Frugality as a Challenge


When I first started embracing frugality, I wasn’t thrilled with the process. It all seemed so limiting, somehow. I didn’t enjoy combing sales flyers and planting my own gardens. I wasn’t thrilled about hanging my clothes out on the line or trying to find yet another way to re-purpose a glass jar. It seemed that I was doomed to failure.

But then I started to look at frugality as a challenge and I started to treat it as such. I would challenge myself to make a product last a little longer. I’d challenge myself to see how long I could go without replacing an item, or if I could find something already in the house that would make a good substitute. I tried to see if I could make the utility bills lower each month. I challenged myself to see how many days I could go in a row without spending any money and how long I could go without eating out or filling the gas tank. Once I started turning frugality into a challenge, it became more fun and something that I really wanted to do. Beating my prior “scores” became fun.

The trick was turning what seemed to be a restrictive and limiting exercise into something competitive, fun, motivating and creative. After challenging just myself for a while, I started finding other frugal people that were into challenges and it became more fun to compete against and with other groups. After treating frugality as a challenge for a while, I discovered that there are three main ways you can turn frugality into a challenge.

Make it a game with yourself

If you’re always trying to beat last month’s coupon savings, to get your utility bill lower than last month, to go more days in a row without spending, to be creative about repurposing items and living without certain things, or to pay off debt in a certain period of time, you’re challenging yourself. You’re making frugality into a game that you can win every time you save just a little more money. To make these games work, write down the prior performance that you’re trying to beat and then write down your new numbers. Track your progress every month or week so you can see how you’re doing. If you have a bad month, you can see where you need to redouble your efforts to beat your prior “scores.”

Challenge a group

If you do better when you’re competing against other people, there are plenty of ways to challenge yourself against others. Many finance and frugality related message boards run challenges covering everything from no-spend days to eat at home days. If you don’t see a challenge you want to join, create one. You can also challenge your family, friends, or people in your social groups. If you hear someone complaining about how they eat out to much, make it into a challenge to go X amount of time without eating out. You don’t have to turn it into a death match, either. Just a little friendly competition and the loser buys the winner a cup of coffee or something.

Prove other people wrong

This is one of my favorites. When I first got married, my in-laws actually said to my future husband, “Watch out. She’ll spend all your money.” I don’t know where they got that idea because I certainly wasn’t living large at the time, being just out of college, living in a tiny apartment, and eating Ramen noodles most nights. Even though I’m naturally a saver, I set out to prove them wrong and I think I’ve succeeded. There have been other times when people have said I wouldn’t be able to do something or stick to something and I love proving them wrong. If someone thinks you can’t save money or pay down debt, take it for the challenge it is and prove them wrong.

Maybe this works for me because I’m just naturally competitive. I like games and sports and I like knowing that I did better at something today than I did yesterday. I don’t recommend taking on too many challenges at once, though. If you get too many things going it’s hard to focus your efforts, at least in the beginning. Pick just a few things you really want to work on and do those challenges for a few months. When you feel like you’ve got those covered and you can’t do much better, try another challenge. Eventually you’ll find yourself being frugal across the board and it will actually be fun.

(Photo courtesy of coneslayer)

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4 Responses to Frugality as a Challenge

  1. Minny says:

    A good article with great ideas for sweetening this particular pill.

    However, it’s interesting in another way – when did the idea of a viable choice between living within your means or living beyond your means ever become so widespread?

    Living beyond your means equals debt. Sooner or later there comes another, harder choice, living below your means to pay the borrowed money plus interest back or become bankrupt with all its attandant problems.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Minny, very interesting comment. When did it become okay for people to spend more than they make and head full force down the path toward bankruptcy (unless we change our course).

    In an effort to help spend less than what I make, I got rid of my credit cards 10 years ago. Of course, it is nice to have one, for things like gas and emergencies. But it’s my much more responsible husband who carries it. We keep his habit of always paying it off on a monthly basis.

    Our biggest challenge now, is that with our salaries reduced from what we made years ago, and our health care and just inflation rising, we really have too little left over for retirement savings unless we are to cut further still. And we don’t really like the idea of an even more frugal existence than what we’ve had to resort to (we’ve lived so much better).

    But the simple things in life are so much more enjoyable. Friends took us out to eat the other day. It was the first time we’d been out since another set of friends invited us out (i.e. they paid for it) one year ago. What used to be a common-place weekly activity became a very special luxury.

  3. Gail says:

    Scarey in-laws! Hope you guys get along at this point as that sounded like more of a problem than just a spending issue.

    My hardest thing is because of physical limitations that get worse, it feels like weekly at times, those frugal things I used to do become less and less and harder and harder to do. Even cooking a meal from scratch is a challenge when in great physical pain. And it is those of us with these problems that really need to be frugal because of the extra cost of health care and a decreased ability to earn more. Just feeling frustrated today!

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