Lessons I’ve Learned From Being On A Budget and Fighting Consumerism

Some people will practically do or say anything to avoid living on a budget and curb their excessive spending on items they do not need.  For other people budgets sound good to them and they mostly make shallow attempts to stop the spending and live a little more frugal but they never follow through.  The problems our state and federal governments have with budgets and wasteful spending is well publicized and probably just a symptom of our cultural acceptance towards heavy consumerism. The idea of being an anticonsumptionist and creating a budget has caused many people to run far and quickly away from the idea and I admit that I was less than enthusiastic when I first pondered the idea of going down this lifestyle path.  However, after living on a budget now for almost two years, I can honestly say that I like it.  It has taught me a lot and my family is much happier now so, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in the hopes that it will help you.

I learned that true wealth is possible.

Before we implemented our budget, I spent money on whatever I wanted.  This seemed great, but I never got ahead.  In fact, it put me behind because there were several months that I overspent.  Since I didn’t keep track of my money, I never really knew I was spending more than I made.  I just knew that at times there wasn’t enough money in the checking account to pay for something I needed to pay.  This led to borrowing money on credit cards and eventually a high interest loan.  Of course, when you borrow money, you pay interest.  This means that I paid even more for the things that I couldn’t afford.  It is impossible to get ahead when you live this way.  It is a downward spiral that leads you away from true wealth.

Living on a budget has made me realize that it is possible to control my money and accumulate wealth.  I now know that I can win with money. Using a budget gave me back control.  It forced me to consciously choose how to spend my money.  By facing the choices and eliminating waste, I found all kinds of money that has enabled me to pay off all my debt.  It has absolutely amazed me how much money I found this way.  Initially, I couldn’t see how I was going to be able to come up with any extra money on a monthly basis to pay towards my debt.  However, by using the budget, I was able to slowly but surely identify several hundred dollars.  Still, I’m not sure where it all came from but I know without a doubt that only through the disciplined use of my budget was I able to find it.  By being debt-free, I can now build an emergency fund and start consistently investing which is the path to true wealth.  This intentional spending feels so much better than the way I used to do things.

I learned that a budget is an instrument of freedom.

I think most people resist a budget because they feel it is going to take something away from them.  It is going to be too restrictive.  They won’t be able to get and do the things they want when they want.  They think that a budget will bring to light their frivolous spending habits which will expose the error of their ways.  I know that these feelings were where some of my initial resistance came from.  Changing spending habits can be frightening and just as hard as any other kind of change we face.  However, like with most other change, our fear of it is usually blown out of proportion.

I found that living on a budget provided me the insight into my money that I needed in order to feel more freedom.  Before, I was always nervous about my overspending. I was a slave to those to whom I owed money.  I worked to pay my debts.  However, now through my budget, I know exactly how much money I have to spend. I am always confident that I will be able to meet my obligations and I have created margin in my life financially.  The margin I have created is the difference between what I make and what I spend.  This margin is a result of eliminating certain things from my monthly spending of lower value so I can dedicate those funds to items of higher value.  Initially, this margin was used to pay off my debt, but now that I’m debt-free, I can use it for whatever I want.  This is true financial freedom.

I learned that simpler is often better.

When I was living without a budget, I bought all kinds of things that I didn’t need.  Many of these things required upkeep.  Not only was I a slave to my debt, but I became a slave to the things that I bought.  The more I had, the more I had to take care of.  This left little time to really enjoy life.  It created additional financial stress as well because the maintenance usually cost money.  For example, when I had a boat, I had to rent storage space.  When I had a Seadoo, I had to get it winterized.  The headaches and expenses never stopped.

By making some choices and getting rid of some things, I have greatly simplified my situation.  This leaves me more time to truly enjoy what I have.  My budget exposed exactly what some of my non-essential items were costing me.  It helped me make better choices which has made me happier.  Yes, for awhile I had to be a little more frugal than I prefer, but now it is paying off.  The extra money I found in my budget is starting to accumulate and make interest for me instead of for the lenders.  I still want to keep things simple because I want the things I spend my money on to serve me instead of the other way around.

Practicing anti-consumption and living on a budget has taught me many valuable lessons.

I have learned that living on a budget is the only way to really live.  It is my path to a wealthier, freer, and simpler life.  It puts me in charge of my money which is the way it should be.  I will never again let it out of my control.  The reservations I had have been overcome by these powerful benefits.  I am convinced that if more people lived this way they would find these truths for themselves as well.

A book from the library reads just the same as the one from the bookstore. 

I am a big fan of books.  I read constantly.  I am also a huge fan of the library system.  I think it is one of the greatest American institutions.  What other establishment operates on what is essentially an honor system?  Books from the library are obviously the same as the ones that you can buy except they don’t cost anything and you don’t have to store them once you are done reading.  I do buy some books.  Ones that I want to read over and over, but I check out most of my books from the library and it has saved me countless dollars over the years.  Living on a budget drove home the value of the library system to me. This same method can be applied to almost anything in life, for example maybe rent or borrow a friend’s vehicle for a day to supplement your needs versus buying a new vehicle.

I can eat lunch on $25 per week and get by on $50 of spending money per month.

That’s right.  For almost the last two years, my weekly allowance for lunches has been $25 and I have only given myself $50 per month to blow.  This was one of the things that I resisted the most when we first started our budget.  Previous to the budget, I withdrew whatever I needed to eat out for lunch at work everyday.  If I ran out of money mid-week, I just withdrew some more.  If there was something I wanted to buy during a given month, I usually got it.  The justification in my mind went something like this, “I work and earn a good living.  I should be able to eat out for lunch when and where I want.  I should also be able to treat myself to some fun things once in awhile.  I deserve it for working so hard.”  This was short-term thinking and selfish.  I was overspending and it was hurting my long-term objectives.  I have successfully adjusted to my new allocations in these areas.  In fact, even though I thought it would be impossible to eat lunch on only $25 per week, I have, on most weeks, been able to save a little of my weekly allowance to put in a date fund for my financee and I.  If I want something that costs over $50 in a given month, then I have to save for a few months to get it.  This discipline has helped me make choices and only spend my money on things that I really want.

You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to have fun.

Living on a budget has forced my financee and I to become more creative about how our family spends its time.  We have found that it is still possible to have fun without spending a ton of money.  For instance, we still go out to eat as a family, but we do it less often and are choosier about where we go.  We try to get the most bang for the buck.  We have also found that our daughters enjoy less expensive vacations like camping or just going to a decent hotel with a pool as much as they might enjoy something like a theme park.  It is all in the approach.  With kids in particular, they seem to have the most fun when we get involved and play with them.  We do this on occasion and have developed our own family movie night where we rent a movie and watch it as a family while eating something fun like tacos or pizza.  There was an initial adjustment period when we first started our budget, especially on the weekends, but now we have our things we do and it all works.  A side benefit is that I think we get more quality family time.

A budget is a plan and not something written in stone.

I have learned that a budget has to be flexible.  Life happens.  A budget needs to adapt to life.  Another way I like to describe a budget is as a spending plan.  Plans change when circumstances change.  Our budget has evolved over time.  Sometimes it is the same for several months, but then other times we adjust our budget every month or even in the middle of the month.  We try to anticipate before the month begins when there are going to be additional expenses in a given area.  For instance, May is a month where we have several family birthdays and Mother’s Day.  So, we adjust our budget in May to be sure we have funds available to buy the appropriate gifts.  When we do this we always have to move money from one area to another to cover the expenses.  We never spend more than our income in a given month.  Learning to be flexible with the budget and to anticipate when changes are necessary took time.  We got better with experience.  For the last year or so, we have been very good at it.  However, I will admit it can be a struggle at times.

We don’t want to be ultra-frugal forever.

My financee and I are pretty conservative people.  We have been very intense about paying  off our debt over the last couple of years.  Now we can start to loosen up a little.  I know we won’t go back to our old ways of overspending nor do we want to.  Living on a budget has taught us life is better this way.  It has changed how we look at money.  We will always have a budget because we always want to have a plan for how to invest our money.  However, now that we have financial margin in our lives, we don’t have to be ultra-frugal forever.  We have already made some adjustments in our budget to give ourselves some breathing room in a few areas.  The idea is that we have really tightened things up in the beginning so that we can accumulate wealth and be able to have and spend more as we go.

$100 is a lot of money.

I know that when I was a kid I thought $100 was a lot of money.  I remember being in awe of a $100 bill.  However, somewhere along the way, I lost my respect for the value for this sum of money.  It didn’t matter whether it was an expense or income.  I just didn’t feel like $100 mattered much.  Maybe it was because I usually didn’t physically see my money.  I mainly used plastic cards instead of real cash.  However, living on a budget and using cash has taught me to once again hold $100 in high regard.  It is amazing how far $100 goes and how much power it holds when you are in control of it and using it for a specific purpose.

Food tastes better when you eat out less often.

My financee and I enjoy going out to eat.  Before we had a budget, we went to restaurants all the time.  It is a form of entertainment for us.  However, we were often less than excited about it.  We had a hard time deciding where to go.  We did it so often that it lost its feeling of being fun and special.  Once we saw what we were spending on eating out, we had to cut way back.  The unexpected benefit is that now it has brought back the excitement of going out to eat.  It is special again and the food just seems to taste better.

Shopping is not entertainment and very consumerist.

When did going to the mall become America’s number one pastime?  It seems that shopping is now the way people spend much of their free time.  Marketers do a fantastic job of selling us the lifestyles we think we want.  However, after the buzz wears off, we are usually left with a feeling of emptiness and buyers remorse from our latest spending spree.  My budget has taught me to avoid going to the mall so I don’t fall into this trap.

Things can be fixed. Take care of your stuff.

We are a consumer culture. There is no question about it.  We are misled into thinking that when something develops the tiniest of flaws that we should throw it away and go buy new.  Of course, retailers love this mentality.  However, my budget taught me that this was stinking thinking.  Several months ago, the agitator in my washing machine wouldn’t turn anymore.  I did a little research on the Internet and found the most likely cause was a $5 part that took me only 15 minutes to install.  It has been working perfectly ever since.  I am not that much of a handyman, my financee would testify to this, but immediately assuming that something needs to be replaced when it breaks will only lead you to the poor house not to mention what it does to the environment.

Getting a true deal is exciting.

America is the land of the sales flyer.  How can retailers make money when they are seemingly always selling everything for 75% off?  They jack up the initial price knowing that they will need to lower it later to make us feel like we are getting a good deal.  My suggestion is to Never Pay Retail!  This has been my motto for the last couple of years and it is possible to time the markets to get good deals.  Timing is probably the single biggest advantage we have as buyers to get bargains.  In business, if you buy near the end of the month, year, or quarter salespeople are always more anxious to make a deal to boost their numbers.  As an individual, I have sold several large items such as boats and cars at bargain prices when buyers had cash and were ready to make an immediate deal.  Now that I have better control of my money, I hope to use this same technique to my advantage.

Living on a budget has changed my thinking for the better on several fronts.  It is hard to understand how valuable budgeting and fighting consumerism really is financially and emotionally until you’ve done it for a significant period of time.

Join the AntiConsumption Forums if you are interested in discussing more about how a budget and fighting consumerism can be beneficial to your life and wallet.

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  1. […] Lessons I’ve Learned From Being On A Budget and Fighting Consumerism | AntiConsumption. After living on a budget now for almost two years, I can honestly say that I like it.  It has taught me a lot and my family is much happier now. […]

  2. […] Lessons I’ve Learned From Being On A Budget and Fighting Consumerism | AntiConsumption. After living on a budget now for almost two years, I can honestly say that I like it.  It has taught me a lot and my family is much happier now. […]

  3. kddomingue says:

    My husband and I joke that when we are Emperor and Emperess of the known universe we will ban all commercials, lol!

  4. Denis Murphy says:

    Interesting post. I think it is prudent to think twice about what I buy and actually spend my money on the things that will add to my life in some meaningful way.

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