Saving and Debt: Wanting to Buy Something, Just Once, Without Worrying About the Consequences: Make a Plan, Put Yourself in Control of How You Spend and How You live

Budgeting doesn’t have to be a straitjacket on fun.

Find out how to budget your way to smarter spending.

Live well without busting your budget

Sick and tired of living cheap?

Here’s how to get past ‘frugal burnout’ — and live well without

busting your budget.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

If you’ve ever been on a really tight budget, you probably instinctively know what I mean by the phrase “frugal burnout.”

It’s how you feel when everybody else seems to be spending like mad while you’re counting the pennies in the change jar.

It’s resenting that you have to say no when you want to say yes. It’s wanting to buy something, just once, without worrying about the consequences.

No matter how worthy your reasons — paying off debt, saving more or coping with a financial setback such as unemployment — frugal burnout can make you want to throw in the towel.

~ But the key to making your plan work is sticking to it, and

sometimes you need a little help.

That’s why I called on the people who post in the Your Money message board for their suggestions about how to live on a budget without feeling deprived. Several have been through tough times — and some are still in them. Their suggestions have the road-tested feel of people who know what they’re talking about.

So read on for some great ideas about living frugally while avoiding drudgery:

~ Remember why you’re saving

One reader made a chart showing her debts and plotted each month’s payment so she could have tangible, visual evidence that her balances were going down. 

She also wrote “Debt free is for me!” on a small card and placed it

in her wallet where her credit cards used to go.

“Every time I opened my wallet and paid cash,” the reader wrote, “seeing that card made me feel good about what I was doing.”

Keeping your goal in mind can help you fight the urge to spend,

several readers said. One took trips to the country and vowed she

would own a home there one day.

Others think about the day they can be financially independent — able to retire or pursue other interests.

Even those who are living frugally as a matter of survival can take pride in improving their money skills. One wrote: “Pat yourself on the back when you have made it through one month better than the last.”

• Talk back:What’s your worst urge to splurge?

~ Finding support systems also can help beat the frugal blues.

There are plenty of Internet sites and message boards devoted to frugal living. You’ll probably also be happier if you spend time with people who support your goals, rather than those who deride you for being “cheap.”

One 27-year-old newlywed says she and her husband shared Friday dinners with another young couple going through financial hardship.

“It’s all about using what you have available . . . but we turned it

into a party atmosphere and had a lot of fun.”

Video on MSN Money

Budgeting doesn’t have to be a straitjacket on fun. 

~ Find out how to budget your way to smarter spending.

Live in the moment

Focusing on what you don’t have is a recipe for discontent. 

Instead, concentrate on what you do have.

Rather than fret about not being able to buy a home, for example, one reader vowed to make current surroundings more habitable.

“I’m going to paint all the interior doors, see about replacing some of the bent, rusty screens . . . (and) paint some of my plain wood furniture,” the reader vowed. “Consider it practice for when I do get my home!”

Another reader keeps a list of everything she has that she’s grateful for and talks about her gratitude with her family.

“My husband and I always say things to each other like, ‘Everything important in my life is right here’ . . . and other equally sappy stuff,” she wrote.

~ Several readers, in fact, mentioned spending more time with

friends and family as a major benefit of frugal living.

Mike in Austin remembers his layoff and the memories he was able to make with his young sons as a “magical experience.”

With little money but lots of time, he came up with “theme nights” and even posted signs in the house announcing each one. Some of his favorites:

• Movie Night with 99-cent rentals

• Stay Up As Late As You Can Night (as Mike wrote, the idea “sounded great to them, but they couldn’t make it past 9 p.m.”)

• Baseball Night (in Mike’s words, “a grueling father-against-sons game in the front yard.”

• Slumber Party Night

• Water Bomb Night

Mike wrote the experience “was like summer camp at home . . . the most valuable memory I may own.”

~ Splurge a little

Even the tightest budget needs a little give, or the whole thing is likely to collapse. And enjoying “life’s little pleasures,” as one reader puts it, doesn’t have to cost a lot, or anything at all.

Some people tie their treats to specific goals, such as paying off a credit card. Others build in a little “splurge money,” sometimes as little as $5 to $10 a month, to waste as they please.

One reader makes spending her splurge fund mandatory, as a way to ensure she’s having fun: “This is not money to spend on little things you’ll like a little bit — this is money to spend wisely on something you’ll enjoy, a lot.”

Cheryl in Ohio confessed to “cheating” on her budget by using “found” money — such as rebates and coupon savings — to pay for occasional movies and dinners out. “Sure, the money would help reduce the debt,” she wrote, but “sometimes one night out at a restaurant helps in so many other ways.”

~ Other suggestions:

• Have a picnic in the park

• Enjoy an ice-cream cone

• Buy a small bunch of flowers to spruce up your home

• Change your routine. “Eat something besides chicken,” one reader suggested. “Get out of the house once in awhile.”

• Explore your city. One mother made it a habit to find a different park to visit every Sunday after church. “We went to about 120 or so different playgrounds in three years,” she wrote.

~ Laugh at your neighbors’ overspending

To paraphrase one reader’s post: Petty? Yes. Helpful? You bet!

After all, trying to keep up with the Joneses may be what got you into financial trouble in the first place.

Realizing that the Joneses aren’t as well off as they seem — and are struggling with debt-related stress as well — can make keeping up with them a little less attractive.

“The average family has $8,000 in credit card debt,” one member wrote.

“Once you only owe $7,999 in credit card debt, you become better than average.”

A stay-at-home mother confessed to a little catty one-upmanship, such as deriding the neighbors for financing everything they buy or feeling superior for winning a better mortgage rate, thanks to lower debt loads.

“Never underestimate the power of bagging on someone to make yourself feel better,” she joked, adding as a precaution: “In moderation. And not to their face.”

Video on MSN Money

One small-business owner says he compares his situation to that of others not as a way of “picking them apart, but . . . using them as a measuring stick.”

“We discuss the debts they have and the lack of a plan to control their financial future,” he wrote. 

And his plan is apparently working: “My accountant once told me that he has clients who have (incomes) two or three times ours but don’t have nearly the equity or, better yet, the peace of mind that we do.”

~ And peace of mind is, ultimately, what living frugally is all about.

Whether you’re paying off debt, saving more or simply living within your means, you’re trying to avoid the fear and stress that plague people who aren’t in control of their spending. Remembering that can help you avoid burnout, stick to your plan and get you to your goal that much quicker.

Liz Pulliam Weston’s new book, “Easy Money: How to Simplify Your Finances and Get What You Want Out of Life,” is now available. 

Columns by Weston, the Web’s most-read personal-finance writer and winner of the 2007 Clarion Award for online journalism, appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also answers reader questions on the Your Money message board.

Updated Jan. 18, 2008

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