While there is no such thing as a “magic formula” for building wealth, living below your means is by far the closest thing. When you spend less than you earn and save the rest, you will build wealth — and savings — by default. And, if you just so happen to invest that money and avoid debt in the process, you can even grow rich over time.
But, there is definitely a balance to be achieved when it comes to spending less than you earn. You definitely want to hit your savings goals, but you have to live, too. And sometimes, finding a happy medium can be extremely hard — especially if you’re living frugally in order to save for a home or pay off soul-sucking credit card debt.
Seven Ways to Beat Frugality Fatigue
The reality is, too many people who embrace frugality to improve their finances take on too much too soon and end up burning out. They approach frugality as if it were an “all or nothing” scenario, and they forget there are different shades to frugal living and a lot of levels in between extreme frugality and negligent overspending.
Ideally, you should strive to build a frugal lifestyle that is restrictive enough to help you reach big financial goals while also allowing for some fun.
If you’re struggling from frugality fatigue or just trying to find a balance, here are some tips that can help:
#1: Set up targeted savings accounts for specific goals.
If you’re living frugally so you can save a larger percentage of your income, saving without a tangible plan can get extremely old. This is especially true if you’re saving for a goal that could be a decade or more away — like retirement. Saving month after month without any reward can be boring when you don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor for a long time.
To help ward off this type of frugality and saving fatigue, it can help to set up targeted savings accounts for different goals. Maybe you want to retire early and travel, but you also plan to remodel your kitchen once your kids leave the nest. In that case, setting up a few targeted savings accounts for your home remodeling project and future travel lifestyle could add enough substance to your savings plan to keep you on track.
#2: Create a slush fund.
Maybe your savings goals are totally reasonable, but you’re just tired of the frugality grind. You’ve been bringing lunch to work, making coffee at home, and avoiding the mall like the plague, and you’re desperate to have some fun.
Even if you’re trying to pay down debt or save up for a big goal, it can make sense to have a slush fund you can spend however you want. If you reward yourself with the occasional “want” and still hit your goals, you may be able to keep up with your frugal lifestyle for a longer stretch of time — and maybe even forever.
- Related: Depriving Yourself Doesn’t Work
#3: Embrace a new style of budgeting.
There are several different budgeting methods to consider, and each one has their pros and cons. If you’re on a bare bones budget that doesn’t allow for any extras, for example, it may be time to switch to a new strategy that leaves you with some wiggle room each month.
One type of budget we advocate for here is the zero-sum budget. This type of budget can be extremely effective because it forces you to “give every dollar you earn a job.” However, zero-sum budgeting can also be extremely flexible since it lets you create any budget categories you want. So, if you wanted some freedom to spend on fun each month, you could just add a “miscellaneous” or “fun money” category to your zero-sum budget.
Another budgeting method that’s fairly flexible is the 50-30-20 budget, also called “proportional budgeting.” With this strategy, you would spend 50 percent of your income on needs, 30 percent on “wants,” and 20 percent on savings. This type of budget gets you away from restrictive spending categories and still helps you save 20 percent of your earnings.
You may not reach your goals quite as fast if you embrace a looser style of budgeting or start setting aside some money for fun, but you will have more freedom in how you spend each month. If you want to live frugally for the long haul, it needs to be sustainable, and having some freedom can make all the difference.
#4: Loosen the reins for a while.
Taking a break for a while can also make sense — but only if you know you can get back on track. If you’ve been living on a bare bones budget long enough that you’re starting to reach some of your goals, taking a weekend or week off to live how you want won’t be the end of the world.
Maybe you want to plan a quick family getaway, or perhaps you just want a week where you can go out to eat and not cook from scratch at home. Maybe your kids have gone without long enough that you just want to treat everyone to dinner and a movie. Whatever it is you or your family needs, there’s nothing wrong with loosening the reins to a certain extent. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and that you’re prepared to get right back on the wagon, and you should be fine.
#5: Reward yourself or your family.
You can also consider setting up a one-time or ongoing system of rewards that will kick in each time you hit a savings goal or pay down a certain amount of debt. These rewards will help you stay motivated and, as long as they’re not overly expensive, shouldn’t keep you from reaching your financial goals over the long haul.
Let’s say the impetus of your frugal lifestyle if the desire to retire early. If you were to set aside some amount of money for a weekend away each time you saved $5,000 toward your retirement goal, you could motivate yourself to save at a faster rate and have some fun along the way.
The same strategy could work if you’re living frugally to pay down debt. If you rewarded your family with something everyone wants each time you pay off $1,000 or $5,000, you could keep everyone motivated and on track toward your ultimate goal – debt freedom.
#6: Remember why you’re frugal in the first place.
Sometimes all it takes is a look back at where you came from to remember why you became so passionate about where you’re going now. Maybe you began on the path toward a frugal lifestyle because you didn’t want to work until you were 70. Or perhaps you were sick and tired of forking over all your expendable cash toward credit card bills every month.
Look back to where you were and why you wanted to change so much. Try to remember exactly what it felt like to struggle — or to wish your finances were different than they are today.
Reading about frugality can also do the trick if you’re struggling to remember why you got started. Head to your library to read time-honored favorites like Your Money or Your Life or The Automatic Millionaire, and you may just find yourself energized again.
#7: Look for ways to earn more money.
Finally, don’t forget that there’s another path that can help you save more money without living on less. By earning more money, you can free up more cash to use towards goals like debt repayment, saving up to buy a home, and retirement.
There are all kinds of ways to boost your income in your spare time, including part-time or seasonal work. Some side hustles in the gig economy are extremely easy to start as well; for example, all you need to drive for Uber or Uber EATS is a newer car, insurance, and a clean driving record.
Whatever you decide to do to earn cash in your spare time, make sure you put that cash to work. Use it toward your savings or debt repayment goals — or use it for fun so you can continue using your regular income to get where you want to be without feeling deprived. Earning more money will always leave you better off provided you put your extra funds to use.
The Bottom Line
Even inherently frugal people can grow tired of their lifestyle sometimes, and that’s totally understandable. It takes a lot of self-discipline and fortitude to go against the grain and save money in a world where most people are doing the exact opposite with their money.
Sometimes setting yourself up for success means knowing you can’t be perfect every minute of every day. If you’re suffering from frugality fatigue, a little break may be all you need.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.