It sounds like a no-brainer, but a big part of what keeps us out of debt is simply not spending too much money. Whether it’s on splurge items or our regular budget items like utilities, clothing, etc. we are always careful never to spend more than we have. However, just like everyone else, we tend to get complacent and allow some of our spending to become automatic. We got cell phones a few years ago and never really thought about changing the plans. We got cable and never really thought about going back to rabbit ears. We started buying a certain brand of ketchup and never really thought about switching to something cheaper. We just accepted those prices and payments, and many others, as part of the wallpaper of our lives. Complacency happens, even to debt free people.
However, as we’ve journeyed along we’ve learned to challenge that complacency and to shake things up on a regular basis. We regularly go through our budget looking for things we can cut out or down. Then we experiment with that until we find the place where it starts to make us uncomfortable, and then we stop. Most recently we looked at those cell phones. We looked at the actual phones that we had, as well as the plans. We discovered that we really weren’t using the features of the phones anymore. Features like Internet access and email were must have’s when we got the phones, but since I now work from home and my spouse has a phone provided by work, we just weren’t using them anymore. So we knew we could downgrade phones. My spouse was also using very few of his minutes and I don’t talk that much, either, so we knew we could reduce the plan, as well. We looked around and decided to go with a basic, pre-paid phone for me and nothing for him, saving us about $100/month. We weren’t having any trouble paying for the pricier phones and plans, they just weren’t necessary. We’ll try it this way for a while and see how it goes. If we discover that we need more minutes or different phones, we can always switch again.
We’ve done this with cable, reducing from a big package to smaller and smaller packages until we had cancelled it entirely without missing it. We could afford it, but it wasn’t necessary and we weren’t getting the value out of it. We’ve cut down (or out) on certain foods and beverages that we thought we couldn’t live without, but after experimenting with the cuts we found that we don’t miss them. We’ve done it with eating out, entertainment, and even our beloved travel (that one came back into the budget in a hurry). We’ve done this with just about everything we spend money on at one time or another. Sometimes the cuts have been permanent and other times we’ve decided that we really liked whatever it was we cut and we wanted it back. Sometimes we decide we want the item back but not all of it, so we decide on a reduced price alternative or a cheaper package of features.
We view it as a game now. What can we cut next? It’s not about living a life of deprivation. If we cut something and we wish we hadn’t, we simply get it back. No big deal. And it’s not about cutting out of desperation. When you cut out of desperation, you often don’t want to do it and resent it. We cut things because we want to. It’s a challenge and it teaches us to appreciate what we have. It’s about learning what is necessary and what is not. It’s about reminding ourselves to not take any aspect of our spending for granted.
When spending becomes mindless and we start to assume that, “that’s just the way things are,” we’re headed for trouble. I can’t count how many people I’ve spoken to about debt and when they really started trying to get a handle on their budget they were surprised by how much unnecessary spending was going on. So many things had simply become automatic and unquestioned that they had added up to big trouble. Cutting for the fun of it is a way for us to stay ahead of that sort of mindless spending and to keep our budget in top form.