Maybe someone in the family has been laid off, and the household income has been cut in half. Maybe you are distressed by the current state of your stock portfolio, and are worried about retirement. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are; learning how to live on the cheap is a very important skill to have in these tough economic times. However, living simply and efficiently is a lifestyle, and most people don’t even know where to begin when transitioning to this in their daily life. It does not need to be complicated. Think of it from the strategy of needs and wants. Your needs include food, clothing, and shelter; they are the basics. Wants include all the little luxuries in our lives; the things we could certainly live without, even though life wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
What do you eat? This question is huge when trying to cut costs. As Americans, we are bombarded by all things tasty. But our love for eating can also eat a hole in our pocket if we are not careful. Food can be a social event; meeting friends for sushi night or hosting that monthly dinner party can be a fun way to socialize with those we love. After all, everybody’s gotta eat. But eating out and entertaining can be costly if you don’t watch it, so be smart about your choices. Turn those dinner parties into potlucks. Downsize eating out with your friends. Instead of sushi, try to find the best burger in the city or check websites like Broke Hipster for eateries that have promotion nights for things like hot wings. Still want to splurge on those special occasions? Websites like Groupon and Restaurant.com offer excellent one time deals for some of the hottest spots for foodies.
In this country, how we dress is an important part of our self identity. Whether you like to sport the latest trends or have a closet full of the hottest designers, everyone likes to dress a certain way. Even if you want to look like you just stepped off the page of a fashion magazine, there are ways to do so on a budget. Shopping at second hand stores are a great way to save money, while still covering the latest styles. Consignment shops often carry higher end goods, as do for-profit second hand stores like The Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads Trading Company. But don’t discount charity based thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army. One side effect of America’s shopping obsession is that a lot of wonderful, sometimes never worn, items wind up going “to charity”. Their loss is your gain.
Many people may think that their living arrangements are not flexible enough to be a big cost-cutting area, but this is usually not true. Even if you are locked into a set lease or are not in good enough standing to refinance your home, there are ways to save money in the shelter category. Take a look at your utilities. Most gas/electric companies offer free conservation audits and can show you how to make your home more energy efficient. Don’t be afraid to turn the heat down a few degrees, and put on a sweater in the winter. Install ceiling fans to help cool rooms in the summer. If your living arrangements are flexible, trying moving to a smaller space. Small space living is quite trendy right now, lending itself not only to saving money, but also helping the environment. Cheap living is often green living.
This section is probably the most painful. When you start looking at the money that is spent on things you don’t really need, it can be dizzying. However, it is a good way to take a real look at ourselves as consumers. If your weakness is shoes, you may justify your collection by telling yourself it actually falls into the “clothing” section. But if that pair you’re looking at buying is your forth pair of red suede ballet flats, you’ve now entered the want category. If the $6 soy-mocha-carmel-whipped-ccino you treat yourself to daily has enough sugar and caffeine to down an elephant, it goes in the want, not food category. If it is truly a want, try to come up with a plan to cut back or do without. Even if those wants bring temporary joy, it is just not worth it if they cause long term worry or pain.
Transitioning to living cheaper and simpler doesn’t have to be hard, just be aware for where your money goes. By actively thinking about, you are more likely to find different ways of getting the same amount of happiness from life for less money.