How to love your new frugal life

Saving money can be as unappealing as going on a diet. Yes, the results will be fun, we think, but the process won’t.

Just like in losing weight, we’re supposed to change our lifestyle. But what exactly does that mean?

Don’t be daunted: I’m here to tell you that being frugal can be incredibly satisfying. I have been writing about the win-wins of cutting costs for over a year and a half and I could go on for another decade.

With the launch of Buttoned Up’s year-long Money Makeover, I thought it would be a great time to look at ways to overhaul our thinking and embrace a new normal.

So if you too want to button up your finances, here are three ways to toss the old “no pain, no gain” mantra, and start loving your new frugal life.

1. Focus on what you love

When I was in college, I asked my psychology professor if I could analyze in my final paper the main character of Madame Bovary, my favorite novel. “Sure,” he said, “go where the passion is.” That was the best paper of my academic career. I really loved that book, so the writing became fun.

When you have to get down to work to cut costs in your life, start with an activity you love. Do you relish traveling? If you direct your energy into it, I know you can find surprising ways to skip the Bali trip and have super-fun and memorable vacation.

If you love eating, put your all into carefully making up your grocery list, discovering farmer’s markets, watching cooking shows, and trying recipes from your favorite restaurants. We just discovered homemade pizza, and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to call the delivery guy again.

2. Simplify your life

The infinite choices we have today – from paint colors to cereals to elementary schools – can lead to overwhelming confusion.

Decide to simplify your life in three ways that will make you feel more peaceful — and save you money. For example, you could:

• eliminate an after-school activity next year or cut out a hundred cable channels
• shop at only one grocery store (you’ll know its layout, prices, and sales better), or
• clear out your closet and vow to only classic pieces you discover at the same thrift store

Limiting our spending also limits our choices, and sometimes that can be a refreshingly good thing.

3. Make it about people

Sometimes we can get so caught up in trying to do more, do it better, and do it faster, that we stretch ourselves into a string of saltwater taffy, flimsy and drooping.

The simple act of slowing down and spending more time at home can jumpstart our relationships — and our happiness. Skip the Mexican restaurant and have a picnic in your backyard. Make a bouquet of wildflowers and pretty weeds. Invite another couple over for a simple dinner. Ask to borrow your neighbor’s wheelbarrow and offer to lend your snowblower. Send over a plate of cookies when you know someone needs a hug.

Not only will you spend less on entertainment and eating out, but you’ll increase the good feelings among the people you love, the people you want to know, and people like neighbors, who can be an invaluable resource for sharing, helping out, and saving money.

So experiment with different ways to increase your happiness. I am still surprised at how things I initially did because of our tight budget, made me happier, healthier, or wiser.

And that’s better than any diet on earth.

Amy Suardi, Butttoned Up’s savings expert, writes about ways that save money and make life better at her blog Frugal Mama.