How to Live Within Your Means

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Are you on a mission to steward your finances better? Want to make sure there’s some room at the end of your rope each month? Consider these tips for living within your means.

How to Live Within Your Means - Are you on a mission to steward your finances better? Want to make sure there's some room at the end of your rope each month? Consider these tips for living within your means.

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A few weeks ago I gave a mini lecture on the dangers of carrying debt. Yes, I know some people have what they consider legitimate reasons to do so. I’ve heard the “make someone else’s money work for you” argument before. In fact, we lived it out to some extent and it got us in a heap of trouble.

I think it’s better to be beholden to no one — if you can help it. Part of that means living within your means, preferably spending less than you make. If you spend everything you have, you never get ahead. If you spend more than you legitimately own, you go backwards. Better to spend less than you have. Here are some ways that you can do that:

1. Create a zero-based budget.

We talked last week about creating a budget. If you know what you have, you know what you can spend. A written budget also gives a couple “a third party” to discuss things with. The budget is a third entity to contend with. It’s over there on the table, not sitting next to you.

Creating a monthly budget has given us concrete things to discuss as a couple, rather than merely saying, “You know, we should spend less money.”

2. Do an audit.

You may be able to pay for everything you want, but maybe you don’t really need everything you’re paying for. By doing a personal audit, you can see where your money is going and ask yourself questions like, “Is it really worth $840 a year to have cable? Could we put that money toward something more meaningful for our family.”

3. Do without.

Our generation has, for the most part, enjoyed many more luxuries than our parents. Maybe I’m a different generation than you are, but my dad didn’t even have indoor plumbing when he was a kid. He lived on a poor farm in Minnesota and had to work really hard for everything he had.

My dad put us kids through harder straights than our friends, but I know we had it easier than he and my mom did.

It’s okay to do without some things. If you can’t afford that iPhone, check out the less expensive options. It won’t kill you to go without designer coffee for a few weeks a month. Think seriously about what are luxuries and what purchases you can put aside for a season.

I think you’ll find that once you build up your emergency fund and pay down your debt, you’ll have monies freed up to do those extras once again. Or you’ll find that you really don’t even want them anymore because you’ve found better, cheaper alternatives.

How to Live Within Your Means - Are you on a mission to steward your finances better? Want to make sure there's some room at the end of your rope each month? Consider these tips for living within your means.

4. Make small changes.

If cutting something out completely gives you hives, consider small changes:

  • downgrade your cable package
  • turn off the AC or set it for a higher temp (likewise, in winter, put on a sweater instead of turning up the furnace)
  • drink water at the restaurant instead of ordering a drink
  • get a drip coffee instead of an espresso drink
  • buy store brand groceries instead of the expensive name brand
  • make something from scratch
  • cancel the magazine subscriptions and read them at the library
  • exercise at home or with a friend instead of paying for a pricey gym membership

5. Find fun for free.

One of the most common questions I receive is about what folks should do in San Diego. They list all the attractions and ask which ones I like the best. While there is plenty to see and do here, usually the things that they are really expensive. Really expensive. My husband always says, “Just tell them to go to the beach!”

We’ve found that the outings we’ve enjoyed the most — here or anywhere else in California — were absolutely free. Hiking, swimming, and exploring the great outdoors is typically free and so much more fun than jostling with the crowds at some attraction where the food is bad and overpriced and things are all hot and sweaty. Fun can be had absolutely free. It’s like God’s way of saying, “It’s okay. You can find enjoyment without going into debt.”

These are things that have helped us over the years. We’ve had plenty. And we’ve had naught. I hope that we’ve learned our lesson for good. Living within your means is within your grasp. You just have to want it.

How do YOU live within your means?

This post is part of a 7-part series to help you get your finances in order. Check out past posts here:

How to Live Within Your Means | Life as Mom

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  1. I think focusing on the positives helps you to be able to cut back & be careful while doing it. It’s the same way for me with foods. I realized I couldn’t eat some things anymore (like ALL dairy), and I found I did much better if I thought about all the things I could have, not the things I couldn’t. There are so many things for free or mostly free- like library books and programs, parks, picnics. You don’t have to feel deprived, you just have to find what you like. 🙂

  2. I’m sort of a financial buff so I am loving this series. #3 is huge for us. It takes a little time, effort, and self-control to let go of the things we think we need to be happy, but it gets easier. We have learned that we can be just as happy, and in some ways happier, on less. Thanks for the encouragement in this area!

  3. We took a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class completely by accident 16 years ago. (got in the wrong line at a ministry fair and waited so long we decided what the heck. lol) Then we were hooked and became facilitators. We have followed his principles for 16 years and are debt free and own our car and house. Have times been easy – No, I’ve had numerous heart surgeries and my husband had back and gallbladder surgery. I am on disability. Being debt free is one of the greatest feelings in the world. We have an Apple box for our TV (1 time fee) and use Netflix and Hulu plus for a grand total of 16.00 a month for our TV viewing. You can also watch alot of Free TV on regular on your computer or some of the TV networks. Review your policies yearly like phone service, insurances, bank fees, etc…. I coupon regularly and have others saving me there coupon inserts since they don’t use them. Match coupons to ads and more…. I regularly save 50 to 100% with minimum time spent. We have one car by choice and if you really want something that you pay for monthly times that by 12 and see if you are willing to pay the yearly price on it. One bag of chips a week at 2.00 is 104.00 a year. Think about it. We are never without. Have a good roof over our heads, a car to drive that is reliable and plenty stocked up…. we never run out of food or paper/ hygiene products/ dog food and treats, etc… Life is good even with the health challenges. Debt Free is Awesome.

  4. These concepts for foreign to many. Most people who complain about being broke go out to eat and shop all the time. Even though I am single, I cook most of my meals at home and take lunch to work. Even for one person, the savings add up. I dropped my cable a few months ago. When I told my mom, she was surprised and wondered what I watched.

    1. Isn’t that funny? There are so many things to do besides watch tv: read books, go for walks, craft, take pictures. I wonder what would happen to us if TV and movies disappeared? (Don’t get me wrong; I love my movies.) I think we’d be more creative, don’t you? Or sleep more. Ha!

  5. Thank you for another practical post, with such thoughtful and laid out steps! I love being able to read your tips during little breaks when my 1 year old is amusing himself 🙂

  6. Great post as usual. I am so much happier now that a zero based budget and self auditing are a normal part of our lives. But I wanted to make a comment for those earlier in this journey than I [and you 🙂 ]
    Baby steps – one thing at a time. Don’t look at this wonderful list of goals and try to implement all at once, or even half – you’ll fail and be in the same place. One small thing at a time – like a debt snowball the good you’re doing for your budget will grow and grow and make bigger impacts all the time – which motivates you to do more.

    Also? Find what works for YOU. So many resources recommend this or that – and it’s worth a try – but things that work for them may not work for you. But do evaluate your ‘NEEDS and MUSTS and decide what you can ‘try’. You will be surprised at what doesn’t seem like a big deal after a little while. On the flip side, while I keep my heat low I crank my a/c despite the cost – I can’t function or sleep if it’s too warm or damp. Not so for others I know. I do mostly cook from scratch – but I spend more than absolutely necessary on certain kinds of flour and yeast and other ingredients. Whatever works for you

    But that ‘do without’ category? That’s the real gold here – our mentality is that every want is a need, we’ve been raised that way by now – so worthwhile to really take those feelings out and examine them, discuss them as a family and make better choices.

    You know the other day I had to run one kid to the doctor at the last minute – and dinner was a little late. My 11yo reported [because she must always cleanse her soul LOL] that she’d had not only one snack but two since school let out. I pointed out, “You know, there’s actually nothing wrong with being hungry for a little bit – you knew I’d be back soon and dinner would be on soon after. Being hungry only makes your food taste better”

    Now not everyone has this issue in their house but reining in my kids’ eating is a battle here LOL – but it’s the mentality that I’m thinking about , I need NEW clothes for the start of term, or a new backpack . . . no you don’t . . . I NEED a large uber latte from starbucks . . . no you don’t . . . make choices with the knowledge that you’re indulging yourself sometimes – which is fine. But it gives you a place from which to start making changes.

      1. Bahahahah!

        Nah – it’s a great list – I just remember failing so often at first, trying to do it all at once 🙂