Why spending less doesn’t mean living less

Focus on experiences over things and watch your savings—and life—grow fuller.

Getting your finances in order can be frustrating. Daunting, even. After all, it’s not easy coming to terms with a pile of debt or a budget that lands you in the red every month. But there’s one surefire way to make a positive impact on your finances — spend less money to save money.

Easier said than done, right? Perhaps, but only if the lifestyle you know is one in which you live beyond your means.

That can be changed. Living well on less can be easy if you learn how to be frugal, not cheap.

Being frugal means being less wasteful

What’s the difference between cheap and frugal?

Being cheap to save money could mean washing aluminum foil to reuse it, or eating at low-quality restaurants because the price is right. Cheap means depriving yourself or others just for the sake of saving a few extra dollars here and there.

Being frugal, on the other hand, means living a life that is not wasteful and distinguishes between wants and needs. Sure, you want the designer handbag and clothes, the fully loaded car and the newest technology, but you need to pay your bills on time, pay off debt and invest the money you have now so that your wealth can grow over time.

Save more by valuing experiences, not things

When you start being more thoughtful about spending less money, you may decide “things” can actually make you miserable. Research shows that when you focus on material things and try to use stuff to make you happy, your emotional well-being tends to tank.

Living well on less can be easy if you learn how to be frugal, not cheap.

Being frugal means focusing on what does make you happy and finding a cost-effective way to experience it. Maybe doing an active hobby or spending time with friends and family is what makes you tick.

When you make this shift, you also free up your cash flow to save money. You can then use that newfound cash to fund a savings goal, add to your investments or build up your retirement account.

How to start living frugally right now

There are many steps you can take to become frugal and put more money into savings, but creating the right mindset may be the most important step of all. Taking a moment to see why you feel like spending can make it easier to evaluate if you’re dealing with a want or a need.

Save money by focusing on the experiences you value over the things you want

Ask yourself: Do you really want or need what you plan to spend money on? Sometimes people buy items based on someone else’s expectations or to fit in — keeping up with the Joneses, and all. Is this purchase to fulfill someone else’s expectations or your own? When you do make a purchase, make sure the item is really for you.

Shopping can also feel like an escape whenever you’re feeling down or bored. It’s easy to think you can treat yourself as a pick-me-up, but using spending as a quick fix often leads to buyer’s remorse. Guilt about a purchase or a budget you didn’t stick to can leave you feeling even worse than you did before the shopping spree.

Instead of buying something you feel you want at first sight, walk away and save your money. If you still want the item a week later, come back and buy it. But chances are you’ll have lost the impulse to spend.

A man shops for clothes second hand

Make simple spending changes

Being frugal doesn’t mean depriving yourself of what you really want, but it could mean making some simple changes to your spending. Try these spending trade-offs on for size:

  • Accept secondhand items from friends or family instead of buying all-new furniture or clothes.
  • Shop at discount stores or outlets instead of designer retail stores.
  • Plan date nights and special occasions to include free activities.
  • Organize a weekly dinner party with friends (and rotate who hosts) instead of dining out.

Creating a more fulfilling and less-expensive lifestyle doesn’t have to mean penny pinching or skimping on things that make you truly happy. By spending less money with mindful purchases, you can make a considerable improvement on your finances.