Friday, August 6, 2010

Use frugality to fund your goals

For all my frugality, I still have an Achilles’ heel, a small but significant point of budget vulnerability. Ironically, thrift stores, those bastions of economy, sometimes threaten to sabotage my well-laid plans.
The notion of a beautiful lamp, just waiting to be unearthed, a vintage cashmere cardigan lurking in between polyester blouses, the possibility of finding retro tumblers for our 1978 pop-up camper literally quickens my pulse when I walk in my favorite shops. But when my husband recently suggested I create a thrift store fund, I realized it’s time to rethink those frequent forays.
His suggestion reminds me that frugality isn’t an end, but a means. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much money I save on a pair of thrifted designer shoes, if buying them is keeping me from reaching my goals. I can string together as many frugal practices as I can conjure up, but this misses the point of living with thrift.
Frugality for frugality’s sake can make you feel like Sisyphus, the king in Greek mythology who was forced to spend eternity pushing a giant boulder to the top of a hill, only to watch it roll back down again. If sticking to a budget (or the very idea of starting one) feels like drudgery, or even a punishment, it’s time to see your budget through new eyes.
Using frugal practices as a way to get what you want is empowering, even exhilarating. It’s packing your lunch, not as a way of denying yourself the pleasure of a meal out with friends or coworkers, but as a means to use the money you would have otherwise spent to take your dream cruise to Alaska. It’s kicking the habit of buying new books in favor of borrowing titles from the library so you can buy a new sewing machine or jigsaw.
Without something to motivate you, your budget can become a giant stone in your life. One way to nudge that stone from its place is to write down five things that you love. Don’t censor yourself while you’re making your list—just write.
Maybe travel or music makes you feel fully alive. Perhaps it’s the notion of living by the water someday or opening a business that excites you. Photography, crafting something with your hands, horses, writing your memoir, finally getting all of your family together, being debt free—whatever stirs within you—write it on your list.
Next, choose something from your list and begin thinking about ways you could indulge this passion. If it’s photography, could you use your favorite photograph to make a canvas print for your dining room? Or what about getting a new camera or taking a photography class to sharpen your skills?
When you settle on a way to tap into your passion, estimate how much it will cost. Say you want to make a 20-by-20 inch print of the starfish you snapped at the beach, which you find will cost around $100. Now ask yourself how you can adjust your budget to save the money you’ll need.
You can use coupons when you shop for groceries and stash the money you save. You can calculate what you spend on eating out each month, cut that amount in half, and squirrel away the savings. Funnel all your change into a jar, or be more adventurous, and color your own hair instead of going to the salon.
Whatever cost-saving measure you take, be diligent to use the money to help you reach your goals. The lesson for me in all of this is to be frugal, but always with purpose.

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