Even the mention of words like "frugality" and "thrift" send some people over the edge because for them, those words conjure up thoughts of poverty and deprivation.
They assume that cutting costs is tantamount to diving into dumpsters to find one's next meal. No wonder so many people prefer a life of debilitating debt to one of frugality.
Let me set the record straight. Please.
There is nothing undignified about spending less than you earn. That's called living below your means, and it's a fabulous way to live! When you spend less than you earn, you have some to save, and some to give away. When you spend less than you earn, you are not dependent on credit to get by. It's a very good thing.
You may be wondering how you can move from overspending to spending less without giving up your quality of life. It starts with prioritizing everything according to how important it is in your life. Then, you only spend on things at the top of the list, ruthlessly cutting your spending on the things further down.
The way to get started prioritizing things in your life is to come up with a system, like a scale of 1 to 10, and then apply this to every way you spend money. Do not hand out 10s willy-nilly. Reserve that designation for only those things you truly love, that bring incredible joy and fulfillment to your life.
As you prioritize, examine everything. Do you eat out often? Go to the movies? Travel? Do you spend on home-improvement projects, kitchen gadgets and visits to the gym? Are cable television and electronic devices a main source of joy? Are you most fulfilled when you are donating your skills and time to a charity in your community? Is fancy jewelry your thing, or are you more into driving a fancy car? Perhaps it's shoes or gifts for those you love.
Our lists are not likely to be the same. For example, eating out at mediocre chain restaurants is not a priority for me. To me, the food is overpriced and of inferior quality. Having my own car is not high on my list either. And I'm not crazy about English bone china or maintaining a koi pond, but I know people for whom those are both a 10.
But having a beautifully maintained yard with flower gardens, traveling to beautiful places and spending time with good friends are all at the top of my list. I will cut mercilessly in other areas to have money for the things that I really love.
Personal finance is not about saying no to spending on the things you love. Living below your means is not about adopting a life of poverty. It's about conscious decisions, not guilt. It's planning and thinking and deciding what's really important to you.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.