Here we are again, the start of a new year. A clean slate, a blank canvas. It’s beautiful. Perhaps you’ve made resolutions for how things will be different in 2024, with a level of determination like you’ve never felt before. I only know that because I know myself. For years, I resolved at the start of every year to get out of debt, get our finances figured out and get on with becoming super wealthy. And that’s about as far as it went — big dreams.
I hate to be the one to throw a cold blanket on your dreams, but if you’re holding out for the life you love to materialize as soon as a boatload drops in your lap, don’t count on that.
You may believe with all your heart that winning the lottery or landing a big and unexpected inheritance will make your life perfect. You may feel the hype that getting in on the ground floor of the latest and greatest multilevel marketing opportunity will make you rich overnight.
Look, if you can figure out how to get that kind of money and magically turn your life around, good for you. But if you think cash alone will give you the life you love, forget it. No matter how much of it flows through your life, money alone will not automatically materialize into the life you love.
More money will only magnify your current situation because you will continue to manage it the way you handle it now. More money will put you deeper into debt if you’re in debt. If there’s never any money left at the end of the month, more money will not change that because your spending habits will escalate to accommodate the higher income. How can that be? Because you will use it as a down payment on something bigger, better and even more opulent. Or you’ll spend your brains out even faster than you do now. Money will not change your behavior. Only you can do that.
At my worst, when my husband was making a fabulous salary (which I could always outspend), I didn’t see a $5,000 annual raise as money that could make our lives better. I saw it as a down payment on a new Cadillac. That particular raise (there were many) pushed us deeper into the financial pit of despair.
In a previous column, I challenged you to do something about your debt. Getting out of debt will require you to cut your expenses and find ways to do things frugally.
You may be fearful that reducing your spending or not relying on credit to get by will force you to live a life you hate. That’s a real fear I can identify because that was precisely how I felt. After all, if you’ve never consciously worked at living below your means, the fear of becoming a penny-pinching miser can give you the creeps.
If you aren’t happy with your life, you may be dreaming about what it would be like to love your life. You know it’s out there; you can imagine what it will be like, but it is forever out of reach. No matter how hard you try or how fast you peddle, you cannot quite grab onto it. You believe that what stands between you and the life you love is more money. That is probably not the case.
Whether you fear losing the life you love or only dream of living it, here’s the bottom line: You need to learn to live on 80% of your net income, saving and sharing the other 20%. You have to cap your spending at 80% of the money you bring home, no matter what. Make it a habit as fundamental as stopping for red lights. Realize once and for all that if you can’t pay for it today with your money, you can’t afford it.
Getting out of debt without sacrificing the life you love is all about finding cheaper ways to do things. You cannot continue to live the way that got you into debt if you want to change your life and get out of debt. I’ve been where you are. I know the way out and have led countless people from debt to the life they love. You can find that information at EverydayCheapskate.com/books.
Consciously looking for more ways to spend less is what being an everyday cheapskate is all about. It’s a way of life that changed my life, saved my marriage and gave me this life I love.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”
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