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Tips for finding fun while staying frugal

Fight 'frugal fatigue' by seeking happiness in new, affordable ways

By Gary Foreman

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear New Frugal You,
It's been three years since we lost half our income. We've managed to keep up with mortgage and credit card bills. Just barely. We've cut expenses to the max. I can't remember the last time that we went out to eat or I bought something to wear just because it looked nice. Are we ever again going to have any fun in our lives? Are we doomed to live like misers for the rest of our days? -- Worn Out Wendy

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Wendy,
As these hard economic times drag on, more people are getting worn down, tired of watching every nickel and dime, concerned that they'll never have any joy in their lives again. In fact, it's so common that it's been given a name -- "frugal fatigue."

You're absolutely right. For many of us, there just doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the tunnel appears to have no end. So what can we do to not only survive, but thrive in these tough times?

First, make sure that you are taking the right financial steps to get the most from what income you have. It's important to know that you're doing the best you can with the available money.

After you've done what you can financially, it's time to take a look at the emotional aspects of your situation. After all, there's little that's more emotionally draining than financial problems that never seem to end, and serious medical issues can result -- including clinical depression. 

If you think that might be a possibility, get the appropriate medical help. A doctor's bill may not be what you're looking for as you struggle with debt -- especially if you don't have insurance -- but if there is a serious problem, the sooner you deal with it, the better.

However, if you're just unhappy because you can't buy the things that you want, you'll need to reevaluate your relationship to money. What worked in the past will not work in the future.

Ask yourself what it was about spending money that made you happy. Depending on what you discover, you can look for alternate ways to achieve happiness.

Some common reasons for nonessential shopping include:

  • Pride of ownership. We all like to own nice things, but a possession doesn't need to be new or expensive to be worthy of our pride. Well-bought, well-maintained items can bring self-satisfaction, too.
  • Status. If your identity was wrapped up in your possessions, you may struggle with this. One solution is to reinvent yourself. Become the smart shopper. Instead of bragging about how much you spent, brag about your new purchasing expertise.
  • Habitual shopping. For some people, shopping is a habit -- something that they do on a regular basis, even if they don't need to purchase anything. You'll need to break old habits and perhaps replace them with new ones.
  • Filling an unmet need. Some people shop in an effort to feel loved, valuable or important. Shopping only fills that need temporarily. It's not a permanent solution. Although a lack of shopping may make you feel unloved, a return to the mall is not the solution. Proper counseling is a much better answer.

These are only some of the more common spending themes. Yours may be different. If so, give it a good look and decide what you can substitute to get the same high that spending used to give you.

The trick is to replace the old, expensive methods of finding happiness with new, affordable ones. Break the connection in your mind between spending money and finding happiness. Eliminate unhealthy financial behaviors.

Ultimately, you'll find that dreaming about the good old days of spending will not bring joy into your life. In fact, that's a formula for despair.

If you want to be happy with your current situation, you'll need to look for things to make you happy. Examine places where you've never looked before. There's a good chance that you'll discover a whole new you -- and a source of joy that's not dependent upon spending money.

See related: How to keep up the enthusiasm for saving, fight 'frugal fatigue'6 ideas for enjoying life without busting a budget

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Published: June 9, 2011


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