Thoughts on simple living
When learning how to live frugally, one's doesn't have to focus on making sacrifices or on budgeting. Above all, living frugally is about balance. It's about adjusting our fundamental relationship with money and with material objects, so that it satisfies our inner sense of economy. For those interested in learning how to live frugally, here are a few ideas:
1. Train yourself to recognize and avoid waste in all its forms. Waste is so prevalent in our culture that it can make us numb to it after a while. Wasteful habits often become ingrained over many years - we throw away uneaten food, we waste time surfing the internet, and so on. Retraining ourselves to recognize and avoid waste isn't an overnight process, but it can happen quickly. It is very difficult to accept certain types of waste (such as wasted time), while avoiding others (such as wasted money), so strive to recognize and avoid all forms of waste.
2. Train yourself to love simplicity. To live frugally does not mean accepting a life of hardship and sacrifice - that is a recipe for unhappiness. Unhappiness can lead to an increased need for immediate gratification, which is one of the biggest enemies of those trying to live frugally. But if you can train yourself to love simplicity - and simplicity often involves less stuff and therefore costs less - then you are also training yourself how to live frugally... and happily.
3. Cultivate a frugal relationship with technology. Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to frugal living. On the one hand, technology can often simplify things. Take smart phones. It is often simpler and cheaper to have your cell phone, camera, music player, GPS, and internet all combined into one gadget as opposed to a bunch of separate gadgets. But constant internet access everywhere you go can also lead to time wasted checking and re-checking email, web surfing, and even impulse shopping. Be aware of this, and try to cultivate a frugal relationship with technology.
4. Automate your finances as much as possible. Most people have a fairly limited amount of time and patience they're willing to spend dealing with personal finances. If your finances aren't set up properly, they can demand a lot more attention than they need to. This can lead to less attentive money habits while out in the world. When learning how to live frugally, set up your finances online and try to automate them as much as possible. Use a financial aggregating service such as Mint.com to keep track of all of your accounts and credit cards in one place, and set up recurring bills so that they are paid automatically. That will preserve your patience for things like budgeting and for more frugal shopping decisions.
5. Be wary of the industries that are built around your passions. Just about every human passion under the sun has an industry built up around it that is intent on selling products to people who share that passion. For those interested in camping, there is the sporting goods industry. For those whose passion is playing music, there are the music instrument and home recording industries. Many of these products are helpful, and many passions would be difficult or impossible to pursue without at least a few of these products. But there is a point of diminishing returns where the purchasing of additional products can start to warp your interest towards the tools of the passion and away from the passion itself. Purchasing products relating to your passion can give a vicarious buzz that is different from the passion itself. And because passions are irrational anyway, it can be tricky to figure out where this line is. Be aware that your passion is likely an area where you're more prone to waste money. Get only what you need to pursue your passion, and nothing more.
6. Try to buy things that will age well. A lot of products such as cars, furniture, and electronics are desirable because they look so shiny and perfect when they're new, but after a few years of dings and scratches they lose a lot of their magic. Some designs age better than others, however. Because it's often more frugal to hold onto something that's old and not replace it with something brand new, when shopping for long-term items, try to picture what they'll be like in a few years. Will they wear out quickly and lose their luster? Or will they remain functional and possibly even pick up some attractive patina as they age? Lean towards the items that are more likely to age well.