How To Turn An Uber Frugal Month Into An Uber Frugal Life
Today marks the conclusion of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge for our inaugural class of hardcore frugal superheroes! Over 10,000 people signed up for my Challenge in this first month and I’m thrilled to congratulate this awesome group! It’s a major accomplishment to stick with anything for a full month–let alone something related to changing your financial behavior. P.S. You can sign up to take the Uber Frugal Month Challenge at any time and you’ll start on Day 1, so you won’t miss a frugal thing!
Even if you feel as though you didn’t save quite as much as you’d hoped, or that you didn’t adhere to the Challenge in every aspect of life, you should still feel supremely proud. By taking the Challenge, and dedicating yourself to thinking about, discussing, and examining your finances, you’ve put yourself far ahead of the vast majority of people. You’ve taken the crucial first step towards better managing your money: you’re not ignoring it. So, pats on backs all around!
The Uber Frugal Month (UFM) is designed to perform several different functions for participants:
- Provide a framework for holistically evaluating your financial life.
- Offer guidelines on how to reduce spending in every category of your budget.
- Prompt you to identify your overarching life goals and bring your spending into alignment with these goals.
- Reset your spending and hedonic adaptation/lifestyle inflation expectations.
- Transform how you think about money and eliminate urges to impulse shop and pursue short-term treats that will ultimately derail your long-term aspirations.
Wow, sounds pretty lofty when I put it like that, but hey, that’s what the UFM is designed to do! Although the Challenge itself is only one month long, in order to reap all of these benefits, you actually need to embrace frugality for a more substantial period of time. If you just panicked at the thought of doing this for another month–let alone for the rest of your life–fear not because the first month is absolutely the hardest. Through my own experience of living extreme frugality for the long-term and from my conversations with all of you, I’ve come to realize that we experience stages of frugality–and the first stage is the most difficult.
During the Uber Frugal Month, you probably felt frustration, and even anger, about the ways in which the Challenge encouraged you to question nearly every aspect of your life. Effective frugality entails a wholesale transformation of how we live and that’s not an easy thing to do. But soon, you’ll start to feel the elation that comes from seeing your frugality bear fruit.
Where Do We Go From Here?
After completing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I encourage you to perform an exercise very similar to what we did at the outset with categorizing our expenses. Get out a pen and paper (or open up a spreadsheet) and start recording your efforts. Better yet, use Personal Capital, which organizes and categorizes your expenses for you (don’t worry, it’s free!).
If you have a partner or a friend or roommate you’re doing the Challenge with, now’s the time to grab them and discuss your results together.
This is a wonderful opportunity to analyze the changes you want to incorporate going forward. During the UFM, you stripped away all of your non-mandatory spending. Now’s the time to reflect on that experience and consider how you might continue living a sustainable, tenable, joyful life of frugality.
After completing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge:
Step 1: Make a list of everything you decreased or eliminated from your budget and the corresponding dollar amount saved. For example: Take-out, $110 saved.
Step 2: Categorize each item as either “easy to give up” or “hard to give up.” For example: Take-out, $110 saved, easy. Look at your list and identify everything that was extremely difficult (painful even!) to give up and everything that wasn’t all that tough to reduce or eliminate. Which cuts feel sustainable for the long-term? Which feel impossible?
Step 3: For everything that was easy to give up, hooray! You can now remove these expenses from your life and not think about them again. Bye-bye unnecessary spending!
Step 4: Ok but not everything was easy to give up, right? So, take a closer look at your “hard to give up” list and focus on the items that saved you the most money. For things that were extremely difficult to give up but didn’t save you much? You might want to simply add them back into your budget. For example, if you decided to forgo spending $2 on chocolates but were miserable without them? I’d just add them back in and not sweat it.
Step 5: For anything that was hard to give up but that also saved a significant amount of money? This is where we’ll concentrate our efforts. Chiefly, I encourage you to seek refuge in the art of frugal substitution. We touched on substitution at the outset of the Challenge, but let’s review:
Frugal substitution is finding a free or cheap alternative for expensive items or experiences that you don’t want to live without. (hint: you must first live without them for a month to truly understand what life is like in their absence).
Here’s a stellar example: I heard from a family of four who stopped using their second car for the entire month to test out how life would be as a one-car family. In case you’re wondering, THAT is what I’m talking about! This family has considered giving up one of their cars for some time, but weren’t sure how their daily routine would pan out until they actually tried it for a month. After doing this for a month, they can now accurately evaluate how life would function with just one car.
Let’s explore another example together. Say you gave up cable as part of your Uber Frugal Month and say you felt quite miserable without any shows to watch after long days at your beekeeping job. Since cable is extremely expensive and you’ll save a fairly large sum by eliminating it, the best solution is to find a substitution. A few cheaper options: purchase a Roku (that’s what we have), subscribe to Netflix, or enjoy the wonders of free public television. All of these alternatives deliver a similar product–shows to watch–but at a vastly cheaper price.
Substitution is one of the primary ways that Mr. FW and I live a life of luxurious extreme frugality. We do all the things we love, but we’ve optimized and frugalized each one of them. Substitution can be applied to nearly everything in life–Mr. FW and I use it for: coffee, seltzer, wine, TV, yoga, our furniture, Babywoods’ baby paraphernalia., our cars… the list goes on. As we’ve discovered, there’s a frugal alternative to just about everything in life.
Step 6: Identify any sacred cows. You may uncover some items that you both can’t live without and can’t create adequate substitutions for. These are your sacred cows. These are items you know you’re paying a premium for, but you’re content with the trade-off in your life. What I will caution here, however, is the temptation to categorize everything you like as a sacred cow. The very nature of a sacred cow is that it’s rare. And in almost every instance of a sacred cow? There actually is an opportunity for frugalization. Think creatively about how you might reach the same desired result for less money.
Step 7: Do some math. Don’t worry, it’s fun math! Tally up how much you saved during your Uber Frugal Month and then multiply by 12 to see how much you could save in a year if you continued on at this rate. You may recall this exercise from Day 4 of the Challenge, but it’s a whole lot more fun to do now that you know your actual dollar amounts saved this month. And so, permit me to recap:
For every expense you’re debating eliminating permanently, do yourself the favor of some simple arithmetic. How often do you pay for the thing in question? If it’s a monthly bill, such as cable, multiply by 12 so that you’re face to face with how much you spend on cable every year. Then, consider how much that total amount would net if it was instead invested. Here’s an example (with real live math!):
Let’s say you spend $75 every month on cable. Not a huge amount of money on its own. But multiplied by 12, that’s a whopping $900 per year on television. For two years? $1,800. I don’t know about you, but I can think of quite a few better uses for my $1,800. Now, to take this exercise a step further, let’s say you instead invested that $900 in low-fee index funds, and enjoyed a 7% return (which is considered an average annual market return over the long-term). Imagine you kept that same $900 invested for decades (which is the wisest way to invest) and added $900 to your investments every year instead of paying for cable.
In 30 years, your measly $900 would’ve grown to $91,865.74. Yeah, you read that right: $91,865.74.
Try this calculation out with your own numbers using this handy dandy compound interest calculator!
Step 8: Now think about the UFM experience more broadly. Frugality, at it’s heart, is about much more than simply saving money. It’s about restructuring our mindset in relation to consumerism. It’s about creating a life where you’re content with simplicity and with what you have–not constantly lusting after what you want. So, ask yourself:
- What was difficult?
- How did I feel during the month?
- What was easier than I expected?
- What elements of the UFM are sustainable?
- How can I bring mindful frugality into every aspect of my life?
Frugality Is Not Deferred Spending
Although one aim of the Uber Frugal Month is to save as much money as you possibly can during the month of the Challenge, it’s pointless to do so if you turn around and buy everything you held off on buying as soon as the Challenge ends. There’s no gain in that scenario. Similarly, there’s no gain if you pre-purchased everything you possibly could prior to starting the Challenge. You’re still spending the same amount of money because frugality is not deferred spending.
It’s not like Mr. FW and I are going to wake up one day and say, “Ok, frugality is over! Time to go buy the 9,897 things we haven’t bought over the last X number of years!” It doesn’t work that way. Successful frugality is sustainable, joyful, and long-term. The Uber Frugal Month is the kickstart to what I hope will be a lifelong appreciation of how good life can be with a small amount of spending.
Eventually, if you continue persevering with a frugal lifestyle, you’ll reach a two-fold plateau of: peak frugality and luxurious frugality. This is where Mr. FW and I are now and I’d say it took us at least a year and a half to get to this place. We’re actually slightly less frugal than we were during our initial month of frugality, because there were some things we wanted to incorporate back into our lives. The crucial thing is that our frugality is sustainable for a lifetime: we have everything we need and we don’t feel deprived.
Furthermore, my level of frugality is probably not your level–you might save much more than I do, or much less. And that’s fine. Tempting as it is to compete with one another, there’s nothing to gain in doing so. Your savings level is entirely dependent upon your family situation, your goals, where you live, and to a certain extent, how much money you make.
As I discussed in my mega food post, if you have five kids, you’re highly likely to spend more than I do on groceries. Conversely, if you’re single, you’re likely to spend way less than my family of three. Defining your own parameters for tenable, sustainable frugality is the ultimate goal of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
You Can Do It!
Thanks to your dedication and commitment to the Uber Frugal Month, you now have a toolkit for incorporating extreme frugality into every aspect of your life for the long-term. Through the UFM, you’ve done the hard work of questioning your spending, identifying your priorities, and transforming your mindset in relation to the idea that buying things makes us happy.
Now you have the opportunity to decide how and if frugality is something you want to sustain. I also think it’s important to note that you don’t have to commit to a lifetime of frugality–you could decide to go another month and see how you feel at that point. Frugality is an evolving lifestyle choice that’ll be different for you at different times in your life. But the universal truth is that frugality makes life easier by giving you options. When you’re not in debt, and not living paycheck-to-paycheck, and not terrified of losing your job, your stress level is lower and you have greater discretion over how to use your most precious resource of all: your time.
Congratulations again! And, please share your thoughts on the Uber Frugal Month in the comment section!
I want to hear what you learned! What was most useful to you during the UFM? What could you have used more of? What should I do differently next time? What was your favorite aspect of the Challenge?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.