Voluntary Simplicity, Step 1: Living Within Our Means

| 2/11/2011 1:16:57 PM

Piles of money topped with a 20-dollar bill 

A lot of people think of frugality when they think of voluntary simplicity. Although frugality can be an important step, it doesn’t mean living poor or in poverty. It also doesn’t mean living with extreme deprivation. Frugality can be developed with both money and time. The goal is to have more of both and to be able to spend them where you want.

It’s easy to go thru life thinking “if only I made more money then I could ...” What would you do? Can you find a way to do that now? The reality is, when most of us receive an increase in wages we also increase our spending. You have to figure out how to live within your means right now. The next challenge is to see if you can live below your means slightly. This means you’ll have much more time to spend as you choose as well as extra money to sock away.

It’s a common thought that when you start a process such as this the first thing you feel it’s necessary to do is purge. I’m not in agreement. I think in time you may do this as a natural part of the simplification process, but the last thing anyone wants to do is be told they have to part with things. Instead, start working on changing your thought process. For example:

  • Limit unnecessary purchases. Think about a purchase before you make it. Do you need it? Do you want it? If you need it, is there anything you already own that could be used instead? If you want it, do you love it? Will you still treasure it 5 years later? Are you shopping out of boredom or out of habit?
  • Find less expensive ways to get the same things, i.e. buying in bulk, making from scratch, etc.
  • Be deliberate about how you spend your time. Don’t participate in a full day of events of things that are meaningless to you or you’re doing because you feel you have to. Start doing things you want to do, that bring you joy and make you happy.
  • Spend time (and money) learning skills that will help you to become more self-reliant. Next time something breaks or a pipe is leaking, you could fix it yourself.
  • How do you grocery shop and how do you eat? Are you eating certain foods because you think you should? Could you eat things you enjoy in moderation? Could you grow many of the vegetables and fruit you shop for? Spend where it makes sense and save where it makes sense for you.
  • Find a balance between work and personal time. This is important for emotional and physical well-being.

One of the best places to start is to track your spending. Track everything. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate system, but if you spend $5.00 on a magazine and $3.00 on a coffee this needs to be written down along with your bills, groceries, etc. This will help you understand what discretionary money you have.

I’m a big fan of the envelope system at least initially. Each payday you put money into envelopes labeled for “groceries,” “gas,” etc. Keep money in your checking account only for those items you are writing a check for or have automatically deducted. The remaining money either goes in an envelope titled “savings” or in a separate savings account. If you’ve never tracked your spending before you will probably be shocked how much you spend on little things here or there.

Amanda Harrill
7/10/2012 3:45:25 AM

I really enjoyed your comments. I love the frugal life. I find joy in doing things simply well. I find joy in having the money to take care of the family. Your words are spot on. Thanks.

2/13/2011 11:32:17 AM

Thanks Nebraska Dave. Yes, it's inevitable that if you are seeking to spend no money life puts obstacles in your way. Thank you for the nice comments - I truly believe everyone must define each step on their own as your vision likely won't match mine so it wouldn't do you any good to follow the steps I make for you. You're right that with the economy where it is this type of thinking is currently popular. I can hope thinking this way is not a fad to all as I continue to believe focusing on what's truly important makes for a better quality of life. Staci

Nebraska Dave
2/11/2011 8:16:19 PM

Staci, there seems to have been a surge of blogs written about less equals more since the beginning of the year. You have touched on a number of easy doable things for the person that really wants to cut back but just doesn't know where to begin. One of the blogs I frequently read encouraged readers to make February a no spend month. That would mean only spend money on the basics of food, bills, and gas for the car. Wouldn't you know my no spend month got crushed with the microwave breaking, the clothes washer leaking, and the car acting up. Fortunately after decades of not having money to call repair men to come fix my appliances I've had to learn how to fix all that stuff which saves some .... well sometimes a lot of money. Thanks again for all the starting tips to conserve during these touch economic times. Have a great voluntary simplicity day.

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