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Frugal Living: Live With Less So You Can Live More

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Putting money away for an emergency fund. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Life seems to be getting busier. We are working more, the cost of living is rising and so too are stress levels. We have seemingly less time for ourselves and our families. Even if your work is satisfying and fulfilling, having to work long hours to make ends meet affects your quality of life.

Imagine if you could reduce your hours of paid work, giving you time to do more for yourself in your home and become more self-reliant. This is possible and achievable. To change and simplify your life, you’ll need to spend less than you earn, take control of your money and pay off debt. Read on for a series of steps you can take to start taking back control of your life:

  • Track what you buy, both products and services, so you know exactly how much you’re spending and on what. This step is crucial. It’s the starting point and foundation of your financial rehabilitation. Keep a small notebook and pen or use a phone app to record everything you spend. Alternatively collect your receipts as you shop and organise them at home.
  • Create a budget. Even if you hate the idea of doing this, it will help. A budget will give you a better understanding of what you need to pay out and how much is left over for saving, paying off debt or spending without the worry of over-spending. There is a very good website called MoneySmart which can be a great help when you’re trying to organise your finances. The site features financial calculators, budget and retirement planners, tips for debt reduction and smart ideas for cutting back. You can download a budget form from the site to guide you through the process.
  • Cut back on non-essential spending. Always spend less than you earn. Not just this week but every week. Start by taking lunch to work or school. Always take water with you when you go out. Join the library. Share and barter. Look in your wardrobe and see that you probably have enough.
  • Create an emergency fund. I think a good amount is around the $500–$1000 mark but this will depend on the number of people in your family. There will come a time when you get sick, need new tyres for the car or have to take the dog to the vet. Having that money in the bank will allow you to relax, knowing you will cope when you have to cover unexpected costs.
  • Pay off debt. This is a priority if you want to live simply. By focusing on your debt for ten years instead of 25 years, you’ll give yourself options that you’d never have if you continue to work to pay a mortgage until you retire.
  • Rediscover housework. The work we do in our homes has been downgraded by advertising trying to sell us the latest appliances and the idea that a home is a commodity. The work you do in your home can change you and give your family a comfortable place that will nurture and support all who live there. You may need to learn a few new skills or discover traditional skills. One thing is for sure, you’ll build a unique life that will be a mix of productivity, seasonal work, flexibility, outputs, harvests, creative cooking and opportunity. You’ll work out routines that make work easier and the level of self-reliance you’ll achieve will make you feel powerful.
  • Cook from scratch. Cook enough for two meals, then eat one meal and freeze the second. This is easy to do when making soup, curries, stews and sauces. If you have a large freezer (an excellent investment), build up a stockpile of meals. If you’re cooking in the heat of summer or prefer a fresh meal, cook up a batch of boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, legumes or grains and store them in the fridge (only for two to three days) to add to fresh, raw ingredients for a quick meal.
  • Stockpile your pantry staples. Even if most of your food is grown in your backyard or bought at a farmers market, you’ll probably still have a list of products you need to buy at a shop or co-op. Start a stockpile of the items you can store in a cupboard and buy a few of those items at a time (try to buy them on special). When you build up your stockpile, you’ll cut down on your visits to the supermarket and that will save time, money and the urge to buy on impulse.
  • Make your own cleaners and laundry products. It’s easy to do, they’re effective and will save you a lot of money. It’s also a great way to cut down on the chemicals in your home.
  • Audit your accounts. You need to be aware of what you’re spending on utilities, phone, internet services and insurances. Paying more than you have to wastes your money as well as the time you spend earning that money. Put aside a couple of hours twice a year to go through your accounts and see what you can cut back on. It’s sometimes possible to get a rate reduction or added services simply by contacting your supplier to ask for a better deal. Cite their competition. Make sure you check every statement and invoice when you receive it and contact the supplier for an explanation if the rate rises suddenly. Always pay bills on time to avoid late fees, stop using ATMs with charges attached, check what bank fees you’re paying and if they’re excessive, look for a different account or another bank.
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L-R: Keeping track of what you spend; Mending
your clothes means you don’t need to buy more. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

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Some of the activities I’ve mentioned here might sound like hard work, and frankly, some of them are tedious. None of us want to spend time auditing our finances or looking for better internet deals, however doing it will help you live the way you want. You won’t arrive at your ideal life by letting things take their own course. Take charge of the practicalities and you might stop a money leak, pay less for the services you need, or organise the work you don’t like doing so you have more time for the things you love. All of those things will help you create a life that is different and special.

No doubt this is a huge change, but I know it’s possible because I have done it myself. Now I live the life I dreamed of and I’m happier than I’ve even been. It does take hard work, determination and resilience, and the hardest part is starting. But what follows is meaningful work, carried out in small steps, that will probably change you in many significant ways.

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