I have been on a spending diet for the past 20 years. It started abruptly when I was laid off from work the day after I found out I was pregnant. There’s nothing like seeing your family’s income cut in half to motivate you to tighten up your budget. The spending diet became permanent eight months later when my husband and I decided I should stay home with our new daughter.
Now, that same daughter is a sophomore in college and her sister will be a freshman in August. My husband and I aren’t wealthy and we have some work to do for retirement, but our daughters will graduate with little to no debt because we were able to scale back and save for their education.
A lot of you are at the beginning of your journey to financial health. It may feel like it will be impossible to maintain a 20-year spending diet. Not only is it possible, somewhere along the way you reboot your wants and needs. At some point in the journey the diet becomes the norm. The more you save, the more motivated you become to find new ways to save.
I may sound positive and cheerful about it now, but trust me there were times when I felt like I was missing out. It’s hard to watch friends enjoying the outward expressions of financial success while you’re being practical and saving for multiple college educations.
About 15 years ago our closest friends both bought large, expensive homes. They were getting promotions, spending tens of thousands on furniture and decorative improvements. My husband was also getting promotions, but we chose to sit tight in our starter home and continue to save.
Six years ago we finally made the move. It was pretty bad timing, but because of the size of our down payment our mortgage is not under water. Our home is valued at more than we paid for it and we’ve ridden out the financial downturn pretty well. If we had allowed our egos to lead us into a home purchase before we were ready I honestly do not believe we would have fared as well.
Nothing we do is extraordinary. We exercise patience and we use as much common sense as we can scrape together when making financial decisions. We find joy in simple things and we relish experiences rather than things.
Here are five tips we used that helped us curb the urge to spend…
1. Set a goal to save for something specific
Make it personal and make it something you want more than anything else in the world. Whenever you are tempted to spend money on discretionary items, picture this goal. I always pictured that I was taking money away from my children’s needs. Talk about guilt!
2. Remember the fear you felt during a time of financial crisis
Some people are motivated by fear. If it helps to keep you on track, remember a time when your family faced a financial crisis and use that to keep your spending in check.
3. Communicate your goals to friends and family
I was lucky enough to have one friend who was eager to join me in keeping spending down. We cooked for each other for special occasions instead of going out to eat and we shopped in each other’s closets when we needed an outfit or piece of jewelry for a night out.
4. Make a list of all the free things you can do for entertainment
Many museums and galleries offer free entry on certain days of the week or month. Mark those days on your calendar. Having a list of free or cheap things you can do to stay active and entertained can help prevent boredom buys. Most of our activities centered around our children. We made an activity jar and put activities on slips of paper. Our daughters could draw from the jar to plan our family nights and weekends. We staycationed before staycationing was cool!
5. Don’t give up when you give into temptation
It happens. Just keep working to stay on track.
Do you think you could do a Spending Diet for 20 years!? What is the tip you’d like to implement in your own life?
CollegeMom, Betsy Muse, writes at ConsumerFu. She is the mother of two college-age daughters. She and her husband live on four acres of old farmland with two dogs, one cat and a large number of gardens.
P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!