Monday, January 2, 2012

"Spending Freeze" Periods Reduce Our Wants

New Year's Day comes with resolutions - even if we don't write anything down, we think about things that we want to do better.

I've had a few people ask me recently for suggestions on areas to save money. Spending less is definitely a resolution that many of us make. I thought I'd share a few tips that have worked for James and I over the years.

The biggest tip is to figure out "spending less" not "saving more." We have always been able to save more by focusing on "spending less" instead of focusing on "paying ourselves first." When you pay yourself first and move extra money into savings, you are giving yourself permission to spend the rest of the money. When you focus on spending less, you don't have permission to spend anything beyond bare essentials - we've called these periods of our life a "spending freeze."

During the "spending freeze" periods of our life, it became my job to be creative with what we already had at home so we could put as much as possible towards building our emergency fund or paying medical bills -we had 5 preemie babies who stayed in the NICU, we understand how quickly medical bills can grow. Sometimes these periods lasted a few months or even a year or more before we felt ready to "splurge" again.

James and I had great examples in our parents when it came to stretching a dollar since we both grew up in large families where money was tight. We had parents who were committed to not spending more than they earned - and they didn't always earn that much. It helped to know we could call and visit with them when we needed some encouragement.

So some of what we did to not spend money -

- no purchased gifts - everything had to be made or put together with what we had at home

- no large grocery runs - we bought just the few items we needed to supplement the food storage we had at home

- trade babysitting - we found friends with similar aged children and traded babysitting so we could have a night out (walking in the park or something else just as free for the activity)

- Library runs - we made great use of the book mobile that stopped just behind our neighborhood. We always had plenty of books to read and movies to watch

- borrow what you need - we borrowed camping gear so we could have a vacation, fancy cake pans to give us something fun for a birthday, tools to make needed repairs, etc. Many people are willing to let you borrow items if you just ask

- carpool - my husband put a carpool together to get to work to save gas money - he became good friends with the men he carpooled with.

- alter clothing to fit - I added ruffles to  my daughter's skirts so she could wear them longer. I also cut off pants to make capris and shorts when warmer weather came. A little bit of embroidery can turn an old pair of jeans into something fun and different.

- throw a pot luck - when we were ready for a social event, we invited other families over for a pot luck. It didn't have to be fancy - we just enjoyed the people.

These are just a few of the things we have done over the years. The hardest part of the spending freeze is the first couple of weeks as you are transitioning into it. It is also more difficult as your children get older and want to do more things. My oldest ones are getting good at being creative and finding "free" fun. I hope that means they are learning something.

We have learned some valuable lessons during these periods of our life.

Happiness and joy do not come from having money. Quality of life and relationships cannot be purchased. Relationships comes from spending time together and these relationships build our quality of life.

Discipline is important. It takes a lot of discipline to not spend money.

We don't really "need" a whole lot. True needs can be met for less than we think most of the time.

Pulling together for a common goal builds unity. Our family grew closer during the times we were so focused in this way.

You learn to focus on what you do have instead of what you are missing. There is great power in perspective.

Even now that money is more available to us, we have built good habits and don't spend "just because." Our wants have stayed in line with what we can easily afford which makes each month so much less stressful.

Hopefully, these thoughts can encourage you or someone you know to hang in there. Sometimes "spending freeze" periods seem to last forever. My advice is to stop window shopping and looking at all you don't have, instead focus on what you do have and count your blessings. On the hardest days, I even wrote my blessings down and hung the list on the fridge to be my constant reminder.

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