The Frugal Portland philosophy, in bullet form, looks like this:
- Save more
- Spend consciously
- Take control
And it really is that simple. Order matters, here, too, because you must save more before you can spend consciously. We’ll talk about saving more in upcoming posts, because that topic is very popular, but by now you should be aware that more means a lot more. Shoot for 50%, and if you don’t get there, you’ve still saved more than the average Joe. (Heh, not that Average Joe, he’s a big time saver!)
But what do we mean when we say to spend consciously?
A Working Definition of Conscious Spending
Conscious spending is being mindful of where your money is going. It only happens after you’ve hit your savings goals for the month, but it can happen.
To me, conscious spending is understanding that treats and splurges are part of a frugal life.
That’s right, I said splurges.
Living a frugal life is not all about deprivation. It might be to some, but not me. Living a frugal life is much more about taking control of money, instead of letting money control your life.
In my world, that means the following are allowed in my frugal life:
- Enjoying the occasional fancy dinner (with friends, when we can) in a restaurant
- Buying a nice bottle of wine at home
- Going on vacation, either near or far from home. Expanding horizons gives a different perspective on the way we live our lives, and helps us reevaluate our priorities
- Having an expensive gym membership
- Paying for a great haircut (curly haired girls in Portland, go see Michelle at Bouffant Salon)
- Compromising with my sports-loving husband by agreeing to a cable package
- Buying real food at the grocery store or farmers market
How do the above fit in a frugal life?
Well, when you start with saving, you have a more limited pool of money to work with. So, necessarily, your available pool of spending money is necessarily more limited.
That means there’s no room for mindless spending.
Your definition of mindless might be different than mine, but mindless spending is where money leaks out of your account without you noticing.
To me, that includes:
- Drive-through food (the very definition of mindless is something you eat while driving!)
- Daily coffee in a coffee shop
- Going out to lunch because you didn’t bring leftovers from the night before
- Not eating leftovers ever
- Ordering drinks in restaurants (we’ve found that our dinner bills are half (!!) of what they were when we ordered drinks)
- Buying clothes at the mall
- Take out when you’re too lazy to go to the store
Or any other of a zillion ways you spend money without noticing, and especially without even enjoying it.
So, if you eat out all the time, you end up eating out just because that’s what you do — not because you like it. We notice this when we’re on vacation. “We’re sick of eating out!” we say after five or six days of restaurant food. But you know what? Restaurant food is not priced on a sliding scale, where it’s cheaper when you don’t feel like eating it.
Restaurant food costs what it costs, period.
So you might as well sprinkle it in your life as a treat. You’ll enjoy it more.
How You Can Spend Consciously
Take a look at Mint.
Where are the leaks in your account?
Now, take those leaks, and turn them into rules.
If, on Wednesdays, you always drive through for dinner because you have a Wednesday night meeting, make a rule that you’ll cook at home. Maybe even a double portion on Tuesday, so you can eat leftovers.
If you slip, then, it’s a treat, not a habit.
If you typically order dessert, restrict it. The cheesecake will taste better if you don’t eat it all the time.
Now, here’s the real plan:
Every time you take your credit card out of your wallet, think about what you’re doing. Ask yourself:
- Do I want what I’m about to buy?
- Or am I buying out of habit?
- Will I really enjoy this?
- Is it a treat?
Don’t judge. Just think.
That’s what being conscious is all about.