No one would argue that you have to live below your means to stay afloat fiscally. The situation gets sticky, though, when we actually try to do it. Here are six tips that will help you stay below the line.
1. Live one raise behind
One of the best ways to start living truly within your means is to pretend that your means are smaller than they are. A simple way to do this is to act as though you are still earning what you were earning before your last raise. Immediately put all extra money into a savings account (or use it to pay down your existing debt). For example, if you were earning $3000 per month before your last raise and now earn $3500 per month, you should put that $500 per month into savings and pretend that you don’t even have access to it. This will allow you to create an emergency fund while learning to live within your real means. The reason it works best to select a number that corresponds with an amount that you earned previously is because you already have experience living with that income. You know that you can make it work if you have to. Pretend that you have to.
2. Make payments to yourself
This is another trick for living with a certain “means” that you create for yourself. Let’s say that you’re spending $400 per month on a car payment. When the loan is done, continue pretending that the $400 is unavailable. You are already used to not having it to spend so this shouldn’t be very difficult. Instead of that $400 going to the car loan, though, it will be going into your savings account. This makes money available to you as an emergency fund in case something comes up in the future that would cause you to temporarily have to live beyond your current means.
3. Use 30-day lists
One of the best tricks for reducing your spending is to delay all purchases for thirty days after the day that you decide that you want to make the purchase. You can still purchase your regular items (such as groceries). However, when you see something else that you want, you make a note of it on your calendar. Go thirty days ahead, put the item on the calendar, note where it was and how much it cost and why you wanted it. Sometimes just trying to write down why you want the item will make you see that you don’t need it at all and then you can immediately remove it from the calendar and avoid the purchase. If that doesn’t happen, though, ignore the item until the thirty day date. At that time, reflect on the purchase and ask yourself if you still really want it. If you do, it probably has a place in your life and can be worked into your budget. In most cases, you won’t even want the item after thirty days have passed.
4. Don’t buy stuff you can make
The DIY revolution has been huge (just check out Pinterest), so many people are already making items themselves rather than paying to purchase them. For example, someone who crochets may make their own accessories rather than purchasing them. However, even those people who don’t consider themselves the DIY type can implement this rule. Many DIY projects are much easier than they seem and you’ll learn some new skills in the process. Before every purchase, stop and ask yourself if you can make the item instead. Do make sure to factor in the amount of time it would cost you to make the item since it is sometimes cheaper in the long run to buy an item than to spend excessive time making it yourself.
5. Pay cash for everything
It is really, really tough for people to live within their means when they have easy access to loans through their credit card companies. It is so simple to just swipe that card and forget that you don’t have the money to pay for it when the bill comes due. Paying cash for everything eliminates this problem. Just pay cash.
6. Limit advertisements
Joseph E. Levine famously said, “You CAN fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough.” That’s the cold, hard truth. It’s engineered to make you feel like you’re incomplete, that you have an unfulfilled need, that you’re not good enough and even those of us who think we are above it are wrong. It works on us subconsciously, deviously wearing down our reason until we cave in.