Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach

How to Conquer Frugal Fatigue and Stick to a Proper Budget

If “frugal fatigue” is kicking in — and you’re getting tired of pinching pennies and watching every dollar you spend — it’s time to re-energize yourself and make a fresh commitment to managing your money wisely.

To make ends meet the past three years, Americans have been eating out less, curtailing shopping, making do with older cars, and even buying smaller homes.

Now comes word that many of us are growing weary of all this cost-cutting and saving money.

According to the 2011 Financial Literacy Survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, more than half of all Americans say they don’t use a budget. Also, 26% of adults in the U.S. admit that they’re spending more than they did a year ago. And 40% of consumers are still battling unpaid credit card debt month to month.

I suspect what’s really going on isn’t a brand new case of “frugal fatigue” but an ongoing decades-old challenge Americans have faced in trying to budget and manage money properly over the long haul.

The real problem is that relatively few of us can live happily — for any sustained period of time — on an overly restrictive financial diet. (OK, maybe Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, can. And he and others like him are darned proud of their thriftiness!)

But most Americans would love nothing more than to be able to splurge now and again — or even more frequently — in order to buy, do, or have the things they want. So whether you’re financially frugal by choice or by necessity, here are four ways to cope with financial fatigue and stick to a proper budget.

Create a Realistic Budget or Spending Plan

If your budget is extremely restrictive to begin with, chances are you simply won’t stick to it for a long period of time. Each one of us has to determine what is a prudent, realistic level of spending in our own families.

But if you’re feeling deprived at every turn, if you never enjoy any of your money, or if you have to fret over every single dollar that goes out the door, I’d say you haven’t yet created a workable, sustainable budget. Here are some tips on creating a realistic budget.

Make the Process of Saving Fun

If you’re going to commit to saving, you might as well make the process as fun and enjoyable as possible. How can “fun” and “saving” coexist? Easily. Here are a few ideas.

Set up a designated “dream fund” that you only tap for a specific goal. It could be money set aside for a vacation, for a down payment on a new car, or anything else that matters to you. Get buy-in from your family about the goal, so that you’re all on the same page. Any time you’re tempted to cut back on savings or spend irresponsibly, have a spouse or family member tell you something positive or motivational about how much you’ll all enjoy reaping the benefit of your “dream fund.”

Another strategy: Maybe you can have a “contest” with a friend or family member to see who can consistently save a certain percentage of their income — 5% to 10% is a good target. The “winner” gets a free meal cooked by the other party or some other goodie — along with bragging rights!

Or perhaps you want to keep your savings ambitions to yourself. That’s fine. You could create a “Money Chart” on a wall (using, say, fake dollars bills). Watching the money chart grow on your wall could be fun and inspiring.

The point is: if you can set a savings goal for yourself, actively work toward reaching it, and create an enjoyable image for yourself along the way, then saving money becomes more rewarding, and it won’t seem like such a chore.

Include Something Fun in Your Monthly Budget

Most Americans who do budget think proper budgeting is simply about tracking a seemingly endless list of bills that they must pay – the mortgage or rent, the light bill, the car payment, and so on. But what’s lacking in many budgets is that one item that people want to spend money on. This is a key to maintaining a budget and avoiding frugal fatigue.

Everyone should have something in their monthly budget that gives them pleasure or enjoyment to spend money on; something of value and importance to the individual or his/her family. For example, if you enjoy team sports or outdoor activities, you should work the cost of such an activity into your budget.

Could you find ways of getting in some physical exercise free? Sure you could. But my point is that even if you pay a modest monthly fee for your family’s YMCA membership or for you to belong to a sports club, you’ll feel psychologically that it’s money well spent. And the psychic boost you get from doing so will keep you from feeling financially, physically and socially deprived.

Adopt the Right Mindset to Stay Debt Free and On Track Financially

Too often, we think of saving money and staying out of debt as only a financial goal. But it’s really about how much your entire life will be better, and less stressful, if you can manage your finances well. If you’re starting to tire of being frugal, try some of these tips for creating the right mind-set to become debt-free.

I know it’s sometimes hard to stay on track with your finances. But it’s certainly not impossible. And by utilizing the steps above, you can definitely banish a case of frugal fatigue.

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