The last few years have been very difficult for me on both personal and financial levels. I’ve faced a severe health crisis that damaged not only health but my finances as I struggled to pay for expensive but necessary healthcare costs. I also lost my job in 2011 due to the recession. These two events began the downward spiral of my finances, which almost cost me my home.
Since that time, I became self-employed and started my own business as a freelance writer when I could not find employment elsewhere due to an economy that has not recovered in my area. Slowly I have built my lists of clients, and now my income is nearly equal to what I brought home from my former job. Even though things are beginning to look up, I know that I need to look back on the hardships and difficulties that I have faced over the last three years and learn a valuable lesson, which is this: When things begin to look up, it is more important than ever to stick to a budget and save rather than spend.
As I look back on my struggles, I realize that some of the financial difficulties that I have experienced I brought on myself. While it wasn’t my fault that I got sick or lost my job, I look back on how freely I spent money on silly, frivolous things in the past and realize that if I had simply had a budget and had been dedicated to saving 10 to 20 percent of my income during the years that my earnings had been high and my expenses low, I would have weathered the loss of my job and health much easier.
So now that things are looking up, after living so close to the edge for three years, there is a great temptation to splurge and treat myself. I am using the following strategies to resist temptations to blow my budget and begin to rebuild savings and financial security.
Avoid Sales. I know this sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but I avoid driving by my former favorite stores that may be having a sale on clothes, shoes or whatever may entice me to stray from my budget and buy something that isn’t a necessity. I was such a shopaholic before the recession and job loss, I find that my closets are still overflowing, so I avoid driving by places such as the mall or any number of discount stores that might tempt me to spend and break my budget.
Stop Catalogs. In a similar light, I requested to be removed from the mailing lists of my favorite retailers, so I am not enticed to spend by glossy catalogs.
Participate in Free Activities. In the past, many of the hobbies and activities I participated in involved spending of money, but there are many free activities that one can enjoy that will improve many areas of my life in addition to my bank balance. Some of these activities include hiking and biking in area parks, rotating having pot luck lunches and brunches at the homes of friends and volunteering at a local nursing home. I’ve even cancelled my expensive cable contract and renewed my once expired library card to enjoy free books and videos. I also watch movies and programs online for free or for a low cost subscription.
Eat Before Going Grocery Shopping, Plan Meals Around Sale or Discount Items and Make and Stick to a List. I used to spend an average of $600 to $800 a month on groceries and eating out. Now, my family spends less than $200 a month by planning our meals around what is on sale at the grocery store, cooking whole foods rather than paying more for prepackaged expensive foods and sticking to a list. I also eat a meal before I go shopping so that I am not tempted to buy more expensive convenience items or eat out on the way home.
I am putting all of the money that I save from these strategies into a savings account that I will keep for emergency savings, as well as beginning to fund an IRA account for my own retirement since I am now self-employed. It is very tempting to splurge and go off my budget since my financial condition has begun to improve, but I know that if I am honest with myself about my past financial struggles and do not wish to repeat my past financial mistakes should another health issue or financial crisis occur, I must stick to my resolve and follow a budget and save.
As I work to rebuild my savings and recover from tough financial difficulties, I just keep reminding myself that my long-term financial security is far more important than any temporary boost or delight I will feel from treating myself by buying some article of clothing or knick-knack that’s on sale.