Doing without many of these “essentials” – or at least downgrading them to cheaper options – can do wonders for your bank balance, helping you to live a more frugal lifestyle and making your money go further.
But there’s more too. Cutting down on these pillars of our capitalist society can also help the environment (the less we buy or throw away the better) and can, in many cases, actually lead to a simpler and more satisfying life once you adjust to the changes.
Indeed, it’s telling just how popular the “minimalist” movement is becoming as more people every day shed the consumer lifestyle and instead focus more on spending quality time with family and friends as well as having to work less to make ends meet.
All you need is a slight change of viewpoint. For some the benefits will be obvious. Others may scorn the ideas discussed below. But whatever your initial thoughts I’d encourage you to at least spend a little time thinking about the points mentioned in the hope that you can at least take away a few money-saving tips from this article.
So what are these “essential” expenses that most people can’t live without?
Many of us work our fingers to the bone each week, with the only hope of escape being our annual vacation. We’ve worked hard. We’ve been tired and stressed. And now we deserve to see the fruits of our labor in the form of a luxury break.
And while I’m not dismissing the idea of vacations altogether, it’s worth noting two important points here. First, a vacation doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to be enjoyable.
Second, if we took cheaper vacations we could either save money towards improving other areas of our lives or simply downsize to fewer hours or a lower-paying but less stressful career.
So when vacation time next rolls around, take a few minutes to consider if you really need that “all-the-bells-and-whistles” trip, or whether you can shop around, find a bargain, stay closer to home and save a surprising amount of money along the way.
Indeed, I know people who actually don’t go away when they’re on vacation. It might sound odd, but their ultimate pleasure is simply taking the time to slow down, visit friends and family and sit around in the sunshine reading a good book. All while saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
It’s embarrassing to admit but a few years ago I dropped my cell phone down a toilet while I was out for the day. My first thought was absolute shock. How would I cope without my cell phone? As the truth turned out to be: quite easily.
Now sure, cell phones are certainly practical but as smart phones have grown in popularity they’ve also become a “toy” that constantly steals our concentration. There’s always a status update to read or a text to respond to.
We’re never really “switched off.” I’m sure you’ve had the experience of trying to chat to someone who just won’t stop fiddling with their phone and experienced just how annoying and distracting it can be.
So firstly put some time into considering whether a cell phone really is essential to you or whether you could manage without one—or at worst keep a pre-pay phone just for emergencies rather than constantly having the thing on 24 hours a day.
And if you can’t imagine a life without your cell, then at least take some time examining cell phone tariffs to see if you can downgrade your plan to save money while still getting the same level of service.
For some people, cars really are an essential expense, no matter how unwelcome they may be. However for other people cars—or at least many car journeys—really are anything but essential.
Cars make life a lot easier, there’s no denying it. But as someone who hasn’t owned a car in the last 10 years, let me assure you that you don’t need to give up on life when you give up your car.
Many of the journeys we take can easily be walked or cycled for example. I walk to work and I also carry my weekly shopping home on foot. Sure, it’s not much fun if the weather is being unkind, but overall we manage just fine. Then there is public transport. And lastly, there’s car sharing and lift sharing which can help you get to places that public transport doesn’t service.
I’m not suggesting you necessarily have to give up your car altogether (though if you put your mind to it, it may well be possible). But try being more conscious of your car use. Consider whether you’re getting into your car because you need to or just because you’re feeling “lazy” and another solution would really be just as good, as well as much cheaper.
I lose count of the number of people who tell me they couldn’t live without their credit card. But a similar number of people have also told me they wish they’d never got a credit card, and how easy it was to wrack up debts that take years to pay back.
The fact is that while credit cards do have their uses when used intelligently, the interest and annual fees can quickly add up, meaning that it’s possible to end up paying for your purchases many times over. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a crazy idea.
At the most extreme, consider ditching your credit card altogether. Doing so will remove any temptation to spend on it and will force you into making wiser financial decisions an budgeting properly.
At a lower level, if you really want to keep a card for emergencies, ensure that you comparison shop for a card with the lowest interest rate (and ideally no annual fee). Additionally, aim to pay off your account in full each month, so that you pay no unnecessary interest charges.
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Richard, our guest contributor, is passionate about frugality, lowering your bills and living a life free of financial worries. His brand new blog can be found here.