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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been trying to save and be frugal for ages, and I think I've narrowed down the problem. I am in serious 'feast or famine' mode. I can plan meals, do no spend months (with some success), spend >$150-$200/mo for groceries but it's all so extreme that I can't keep it up. Then, after awhile of that I swing back to spend/waste mode and undo everything I've done until things feel desperate and I am back to extreme belt tightening again.

it's like I have financial bipolar disorder!

I don't really spend as in 'go to the mall and buy tons of stuff" EVER. never ever. But I can easily overspend at the thrift store, the grocery store, garage sales, the craft store, going to outdoor festivals and eating festival food... I order take out and go to restaurants far too much. Our financial situation is such that those 'small' splurges are big to us, something we can't afford.

I don't know the first thing about budgeting or organizing my bills. I can't save. The whole thing depresses me and I avoid it because we dont' make enough, but I know I need to get things under control before we find ways to make more money. I know more money isn't going to fix this, with more money I will just be swinging even more wildly.

I need the most basic starting point information and advice. HOW DO YOU START? I want to do something that is a (big) step in the right direction today, what would that thing be? How do I get over feeling deprived by frugality? I think that's at the core of this, I feel deprived by all I can't do in general because we are poor but then living frugal adds to this and when I am fed up I try to 'fight' it by splurging.

(I came up with a thing on my own - dh and I are going to write down every dime we spend on our wall calendar starting today, and put a star on the calendar for every day we eat all food from home. I want to see a sea of stars. Dh said maybe we could agree to eat a meal out for every 20 stars or something. I think that could help alot considering that sometimes this is our problem area. I can go weeks with meal planning and living on a tight food budget but then I fall off the wagon and really go crazy.)
 

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Oh, I completely understand where you are coming from. My best advice -- frugality is like a diet, chooose one you can live with. Putting yourself on a celery and water diet is too extreme and leads to the spending binges you are experiencing.

Do you have a budget? Your post made it seem like you don't have a current one. Do a budget. Many people use an excel spreadsheet. There are also programs like Quicken, but you will have to pay for those. There are also free budget plans. I know of one and will hunt for the link.

Write down every penny spent for a month. What comes in, what goes out. You may have more money than you think you do. Especially if you are spending money on take out -- those meals add up fast.

Make sure you and your dh have a bit of spending money built into the budget. This will help with the feast or famine attitude. Truely, I love knowing that I have a little spending money. It is not much, but it is mine. I don't have to track it, I just get to spend it.

And lastly, set a goal. Do you have a credit card to pay off? Set a date to have it paid off. Do you have an emergency fund? Set a goal of having a $1000 emergency fund in savings. Do this with you dh -- I swear it makes all the difference. My dh and I talk constantly about our financial goals. How we live now affects what we will be able to do in the future. Going out for pizza doesn't seem all that great if it means diverting $30 from our debt repayment.

This is all about changing behavior and atttudes that began years ago, so give this time and be patient with yourself. And big hugs to you. I have been where you are and remember the stress of living without a plan. You can get through this.
 

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The star idea sounds very motivational but if you're at all like me (and in many ways I saw myself in your post), that itself will present a sufficiently complicated system to get in your way. What about figuring out how many meals you eat at home and just trying to add one meal a week to that? So, for instance, say you eat at home two nights out of the week. Try for three nights next week, four the following, and so forth. And then once you've reached a given number of nights in a week, reward yourself. Just a thought.

The other thing (I know, you're only asking for one thing) is maybe to put just a very small amount in savings every paycheck. Even if it's just $5, you'll start to get so much of a charge out of seeing it add up (again, if you're like me) that you'll want to increase the amount. You know, slowly.

Good luck! I often have a version of this problem--my system works great on paper but I find I can't commit to it in real life (plus, I'm addicted to inventing systems, but that's another discussion).
 

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You sound exactly like me! I'd come and go with frugality, and then I'd run the CCs up again and we'd be right back to square one.

I am still learning, but a written budget where every dollar has a name has really helped. However, I think I made August too tight because I am struggling a bit.


I work Dave Ramsey's baby steps, I need something very concrete and I've seen it work. So far we've managed to save a thousand dollars, which we've NEVER done before and I am paying off debt without simultaneously running more up.
 

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Frugal meal planning is great, but why not plan a special meal each week where you take the time together to make a feast, splurge on a great cut of meat, a bottle of wine, whatever it is that makes it special to you... if you take the time to enjoy cooking and eating at home, you may be inclined to do it more often.

We're in such a food rut right now, dh says "we always have x or y to eat, nothing else" which is true.. so I looked into a meal planning service that sends me a shopping list and recipes each week. I did this a few years ago, and it worked great - sure, we only used 2/3 of the meals (some were way outside of my tastes) and we tried a lot of new things too, many of which were REALLY good. The $ I spent on the service will pay for itself in less take out/eating out in a month, and it's nice to go to the store with a grocery list that I didn't have to really think about.

RIght now we have food allergies to contend with, so I have to modify or substitute meals, but it's not often that I have to do the thinking.
And the best part is that when I make dinner at home, there are enough leftovers for lunch for everyone the next day, OR enough to invite another couple to eat with us (our friends all have small kids who don't eat much either).

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for the input and ideas, keep it coming!

lisa2967> the absolute weirdest thing about it is when I cook and eat at home I do feel it's much tastier and better than eating out. So, why do I see it as denying myself? I have no clue! It's just a mindset. We eat well when we eat at home, but I guess it's all the extra work that I want a break from.

selu>
One thing we have going for us, i suppose, is no cc debt. I learned a long time ago that we cannot have credit cards. We don't possess the necessary willpower not to run them up. About 15 years ago we got our first cc and within a few months we'd run up over $1000 and had nothing at all to show for it. It was all magazines, movies, dinners out, pizzas... We have some debt, but it's mostly dh's student loan (which is under $1000 now) and past due utilities that are on a payment plan.

phroggies> I think my problem with a budget is that I can't make it work on paper so I give up and tell myself "things are OK as they are, just keep going along this way". Only they are NOT ok as they are. Point taken about the star system! I am still going to try the stars but keep your plan in mind as a backup plan.

Ruthiegirl> Thank you for your support and help! I am eagerly waiting for that budget site yuo mentioned. I am not even sure what Excel is
: or how to use it? (sorry! I told you I needed the very most basic of help!
) I'd love to sit down and work on a budget with dh today, but how? where do we begin? I feel like everytime we attempt this it goes well for a few days or so and then something pops up and we have to use bill money for it and then we get into this mode where we just give up.

Here's a confession: Doing a budget and knowing what my financial state is hard for me because it means I am up at night worrying. When I just float through life and pay things whenever and spend money where I want someone things always seem to work out, miraculously. I can repress it all and just let it all be what it is. When I start focusing on the details of our financial situation I get scared, anxious, depressed... it's awful because you'd think getting your finances under control would have the opposite effect!

Can anyone relate to that?
 

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I treat being frugal like a lifestyle change..Making everyday progress in doable amounts..A few things that work for me..

Stay out of stores PERIOD!! Don't go to thrift stores, garage sales, etc because you're going to buy things you don't need because it's "such a great deal". If you need to get something go without the kids and only carry enough to buy the thing you need.

Honestly I also avoid eating at fairs since things are so expensive. If we go to something we eat at home and maybe take $10 to get a small treat or something!

Planning meals and grocery shopping every two weeks helps me a lot. I go Costco every two weeks with a list and stick to the list. Then I typically only need to make one grocery store run on top of that. That keeps me from spending too much.

As for not spending on crafts that's hard for me as I knit and scrapbook. But I look at scrapbooking as an investment as it is a gift I give my children of preserving their childhood. Still I use coupons and only buy what I need at the time.

As for knitting, I knit for gifts so it typically ends up being cheaper than buying gifts in the store! And I only buy on sale or if it's a really good price. I stocked up on my local yarn store's 50% off sale and got almost all the yarn I need for Christmas presents.

Just make doable changes. Don't fluctuate between feast and famine mentality. Do a little at a time..
 

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Attila -- Selu introduced me to this site.

http://www.livinglikenooneelse.com/forum/index.php

These folks are fans of Dave Ramsey. He wrote a book called The Total Money Makeover. It is a simple step-by-step guide to gaining financial freedom.

The steps are basic:

Make a budget, save $1000 emergency fund, pay off all non-mortage debt, build a 6 month emergency fund, save for retirement, save for college, pay off your mortgage, be wealthy and have fun!

You get the idea. Anyway, lots of good budget info there and loads of good support.

Budget spreadsheets here:

http://www.geocities.com/pholt33/

And I do understand the wish to keep things easy and spontaneous. Money can be a real emotional trigger for a lot of people. Just go slow and take it one step at a time.

If doing a budget is a stressor, how about simply writing down what you spend for a month or two? Just get it on paper.
 

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having worked in accounting and taxes i understand in my brain how budgets work

but i never find that real life works the way it does on paper - things like last week i spent $12 on clothes at a yard sale. it was a BIG stack and some of the things i'll be turning in at the consignment store so the $1 jeans will become about $4 in store credit for me

it wasn't budgeted but i still feel it was a smart thing - plus the clothes i kept cost me $1 per pair of pants for dd. granted it had to be cash and not store credit so i guess in that sense i 'lost' something on the deal

for me personally, the first place to start with any sort of budget whatever is to know where the money is going. the monthly checks we write and the cash that trickles. i also like to separate out the things that we KNOW are coming (rent, auto ins, haircuts, cable etc.) and that tells me what's left for the things that we can more easily change

we pay the car ins. twice a year, i added those numbers together and divided by 12 to find out how much it costs us each month.

i know when you're looking for ways to cut costs its very easy to say no to everything. everyone seems to end up miserable when we do that so i try for a bit more balance. small things like, i will spend $4 for a box of icecream because that becomes several ice cream cones we can eat in the backyard instead of paying $4 just for cones at a stand one time. i could have saved the $4 but at the same time, we had given up cones @ stands and it seems a cheaper compromise. honestly i think half the thrill of cones out is the change in scenery and being not at home. just because you have to eat food from home, doesn't mean you have to eat it AT home! : )
 

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Atilla, lol, I know exactly what you mean. Changing things here is a SLOW and difficult process too.. we're adults, and we've lived our entire lives this way, and now we're trying to CHANGE!!!

Someone once pointed out that it takes 21 days to form a habit, 21 days of doing the same task EVERY day. And that's a LONG time to me! For things we don't do every day (like eating out, or not eating out) it takes longer.. and it's a different, more difficult habit to get into...

So pick one thing at a time... keeping track of cash spending, or meal planning 5/7 days and doing whatever the other 2 (maybe Sat and Weds are eat out days?), or only shopping from a grocery list rather than whatever looks good, etc.

Heh, these are things I'm STILL working on.
 

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My advice is to read two books: Your Money or Your Life and Fast Food Nation. Check them out from the library to save $$


The first has some great ideas on getting out of debt and becoming financially free. The second I found to frighten me out of fast food joints for good, as well as really adhere to cooking at home with healthy ingredients. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.

I think your star idea is fantastic! Especially rewarding yourselves after 20 or so stars. Eating away from home has been our weak point, too (until reading FFN). Changing has been difficult, but it is rewarding to see how much money we aren't spending.

Good luck!
 

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sierratahoe said:
My advice is to read two books: Your Money or Your Life and Fast Food Nation. Check them out from the library to save $$


The first has some great ideas on getting out of debt and becoming financially free. The second I found to frighten me out of fast food joints for good, as well as really adhere to cooking at home with healthy ingredients. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.

Or just watch Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me. Ever since I've seen that, I try to avoid eating out at all costs!

Like it's been said before, start small. Change one or two habits at a time. Eating out was an easy one to change for me once I saw the documentary. Start with the things that will be easiest and then work your way towards the harder ones.

The other thing to think about is limit the number of times you go to stores. If you are going three times a week, limit it to two and then one.

Being frugal does not mean that you have to feel deprived! Find things that you really like to do that don't cost a lot of money. My husband and I found that we really love to take our dog on long walks-totally free and good for us! We also love having a Friday night date at home where we rent movies or watch ones we have at home. We make a point to go out once in awhile, too.

The best thing to do is start small and go from there. Good luck!

Nicole
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Quote:

Originally Posted by sierratahoe
My advice is to read two books: Your Money or Your Life and Fast Food Nation. Check them out from the library to save $$


I've read them both, and liked them!

We really don't eat fast food because we are vegetarian and there is nothing out there in the fast food world for vegetarians. We haven't eaten at Mcdonald's in over 16 years! Our take out is usually pizza (ok, that might be considered fast food?) and sandwiches from a local vegetarian cafe'. Expensive!
:

YMOYL just overwhelms me. I can't get past that first "inventory everything you own" step. I like the information but I almost never have to energy to get into it.

I liked 'Super Size Me' alot, too! The information about how they get kids hooked early was shocking.

I see what you are all saying about taking things slowly and making small changes, but when I look at my financial situation I want to change things immediately! It's so hard to find the right balance between doing things that will last for the long haul and wanting to stop doing the damage I am doing now.

I am finding the Dave Ramsey show (listened for 3hrs yesterday) and the Living Like No One Else boards very very motivating. It got me off my duff to write out a budget yesterday.
 

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I'm very much like you, usually good for the first half of the month then I blow it. Some useful things I do to make things easier:

Keeping track of expenses - I don't keep a 'budget' - in that I don't sit down every month and assign values to each category. What I do is have an excell spreadsheet, in it, I have a tab for each month. At the top I start with DH's take home pay, I have a section for bills where I put all our bills, then I have a section for expenses. At the top, I have subtracted all we pay out from DH's take home pay and I know how much we have left for the month. I factor in Annual expenses by adding these up on a seperate tab, dividing by 12 and including that in the bills section. Bills paid in May count against June's totals, so at the beginning of the month I have a clear idea of how much discretionary money I have. If I know something is coming up we will spend money on, I put it in early so that money is reserved. And I keep a running total of our surplus or deficit going forward by adding one months total to the next. This works well for us in terms of keeping track and not being too complex. But it doesn't stop me from ignoring it for weeks at a time.

Cooking multiple meals at a time and freezing them - For eating at home - a great book is Frozen Assets - Cook for a day eat for a month We have done this for several months and found it so much easier than regular cooking. It takes some planning time and usually a friday evening and all day Saturday, but then you have meals for a month or more. It's so nice to just take something out of the freezer and pop it in the oven and be done. Less dishes on a daily basis. We need to get back to doing this now that we are settled in to our new house, my husband keeps asking when we are going to do it again! You also do not need a big freezer for this, I did her prepackaged month plan and fit it all in my fridge freezer (probably a good idea to have a mostly empty freezer to start, but). We were so much less tempted to eat out when we had good pre-prepared meals to eat and once you get rolling, you can take advantage of deals when meat is on sale, since you know you are going to use 8 pounds of chicken when you cook again, etc.

Having a fun money jar - I agree, you can't stay frugal forever, eventually you just get sick of not being able to have anything! What has worked for me to not overspend is to have a jar designated as fun money. When I sell something on craigslist or at a yard sale or on ebay (paypal is part of the jar for me) then that goes into my fun money jar and we can spend that however we please without feeling guilty about breaking our budget. When you have a frugal month and you save some money, consider putting a percentage of that into the fun money jar - a way to allow yourself to splurge but without going overboard. Another part of our fun money is our credit card rewards. We never carry a balance on our credit cards, but we generally put all our monthly expenses on one for convenience, so we have an amazon.com card for this and get 1% in amazon gift certs. So this is another pool of money to allow myself to splurge without breaking the bank.
 

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Well, the first step you've already started. That's writing down everything you spend. Keep doing that, then organize it into categories. Rent/mortgage, utilities, car (includes gas, car payment, insurance, taxes, maintenance), groceries, gifts, entertainment (we include eating out in this category), etc.

Once you know what is really going out you can set a budget. Decide how much you'd like to save/invest and have a serious discussion about family priorities. You'll have to find areas to cut back in.

Have you tried the envelope system? Once you have your budget, make an envelope for each category. If you have $50 budgeted for entertainment each month, put $50 in that envelope. Sure, you can cheat by taking money from another envelope, but you'll soon figure out it's not worth it.

In terms of not being too extreme, you can control that by how strict you make your budget. Maybe your goal is to save $200 a month. You don't have to start out that way. Maybe the first month you save $5. The next month you cut back some nonessentials in the budget and save $25. Take it a bit at a time until it doesn't feel like such a sacrifice.
 

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I second the idea of having some meals in the freezer. I work out of the home full time and it is very tempting to go out to eat rather than start cooking when I get home. By having something already prepared, it's much easier to eat in.

Also, can you arrange to have a small amount automatically deducted from your paycheck into savings? I am most successful at saving money when it does not have to be a conscious decision. If you start out small, you can gradually adjust upward if you find out that you can save more.
 

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Atilla-

How you budget differs for every person...some people only deal with cash, some checks, others M.O. Point is that everyone is different. But, creating a budget is a whole nother thing. The easiest way to start creating a budget is exactly what you're doing...

1. Write down everything you spend every single day for at least a month. (this way you can see where all of your money is going, REALLY, not just where you think it is!)
2. Going off of your last month bills, create a list of all of your debt each month.
This includes credit card bills (pay more than the minimum if you can!)
Utilities, cell phone, gas, car insurance, health insurance, groceries, meals out, copays for doctor visits, etc. (basically everything and anything you spend money on in a given month!)
(if you budget every month for your car ins/health ins it makes those twice yearly payments a lot easier!)
3. Now, see where you spend a lot of money frivolously (lunch/dinner out, convenience store trips, coffee/latte, etc.) Then apply a portion of that money to things that are basic necessities of life. (ie bills)
4. Make sure that you budget for some fun in your life...I really like your idea of after 20 "stars" on the calender having dinner out! Reward yourself, just make sure that it's something that you both can participate in, otherwise it's just not fair when you're both working on your budget.

Good luck, it's not easy to start a budget, it's not easy to stick to it, but it's definately worth it at the end of the month when you've still got a little money in your pocket!
I definately recommend reading "Your Money or your Life" by Joe Dominguez! Changed our lives!
 

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I think this is probably obvious, but in case you haven't done it yet - the biggest step you could take RIGHT THIS MINUTE is to cut up your credit cards. We cut ours up 7 months ago, and have been paying off the balances slowly but surely. It's good we're paying them off, but I realized that even during a month when I'm "bad", I am so much less bad than before! Now, a bad month is one in which I don't put any extra money toward the debt. Before, a bad month was when I didn't have any idea where the money was going, and debts were piling up. It's a huge paradigm shift to cut up those buggers. It's the only thing that really got me to commit to living within my means, and everything else comes from that commitment.

Good luck! You sound EXACTLY like me 7 months ago! There's hope, though - I promise. Now I actually like sticking to a budget - it's like a game! I don't at ALL feel deprived, although I did at first. I look at silly things I used to buy ($3 for 10 oz "special" horseradish sauce) and I don't think "Poor me - I am so destitute that I can't even have horseradish sauce!" Instead, I think "What kind of an idiot pays $3 for 10oz of horseradish sauce!"


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