Have you ever been to a wedding (or conference or birthday party) when you’re on a diet?
Not as much fun, right? Piles of cheese, dessert platters, open bar – all for naught. At least for you.
Meanwhile, your friends are enjoying every morsel of indulgence. All you want is to join in. Depending on your degree of willpower that day, maybe you do. I know this narrative all too well, mostly because I’m the one caving into my commitment to not drink or avoid the bread basket. FAIL and FAIL.
Unfortunately, when it comes to spending, that counterbalancing quick fix isn’t quite so simple.
So what’s the alternative? After all, nobody wants to feel like they’re on a juice cleanse at a wine and cheese party – all the time.
In fact, that feeling of limitation can result in poorer financial decision-making.
The scarcity mindset, the belief that you don’t have enough, has been proven to hamper the ability to make smart financial choices, inducing a kind of all-consuming anxiety that reduces IQ by 13 to 14 points. That drop is comparable to losing a night’s sleep or the effect of alcoholism!
In other words, when you feel financially limited, it’s like wearing beer goggles every time you make a money decision.
Here are 7 strategies you can implement to start living and spending within your means – without the detrimental feeling of limitation working against you.
Challenge recurring expenses
Find ways of making spending cuts without major lifestyle alterations by getting creative. Your recurring expenses – monthly, quarterly and/or annual costs, are the perfect starting point.
As you comb through your list of expenses, identify which you might be able to renegotiate or replace with alternatives more suited to your needs and budget.
For example, you may be dead set on keeping cable, but you can still call up the cable company (and its competitors) to try negotiating a better rate. Even mundane expenses like your insurance should be reassessed every year to ensure you’re getting the best coverage based on your current needs at the best possible value.
It’s not just recurring expenses that are up for negotiation… You can save hundreds of dollars on everything from household repairs to medical bills by researching price ranges and challenging costs.
Beyond comparison shopping, couponing and use of cash back portals, you can always ask for a discount.
I know this might make my non-confrontational readers uncomfortable, but seriously, when the alternatives are living beyond your means or cutting out a cost entirely, a simple inquiry into the alternatives is definitely worthwhile.
Trim the fat
This isn’t my call for you to cut out every latte from your life – THAT would be limiting.
In fact, there’s no need to go crazy on cutting back before taking a closer look at what you’re actually paying for. Use an app to sync up all your accounts for a full record of your spending (and earnings) so you can assess (and continually reassess) what and how you’re spending.
As you scroll through your spending history, make note of any surprises or obvious wastes of money (not that they’ll always be obvious, but you never know until you look!)
Did you totally forget about the meal planning subscription that’s been automatically billed to your credit card for the past year? Trim it!
Also, stop paying for the privilege of things you can get for free! Basic checking accounts and ATM withdrawals for example –BIG waste of money.
Small, non-sacrificial trims, like avoiding fees and shedding “vestigial” expenses, can help you bank an extra couple hundred bucks each year or use your added budget breathing room to finance other, more exciting ventures.
Spread out splurges
Another great option for reducing costs without cutting them out entirely is rethinking their frequency.
Just as you might transition from daily to weekly happy hour for the sake of your health, adjusting the timeline of your spending splurges can go a long way in supporting your financial health without resorting to total deprivation.
For example, if you indulge in a monthly massage, try changing to a quarterly schedule. Or if you go in for a haircut and color every 6 weeks, try stretching it to every 8 or 10 weeks.
Budget from zero
Now that I’ve laid out some tactical strategies for living within your means without feeling limited, let’s talk mindset.
One of the most powerful shifts in perception I’ve experienced in my quest for better financial habits is that of building my budget from zero.
Instead of thinking of budgeting as a call to cut back and sacrifice, I start building my spending plan from zero each month and focus on building up from there, making note of every line item I can afford with gratitude – my wonderful apartment, the convenience of the subway, delicious food from the grocery store, etc.
Rather than maintaining some arbitrary, hyper-consumer status quo and seeing everything that falls short of the luxury loaded image of the “American Dream” as a sacrifice, try shifting your perspective to recognize all the abundance you already enjoy, in whatever form it takes.
Recognizing and giving thanks for every expense you already afford is a habit that can extend far beyond your monthly budgeting.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude daily.
Recognizing the enormous value of everything you already enjoy – experiences, relationships, opportunities, etc. – goes a long way in combating feelings of limitation, even when your means are relatively limited.
This might not be quite as simple as adding an extra workout to your routine after a particularly indulgent evening, but making more money is one of the best ways to afford more spending flexibility and ease any feelings of limitation that arise from struggling to live within your means.
Ask for a raise. Seek out more lucrative markets for your employment prospects. Cultivate a side hustle.
Avoid the limiting belief that your earning potential is set and actively seek out ways to increase your means such that living within them is no sacrifice.