This summer I felt called to begin living a simpler life.
I have, admittedly, been wrapped up in the culture of buy-buy-buy, and as a Taurus sun, I’m not sure if that’s really a surprise, but for anyone living in the United States, it is next to impossible to avoid spending money.
You know it’s a problem when you leave your house and know you’ll blow $100 easily. Between grocery purchases, eating out, getting coffee, or going to the movies with friends, it’s easy to do.
As a mom, a lot of my spending was for my daughter. I try not to buy toys for her, but “experiences” add up too. We’ve filled up two $100 loyalty cards to get $10 off at our local pottery painting place, and we’ve only visited the local theme park/arcade a couple times in her life, but I’m certain those trips, between food and entertainment, cost us at least $100. This was with one child; now we have recently welcomed a son into our family, and I know those costs will soon increase.
The Christmas season makes this especially difficult. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with advertisements, and now we can’t even escape them at home. “Deals” wait for us every time we open up our social media apps or turn on the television. What’s even more scary is that algorithms now tailor these advertisements to our interests, desires, and anything in our recent search history.
So how do we counter these temptations? It feels so good to have what we want when we want it, but living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t feel so good, and more and more Americans are living this way. A recent CNBC survey found 60 percent of Americans are included in the struggle with inflation cited as a part of the problem.
But what if we can fight back through our self-control? The highest means to do so is by finding an inner motivation. Start by identifying your greatest desires. When you put off the temporary satisfaction of buying an item, it brings you one step closer to fulfilling those dreams.
After working in the airlines for years, my husband and I caught the travel bug, but since we no longer have flight benefits, the cost of a ticket is a sudden added cost to travel we have to factor in. It’s important to us that our kids are cultured through travel, especially since my husband is from South America. We want them to grow up learning Spanish so they can communicate with their extended family in Colombia. We want to schedule “mini-retirements” (a term I learned while reading The Four-Hour Workweek) as much as possible into our lives. This is our motivation. It’s essential to find yours, to remind yourself the “why” behind your frugal spending habits, when self-control is difficult.
My husband and I committed to a “no buy” November and found ourselves going even more extreme with cutting costs in December when my husband’s work slowed down. I have found several methods in the process that work for me (as I am the partner most likely to use retail therapy).
7 Ways to Live More Simply in a Consumerist Culture:
1. Always Buy Secondhand First
Not only is buying secondhand cheaper, it’s more eco-friendly. Why buy a brand new item online that needs to be shipped to you when you can buy the same item in good condition for half the cost or less in your own neighborhood? Anytime we need to buy something now, I always check Facebook Marketplace first or visit the Arc Thrift Store near our house on Saturdays for 50-percent off most tags.
2. Stop Impulsive Buys
In today’s world, we can’t escape impulsive buys by staying out of store because online shopping exists. It is convenient and the only way to order some products. I’m not saying to stop completely, but really consider what you are buying. Put it in your cart and sleep on it. If you still need it in a week, go ahead and click purchase. Impulsive buys online account for most of the thoughtless spending today.
I often do the same in-store. I buy what I came for, whatever is on the shopping list, and wait a few days to consider an item if it wasn’t on the list. Usually, it looked good in the store, but when I got home, I was thankful I didn’t spend that money, which brings me to my next point.
3. Make a Shopping List
I never go to the store if we don’t need something, and when I do go, I always have a list. Pick-up orders are great for this as well. There’s no temptation to buy more since you’re not wandering around a physical store, and you can manipulate an online cart more easily to fit your weekly budget.
4. Evaluate Costs
This is easiest to do when you run out of something. Evaluate whether you can cut costs by buying a new brand of item of similar quality. I bought essential oil company cleaning products for a long time and am now evaluating the costs. I know now I can buy another clean alternative for cheaper at the store or make my own DIY product for even less.
5. Avoid Eating Out
I have found cooking to be more fun, especially with my toddler, as she is included in the process when she wants. At the age of three, she is comfortable in the kitchen (safety-wise as well), and we’re teaching her lifelong skills that not only help her future pocketbook but also her health. It’s no secret that eating out costs a lot, and it was the main reason my husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck (we saved $500 in November by reducing the times we ate out).
6. Plan Ahead
In order to stop eating out altogether, I bring snacks and food everywhere we go. If we plan on leaving our house for the day, we have tupperwares of meals ready to eat or easy-to-make sandwiches if we need to leave quickly. I also always have a bag of snacks ready in my car (a necessity as a toddler mom), usually consisting of packaged yogurts, applesauce, peanut butter crackers, apples, and similar mess-free snack items. Also as a former Starbucks addict, I make a cup of tea, coffee, or cider before leaving the house (this made a huge difference in our spending as well, as the average barista-made drink today costs $6).
7. Use Free Services
We go to the library often. I’m an avid reader and want our kids to be as well. I don’t buy physical books anymore, since I can find any book through inter-library loan. I almost never reread books, so I cut down on the clutter in my life by using the library for books. We also use the library for other items and entertainment purposes. We go to many events and programs at the library geared toward kids, and I used to attend book club there monthly. I also check out kids’ CDs from the library for my car, and when a CD has been listened to one too many times, and I start to go mad singing it to myself, it conveniently has to be returned, and we can listen to something new.
We visit parks in the summer for entertainment or our community garden, as well as attending events and services at our Unitarian church. In the summer, we go to the local splash pad often, which is free. There are also many community events that are free, like open mic nights or yoga in the park.
My primary goal in making big spending changes in my life now is that I can enjoy more experiences today and in the future. I’ve noticed that the less I spend, the more time I spend at home with my family or in my community connecting with other people.
This year, I have cultivated new friendships with our moms by going out into the community more and found support that is priceless to me. Making spending changes has given me more time because I’m not focused on needing more money. I’m more critical about how I can cut costs to use my money on what really matters.