Are We Having Fun Yet?
by Beth Huber
Spendthrifts often portray us Dollar Stretcher types as grim, green-visor-wearing characters, clutching our calculators 24/7 and counting out squares of toilet paper as we organize the rations for the week. You have to admit that we do sometimes paint a funny picture. Our kitchens are decorated with artistic displays of freshly-rinsed plastic bags, our unwavering assertion that there is always enough in the bottom of the shampoo bottle for one more hair-wash, our confirmed status as the slowest person in the check-out line because of our complex triple-coupon, buy-one-get-one-free deal-making.
But we all know that there are meaningful reasons behind our efforts. We want to have a simpler life, rely less on material things, enjoy a truer sense of contentment, or get off the "keeping up with the Joneses" merry-go-round. We all have different backgrounds and life circumstances, yet we share common values and priorities.
And on those days when cutting coupons or updating the budget spreadsheet is the last thing we feel like doing (when the discipline and details of money management become tedious and dull), we need to be reminded of those priorities. Here are a few ideas to spice up your financial life with a spirit of creativity and fun.
- Visualize the end results of your efforts. What are your reasons for making the effort to maximize income and minimize outgo? Maybe you want to get out of debt, send kids to college, increase your charitable donations, live on one income instead of two, or do work you love rather than settling for a higher-paying, but less-meaningful job. Take time to visualize what you want your future to look like. The everyday demands of life can distract us from this kind of big-picture thinking, and before we know it, we begin to feel like a hamster on an exercise wheel that is running furiously without making any progress. Just as you do on your computer, "refresh" your mental page to re-connect with your larger purpose for practicing careful money management.
- Create visible reminders of your goals. If you're saving for a vacation trip, post some photos from favorite past vacations on the refrigerator door. If you dream of early retirement, collect pictures that represent where you want to live or what you want to do with your time when you achieve that goal. Let the visual images inspire and encourage you. Or make a list of all the reasons you are pursuing frugality and hang it above the desk where you do your financial record-keeping. Carry a copy of it with you in your wallet and read it over when you are tempted to make an impulse purchase.
- Find creative ways to track your progress. The possibilities are limitless. Let's say you have 282 days left before you pay off your car. Set up a "car freedom" countdown calendar and mark off each one of those days. That small physical act will serve as a daily reminder that you are moving closer and closer toward your goal. If you are saving a certain amount per month towards the down payment for a house, create "house coupons" on index cards for each month you need to save. Cut out pictures of all the things you would love about owning your own home (fireplace, garden, nice view, etc.) and paperclip one to each index card. Each time you make a savings deposit, tear up the index card and paste the picture onto a sheet of poster board, creating a growing collage that will serve as a powerful reminder of your dream.
- Celebrate your accomplishments. Enjoy the fruits of your money-management labors. And not just the big things, like the long-dreamed-of mortgage burning ceremony, but the small achievements too. Eat your dinner by candlelight on mortgage payment days. When you make a balance-reducing credit card payment, imagine the sensation of a small weight lifting off your shoulders as you drop the envelope into the mailbox. Set aside a percentage of your weekly grocery savings and use it at the end of the month for a small treat or outing.
The art of money management is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Use your imagination to stay focused on what that "end" is for you. A small investment of time and creative energy can boost your morale and renew your resolve. Then you can just smile to yourself as you put away those recycled plastic bags, remembering what it's all for.
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