need a hand in the kitchen? You can get the fixings for delicious gourmet dinners delivered to your door each week when you sign up for a service like Blue Apron.

  1. Visit a Dessert Spot

While it’s true that you can make a delicious meal at home, there are times when you crave the atmosphere and social interaction that can only be found in a restaurant. Much of the enjoyment at fine dining establishments comes from simply taking it all in.

Even in a more modest restaurant or a basic diner, it’s nice to not have to take care of everything yourself and have someone else do it for you.

Going out only for dessert is one way to indulge in this guilty pleasure on a budget. Dessert and coffee for two at a dessert restaurant like The Cheesecake Factory often costs $30 or less. To save even more money, get a gift card from Raise.com. You may also visit a restaurant and indulge in some homey desserts like pecan pie, strudel, or an ice cream sundae. Your bill for two desserts and two coffees, with tax and gratuity, shouldn’t exceed $20.

  1. Spiffy Socks

An entirely new pair of socks may do wonders for your disposition. When your daily routine involves stuffing your feet into a pair of old, holey socks and rearranging them so your toes don’t show, the sensation of slipping on a pair of fresh, cozy socks is one of the greatest indulgences imaginable. They start your day off on the right foot by wrapping your feet in cozy, flexible warmth.

A pair of socks with a bright, happy hue or wacky design that makes you grin will have double the effect. Looking at your feet will make you feel good every time you do it.
It’s great that this is one opulence that’s quite inexpensive.

Even the most expensive novelty socks don’t often go for more than $10 a pair, and you can get a wide variety of styles for as low as $3 at retailers like Burlington and Marshalls. If you want to keep your feet warm and dry this winter, invest in a good pair of wool socks. You can get them for approximately $10 at stores like L.L. Bean and REI.

  1. Shine Your Shoes

Socks are a fun way to express your personal style, but don’t forget to match them up with freshly shined shoes. An outdated pair of dress shoes may often be made to appear like new by giving them a good polish. Feel free to kick up your heels whenever you look down and see that shiny leather surface staring back at you.

Although having your shoes polished for money seems like something out of a 1950s movie, there are still quite a few establishments that provide this service. Somewhat inexpensive shoe shine booths may be found in the shoe departments of several Nordstrom department stores. Some retail outlets and repair shops even provide drop-off shoe shining services. A few places, most notably New York and San Francisco, even have their own dedicated shoe shine stands.

However, you can perform this task on your own if you so want. A shoe polishing kit consists of a shoe polish container, a shoe polishing brush, and a soft towel. A shoe shine kit can be purchased for roughly $12 on the internet or at a drugstore and will last you through many spit-shining sessions.

  1. Cheap Entertainment

When people are attempting to cut costs, one of the first items to go is the entertainment budget. Even a single movie ticket now costs about $9, so a night at the movies for two may easily cost more than $30 when you include in snacks and beverages.

Live theater tickets, however, are entirely out of our price range. Tickets for a Broadway production often cost about $100. Tickets start at roughly $40 even in relatively inexpensive Cleveland.

  1. A glass of bubbly

As the cork is popped and sparkling wine is poured into glasses, there is nothing more festive than this. While a bottle of authentic French champagne can cost $40 or more, domestic sparkling wines can be purchased for $20 or less and provide the same celebratory buzz.

Prices range from $7 to $15 per bottle, and Thrillist suggests several affordable options. Drizly also offers home delivery if that’s how you’d prefer to have your wine. You can save a little money by using the coupons they frequently provide.

Bottom Line

This is only the beginning of the many low-cost pleasures available. After forming the mental habit of doing so, you will discover several other means by which to treat yourself while adhering to a limited budget.

Shop at your favorite secondhand store once a month if you’re a clothes horse. Spend lavishly on a pound of high-quality cheese or a flat of fresh berries if you’re a foodie. You may treat yourself to a salon manicure, pay to have your car cleaned, or treat yourself to a single pair of expensive underwear. The potential outcomes are limitless.

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