How to be more frugal (without seeming like a cheapskate)

Cheapskates are close-fisted. Cost is their bottom line, and they prioritize their penny-pinching spending habits over quality, value, and time. They’ll invite you over for dinner and then Venmo you for your share of the groceries, calculated to the penny, the next day.

Frugal people like me, on the other hand, enjoy spending money. They just want to maximize that money to reach their personal goals and reduce stress. Frugality doesn’t mean compromising quality or neglecting your social life. It’s about making smart choices — I buy clothes secondhand, opt for generic store brands, and scope out free fitness classes over pricey gym memberships.

Over time, I’ve learned that embracing a thriftier lifestyle and learning more about financial literacy benefits not just me but my greater community. In simpler living, I’ve been able to reduce clutter and be more environmentally friendly and less wasteful. Shopping thrift stores and consignment, for example, allows me to reuse and enjoy clothing while decreasing my carbon footprint and landfill waste, and supporting local businesses and deserving charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

Also, by maintaining long-term goals, I’ve been able to adopt a more balanced view of spending. I’ve learned that if I have self-discipline, I will reap the long-term benefits: I control my budget, and not the other way around. And though striking a healthy balance between my needs, wants, and bank account hasn’t always been easy, the spending practices I’ve adopted now allow me to afford the things I care most about.

Being frugal is a lifestyle choice that doesn’t happen overnight. I asked two experts for helpful tips on becoming more frugal, without resorting to being cheap.

Have the right mindset

Adopting frugality can be intimidating at first. After all, thinking about money, debt, and planning for the future can often leave people stressed and anxious. Money management requires discipline, and sometimes people can feel burned out before they even begin.

“It’s really easy … for people to be intimidated and overwhelmed by the uphill battle,” says Jamila Souffrant, the creator of the financial blog and podcast Journey to Launch. “You want to do right and make the best decision, but often we get too far ahead of ourselves when really we just need a place to start.”

Souffrant recommends looking at this lifestyle change not as a burden or a punishment, but rather an opportunity to approach with positivity and intention. Enjoy the financial and emotional rewards of being thrifty: Instead of leaning on others to help subsidize your costs, you’ll be able to contribute your fair share and be more generous with others. And as you experience greater financial independence, you’ll gain a sense of confidence and achievement.

A lot of people try to wait for the perfect moment, timing, or situation, where everything falls into place, to “make movements and improvements,” Souffrant says, but sometimes all it takes is one simple step forward.

One step spenders can take to start shifting their money outlook is to acknowledge and forgive past financial mistakes. Coming into this journey from a place of pride and empowerment, rather than a place of shame and doubt, can allow room for better practices and help keep you on track.

Souffrant says financial books, money podcasts, and online savings groups can provide positive reinforcement and help you build confidence and financial literacy.

She also says that adopting conscious, intentional cost-saving habits, like skipping your daily Starbucks coffee or making your own avocado toast at home, can cultivate a healthier attitude toward money. It’s an argument that’s become controversial recently — critics have pointed out that traditional schools of personal finance, à la Suze Orman, put undue shame and pressure on people to cut out small personal indulgences with little evidence that it will lead to real wealth.

But Souffrant points out that even though making coffee at home isn’t your ticket to overnight riches, it still makes a difference. “While saving a dollar or two on coffee isn’t going to make you a millionaire overnight, these small, practical, money-saving actions will help you make more conscious spending decisions in other, bigger areas of your life,” she says.

Figure out what you’re working with

One of the simplest, cheapest, and most effective ways to curb your spending is to track your daily expenses in a journal over the course of a month. “It’s something that nobody wants to do … but most people don’t have any idea what they’re making and spending,” says Daniel R. Solin, a best-selling author of the Smartest series of financial how-to books. A firm grasp of your finances is empowering and makes controlling your spending easier.

With credit cards, online shopping, and recurring direct debits, it can be easy to spend money on various things without a second thought. The cumbersome task of recording every single expenditure compels people to be more aware of the amounts they are spending, which leads to smarter and less impulsive purchases. “People learn what it truly means to live within their means,” says Solin. There are plenty of personal finance tools and budget apps available, such as Mint, YNAB (You Need a Budget), and even an Excel spreadsheet that can help you manage your funds, keep on track, and alert you when you overspend.

Automating your finances to directly distribute your paycheck where it needs to go — toward bills, insurance, emergency funds, and savings accounts, like your 401(k) — can help you stick to your budget. “Make sure the mandatory things in life are paid off first,” says Souffrant. “You never know what’s going to happen and you always want to be prepared.” Once you have those protective mechanisms in place and your basic needs are met, you’re freer to spend discriminately.

Of course, we’re all here because the goal is to spend less. Using a debit card or carrying cash can also help you avoid spending haphazardly and promote positive long-term spending habits. Another way to curtail spontaneous splurges, like a late-night online shopping spree at Sephora, is to delete saved credit card information from web browsers.

Embracing a frugal lifestyle isn’t about abandoning your interests or declining all invitations that come your way, but rather being selective, and cutting back without cutting out the things that bring you the most joy. “It’s all about balance,” says Souffrant. “It’s more about adopting a disciplined mindset and flexing your savings muscle than it is about [consistently] cutting corners.”

Be honest with your loved ones

When I started budgeting, I found myself turning down invitations to dine out with friends. Instead of admitting the truth — that a dinner out was simply out of my price point — I would make excuses, saying I was unavailable, sick, or stuck at the office late with work, to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

But telling little lies to stick to my budget just stressed me out. I’m far from alone. The FINRA Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study recently found that that 55 percent of millennials said that discussing their finances made them anxious.

As challenging as it is, talking about money with friends and family is necessary if you want your budget and relationships to prosper. Instead of feigning a cold or making some other excuse, decline the invitation graciously and say that you’d love to attend but you’re following a strict budget at the moment. Or simply say you won’t be able to make it but hope they enjoy the event. You don’t have to give a reason.

“It’s so refreshing when people are honest,” says Solin. “Having the confidence to say, ‘I don’t have the budget to do that,’ and, ‘I wish I could attend, but I can’t,’ helps you resist unnecessary pressure and avoid pretending to be someone that you’re not.”

Souffrant agrees. “Sharing your goals and being open, honest, and upfront with your friends and family will not only help them understand your journey, but it may encourage [them to help] you to stay on track and carry the weight,” she says. People who love you want to see you succeed and won’t undermine your ability to do so.

All Rights Reserved for Megan McDonough

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