My husband’s income has almost tripled in the last 5 years and I find myself getting more and more comfortable spending here and there. Whether it’s lunch out with the kids or buying a new sweater. Although I know there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of our labor, I also want to cut back a bit, but feel lost how to get back to the basics of frugal living. It’s amazing how we can be so quick to forget. Any practical tips for not getting too comfortable with our spending habits? -a reader
I hesitated answering this question in a blog post, because I know we have many readers who are barely eeking by and even reading a question like this can be really discouraging… you are desperately trying to keep a roof over your head and put food on the table and would love to have the “problem” of having more disposable income.
However, I also know we have many long-time readers who have seen a significant increase in their paychecks in the last few years. Maybe you’re in that camp and you’re struggling to find the balance between between still continuing to be frugal while also giving yourself grace to have breathing room in your budget now that your income has increased.
I get that… so very much.
As most of you know, the first few years of our marriage we were just scraping by financially. We lived on a beans and rice budget because it was the only way we were going to survive on our meager income without racking up serious debt.
After Jesse graduated and started working full-time, our income increased for awhile, but between a rocky few years of moving to Kansas City for Jesse’s job, having another baby, job loss, and then a three-month period of unemployment, we didn’t make a lot of forward traction in our financial situation.
That was such a hard few years in our life and our marriage. But looking back, I see it was the catalyst for where we are today. It sparked an entrepreneurial spirit in my husband, it gave us enormous amounts of compassion for people who go through job loss and unemployment, and it truly was the inspiration for me to start MoneySavingMom.com.
So yes, while I wouldn’t wish those years or tears or fears upon anyone else, in hindsight, I can see how God used them so mightily in our own lives. And I’m eternally grateful.
Around the same time I started this blog, Jesse got a more stable contract position. Within two years, not only had our income more than tripled, we had built up our emergency fund, and built up our savings account.
At first, we fully expected that this was just a short season of increased income so we continued to live very frugally — almost too frugally. In fact, we felt rather scared to loosen up the purse strings because we’d grown so used to only spending money on necessities. Spending more than that felt extravagant.
As time went on and our income continued to increase, we realized that we needed to step back and reconsider whether or not we should give ourselves some breathing room in our budget. Being a frugal and wise manager of money doesn’t mean you have to live a miserable existence.
But what does a “wise balance” look like? How much breathing room is okay and how much is “too much”? How much should we save? How much should we give?
These are all questions we tossed around a lot. After many discussions and prayer and seeking wise counsel, the following two questions summarize the types of questions that have helped us determine what priorities we should have financially and how to strike a “healthy balance” between spending, giving, saving, and breathing room in our lives.
1. What matters most to our family?
As Christians, our ultimate goal is to glorify the Lord with our lives. We know that we can’t take any money with us to the grave, so we want to use what we’ve been given to the best of our ability.
In addition, we believe that money is a tool. In the hands of wise stewards, it can be put to good use and make a huge impact. In the hands of those who are unwise, it can be wasted and blown with nothing to show for it.
Not only do we want to use our money to make an impact on this generation, but we also want to use it to make memories as a family. We often think about what is going to matter at the end of our lives.
Hiring help with our business and hiring a cleaning lady affords us the breathing room to have more time together as a family and more energy and brain space to invest in making a difference in others’ lives.
2. What do we want our lives to look like?
One of the important questions Jesse and I started asking a few years ago was: “What do we envision for our family? If we could create the dream scenario for how our family would live and function, what would that look like?”
This line of questions ended up leading us to move from Kansas to Tennessee and to completely re-structure the way we were “doing life” so that we’d have more time to be together as a family, more time to invest in our marriage, and more breathing room in our schedule.
It wasn’t an easy move, but it’s been one of the best decisions we ever made. We look back with so much gratefulness.
When you are not in debt and when you have some breathing room in your budget, it gives you more freedom and ability to structure your life long-term for the health of yourself, the health of your marriage, and the health of your family.
You don’t have to be content with the status quo. You don’t have to stay stuck in a lifestyle that is burning you out. You can choose to make changes that are best for what works for your own family.
In addition to asking yourself, “What matters most to our family?” and “What do we want our lives to look like?”, I encourage you to consider doing the following:
Get on a Budget
This is so simple and basic, but it’s amazing how many couples aren’t living on a budget. They are just spending whatever they make with no accounting for it.
I cannot encourage you strongly enough: start telling your money where to go. As Dave Ramsey says, “Give every dollar a name.” This is key to your financial success and it will also help you not feel so stressed about your spending.
Why? Because when you decide ahead of time where and how you’re going to spend your money, you don’t have to feel any sort of guilt when you then spend that money — because it’s already been ear-marked for that category.
New to the idea of budgeting? I highly recommend getting a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Your library should have it.
Try a Cash Envelope System.
In addition to a budget, a Cash Envelope System will help you stick with your budget.
The beauty of cash is that when the money’s gone, the money’s gone. So you pre-decide how much money to fund a budget category with, you take that money out of the bank and put it in a cash envelope, and then that’s how much you have to spend until the next payday.
Then, when you’re shopping and see a new sweater you’d like to buy, you can check your Clothing envelope. If there’s enough cash in it for the sweater and you don’t have any other more pressing clothing needs to purchase, you are free to buy that sweater — again, without guilt.
Choose a Few Motivational Giving & Savings Goals
Do you have any large ticket items that you really need or want to purchase? Such as a vehicle, furniture, or a remodeling project you’d like to undertake, etc.?
What about a special getaway for you and your spouse or a family vacation? How about a mission project you’d like to fund or a charitable organization you’d like to write a big check to?
Decide as a couple or family on one or two big savings and giving goals and then look at your budget to see how much you could realistically set aside for these each month. Determine a goal and then start tracking your progress each month.
It’s amazing what kind of motivation this can be to help you stick with your budget and stay the course — even when you are tempted to veer off and blow money on something else.
Give Yourself Some Breathing Room.
As soon as is possible, give yourself some breathing room in your budget. Whether that’s adding a blow category to your cash envelopes, padding your eating out budget a little, or saving up for a yearly vacation.
Life is too short to live like a miser! Decide what your family’s priorities are and then set aside a little money each month toward those.
For instance, a priority for our family is travel. So we’d rather wait to replace furniture or buy new things in order to save up for a few memorable trips each year. We also have become very skilled at finding ways to travel on the cheap thanks to online deals and gift cards earned through Swagbucks — thus allowing us to do even more traveling.
If you have the breathing room, I encourage you to find a few areas to “splurge” on. And by that, I meant to intentionally choose to spend money on something that isn’t a necessity but that accomplishes something of value for your family. Read about 6 Things Our Family Chooses to Splurge On.
What advice and input do the rest of you have for this reader? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!